The International EMF Project

The World Health Organization (WHO) established its International EMF Project in 1996. Collaborating with a number of international agencies and organizations, WHO is pooling resources and knowledge concerning possible effects of exposure to EMF, and making a concerted effort to identify gaps in knowledge, recommend focused research, conduct improved health risk assessments, and work toward international consensus and resolution on EMF health concerns.

WHO is expecting to publish a final report on the International EMF Project in 2006 along with a final press release on the results of its EMF health risk assessments.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a part of WHO, coordinates and conducts research on the causes of human cancer, the mechanisms of carcinogenesis, and develops scientific strategies for cancer control. The Agency is involved in both epidemiological and laboratory research and disseminates scientific information through publications, meetings, courses, and fellowships.

In 2001, IARC conducted a formal review of the scientific research on possible cancer risks from exposure to power-frequency EMF.

  • IARC Press release
  • "ELF magnetic fields are possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on consistent statistical associations of high level residential magnetic fields with a doubling of risk of childhood leukaemia."
  • "Studies in experimental animals have not shown a consistent carcinogenic or co-carcinogenic effects of exposures to ELF magnetic fields, and no scientific explanation has been established for the observed association of increased childhood leukaemia risk with increasing residential ELF magnetic field exposure."

WHO Fact Sheet No. 263, released in October 2001, notes.

  • The classification "possibly carcinogenic to humans" is "used to denote an agent for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence for carcinogenicity in experimental animals."

  • "This classification is the weakest of three categories ("is carcinogenic to humans", "probably carcinogenic to humans" and "possibly carcinogenic to humans") used by IARC to classify potential carcinogens based on published scientific evidence."

Some examples of well-known agents that have been classified by IARC are listed below (excerpted from Fact Sheet No. 263):

ClassificationExamples of Agents
Carcinogenic to humans(usually based on strong evidence of carcinogenicity in humans)
  • Asbestos
  • Mustard gas
  • Tobacco (smoked and smokeless)
  • Gamma radiation
Probably carcinogenic to humans(usually based on strong evidence of carcinogenicity in animals)
  • Diesel engine exhaust
  • Sun lamps
  • UV radiation
  • UV radiation
Possibly carcinogenic to humans(usually based on evidence in humans which is considered credible, but for which other explanations could not be ruled out)
  • Coffee
  • Styrene
  • Gasoline engine exhaust
  • Welding fumes
  • ELF magnetic fields

WHO's International EMF Project Elements: