Looking back at the history of science, it seems that adverse effects have frequently been reported early on, but mostly been ignored – e.g. in the cases of asbestos, lead and cigarettes. It has typically taken decades to understand the mechanisms of toxicity and for the official position to shift. The European Environment Agency EEA has produced several reports on this topic under the title “Late lessons from early warnings” [146, 147].
Thirty-six of the fifty-five HF-EMF studies reported in this review used field strengths lower than 6 V/m (∼100 mW/m2), and 31 of these 36 studies (86 %) nevertheless found statistically significant adverse effects, starting at about 2 V/m and peaking around 6 V/m. This is below the regulatory thresholds established by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) (41 V/m, or 61 V/m above 2 GHz), and even below the particularly stringent installation limits only found in a handful of countries . (The installation limit is measured where people can stay for long periods of time, i.e. homes, schools, working places and playgrounds for kids.)
Panagopoulos et al. detected a bioactive window at a distance of 20–30 cm from GSM mobile phones, where the power density equaled 100 mW/m2 (∼6 V/m), and where toxic effects in Drosophila are already observed after a 1-min exposure. These results have been replicated several times , , . If this is generally true for insects, the limit for toxic effects would be 100 times below the current ICNIRP limit (10 W/m2 or 61 V/m), which protects only against thermal effects (in humans), and possibly 1,000 times lower than current limits for chronic exposure, i.e. 10 mW/m2 or 2 V/m (all comparisons based on power densities, i.e. energy per surface area units) . A recent study found significant effects on gene transcription and chromosomal abnormalities using a WiFi signal at 4.8 mW/m2 or 1.35 V/m in Drosophila exposed for 9 days . These findings of biological effects in insects starting at around 2 V/m imply that existing standards would have to be revised and made more stringent, to include nature protection/wild-life concerns.
Current ambient power densities are generally still below 10 or 100 mW/m2 (i.e. 2 or 6 V/m). A recent study measured values of 0.17–0.53 V/m in the field (0.1–0.8 mW/m2) . Values mainly in the range of 0.5–1 V/m were found around schools in Crete . Nationwide measurements of the National Observatory of electromagnetic fields (NOEF) in Greece found average values higher than 1 V/m in 55 % of sites, and values greater than 2 V/m in 20 % of measurement sites . A recent review lists power densities ranging from 0.23 V/m in Swiss residential areas to 1.85 V/m in an Australian university neighborhood . In urban hot spots (UK), a maximum of 150 mW/m2 (7.5 V/m) and an average of 25 mW/m2 (3.3 V/m) were measured (including WiFi) . The French “Agence nationale des fréquences” (ANFR) found an average of 1.17 V/m at 1,300 5G base stations, and the authors expect a 20 % increase in the next years . In Belgium, Italy, Switzerland, Russia and China, the installation limit is 6 V/m (100 mW/m2) for mobile telephony base stations, whereas Germany, the UK, the USA and many other countries adhere to the much higher ICNIRP limits [94, 155]. The ICNIRP limits have recently been questioned, since they are based on findings from more than 20 years ago, and their assumptions have been proven false . Furthermore, the ICNIRP limits are designed to protect humans and have not been tested as to their adequacy in protecting wildlife and insects .
Open access paper: https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/reveh-2023-0072/html
Radiofrequency radiation is a form of energetic air pollution and should be regulated as such (25). U.S. law (130) [42 USC § 7602 (g)] defines air pollution as:
“The term “air pollutant” means any air pollution agent or combination of such agents, including any physical, chemical, biological, radioactive (including source material, special nuclear material, and byproduct material) substance or matter which is emitted into or otherwise enters the ambient air. Such term includes any precursors to the formation of any air pollutant, to the extent the Administrator has identified such precursor or precursors for the particular purpose for which the term “air pollutant” is used.”
Unlike classic chemical toxicology pollutants in which a culprit can typically be identified and quantified, RFR may function as a “process” pollutant in the air not unlike how endocrine disruptors function in food and water in which the stressor causes a cascade of unpredictable systemic effects. The stimulus in the RFR analogy would be physical/energetic rather than chemical.
Long-term chronic low-level EMF exposure guidelines, which do not now exist, should be set accordingly for wildlife; mitigation techniques where possible should be developed; full environmental reviews should be conducted prior to the licensing/buildout of major new technologies like 5G; and environmental laws/regulations should be strictly enforced (25). We have a long over-due obligation to consider potential consequences to other species from our current unchecked technophoria—an obligation we have thus far not considered before species go extinct. In the views of these authors, the evidence requiring action is clear.
Open access paper: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpubh.2022.1000840
B. Blake Levitt, Henry C. Lai, Albert M. Manville. Effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields on flora and fauna, part 1. Rising ambient EMF levels in the environment. Rev Environ Health. 2021 May 27. doi: 10.1515/reveh-2021-0026.
Ambient levels of electromagnetic fields (EMF) have risen sharply in the last 80 years, creating a novel energetic exposure that previously did not exist. Most recent decades have seen exponential increases in nearly all environments, including rural/remote areas and lower atmospheric regions. Because of unique physiologies, some species of flora and fauna are sensitive to exogenous EMF in ways that may surpass human reactivity. There is limited, but comprehensive, baseline data in the U.S. from the 1980s against which to compare significant new surveys from different countries. This now provides broader and more precise data on potential transient and chronic exposures to wildlife and habitats. Biological effects have been seen broadly across all taxa and frequencies at vanishingly low intensities comparable to today’s ambient exposures. Broad wildlife effects have been seen on orientation and migration, food finding, reproduction, mating, nest and den building, territorial maintenance and defense, and longevity and survivorship. Cyto- and geno-toxic effects have been observed. The above issues are explored in three consecutive parts: Part 1 questions today’s ambient EMF capabilities to adversely affect wildlife, with more urgency regarding 5G technologies. Part 2 explores natural and man-made fields, animal magnetoreception mechanisms, and pertinent studies to all wildlife kingdoms. Part 3 examines current exposure standards, applicable laws, and future directions. It is time to recognize ambient EMF as a novel form of pollution and develop rules at regulatory agencies that designate air as ‘habitat’ so EMF can be regulated like other pollutants. Wildlife loss is often unseen and undocumented until tipping points are reached. Long-term chronic low-level EMF exposure standards, which do not now exist, should be set accordingly for wildlife, and environmental laws should be strictly enforced.
Ambient background levels of EMF have risen sharply in the last four decades, creating a novel energetic exposure that previously did not exist at the Earth’s surface, lower atmospheric levels, or underwater environments. Recent decades have seen exponential increases in nearly all environments, including remote regions. There is comprehensive but outdated baseline data from the 1980s against which to compare significant new surveys from other countries which found increasing RFR levels in urban, suburban and remote areas, primarily from cell infrastructure/phone/WiFi exposures. One indicative comparison of similar sites between 1980 and today found a 70-fold (7,000%) increase in ambient RFR . The increased infrastructure required for 5G networks will widely infuse the environment with new atypical exposures, as are increasing satellite systems communicating with ground-based civilian networks. The new information provides broader perspective with more precise data on both potential transient and chronic exposures to wildlife and habitats. Biological effects have been seen broadly across all taxa at vanishingly low intensities comparable to today’s ambient exposures as examined in Part 2. The major question presented in Part 1 was whether increasing anthropogenic environmental EMF can cause biological effects in wildlife that may become more urgent with 5G technologies, in addition to concerns over potentially more lenient allowances being considered by major standards-setting committees at FCC and ICNIRP (examined in Part 3). There are unique signaling characteristics inherent to 5G transmission as currently designed of particular concern to non-human species. Background levels continue to rise but no one is studying cumulative effects to nonhuman species.
B Blake Levitt, Henry C Lai, Albert M Manville. Effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields on flora and fauna, Part 2 impacts: how species interact with natural and man-made EMF. Rev Environ Health. 2021 Jul 8. doi:10.1515/reveh-2021-0050.
Ambient levels of nonionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF) have risen sharply in the last five decades to become a ubiquitous, continuous, biologically active environmental pollutant, even in rural and remote areas. Many species of flora and fauna, because of unique physiologies and habitats, are sensitive to exogenous EMF in ways that surpass human reactivity. This can lead to complex endogenous reactions that are highly variable, largely unseen, and a possible contributing factor in species extinctions, sometimes localized. Non-human magnetoreception mechanisms are explored. Numerous studies across all frequencies and taxa indicate that current low-level anthropogenic EMF can have myriad adverse and synergistic effects, including on orientation and migration, food finding, reproduction, mating, nest and den building, territorial maintenance and defense, and on vitality, longevity and survivorship itself. Effects have been observed in mammals such as bats, cervids, cetaceans, and pinnipeds among others, and on birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, microbes and many species of flora. Cyto- and geno-toxic effects have long been observed in laboratory research on animal models that can be extrapolated to wildlife. Unusual multi-system mechanisms can come into play with non-human species - including in aquatic environments - that rely on the Earth's natural geomagnetic fields for critical life-sustaining information. Part 2 of this 3-part series includes four online supplement tables of effects seen in animals from both ELF and RFR at vanishingly low intensities. Taken as a whole, this indicates enough information to raise concerns about ambient exposures to nonionizing radiation at ecosystem levels. Wildlife loss is often unseen and undocumented until tipping points are reached. It is time to recognize ambient EMF as a novel form of pollution and develop rules at regulatory agencies that designate air as 'habitat' so EMF can be regulated like other pollutants. Long-term chronic low-level EMF exposure standards, which do not now exist, should be set accordingly for wildlife, and environmental laws should be strictly enforced - a subject explored in Part 3.
Effects from both natural and man-made EMF over a wide range of frequencies, intensities, wave forms, and signaling characteristics have been observed in all species of animals and plants investigated. The database is now voluminous with in vitro, in vivo, and field studies from which to extrapolate. The majority of studies have found biological effects at both high and low-intensity man-made exposures, many with implications for wildlife health and viability. It is clear that ambient environmental levels are biologically active in all non-human species which can have unique physiological mechanisms that require natural geomagnetic information for their life’s most important activities. Sensitive magnetoreception allows living organisms, including plants, to detect small variations in environmental EMF and react immediately as well as over the long term, but it can also make some organisms exquisitely vulnerable to man-made fields. Anthropogenic EMF may be contributing more than we currently realize to species’ diminishment and extinction. Exposures continue to escalate without understanding EMF as a potential causative and/or co-factorial agent. It is time to recognize ambient EMF as a potential novel stressor to other species, design technology to reduce exposures to as low as reasonably achievable, keep systems wired as much as possible to reduce ambient RFR, and create laws accordingly — a subject explored more thoroughly in Part 3.
This is Part 3 and concludes a three-part series on electromagnetic field (EMF) effects to wildlife.
Part 1 focused on measurements of rising background levels in urban, suburban, rural, and deep forested areas as well as from satellites. Discussed were different physics models used to determine safety and their appropriateness to current exposures. The unusual signaling characteristics and unique potential biological effects from 5G were explored. The online edition of Part 1 contains a Supplement Table of measured global ambient levels.
Part 2 is an in-depth review of species extinctions, exceptional non-human magnetoreception capabilities, and other species’ known reactions to anthropogenic EMF exposures as studied in laboratories and in the field. All animal kingdoms are included and clear vulnerabilities are seen. Part 2 contains four Supplement Tables of extensive low-level studies across all taxa, including ELF/RFR genotoxic effects.
Part 3 discusses current exposure standards, existing federal, and international laws that should be enforced but often are not, and concludes with a detailed discussion of aeroecology—the concept of defining air as habitat that would serve to protect many, though not all, vulnerable species today.
Existing environmental laws in the U.S., Canada, and throughout Europe should be enforced. For example, in the U.S., NEPA and its EISs should be required each time a new broadly polluting EMF technology like 5G is introduced, not as the current policy is being interpreted through “CatEx” or simple dismissal. EISs should be required for all new technologies that create pervasive ambient EMF such as ‘smart’ grid/metering, Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS), small cell networks, and the 5G “Internet of Things.” Where wildlife species are affected, systems and networks that currently meet radiation levels for CatEx (and are therefore exempt from review) should be required to develop/implement NEPA and EIS reviews for cumulative exposures to wildlife from multi-transmission sources.
Efforts should begin to develop acceptable exposure and emissions standards for wildlife, which today do not exist. Setting actual exposure standards for wildlife will be an enormous challenge, and for some species there may be no safe thresholds, especially with 5G and MMW. We may simply need to back away from many wireless technologies altogether, especially the densification of infrastructure, and refocus on developing better dedicated wired systems in urban, suburban and rural areas. Environmentally sensitive wilderness areas should be considered off limits for wireless infrastructure. Once air is seen as ‘habitat,’ there may come a time when a cell phone call voluntarily not made will be understood as removing something detrimental from air’s waste-stream, the way we now see plastic bags regarding terrestrial/aquatic pollution.
There are some reasonably simple things that can be done in the ELF ranges that would benefit insect, bird, and many wild mammal and ruminant species. For example, high-tension electric utility corridors can be built or changed to cancel magnetic fields with different wiring configurations. This is already widely done in the industry for other reasons but it also coincidentally eliminates at the source at least the magnetic field component for wildlife. There are other approaches too but further discussion is beyond the scope of this paper.
Research into the long-term, low-level ambient exposures to humans and wildlife is imperative given the picture that is emerging. There is a likelihood that low-level ambient EMF is a factor, or co-factor, in some of the adverse environmental effects we witness today—many previously discussed in this series of papers. There is currently no research in any industrialized country that looks to the broader implications to all flora and fauna from these rising background levels, even as effects to individual species are observed. This is an important, emerging environmental issue that must be addressed.
In this broad three-part review, we sought to clarify if rising ambient levels of EMF were within the range of effects observed in in vitro, in vivo, and field studies in all animal phyla thus far investigated. We further discussed mechanisms pertinent to different animal physiology, behavior, and unique environments. The intention was to determine if current levels have the ability to impact wildlife species according to current studies. The amount of papers that find effects at today’s EMF levels to myriad species is robust. Some unusual patterns did emerge, including broadly in flora that react beneficially to static EMF but adversely to AC-ELF and especially to RFR.
There is a very large database supporting the hypothesis that effects occur in unpredictable ways in numerous species in all representative taxa from modern ambient exposures. Associations are strong enough to warrant caution. New enlightened public policies are needed, as well as existing laws enforced, reflecting a broader understanding of non-human species’ interactions with environmental EMF. Emerging areas, such as aeroecology, help define airspace as habitat and bring better awareness of challenges faced by aerial species—including animals and plants. But we are in the nascent stages of understanding the full complexity and detailed components of electroecology—the larger category of how technology affects all biology and ecosystems.
Historically, control over the realm of nonionizing radiation has been the purview of the physics and engineering communities. It is time that the more appropriate branches of biological science, specializing in living systems, stepped up to fill in larger perspectives and more accurate knowledge. We need to task our technology sector engineers to create safer products and networks with an emphasis on wired systems, and to keep all EMF exposures as low as reasonably achievable.
Alfonso Balmori. Electromagnetic radiation as an emerging driver factor for the decline of insects. Sci Total Environ. Available online 28 January 2021, 144913. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.
• Biodiversity of insects is threatened worldwide
• This reductions is mainly attributed to agricultural practice and pesticide use
• There is sufficient evidence on the damage caused by electromagnetic radiation
• Electromagnetic radiation may be a complementary driver in this decline
• The precautionary principle should be applied before any new deployment (e.g. 5G)
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are invisible electric and magnetic fields of force. All living organisms have evolved in Earth’s natural EMFs and depend on them to live. Natural sources include Earth’s static magnetic field, and static electricity, including differences in charges among clouds and the earth that can lead to lightning. Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) originates when fields change.
• Anthropogenic electromagnetic radiation (light, radiofrequency) is perceived to threaten pollinators and biodiversity.
• Potential risks are artificial light at night (ALAN) and anthropogenic radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (AREMR).
• We assessed the quantity and quality of evidence, and the level of consensus, to distil key messages for science and policy.
• ALAN can alter pollinator communities and functions, although this remains to be well established.
• Evidence of AREMR impacts is inconclusive due to a lack of high quality, field-realistic studies.
• Whether pollinators and pollination face a threat from the spread of ALAN or AREMR remains a major knowledge gap.
Worldwide urbanisation and use of mobile and wireless technologies (5G, Internet of Things) is leading to the proliferation of anthropogenic electromagnetic radiation (EMR) and campaigning voices continue to call for the risk to human health and wildlife to be recognised. Pollinators provide many benefits to nature and humankind, but face multiple anthropogenic threats. Here, we assess whether artificial light at night (ALAN) and anthropogenic radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (AREMR), such as used in wireless technologies (4G, 5G) or emitted from power lines, represent an additional and growing threat to pollinators. A lack of high quality scientific studies means that knowledge of the risk to pollinators from anthropogenic EMR is either inconclusive, unresolved, or only partly established. A handful of studies provide evidence that ALAN can alter pollinator communities, pollination and fruit set. Laboratory experiments provide some, albeit variable, evidence that the honey bee Apis mellifera and other invertebrates can detect EMR, potentially using it for orientation or navigation, but they do not provide evidence that AREMR affects insect behaviour in ecosystems. Scientifically robust evidence of AREMR impacts on abundance or diversity of pollinators (or other invertebrates) are limited to a single study reporting positive and negative effects depending on the pollinator group and geographical location. Therefore, whether anthropogenic EMR (ALAN or AREMR) poses a significant threat to insect pollinators and the benefits they provide to ecosystems and humanity remains to be established.
EKLIPSE Project: Electromagnetic fields threaten wildlife
- EMR represents a potential risk to the orientation or movement of invertebrates and may affect insect behavior and reproduction;
- bird orientation can be disrupted by weak magnetic fields in the radiofrequency range, and the same may be true for other vertebrates including mammals; and
- EMR exposure may affect plant metabolism due to production of reactive oxygen species often resulting in reduced plant growth.
- Moreover, there is “an urgent need to strengthen the scientific basis of the knowledge on EMR and their potential impacts on wildlife.”
The EKLIPSE review was conducted at the request of Buglife, the only European organization devoted to the conservation of invertebrates. Invertebrates are vitally important to humans and other life forms which could not survive without them; yet, thousands of species are declining, and many are heading towards extinction.
Additional Resources (Updated August 14, 2021)
Nyqvist D, Durif C, Johnsen MG, De Jong K, Forland TN, Sivle LD. Electric and magnetic senses in marine animals, and potential behavioral effects of electromagnetic surveys. Mar Environ Res. 2020 Mar;155:104888. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/
Panagopoulos DJ, Balmori A, Chrousos GP. On the biophysical mechanism of sensing upcoming earthquakes by animals. Sci Total Environ. 2020 Jan 29;717:136989. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/