Answer to Question #12127 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Micro/Radio Waves, Radar & Powerlines

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:

Q

Electromagnetic radiation exposure for individuals driving an electric car or hybrid electric vehicle is purported by some to be a health concern. I have wearied myself in research trying to find out if this is a legitimate concern. May I please have your professional opinion? The Electromagnetic Radiation Safety website is one side of the argument with innumerable links attached to the article.

A

I would not consider the magnetic fields in electric and hybrid vehicles to be a health concern. Here's why.

Your question links to a website that cites two recent studies. One measured the magnetic fields in electric and hybrid cars, and the second analyzed fields from batteries used in such vehicles and predicted exposure levels to occupants of the vehicles. Both studies reported field levels below the limits of a major international organization, the International Commission on Nonionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The measured field levels in these vehicles were well below ICNIRP guidelines. On that basis I would not consider such fields to be a health concern, although both ICNIRP and various national health agencies have recommended more research on the topic.

For perspective, magnetic fields of similar or higher levels have been measured in other forms of transportation including trains, subways, escalators, and moving walkways. (For more information, see the World Health Organization website.) Magnetic fields are produced by any electrical motor, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the amount of power produced. Even low-powered devices such as electric shavers and hair dryers can produce relatively strong magnetic fields in their immediate vicinity.

The website in your question refers to a controversy about magnetic fields and cancer. That issue mostly is related to people living near high-voltage power lines, which is a different exposure situation entirely. The European Code Against Cancer, published by a component of the World Health Organization states that "the known biological effects of these fields [which includes magnetic fields such as those measured in electric vehicles] can occur at much higher levels of exposure than those that occur in everyday situations . . . [and] are not recognized as causes of cancer."

Although I am not aware of any incidents, people with implanted devices such as cardioverter/defibrillators might want to avoid getting too close to the motors or battery packs of electric vehicles when they are generating a lot of power. Speaking for myself, I am more concerned about risks of driving, which are potentially serious and over which I have some control.

Kenneth R. Foster, PhD
Professor of Bioengineering, University of Pennsylvania

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 3 September 2017. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.