Answer to Question #13321 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Pregnancy and Radiation — Power lines, magnets, computers, airport screening, cell phones, radar

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


Can an extended exposure to low radio frequency energy potentially cause an atrial septal defect if the exposure is in the first trimester of pregnancy?


From the past 70 years of research on the potential biological effects of radio frequency (RF) exposure, while high intensity exposures can have thermal effects on fetus, there is no proven evidence that low intensity RF exposure can cause effects on a fetus in the womb. The World Health Organization (WHO) states "Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields." Here low level means intensity below the internationally recognized exposure limits.

The International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) has recently published a revised standard C95.1-2019 "IEEE Standard for Safety Levels with Respect to Human Exposure to Electric, Magnetic, and Electromagnetic Fields, 0 Hz to 300 GHz" (the standard can be obtained at no cost from the IEEE Get Program). In this standard, there is a section C.6.1 Teratogenicity, Reproduction, and Development, which summarizes research on the subject. The weight-of-evidence from studies of human populations exposed to RF fields from video display units, magnetic imaging devices, medical diathermy units, heat sealers, and radar does not suggest that teratogenic (effects on a fetus), reproductive, or developmental effects occur for exposures within the limits recommended in this standard.

The other international organization, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, endorsed by WHO also has similar exposure limits. Therefore, you can trust world health authorities and these science-based standards that low intensity exposures do not cause health effects to a developing baby in the womb. 

Dr. C-K Chou

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 10 February 2020. 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.