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EMF Standards

How Much EMF Exposure is "Safe""

The answer to that question depends on who you ask. Government agencies might give one answer, which will vary from country to country (see below). Utility companies will offer a different answer. People who are truly concerned about the non-thermal health effects will give a different answer althogether.

The truth is, there is not one answer that is correct for all situations. Remember: the duration of exposure is an important factor, as is the frequency and wave form. Also the age of the individual, and overall health play a heavy role as well. If an individual is electrically sensiticve, his/her "safe" exposure limits might be much lower than usual.

I think we can all agree that less EMF is better. Here is what we would recommend for prolonged exposure for the general public:

  • AC magnetic fields: 2.5 mG ELF; 0.25 mG VLF
  • AC electric fields: 50 V/m
  • Radiowaves: 0.1 microWatts/cm² (614 mV/m)
  • Body voltage: 50 mV
  • Dirty Electricity: 50 GS Units

The exposure limits in the following tables, gathered from various sources, were derived from well established, severe biological effects (such as tissue heating and nerve stimulation) data. This information is not meant to present "SAFE" vs. "UNSAFE" levels when it comes to the much lower exposure thresholds studied in the epidemiological literature (with respect to cancer, melatonin suppression, and other biological effects). It is clearly not yet known what the truly safe levels of exposure are. With that in mind, here are the exposure guidelines that are available:

Building Biology Evaluation Guidelines:

No Concern
Slight Concern
Considerable Concern
Significant Concern
AC Electric Fields
<1 V/m with ground potential 1-5 V/m 5-50 V/m >50 V/m
<0.3 V/m without ground 0.3-1.5 V/m 1.5-10 V/m >10 V/m
<10 mV body voltage 10-100 mV 100-1000 mV >1000 mV
AC Magnetic Fields
<20 nT
(<0.2 mG)
20-100 nT
(0.2-1 mG)
100-500 nT
(1-5 mG)
>500 nT
(>5 mG)
Radio-frequency Radiation
<0.1 µW/m² 0.1-10 µW/m² 10-1000 µW/m² >1000 µW/m²
Static Electric Fields
<100 V surface potential 100-500 V 500-2000 V >2000 V
Static Magnetic Fields
<2° compass deviation 2-10° 10-100° >100°
<1 µT steel deviation 1-5 µT 5-20 µT >20 µT
<1 µT DC current fluctuation 1-2 µT 2-10 µT >10 µT
Equivalent dose rate increase
[e.g. 100 nSv/h baseline]
[150-170 nSv/h]
[170-200 nSv/h]
[>200 nSv/h]
<30 Bq/m3 radon
(<0.8 pCi/l) radon
30-60 Bq/m3
(0.8-1.6 pCi/l)
60-200 Bq/m3
(1.6-5.4 pCi/l)
>200 Bq/m3
(>5.4 pCi/l)
For more details see Building Biology Evaluation Guidelines SBM-2008 by Bauiologie MAES & Partner and IBN.

BioInitiative Report: Section 17

A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields

IEEE Standard for Safety Levels C95.6
based on immediate biological effects at 50/60 Hz for general public
Brain.006 @20Hz
Heart.943 @167Hz
Whole Body5000
Head & Torso18.1/frequency
More info: EPRI Comments on the IEEE Standard for Safety Levels With Respect to Human Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields, 0 to 3 kHz although outdated (2002)

Transmission Line EMF Standards and Guidelines in the US
w/i R.O.W.Edge of R.O.W. Edge of R.O.W.
Florida 8 kV/m* 2 kV/m 150 mG* (max. load)
10 kV/m** 200 mG** (max. load)
250 mG*** (max. load)
Minnesota 8 kV/m
Montana 7 kV/m+ 1 kV/m
New Jersey 3 kV/m
New York 11.8 kV/m 1.6 kV/m 200 mG (max. load)
11 kV/m++
7 kV/m+
Oregon 9 kV/m
* For lines of 69-230 kV.
** For 500-kV lines.
*** For 500-kV lines on certain existing R.O.W.
+ Maximum for highway crossings.
++ Maximum for private road crossings.
R.O.W. = right-of-way.

The Swedish Computer Monitor Standards
Sweden offers two measurement and emission guidelines for computers monitors:

The first, known as MPR II, prescribes limits on electric and magnetic field emissions in the ELF and VLF ranges, as well as the static field.

A more recent and more restrictive standard, promoted by the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees (TCO), addresses the entire computer. In addition to field emissions, TCO '95 includes guidelines for energy consumption, screen flicker, luminance and keyboard use.

Frequency Range MPR II TCO '95
Electric Fields:
DC: Static Field +/-500 V +/-500 V
ELF: 5 Hz - 2 KHz (Band I) up to 25 V/m up to 10 V/m
VLF: 2 KHz - 400 KHz (Band II) up to 2.5 V/m up to 1 V/m
Magnetic Fields:
ELF: 5 Hz - 2 KHz (Band I) up to 2.5 mG up to 2.0 mG
VLF: 2 KHz - 400 KHz (Band II) up to .25 mG up to .25 mG
MPR II measurements are taken at a distance of 50 cm (approximately 20 inches) at 16 points around the monitor, at 3 different levels.

TCO measurements are taken at a distance of 30 cm (approximately 12 inches) in front of and 50 cm around the sides of the monitor (except for Band II magnetic fields and the static field, which are measured at 50 cm in front of the screen).

Guidelines from the
International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (IRPA/INIRC)
Exposure Amount
(50/60 Hz)
Electric Field Magnetic Field
Occupational: Whole working day: 10 kV/m 5 G (5,000 mG)
Short term: * 30 kV/m 50 G (50,000 mG)
For limbs: 250 G (250,000 mG)
General Public: Up to 24 hours per day: 5 kV/m 1 G (1,000 mG)
Few hours per day: 10 kV/m 10 G (10,000 mG)
* For electric fields of 10-30 kV/m:
[field strength (in kV/m)] x [hours of exposure] should not exceed 80 for the whole working day.
Whole-body exposure to magnetic fields up to 2 hours per day should not exceed 50 Gauss.
Source: IRPA/INIRC 1990.

ACGIH Occupational Threshold Limit Values for 60-Hz EMF
Electric Field Magnetic Field
Occupational exposures should not exceed 25 kV/m (from 0 Hz to 100 Hz).
Prudence dictates the use of protective devices (e.g. suits, gloves, insulation) in fields above 15 k/Vm.
Occupational exposure should not exceed 10 G (10,000 mG).
For workers with cardiac pacemakers maintain exposure at or below 1 kV/m. For workers with cardiac pacemakers, the field should not exceed 1 G (1,000 mG).
Source: American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists (ACGIH) 1994.

Maximum Recommended Permissible RF Exposure Levels
According to American National Standards Institute (ANSI) C95.1-1994
ANSI Uncontrolled refers to an environment in which the energy levels are not known, or where some people present may not be aware of the EM fields.
Controlled refers to an environment in which the energy levels can be accurately measured and everyone on the premises is aware of the presence of EM fields.

The ANSI exposure limits are the average exposure over a 6 minute period.

Notice that in the frequency range of 30 MHz to 300 MHz, the safe exposure limits are the lowest. This is the frequency range where the human body is a more efficient absorber of radiation. Notice also that the Swedish standards for computer monitors are far stricter that the ANSI standards in the low frequencies.

More Standards:

EMF WORLD WIDE STANDARDS Info from International EMF Project
Look up standards by country, all around the world

Options to Minimize Non-Ionizing Electromagnetic Radiation Exposure in Office Environments Good PDF collection of exposure recommendations

The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory at the University of California has published its Health & Safety Manual on the Internet. Among other things, it contains an excellent section on "Non-Ionizing Radiation and Fields". It is so comprehensive and well presented that we highly recommend a visit. It covers:
* static (dc) magnetic and electric fields;
* extremely low-frequency fields, including power-line fields at 60 Hz;
* radio-frequency (rf) fields and radiation with frequencies below 300 MHz; and
* microwave radiation with frequencies between 300 MHz and 300 GHz.

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