Electromagnetic fields (EMF)

2003 WHO research agenda for radio frequency fields


Overarching issues:

  • Epidemiology study designs should include children in the cohorts and consider endpoints that may be more or less specific to children (e.g. school performance).
  • The feasibility of studies of populations that have well-defined, high-level exposures (i.e., occupational cohorts) should be considered. A register of highly exposed populations could facilitate the design of such studies.
  • When planning epidemiology studies, investigators should consider international coordination and collaboration, non-cancer endpoints (e.g., cataracts, hormones, chronic diseases), and possible differences in exposure conditions in different countries.


  • International case-control study of brain tumours and tumours of the parotid gland.
  • Design and development of a personal dosimeter to contribute to the design of epidemiogical studies of base stations and other fixed sources.

Short-term or urgent needs:

  • Exposure surveys (in contrast to simple source evaluations) to assess an individual’s total exposure. This includes, for instance, the relative contribution of occupational and residential exposures, and the impact of age, gender and mobility. Regional variations also need to be assessed. Future epidemiology study design and interpretation depend on data from studies started now.
  • Additional exposure assessment research to permit the proper design of residential and occupational epidemiological studies.

Long-term or future needs:

  • A large prospective cohort study of mobile telephone users that includes incidence as well as mortality data. The major strength of such a study is that it addresses a wide range of outcomes. Moreover, new endpoints brought up by other research activities can be included even during the conduct of the study. International collaborations are recommended strongly to increase the cohort size to investigate possible associations with rare diseases. Given the long time span of prospective cohort studies, such a study needs to be implemented urgently.
  • Studies on the effects of RF sources other than mobile telephones (e.g. fixed sources) to affect sleep and other “soft” outcomes or chronic diseases should be addressed with epidemiology studies. In particular, possible effects from long-term, whole-body exposures at environmental levels need to be addressed.