New York: State-funded workbook on EMF health risks published in 1990

Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) : A Training Workbook for Working People
Produced by The Labor Institute, NYC
October 1990

Funded by a grant from the New York State Department of Labor, Occupational safety and Health Training and Education Program, Contract Number C006029


“Evidence has emerged which raises questions about the health effects on workers of seemingly harmless electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emittedby power lines, electrical equipment and computer terminals. We now know that these fields are not harmless and that many workers and their families may be exposed to potentially dangerous electromagnetic fields.

Until now no training program existed for working people on this issue. Although there are several good popular booklets on EMFs, there were no training materials for workers to educate each other on this very pressing matter.

The New York State Department of Labor Hazard, Abatement Unit provided funding so that the Labor Institute could develop a training workbook and videolape on electromagnetic fields for working people around New York State.

The number of times the waves of an EMF move back and forth (alternate) in one second is its frequency. The electric power used in North America alternates (it is AC or alternating current) 60 times each second. This is called 60 hertz (Hz) power. we are mostly concerned in this training program with the impact of this 60 Hz field on workers. This is called ELF (extremely low frequency) EMFs (electromagnetic fields).

There is also a form of EMF called Pulsed Electromagnetic Fields. These fields produce energy in the form of “packets” or ‘blips” in which the EMF is turned on and off over and over again. These pulsed fields are different from powerline fields which are constant. Pulsed EMFs are emitted from VDTs. The evidence shows that pulsed EMFs are more damaging biologically than constant electromagnetic radia tion.

[Radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation used in wireless technology is pulsed EMF]

We need to know the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation because it was always thought that only ionizing radiation could hurt us. Now, we know that non-ionizing radiation may cause health problems too.

Non-ionizing radiation is the low-frequency form of radiation such as visible light, infrared, microwave, radio frequency, very low frequency (VLF) and extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation.

Although these types of radiation do not alter the atoms they strike, some, such as microwaves, can cause burns and possible damage to the reproductive system.

ELF fields, such as those created by 60 Hz alternating electric current (AC), have subtle biological effects as we shall see.

Question answered by Dr. Steve Markowitz:

Question: When EMF is absorbed into the body, what is being affected?

Answer: EMF would be absorbed by all cells in the body that would be reached. ]ust as EMF penetrates the walls of a house or building, it also penetrates the body and would reach all organs.”

From Attitudes to the health dangers of non-thermal EMFs, Michael Bevington, 2008

“…most of the international scientific community researching in the field of bioelectromagnetics seem to have accepted non-thermal EMF effects for over 20 years. Only parts of the telecommunications industry and some governments and regulators, supported by a small minority of the media, prefer to cling to outdated science in the hopes of maximising short-term profit at the expense of long-term illness. Thus, for instance, a standard textbook on bioelectromagnetics (2007 edition) states that ‘the biophysical lore prevailing until the late 1980s and lingering to this day’ was that external EFs had no effect on human tissue unless they could trigger an excitable membrane, such as in the heart by a pacemaker, produce heating (thermal), or move an ion along a field gradient. ‘However, the position had to be changed as the evidence for weak (nonthermal) EMF bioeffects became overwhelming’.[3] Thus, for the last 20 years or so the balance of evidence has suggested that exposures to radio frequency, ELF and microwave EMFs at non-thermal levels, all well below the ICNIRP thermal guidelines, cause significant adverse health effects to the general population.

[3] Barnes, Frank S., and Greenebaum, Ben (edd.), Handbook of Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields: Biological and Medical Aspects of Electrical Fields, (New York/Abingdon: CRC Press, 3rd ed. based on updated literature reviews to mid 2005, 2007), p.377.”

Workbook source:

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