Electromagnetic waves

Our lifestyles are increasingly exposing us to electromagnetic fields and waves, whether from household appliances, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, mobile phones, connected objects, high-voltage lines, etc. ANSES has been working for many years to advance knowledge of the health effects associated with these technologies.

Growing levels of exposure

Electromagnetic waves and fields, used for example by radio and television as a transmission medium (radiofrequencies) or by power lines for electricity distribution (low frequencies), have long been a feature of our environment. However, the development of new technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, new generations of mobile phones, connected objects and electric vehicles is increasing our exposure.

In the area of mobile communications, consumer behaviour and uses are changing at a fast pace, and the proliferation of technologies and networks is contributing to an increase in the population's exposure to electromagnetic waves, with large disparities depending on uses, locations, etc. This increase in exposure is due to interactions between a greater number of users, the diversification of uses (calls, texting, downloads, online viewing, etc.), variable usage times, but also the increase in the speed and efficiency of networks and terminals.

The development of electrical infrastructures due to changes in generation (renewable energies) and consumption (electric vehicles, "connected" cities and infrastructures) could also increase our exposure to low-frequency magnetic fields.

The maximum intensity of exposure is however regulated

For radiofrequencies, this is monitored by the French Frequency Agency (ANFR). The checks carried out each year show that environmental exposure to waves is well below the limits imposed by the regulations.

For low frequencies, the laws resulting from the Grenelle environmental round table created a public information system on the electromagnetic fields emitted by high-voltage lines. The regulations require exposure to be measured in the urbanised areas of municipalities crossed by high-voltage lines.

  • To learn more about electromagnetic waves, their health effects and ways to reduce our exposure, read our explanatory article.

Improve understanding of effects and assess the risks

In view of the proliferation of sources of exposure to electromagnetic waves and fields, there is a need for better knowledge of their health effects. This task has been entrusted to the Agency, which has conducted more than 15 expert appraisals on this issue since 2005, including on the health effects of 5G deployment, high-voltage lines, body scanners and light-emitting diodes.

These expert appraisals are the result of collective work coordinated by the Agency, involving specific working groups made up of multidisciplinary experts and the Expert Committee on "Physical agents and new technologies".

Regarding radiofrequencies, in 2011 the Agency set up a Dialogue Committee on "Radiofrequencies and health" as a forum for exchanges, discussion and information on scientific matters relating to the potential health effects of radiofrequencies and their assessment. This body brings together representatives of associations, companies, trade unions and the Agency's scientists and experts. It ensures that the questions raised by civil society are integrated into expert appraisal activities, whose results are then communicated to the committee. The committee's participation in drafting the specifications for certain studies is also an innovative approach to dialogue between scientific experts and stakeholders.

Because "radiofrequencies and health" requires targeted research, since 2011 the Agency has dedicated specific funding to this topic as part of the National Research Programme for Environmental and Occupational Health (PNR EST) that it runs. The goal of the PNR EST is to bring research and expert assessment closer together and to expand the research community.

ANSES's main recommendations

For waves emitted by mobile telephones (radiofrequencies):

  • intensive adult users of mobile telephones should use hands-free accessories more systematically and, more generally, all users should choose telephones with the lowest specific absorption rate (SAR) values;
  • the maximum exposure levels should be displayed on all everyday devices emitting electromagnetic radiation and designed to be used close to the body (DECT telephones, touch-screen tablets, baby monitors, etc.), as is already the case for mobile phones;
  • children's exposure should be reduced by encouraging moderate mobile phone use;
  • before their deployment, the development of new technologies should preferably be supported by studies or a documented literature review of the links between exposure and health impacts.

For low-frequency magnetic/electromagnetic fields (high-voltage lines):

For stakeholders responsible for land use planning, stop any further increase in the number of vulnerable people exposed around high-voltage lines by avoiding:

  • the establishment or development of new facilities hosting vulnerable people (hospitals, schools, etc.) immediately next to very-high voltage power lines;
  • the installation of new power lines over these facilities.