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workers, building, architect

NORA Manufacturing Sector Strategic Goals

927ZJKU - Authoritative Recommendations on Managing Workplace EMF (PHP)

Start Date: 10/1/2009
End Date: 9/30/2013

Principal Investigator (PI)
Name: Joseph Bowman
Phone: 513-533-8143
Organization: NIOSH
Sub-Unit: DART
Funded By: NIOSH

Primary Goal Addressed

Secondary Goal Addressed


Attributed to Manufacturing


Project Description

Short Summary

This project will provide evidence-based recommendations for managing workplace EMF, especially those from AC electricity.

Towards this end, NIOSH research will identify cost-effective methods of evaluating EMF exposures and preventing their possible health risks, especially cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and neurological effects.

This project is part of NIOSH�s programs on engineering controls, exposure assessment, economics and authoritative recommendations, targeted especially to the manufacturing sector.

Improved methods for measuring compliance with exposure guidelines for power-frequency EMF will also be developed. New NIOSH documents and research updates will be published on the possible health risks from occupational EMF and how workplace exposures can be managed to protect the public health.


The occupational health goals are to protect workers from:

1. acute neurological disturbances, which have been firmly established with high exposures;
2. possible risks of cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, which have been associated with much lower occupational EMF in epidemiologic studies.

This comprehensive NIOSH policy on EMF would cover both health issues by:

1. adopting as NIOSH�s Recommended Exposure Limits (RELs) one of the EMF exposure guidelines which consensus groups [e.g. ACGIH, 2006 or IEEE, 2002] have set to protect against neurologic disturbances;
2. recommending low-cost precautionary reductions in the workplace magnetic fields which have been associated with significantly-elevated cancer risks;
3. recommending a system of qualitative �control bands� that identify the appropriate control measures for common EMF sources. The policy would also specify when the effectiveness of the controls derived from the bands should be verified by exposure measurements;
4. making the economic case to employers for implementing precautionary recommendations.

NIOSH would develop these policies with the Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) in the Netherlands, based on a RIVM study of EMF control measures [Bolte and Pruppers, 2006] and a NIOSH risk assessment [Bowman et al., 2008]. Dr. Tapas Ray will make the business case for precautionary reductions in workplace EMF, based on economic analyses of precautionary measures for environmental hazards like global warming. Drafts of these control bands would be tested at workplaces in both countries during the evaluations (see below), and the lessons learned will be incorporated into the final Current Intelligence Bulletin (CIB).

In FY11, the project�s goals are:
� Formal review of the CIB
� Conduct focus groups on draft CIB, website, and publicity campaign
� Finalize the CIB, website, and dissemination campaign
� Contracts for producing the publications and website.

Mission Relevance

Electric and magnetic fields (EMF) from AC electric power have become widespread in U.S. workplaces at the same time some epidemiologic studies report associations with cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and other serious health effects. Since these findings have yet to be confirmed by animal or cellular studies, NIEHS classified power-frequency EMF as only a Possible Human Carcinogen (category 2B).

In addition to the possible cancer risks, very high exposures to power-frequency EMF in a few utility and manufacturing occupations can cause acute neurological effects. These acute EMF injuries are the basis for exposure guidelines published by ACGIH and the Institute for Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE).

The potential disease burden from occupational EMF is substantial. A NIOSH risk assessment used DOE surveillance data on power-frequency magnetic fields to estimate their possible cancer burden in U.S. workers. If these cancer reports are due to a causal relationship, 7% of leukemias among U.S. workers (2,800 cases per year) are attributable to occupational MF, compared to 3% from ionizing radiation, benzene and ethylene oxide combined. Furthermore, 8% of worker brain cancers (1,700 cases/year) are possibly due to power-frequency MF.

To reduce the cancers attributable to occupational EMF, this study will develop, disseminate and evaluate authoritative recommendations to guide employers, workers, and occupational health professionals in managing workplace EMF. This guidance will be based on NIOSH�s long history of occupational EMF research, which has made the Institute a respected authority in the U.S. and abroad.