Electromagnetic Fields in Hybrids

Q: Does my hybrid have elevated electromagnetic fields? If so, will they hurt my family or me?

A: That’s two questions.

To date, neither an exhaustive web search nor the services of a crack librarian at the University of Texas have been able to unearth precise measurements of electromagnetic fields, or EMF, in hybrids. What you do with this knowledge, or lack thereof, depends largely upon your personality. Currently, the public can only be sure that the electronics contained in the vehicles meet FCC standards for electromagnetic interference (EMI) with other electronic devices.

But you should also know that EMFs are everywhere. Some come from the earth (why a compass works), some from the sun (sunspots intensify them), and some from man-made sources like power lines, televisions, radios, microwave ovens, and even cars. Should you be concerned about excess EMF exposure in your hybrid? The answer, after an exhaustive survey of available medical and engineering literature, is a resounding "nobody knows for sure."

EMF comes in the form of waves of varying frequency and wavelength, from the extra-low frequency (ELF) of power transmission lines to the very high frequency of microwaves, x-rays, and gamma rays. If you’re wondering which kind might be more harmful, consider spending 30 seconds in a microwave oven versus standing next to a power pole for 30 seconds. The kind of EMF most likely to be found in a hybrid is the lower-frequency type, which dissipates very rapidly with distance from the source.

Swedish Muckrakers: Volvo Doesn’t Measure Up

In 2002, the Swedish magazine Vi Bilagare EMF-tested 14 vehicle models and concluded that Volvo had three cars with excessive EMF. The fields measured were 0.9 microteslas (µT) at the chest and 0.6 µT at head level in the driver’s side, but the numbers most widely reported were 12-18 µT, which were measured sporadically at the area corresponding to the left ankle of the driver.

For comparison, the European public exposure standard is about 100 µT, the average Swedish apartment measures about 0.1 µT, and the field under a high-voltage power line ranges from 3-10 µT. The magazine’s measurements may even be inaccurate, because frequency was not mentioned—instruments for measuring EMFs are usually geared to pick up specific frequencies.

Volvo responded that the reason for these higher levels of EMF was that the battery was in the rear of the car and the juice traveled by cable to the alternator in the engine compartment. This setup is similar to many of today’s hybrids, with their battery packs placed toward the rear and cables running underneath the occupants toward the front. In this case, Volvo offered retrofitted EMF shielding kits for consumers who requested them while denying that there was any proof EMF could be harmful.

Scant Evidence of EMF Harm

And Volvo is right about that. Danger and tragedy are likely to hit the headlines and stick in people’s minds. What could be more tragic than children’s lives cut short by a horrifying disease? The most common warnings about EMF link it to childhood leukemia, but a study in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics details how epidemiological and experimental studies have failed to prove a causal link between the disease and EMF exposure. In Fallon, Nevada, perhaps the most famous "cluster" of childhood leukemia cases, EMF isn’t even considered a factor.

On the other hand, the California EMF Program concluded, after a survey of existing studies, that excess EMF exposure might be a risk factor for childhood leukemia. Some dissent was noted in the California team’s final letter, though, because there is no evidence at all that EMF causes pathological response in animal or laboratory studies. The World Health Organization covers its bases by pointing out that, while there is no convincing proof of a causal link between EMF and health problems, much more research needs to be done.

One Born Every Minute

But if you still feel uneasy about the effect EMF might have on your family and your person, there are those who would love you to get in touch! First choice: see if the Amish community will take you in. But if living, working, and traveling without any of the conveniences of modern life is beyond your ability or desire for safety, you can always purchase a handheld EMF meter. Although notoriously inaccurate, a handheld meter just may help you place your bed at a distance from that hot spot on the wall, locate that pesky poltergeist, or know when to don the tinfoil hat. And if that’s not enough, you can always slip into some slinky silver underwear, the equivalent of yesteryear’s hair shirts for the true believer. Somebody should tell Mel Gibson.

Don’t agree with this article? Submit your comment below.


  • daniel

    i think ,if you drive long hours every day,especially in california,the EMF will eventually affect your body. The high voltage cables are located under the seat,so practically you are in a direct contact with EMF. Just imagine a hybrid car with 300hp; how much voltage do you think the car need to get this hp?

  • someone

    That visible light is also a form of EM radiation (gasp!). In fact, photons (the carrier of all EM radiations, including x rays, gamma rays, radio waves and of course, visible light) of the visible light range contain more energy than photons of the radio wave range. Apparently, high energy EM radiation (UV and above) causes harm to cells precisely because of the energy they carried, so it could be argued that radio waves are LESS HARMFUL than visible light!

  • Christopher

    :( I am always amazed at the amount of ignorance and complete corporate brain washing that goes on about EMF issues. It is unfortunate that until it affects YOU, EMF will remain a mysterious and unknown subject. Until I began to be directly affected by EMF, with an extremely negative impact on my health, I was also ignorant of this health issue. I assure you; it is real. Moving into the future without addressing it is just more ignorance. Making fun of it, stupidity. Not doing any proper research on it; very ‘New America.’

  • John

    The health effects seem to depend on whether it is a constant field (earth’s for instance, at 1 Gauss) or an alternating field (produced by electric current, which alternates 60 times per second). The latter do seem to have some sort of health effects, maybe even at levels as low as 5-10 milliGauss, although the studies are contradictory. So the question for hybrids is, is the current running under your seat direct, or alternating? A pretty simple question to answer — maybe Ms. McLean could look into it.

  • Maria McLean

    John, it was a pretty simple question to answer: the cable running underneath the driver’s seat carries high-voltage direct current between the battery pack in the rear of the car and the inverter/converter in the front. From the inverter/converter, of course, alternating current is sent to the motor, the generator, and the air conditioner compressor. You can check out the details for yourself in Toyota’s Emergency Response Guide.

    Christopher, I am sorry to hear that you are in poor health. In the interest of enlightening us, please share the details of your condition and who told you it was caused by emf. If you can find peer-reviewed studies proving any link between emf and health effects, please share them as well. And what are you doing to protect yourself from the radiation in your home and from your computer?

  • Phil

    How much amp draw on the batterys is too much, adding items like avl, computer, modem, and say a light bar. for a grand total of around 90 amps draw when all in use at once??

  • Mike LV

    I want to buy a toyota hybrid vehicle, however, I have dual deep brain stimulators that are controlled by pacemaker like devices in my chest. The chest devices send an electrical current to metal rods placed thru by brain to control Parkinson’s disease movement disorder. I recent;y test drove one of these vehicles at a local dealer and the next day felt that my devices were turned off. My question is, how can I find out if the hybrid techonology is not compatable with my divices? Also if this does affect my devices would it also affect heart pacemakers?

  • Michael Chelnov

    This article starts with the statement that:

    To date, neither an exhaustive web search nor the services of a crack librarian at the University of Texas have been able to unearth precise measurements of electromagnetic fields, or EMF, in hybrids.

    you can buy a gaussmeter for $50 to $150 and measure it yourself.

    the Tri Field Meter is a good one.

    The 2006 Honda Accord Hybrid is off the scale.
    about 25 times the EPA reccomended max.

  • Nicholus

    thanks Michael for the comment on the Honda Accord. I’m MOST concerned about the back seat (closest to the battery) where kids sit in car seats. I’m not an engineer. If I bought a TriField meter, I’m sure I could read the number it displays, but how do I know that it’s “high?” What is the EPA recommendation?

  • Laurene

    I have some concerns regarding EMI and hybrid cars. I am a medical professional dealing with patients who have implantable devices that can and have been affected by EMI. It is very real for them and flippant comments are neither helpful nor credible. My patients need a credible source to answer their concerns accurately and there is not enough information out there.

  • Ax Man

    Review Article

    Fielding a current idea: exploring the public health impact of electromagnetic radiation

    Stephen J. GenuisCorresponding Author Contact Information, a, E-mail The Corresponding Author
    aFaculty of Medicine, University of Alberta, 2935–66 Street, Edmonton, AB, Canada T6K 4C1
    Received 26 May 2006; revised 12 January 2007; accepted 2 April 2007. Available online 18 June 2007.

    Several publications in the scientific literature have raised concern about the individual and public health impact of adverse non-ionizing radiation (a-NIR) from electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure emanating from certain power, electrical and wireless devices commonly found in the home, workplace, school and community. Despite the many challenges in establishing irrefutable scientific proof of harm and the various gaps in elucidating the precise mechanisms of harm, epidemiological analyses continue to suggest considerable potential for injury and affliction as a result of a-NIR exposure. As environmental health has not been emphasized in medical education, some clinicians are not fully aware of possible EMF-related health problems and, as a result, manifestations of a-NIR may remain misdiagnosed and ineffectually managed. It is important for physicians and public health officials to be aware of the fundamental science and clinical implications of EMF exposure. A review of the scientific literature relating to the link between electromagnetic radiation and human health, several public health recommendations, and four case histories are presented for consideration.

    ‘A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.’ Max Planck (Nobel Prize Winner—Physics).

    It was only a few decades ago when individuals queued up in shoe shops and malls to view their metatarsals under fluoroscopy machines; with expert reassurance that such a novelty was perfectly safe, the increased cancer rates in participants came as a surprise. While there is recognition of the potential cellular and tissue damage associated with exposure to ionizing radiation from X-rays, electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emanating from power lines, mobile phones, common electrical devices and some types of machinery has also begun to attract recent attention as a potential health hazard. Conflicting information is found in the medical literature; while some reports dismiss the alleged risk associated with EMR, various international bodies including the World Health Organization1 and the International Agency for Research on Cancer2 (IARC) have called for intense investigation of the impact of non-ionizing radiation (NIR) on human health in response to mounting research suggesting a link between adverse EMR and various afflictions including reproductive dysfunction, cancer and central nervous system (CNS) disorders.

  • Baird Edmonds

    Unlike some sources of exposure to emf which are difficult to shield I think it would be easy and cheap for hybrid automakers to shield emf sources in a vehicle.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding proof of electromagnetic harm, the updated motorcycle cancer website links provide a comprehensive accounting from experts and doctors worldwide. Many health professionals are coming forward to contest the complacency of antiquated views regarding various electromagnetic exposures and serious health effects.

    Many motorcycles have ELF EMF producing electrical components located immediately beneath the seat away from the heat of the engine. Emerging health concern now surrounds excessive ELF EMF radiation penetrating up into the motorcyclist’s groin. You may want to visit:

    http://www.motorcyclecancer.com

  • Amy Dresky

    This is a very serious issue needing attention. We must drive more fuel efficient cars as our peek oil production on the planet may already have been passed. We also are facing climate change as all the excess Co2 is being pumped into the atmosphere. I would love to buy a hybrid car (ideally a fully electric car and put solar pannels on the roof of my home!) but I am waiting until I can afford to sell my gas car and in order to purchase a hybrid. I am concerned, however, about EMF exposure. It would be nice if the manufacturers made protective gear to sheild consumers from excess EMF exposure. Driving in a hybrid car could be like driving inside a giant cell phone, or laptop, especially over long distances, which is NOT healthy!

  • Alouette Iselin

    I have a Honda Insight, which I have driven 165,000 miles over the past 8 years (for an average of 65 mpg). I like it a lot. When I got my implantable cardiac defibrillator, I asked my cardiologist if the car would be a problem, and he said no, and it hasn’t been. I have no health issues (aside from my cardiac condition) that I am aware of. My defibrillator does not like large audio speakers or those electric massage seat covers for your car, but it doesn’t react at all to the car.

  • Tom Stickel

    1. It is interesting that my neighbor gets testicular cancer 6-12 months after buying a hybrid Prius….
    2. People seem to want to trust the government… FDA etc.., and trust the car and cell phone companies.
    3. I think it is completely insane to say go live with the Amish…. sure, there are EMF’s everywhere, but anyone thinking
    with um a brain would know it is all about how close you are to the source of the EMF’s. If your 2 miles from electric plant vs. 50 ft. from it.
    If your 3 feet from a cell phone vs. it resting on your cheek.
    4. Many want to be a part of the green movement at the expense of our health. What good is it to save the environment if we cannot save ourselves?
    5. EMF’s and Cancer , very high correlation. A friend died at 33 of a brain tumor… she spent a lot of time on the cell phone…
    6. The opponents of Nuclear plants say there is a high correlation to higher cancer rates with those living in close
    proximity to the plants. Well geez, the scientists, pharmacist, physics that I talked with and researched say it has nothing to do with the
    nuclear… Nuclear plants gives off zero EMF’s… and zero radiation from the initial process… but then it has to convert and make electricity thus high EMF’s.
    Its all about it being a Power plant. Thus power plants in general… Coal, SOLAR, WIND… the end result is creating EMF’s….
    so living in close proximity of even a “Green” power plant bumps up your chances of
    getting cancer from the EMF’s dramatically. We have been losing the war on cancer, and yet yo-yo’s want to live in ignorance and do NOTHING.

  • Anonymous

    Well too much of everything is really dangerous and EMF is no exception to this. Though these have not been proven to pose a serious health risks, I guess we should still be careful. -Vehicle Voice

  • popcorn

    ummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm yea wut they said……..

  • vampire

    I think peple should just learn not to rely on cars and things we do have other ways to get places like bikes and scoters an scateboreds an stuff people are just lazy

  • I over analyze everything!

    Here is my response after much research, most research being inconclusive, but enough information to be concerned if you have children:

    If you’re an adult, contribute to lowering our dependency on foreign oil. The root of a large number of US problems.

    If you have children, don’t even consider driving a hybrid. Who wants to look back in 10 to 20 years with regret that as a parent they contributed to their children’s health problems?

  • MikeV-NJ

    STOP THE BASHING.
    There is no need to call the reader stupid (“One Born Every Minute”). I do not own the ultimate truth, neither you, and neither anyone else. Stop the bashing. Us, the consumers, have a concern (or a suspicion), and we have the right to make questions. ITS VERY SIMPLE. The answers from Ford, Toyota and GM has always been an evasive reply, to this date. JUST RELEASE the EMF readings. If the information is so harmless, just release it. No big deal, so stop this campaign.
    Regards,
    Mike.

  • Barry

    What is EPA recommended max for EMF’s measured in Millguass?

  • Stuart Bagley

    I recently did a blog about this very topic. (the link is below)

    What is important is that each patients case is unique and should be treated as so.

    http://www.emftesting.net/2010/07/do-hybrid-automobiles-emit-electromagnetic-fields-that-put-pacemaker-and-icd-wearers-at-risk/

  • Ian

    I am glad to see there is at least some talk of this now, even if the article is poorly written and seemingly biased (maybe not intentionally so).

    I am an electronics tech and while I have never studied this particular problem I will say we learn a lot about magnetism and electricity.

    I am sure that the motors themselves in these cars will give off ungodly amounts of EMF, that is after all, how they work.. motors work by turning magnetism into motion so their whole purpose is to generate huge electromagnetic fields. I suspect this could be shielded but it could be difficult.

    The question about the wires travelling to the front of the vehicle is an interesting one.. Even if they are DC lines from the battery, they will very likely have a large AC component as the load varies due to power switching, AC conversion etc. At the peak of the AC sine wave created by a DC to AC convertion, the voltage of the batteries will drop and then raise again as the sine crosses 0V creating an AC component on the line. They will likely be a lot of high frequency switching as well from accessories etc.

    I would suspect that the average driver would likely be fine as I think the human body can it seems take quite a bit of EMF for short periods. However, people who drive a lot, such as taxi drivers, delivery folks, sales people etc. will likely be exposed to a LOT of EMF for a significant portion of time, and they would be most at risk.

    There has been many studies on this and while there is some controversy it is clear that there is a real possibility of this being an issue.

    That said, I think the real issue here is the _level_ of EMF you could be exposed to. Electrical lines could be nothing in comparison to having a 300hp motor generating massive magnetic fields 2 feet from your legs.

    One last thing people should understand is that the fields dissipate with the square of the distance. That is if the strength starts out at 256 whatevers, at 1 foot it will be 16, and at 2 feet it will be 4. So distance plays the biggest role in the intensity you are exposed to.

  • michaelc

    Generally speaking people are concerned about AC 60 hz fields over 1 miligauss.
    (in response to the question about EMF fields, and what is better avoided)

  • beth pratt

    My daughter who drives a prius 2 hours a day is pregnant, and her baby has been diagnosed in utero with a malformed heart – her particular problem is called a DORV (double outlet right ventricle) with pulmonary stenosis.

    She will need multiple heart surgeries, and probably a heart transplant in adulthood, if she gets there.

    Dr. Ishikawa and his colleagues in Japan investigated the effect of electric stimulation on chicken embryos in 1987 and 1986 (2 experiments) and found conclusively that a DORV was created in a statistically significant sample.

    Any thoughts?

  • Matt Chatham

    While I agree that we shouldn’t worry more about EMF in hybrids than we do in cell-phones, microwaves, computers, etc., we should think about these things when it comes to birth defects. Scientists now suggest that the rise in autism may be linked to cell phones. If my wife gets pregnant I don’t plan on having her ride around in my Insight unless it’s an emergency.

  • jerry palmer

    Do your research people, an electric field around the human body is slow death. Plenty of research has been done especially around high tension elect. lines over resential areas, milk productivity over dairy cattle, and yes people. I would not ride or buy any overpriced electric car now or ever. Check with nasa and see what thier worries are about the astronauts passing through some of the fields in space. The government and automaker are hiding this just as the manufactures of agent orange did. Dont be a fool and swallow the tv ad crap.

  • myung hummelshoj

    Hi
    we bought a camry hybrid 6months ago.
    i did not really know about EMF.
    but when we drive 3hours to grandparent place my daughter complain ear and buttock’s pain.
    in the beginging i ignored but whenever we have long trip after she keep complaing and now she had a bowl problem.
    symtom is clear mucus coming out of her bottom which is quite scary.
    there are lot of other symtoms as well such as bleeding nose(my husband) my chlidren hardly go to sleep in the car jorney to grandparent which is totally different from chrysler.
    we are try to deal with toyota but they are aviod that fact.
    in my family exprience hybrid car is very dangous .
    world shoud do things about it rather than hiding and avoiding . don’t let the big company like toyota slowly killing people . especially

  • Chuck

    If you know your loved ones are getting sick, get the thing away from your family is first step. I don’t feel sorry for you but I feel sorry for kids that had to deal with getting sick and have parent that didn’t take action for rest of their life.. And mostly YOU. Your husbands nose bleeding and posting comments here? Are you even a human?

  • Carol

    Interesting. I wonder if this has been brought up to WHO’s attention. Personally, I do not think that EMF poses a health risk since it has been existent anywhere.

  • shweta007

    Thanks for providing such great information, actually i have no knowledge of it before. Your post helps me to gain new knowledge.

  • crummpa

    Two friends that I know who owned hybrid cars developed cancers. One had brain cancer and the other had nasopharyngeal cancer. The one with brain cancer passed away, and the other got treatment at an early stage of the disease and has survived. This is definitely an a small sample size but I can’t overlook the pattern. I would love to have an eco-friendly car, but not at the risk of my family’s health. Why aren’t there more studies on this subject?

  • Sean Henderson

    you can buy a ‘tri-field’ meter and use it while you are driving (or a passenger) in the prius and see if the levels are harmful.

  • Bill

    I feel sorry for You Maria.

  • jason

    Cell phone companies release SAR ratings, why not for electric cars? You’d think they want to prevent getting sued.

    I’m about as eco as it gets an i’d love to go electric but there’s no way i will until this is resolved.

  • Debra

    Regarding pacemakers and cardiac defibrillators: The 2012 Toyota Camry Hybrid has a “Smart Key System” that allows you to enter the car without using a key. The car senses you have the key in your possession. There are sensors (antennas) on the car at several locations (door, trunk, etc). Earlier models may have also had this system. The Car Manual has the following warning: “People with implanted pacemakers or cardiac defibrillators should keep away from the smart key system antennas. The radio waves may affect the operation of such devices. If necessary, the entry function can be disabled. As your Toyota dealer for details, such as the frequency of radio waves and timing of emitting the radio waves. Then consult your doctor to see if you should disable the entry function. …………”
    While this relates to the key system radio waves rather than the EMF, it may be helpful info regarding earlier questions. I was very surprised that there were no warnings about this on the car – only a warning in the manual. This is such an important issue for people with these devices and people who may be transporting them –for there to be no mention of it except in the manual.

  • Sam Gasque

    There has been a new Anti-Magnetic cable developed and patented that cancels both AC and DC magnetic fields almost to zero. It is called FieldSafe. Now if we could just get the hybrid manufacturers and utility companies to use it, our lives may be much safer.

  • Debra J

    Since this article was written, 2011 saw the publication of one of the most comprehensive evaluations of EMFs (IARC Monograph) by the World Health Org. As an earlier commenter noted, the report shows that children are at higher risk for various health problems, but there may be adult links as well. It is very difficult to study EMFs because there is so much different kinds of exposure sources in our lives. There’s “smoke” for sure, and where there’s smoke there is surely fire. Many of us want to buy hybrids and get off the gas/oil nipple, but hybrids may pose a risk and especially for kids. The cell phone health problem connection is real as well. Use a hands free set.

  • FONG

    Does anyone has a chance to measure the EMF reading in a hybrid? It should be relatively easier & cheaper to get compare to my country.

  • Assman

    EMF got all up in my ass. Now my ass smells like shit.