Electromagnetic Fields

Electric and magnetic fields, although commonly referred to together as electromagnetic fields (EMF), are actually distinct components of electricity.

And they are present everywhere that electricity flows. Your appliances and the wiring in the walls of your home produce both electric and magnetic fields.

Most of the interest regarding possible health effects is related to magnetic fields.

Electric fields

Electric fields are produced by voltage in a wire. For example, an electric field is present when an electric appliance is plugged into an outlet, even if it is not turned on. Electric fields can be blocked or shielded by objects such as buildings or trees.

Magnetic fields

Magnetic fields are produced when electric current is flowing, so they are only present when an electric appliance is turned on. As the flow of electricity – the current – increases, the magnetic fields increase. Magnetic fields pass through most objects and cannot be blocked as easily as electric fields.

Sources of magnetic fields

Electric and magnetic fields are anywhere that electricity is flowing. Two common sources of magnetic fields are electrical appliances and power lines.

Electrical appliances

Magnetic field strength from appliances depends on the current flowing through the appliance, the configuration of the wiring within the appliance, and a person's distance from the appliance.

Due to proximity, the magnetic fields produced by appliances are often much higher than those produced by power lines; however, the levels fade quickly as you move away from an appliance.

Power lines

Just like appliances, the magnetic field levels from power lines depend on the amount of current flowing on the line, the configuration of the circuit and the distance from the line.

The current or electrical load on a power line will depend on how much electricity is being used at any given time. Variations in electrical load follow a fairly typical pattern, with morning and evening peaks, and larger loads in the winter months than during the summer.

Magnetic fields diminish rapidly with distance, so as you move away from a power line the magnetic field strengths drop off quickly.

Health Canada monitors scientific research on EMF’s and reports that EMF’s from electrical devices and power lines can cause weak electrical currents to flow through the human body. However these currents are much smaller than those produced naturally by your brain, nerves, and heart and are not associated with any known health risks.

For more information, visit the Health Canada website.

Health Canada, it’s your health.

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