Systematic review of biological effects of exposure to static electric fields. Part II: Invertebrates and plants

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Abstract

Background

The construction of high-voltage direct current (HVDC) lines for the long-distance transport of energy is becoming increasingly popular. This has raised public concern about potential environmental impacts of the static electric fields (EF) produced under and near HVDC power lines. As the second part of a comprehensive literature analysis, the aim of this systematic review was to assess the effects of static EF exposure on biological functions in invertebrates and plants and to provide the basis for an environmental impact assessment of such exposures.

Methods

The Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) was used to guide the methodological conduct and reporting.

Results

Thirty-three studies – 14 invertebrate and 19 plant studies – met the eligibility criteria and were included in this review. The reported behavioral responses of insects and planarians upon exposure strongly suggest that invertebrates are able to perceive the presence of a static EF. Many other studies reported effects on physiological functions that were expressed as, for example, altered metabolic activity or delayed reproductive and developmental stages in invertebrates. In plants, leaf damage, alterations in germination rates, growth and yield, or variations in the concentration of essential elements, for example, have been reported. However, these physiological responses and changes in plant morphology appear to be secondary to surface stimulation by the static EF or caused by concomitant parameters of the electrostatic environment. Furthermore, all of the included studies suffered from methodological flaws, which lowered credibility in the results.

Conclusion

At field levels encountered from natural sources or HVDC lines (< 35 kV/m), the available data provide reliable evidence that static EF can trigger behavioral responses in invertebrates, but they do not provide evidence for adverse effects of static EF on other biological functions in invertebrates and plants. At far higher field levels (> 35 kV/m), adverse effects on physiology and morphology, presumably caused by corona-action, appear to be more likely. Higher quality studies are needed to unravel the role of air ions, ozone, nitric oxide and corona current on alterations in physiological functions and morphology.

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