Maternal residential proximity to sources of extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields and adverse birth outcomes in a UK cohort

  1. Frank de Vocht1,*,
  2. Kimberly Hannam2,
  3. Philip Baker3,
  4. Raymond Agius1

Article first published online: 31 JAN 2014

DOI: 10.1002/bem.21840


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Studies have suggested that exposure to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMF) may be associated with increased risk of adverse birth outcomes. This study tested the hypothesis that close proximity to residential ELF-EMF sources is associated with a reduction in birth weight and increased the risk of low birthweight (LBW), small for gestational age (SGA) and spontaneous preterm birth (SPTB). Closest residential proximity to high voltage cables, overhead power lines, substations or towers during pregnancy was calculated for 140356 singleton live births between 2004 and 2008 in Northwest England. Associations between proximity and risk for LBW, SGA and SPTB were calculated, as well as associations with birth weight directly. Associations were adjusted for maternal age, ethnicity, parity and for part of the population additionally for maternal smoking during pregnancy. Reduced average birth weight of 212 g (95% confidence interval (CI): −395 to −29 g) was found for close proximity to a source, and was largest for female births (−251 g (95% CI: −487 to −15 g)). No statistically significant increased risks for any clinical birth outcomes with residential proximity of 50 m or less were observed. Living close (50 m or less) to a residential ELF-EMF source during pregnancy is associated with suboptimal growth in utero, with stronger effects in female than in males. However, only a few pregnant women live this close to high voltage cables, overhead power lines, substations or towers, likely limiting its public health impact. Bioelectromagnetics. 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.