Electromagnetic Phenomena and Health – A Continuing Controversy?

A one-day conference held at the Institute of Physics in London on 10 September 2008, organised by the Electrostatics Group of the Institute of Physics.

Below is the introduction to the conference given by Drs Isaac Jamieson and Paul Holdstock.

Click here to read all the papers in full.

A variety of natural electromagnetic phenomena – from electrostatic and magnetostatic fields to radiowaves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, X-rays and gamma radiation – may influence human health and wellbeing (by their presence, intensity or absence) in a number of diverse ways. Some artificially created electromagnetic phenomena may also directly and/or indirectly influence biological functioning, though the levels and extent to which they may do so is still to a large extent open to debate and further investigation.
Since the deployment, use and types of technology and materials that can alter the electromagnetic nature of environments to which individuals are exposed are growing at an ever increasing rate; it is necessary to consider and rigorously access the possible biological effects (both beneficial and detrimental) that they may cause, or be instrumental in causing, so that appropriate safety and best practice measures can be introduced/adhered to if and where appropriate.

As demonstrated by the papers in these conference proceedings, there is presently a very widespread range of opinions from experts on the best ways to proceed over such matters, indicating that further dialogue is necessary in a way that can satisfactorily address these issues whilst enhancing technological innovation in a sustainable manner and suitably addressing possible health related concerns.

It appears that by constructively encouraging dialogue between experts and other stakeholders and the development of 'Win–Win' scenarios and mindsets, where solutions and constructive progress are sought (instead of highlighting problems and differences in opinion – as has often occurred in the past in electromagnetic field (EMF) discourse) – much can be achieved to the benefit of all.

It also appears much may be achieved if the possible beneficial health effects of particular types of electromagnetic phenomena, exposure regimes and related factors are investigated more closely and brought into the debate. Ideally, those that are indicated as being potentially valid and cost effective in the short and/or long term will be considered for further development, thereby encouraging improved technical innovation and best practice. It is an approach that may create large dividends and enhance scientific progress.

An example of this is the use of X-rays in medicine throughout the years, a technology known to cause cancer, but producing significantly more benefit than detriment when used correctly. Best practices that take such matters into account can help ensure that the benefits of technology significantly outweigh any public health cost.

Science and precautionary measures in EMF policy
Mike Repacholi

Methodological approach to EMF protection standards
Paolo Vecchia

Electromagnetic fields and the public: EMF standards and estimation of risk
Yury Grigoriev

Human health effects of EMFs: The cost of doing nothing
David O Carpenter MD

Aspects of studies on the functional impairment electrohypersensitivity
Olle Johansson

Medical applications of electromagnetic fields
Henry C Lai and Narendra P Singh

Building health: The need for electromagnetic hygiene?
Isaac A Jamieson, Paul Holdstock, Helen M ApSimon and J Nigel B Bell

Ways forward in public scientific controversies
Mike O'Carroll

Intelligent communication: The future of EMF discourse and risk governance?
Isaac A Jamieson


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