Combined biological and health effects of electromagnetic fields and other agents in the published literature

Electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation exerts both stand-alone and combined effects on biological systems. The present study examines the scope of the combined effects; i.e., identify effects on biological systems from combined exposure to electromagnetic fields/radiation and at least one other agent. Only articles in which the presence of EMF had some effect (beneficial or adverse) on the biological system were selected. A comprehensive and novel query was developed using an iterative hybrid approach, whereby articles related by common text and by citation linkages were retrieved. This retrieved literature was: 1) clustered algorithmically into 32 biomedical sub-themes (assigned by the authors); 2) grouped through factor analysis into 32 factors; and 3) subsequently grouped manually (by the authors) into an effects-based taxonomy. The common principles within each thematic cluster/group that accounted for the combined effects were identified.

There is a wide range of potential effects in which EMF plays a supportive role. Beneficial effects include improved treatment of chronic diseases like cancer by enhancing ionizing radiation or chemotherapy, and accelerated healing of wounds and injuries in concert with other agents. Adverse effects, on the other hand, include enhanced carcinogenesis, cellular or genetic mutations, and teratogenicity. It should be noted that community consensus does not exist on these potential effects, either beneficial or adverse, although there is substantial credible scientific evidence supporting the above effects (as the body of this paper shows). In real life, the body is exposed to multiple environmental agents simultaneously, e.g., a variety of EMF, pesticides, food additives, and air pollution. The number of potential environmental agent combinations is large, and each combination could potentially have beneficial or adverse effects; much work remains to be done before definitive statements about EMF safety can be made.


  • EMF health impacts increase substantially when EMFs function as co-promoters.
  • Inclusion of co-promoters essential for modeling real-world effects
  • EMF combined effects occurred in specific ‘windows’ of parameter space.
  • EMFs for positive medical therapeutics were relatively short-term, especially those that were pulsed.
  • Health impacts from environmental exposure EMFs required relatively long exposures.

EMF; Electromagnetic fields; Magnetic fields; Radio frequency radiation; Microwave radiation; Interactive effects; Combined effects; Synergistic effects; Additive effects; Antagonist effects; Potentiative effects; Co-promotion; Co-mutagenic; Co-carcinogenic; Combined exposure; Combined treatment; DMBA; TPA; Text mining; Document clustering

Author(s): Ronald N. Kostoff and Clifford G.Y. Lau
Organization(s): Georgia Institute of Technology,Institute for Defense Analyses
Source: Technological Forecasting and Social Change
Year: 2013

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