Health-Economics Analyses Applied to ELF Electric and Magnetic Fields

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Extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields (ELF EMFs) are a common exposure for modern populations. The prevailing public-health protection paradigm is that quantitative exposure limits are based on the established acute effects, whereas the possible chronic effects are considered too uncertain for quantitative limits, but might justify precautionary measures. The choice of precautionary measures can be informed by a health-economics analysis (HEA).

We consider four such analyses of precautionary measures that have been conducted at a national or state level in California, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and Israel.

We describe the context of each analysis, examine how they deal with some of the more significant issues that arise, and present a comparison of the input parameters and assumptions used.

The four HEAs are methodologically similar. The most significant qualitative choices that have to be made are what dose-response relationship to assume, what allowance if any to make for uncertainty, and, for a CBA only, what diseases to consider, and all four analyses made similar choices.

These analyses suggest that, on the assumptions made, there are some low-cost measures, such as rephasing, that can be applied to transmission in some circumstances and that can be justifiable in cost-benefit terms, but that higher cost measures, such as undergrounding, become unjustifiable. Of the four HEAs, those in the United Kingdom and Israel were influential in determining the country's EMF policy. In California and Netherlands, the HEA may well have informed the debate, but the policy chosen did not stem directly from the HEA.

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