Hybrid EMF Risk Still Uncertain

Soon after the introduction of gas-electric vehicles in 2000, hybrid shoppers and drivers started worrying about the potential negative health impacts from electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The flow of electrical current in a hybrid produces magnetic fields. EMFs have been associated with serious health matters, especially when coming from high-power lines.

For more than two years, HybridCars.com editors and site visitors have tried to pin down some definitive answers—without success:

The New York Times took its own stab on April 27, 2008, and came up with a number of contradictory conclusions depending on whom you talk to.

EMFs Are a Legitimate Concern

The National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute say that there are potential hazards of long-term exposure to strong electromagnetic fields—with specific cancer risks for people living near high-voltage utility lines. EMFs are all around us—produced by everything from cellphones to electric blankets.

Home Tests Can Produce High, But Inconclusive, Readings

A small number of hybrid drivers became ill after buying a hybrid. Complaints have ranged from high blood pressure to falling asleep behind the wheel. Those hybrid owners, and others, have used field-strength testing instruments and found EMFs at levels exceeding various international standards for safety. However, those standards are uneven and vary in result based on the testing equipment and procedure.

Carmakers Say No Problem

Not surprisingly, hybrid-producing car companies downplay the risks. A spokesman for Honda, Chris Martin, points to the lack of a federally mandated standard for EMFs in cars, and says that most people use the wrong devices to test. In a company statement, Toyota said that hybrid vehicles produce the same low levels as conventional gasoline vehicles, and therefore “there are no additional health risks to drivers, passengers or bystanders.”

The Issue is Unresolved

The New York Times quoted Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer for the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, “It would be a mistake to jump to conclusions about hybrid EMF dangers, as well as a mistake to outright dismiss the concern. Additional research would improve our understanding of the issue.”


  • Anonymous

    This looks like a story planted by big oil to discourage buying cars that run without oil.

    Let’s look at the article: “the flow of electricity IN HYBRIDS causes magnetic fields.” But the flow of electricity causes magnetic fields, so why not say the flow of electricity in your home and place of employment causes magnetic fields? Why single out hybrids?

    “A small number of drivers have become ill after buying a hybrid.” But is the number any different than the number of drivers that become ill after buying a non-hybrid? People suffer from high blood pressure without driving hybrids, and people have been falling asleep behind the wheel without driving hybrids.

    “the levels exceed various international standards.” What are the published standards and what are the measurements? No information provided.

    “not surprisingly, hybrid-producing car companies down play the risks.” The implication here is that those claiming the risks are valid have no economic ax to grind, but those who say the risks are minimal, have an economic ax to grind. This is an ad homenim argument, a logical fallacy, shooting the messenger instead of addressing the message.

    “additional research would improve our understand of the issue.” Well duh, I’m all for understanding those little signs that say pumping gas risks getting cancer. Coupling a mother-hood statement, like getting better information is a good thing, with an unverified assertion of danger is simply an effort to gain credibility by association. Propaganda folks, pure and simple.

  • steved28

    I’m not an engineer, but I was under the understanding that EMF is produced by alternating current. This is why we don’t see transformers running direct current, there is just no field to tap. (at least not one which is constantly collapsing and regenerating) I have a shunt meter I use now and then to measure amperage in an AC line, it won’t work on a DC circuit. I wonder if some of these handheld devices are really meant for AC only, and give erroneous readings when placed in a hybrid.

    At any rate, if this was something I was worried about (which it is not). I would worry more about the constant AC running through my home and workplace, to which I am exposed for much longer periods, than the DC field in my car.

  • Skeptic

    Interesting that there is nothing about gasoline. Nothing about the carcinogenic fumes, nothing about it being a deadly poison, nothing about the risk of injury from fire or explosion, nothing about the adverse health effects of the pollutants generated when it’s burned.

    I gotta agree. Propoganda.

    If people are seriously worried about EMFs from their hybrid car, they should immediately take the following steps:

    1) Remove the batteries from all portable electronic devices in their homes, particularly radio transmitters like wireless devices;

    2) Find the master breaker on their home’s electrical service panel and move it to the “off” position;

    3) Move themselves, by foot obviously, to a place with no EMF.

  • Paul Rivers

    Like someone else mentioned, while I would certainly be happy to see research on the subject, I’m not sure there’s anything to get concerned about now that’s hybrid-specific. Every wall in my home and office, including the ones in my bedroom, have electric wires running through them. I also seriously doubt a hybrid car produces anywhere near the amount of electricity as “high voltage utility lines”.

    I’d be happy to see more research on the subject of EMF and health, but my first concern would be with the places that would seem to use the most electricity and where I spent most of my time – my house and my office.

  • Armand

    The amount of VOCs a car contains from all the plastic parts in it (and on a nice hot summer day) that leach out are far more harmful.

    I don’t know what it was about a friend’s Audi TT but when I got into that car, I was vomiting my guts out half an hour later…the smell of whatever it was in that brand new car completely overwhelmed me…the adhesives, etc…I don’t know…and I know it had to do with the car because THAT was what affected me.

  • jerome

    there is 5 minutes of my life I’ll never get back!

    Probably more EMF signals coming from your average cubical computer workstation than your average hybrid ….

  • motley fool

    People who drives a hybrid should still conserve fuel. If this is true, then the time people spend in a hybrid EMF environment should be at lower health risks than from having laptop on their laps, or the hair dryer pointing at their heads.

  • Everitt Mickey

    EMF have been ACCUSED of causing serious health problems.

    They haven’t been associated nor linked by reputable research.

    I can accuse anyone or anything of anything. Whether it has any substance is something else again.

  • Jeffery

    This is quite easy to resolve. A faraday cage around the high vlotage components will stop the magnetic field cold. A faraday cage could be a simple copper screen tied to ground. It is simple and cheap.

  • Eric

    EMF (electromagnetic fields) are LIGHT! That’s right, all light is an electromagnetic field caused by the acceleration of some charge. I am certain that these batteries do not cause any high energy EMF, such as UV or X-rays, so do not worry. This kind of crap makes me (a theoretical chemist) disgusted. What’s next, are hybrids increasing the amount of gravitational fields in some dangerous way? Heck, when all else fails, use basic science to scare the average American.

  • splashy

    I was wondering about the Faraday cage myself. Seems like an easy fix that would be fairly inexpensive to implement, if a person was worried.

    This DOES sound like propaganda from those that profit from more gas usage though.

  • Ced

    Not all EMF are light. It depends on the frequency of the wave. Radio waves have low frequency and light waves have high frequency and both are electromagnetic waves.

  • Jim W

    If you are not concerned about EMF, please feel free to take the shielding off your microwave oven door and stand in front while using it.

    BTW, microwave oven concept was discovered accidentally while working on a radar system. It melted the chocolate in his front pocket.

    I’m not saying EMF if like being inside of a microwave oven while it is operating, but long term low level exposures cannot and should not be ignored.

  • RAE

    Not being an EE, I can’t say definitively one way or the other. I do know that, while living in Tennesee, I observed a field of corn that had achieved a height of about 7-8 feet, EXCEPT under the high-voltage transmission lines. The corn under the lines was about 14-15 feet high. I’m also not a doctor, but isn’t cancer a similar phenomenon? I’m on this sight to glean more information about hybrids. Maybe I’ll look harder at bio-diesel.

  • dktrbones

    Some previous posters said there was no reputable research suggesting the dangers of EMF. They were quite misinformed. Dr Robert Becker has done extensive research on the subject and was a pioneer in the use of the medical applications for electricity in bone fracture healing and limb regeneration. In his studies, and several in Europe, it has been found that EMF, especially low level, can have profound impacts on biological organisms. Animal studies have suggested that even low level fields, like those on the level of the typical office, can have serious health affects. Even a Dept of Energy commissioned study by Battelle labs in Columbus, Ohio found that rats exposed to EMF had growth retardation and weight gain compared to controls.
    Do a web search on Robert Becker and check out the volume of peer reviewed, published studies on the subject. And these are from reputable journals, not fringe ones. Then draw your own conclusion.
    The most important thing is to minimize exposure. If a car does in fact generate a large EMF, and you spend 1- 2 hours per day commuting, like most people in large cities, then you may have a greater risk of potential problems, then someone using a high powered hair dryer for 5 minutes.

  • Alouette Iselin

    I have had a Honda Insight for 8 years, and have driven it about 165,000 milles. I like it a lot, and would hate to have to give it up. I am concerned about the possibility of harm from electromagnetic fields, but so far I have no symptoms of anything. I have an implantable defibrillator, which reacts to large audio speakers and those car seat things that massage you, but it does not react to my car, thank goodness.

  • Anonymous

    I bought a house under a bunch of high voltage power lines years ago. I only lasted there a few months and I had to sell the house; I could feel and “hear” the elecricity- and had buzzing in my scalp that disappeared when I was not in the house. The EMF was very high- I had a friend who was an electrical engineer who measured it. I read a lot about leukemia rates being higher in schools and homes near power lines and transformer boxes (those big boxes on people’s front yards that house electrical stuff). I know I am more sensitive that most people, but the experience has made me afraid to get a hybrid, though I would love one. I think I’ll have to do some more research. I know another very intelligent scientist who says hybrids are not dangerous, so, lots of conflicting info.

  • Anonymous

    I bought a house under a bunch of high voltage power lines years ago. I only lasted there a few months and I had to sell the house; I could feel and “hear” the elecricity- and had buzzing in my scalp that disappeared when I was not in the house. The EMF was very high- I had a friend who was an electrical engineer who measured it. I read a lot about leukemia rates being higher in schools and homes near power lines and transformer boxes (those big boxes on people’s front yards that house electrical stuff). I know I am more sensitive that most people, but the experience has made me afraid to get a hybrid, though I would love one. I think I’ll have to do some more research. I know another very intelligent scientist who says hybrids are not dangerous, so, lots of conflicting info.

  • Gordon

    Re: Jeffery says:
    9 weeks ago
    This is quite easy to resolve. A faraday cage around the high vlotage components will stop the magnetic field cold. A faraday cage could be a simple copper screen tied to ground. It is simple and cheap.

    You can’t ground anything in a car. It has 4 rubber coverings on the wheels (aka tires.)

  • Angie

    I have driven a honda civic 2006 hybrid for a year and have had no problems. I love it! However I just found out I’m pregnant. I’m now worried how this car that I love so much is going to harm me or my baby.. eeeek. It’s so frustrating. Please keep the info coming.

  • chow chow

    An easy way to check out for EMF is to take one of those wonderful “energy saving,” mercury-filled CFL bulbs in your hybrid vehicle at night. If the bulb glows, you got EMF. You can also use a regular fluorescent “long” tube for your experiment.

  • Angie

    Well I did that and it didn’t glow… so does that mean we’re good? :) Geesh you try to be good by getting a hybrid and now this.. I am running out to my car with a flourescent lightbulb trying to see if it glows.. hehe. You can’t win.

  • EE1979

    Electromagnetic fields exist whenever there is a flow of electrons (current), it is not limited to Alternating Current(s), it can be Direct Current(s) as well.

    Transformers will not work with DC, that is why they are utilized with AC or pulsed DC. They will magnetically saturate overheat and explode, due to physics, and the fact that flux increases linearly with time.

    Being outside and exposed to the suns emmision of radiation is more detrimental than a cell phone or a hybrid car.

  • EE1979

    “Re: Jeffery says:
    9 weeks ago
    This is quite easy to resolve. A faraday cage around the high vlotage components will stop the magnetic field cold. A faraday cage could be a simple copper screen tied to ground. It is simple and cheap.

    You can’t ground anything in a car. It has 4 rubber coverings on the wheels (aka tires.)”

    You can’t huh? Then how do they get the electrons to flow in the first place ? No ground, no voltage, aka no capability for the flow of electrons. All cars have “chassis gnd” or “earth gnd” where they terminate everything from a battery to EMI shield. And all hybrids already incorporate EMI shielding, such as a faraday cage as well. So I don’t think you need to worry about that.

    I don’t think it is necessarily propaganda. I believe it is Americas excessively safety concious ideals. Like I said before, the sun is more of a threat to human health than a hybrid.

  • EE1979

    “Not all EMF are light. It depends on the frequency of the wave. Radio waves have low frequency and light waves have high frequency and both are electromagnetic waves.”

    Radio waves do have low frequencies, but they also have high frequencies. The RF spectrum is anywhere from 3Hz to 300Ghz. And yes, both are part of the electromagnetic “spectrum”.

  • EE1979

    “If you are not concerned about EMF, please feel free to take the shielding off your microwave oven door and stand in front while using it.

    BTW, microwave oven concept was discovered accidentally while working on a radar system. It melted the chocolate in his front pocket.

    I’m not saying EMF if like being inside of a microwave oven while it is operating, but long term low level exposures cannot and should not be ignored.”

    Could you please elaborate as to what microwaves have to do with Electromagnetic fields ? You are comparing apples to oranges. Yes, the microwave produces non-ionized radiation to excite water molecules to utilize a phenomena known as friction to heat food, or whataver you put in there. But this has ZERO relevance to the electromagnetic fields created in a hybrid vehicle.

  • lk
  • thefubb

    I have 2 Prius 2003 and 2006..I have noticed that when I drive both of these cars, I do feel that there is an electric field
    going from the electric motor to the battery thru the cabin and
    thru me. I am a post open heart surgery patient with a plastic-
    titanium aortic valve. I have experienced higher levels of stress with these cars than with non-hybrid cars. I do love the stop and
    go engine shut-off feature where you don’t use gas in traffic congestion. I started grinding my teeth since having bought
    the hybrids during driving and after getting out of the cars.

  • verbier88s

    I don’t know much about the topic, but found this article interesting:

    Brian of Leucadia CA (3/24/01):
    I am writing to you because of a serious problem I have with my new hybrid car, the Honda Insight. I have measured with a Trifield meter, and we have found that the electromagnetic field (EMF) impacting the driver and passenger are dangerously high. Everything we found has been backed up by professional measurement with much more sophisticated instrumentation.

    The driver is receiving up to 135 milligauss (mG) at the hip, and up to 100 mG in the upper torso and head area. For comparison, my VW van measures between 1 and 2 mG. The technicians who measured the EMF advised me not to drive my Honda until this problem is fixed.

    To put this into perspective, the Liburdy and Colleagues Study in 1993 found that just 12 mG stimulates the growth of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells. Epidemiological studies have found an increased risk of breast cancer among both men and women exposed to high electromagnetic fields at work. A study by the Natinoal Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) called “assessment of health effects from exposure to power line frequency electric and magnetic fields” confirms the dangers of high EMF.

    In addition, epidemiological studies worldwide have found that exposure above 2-3 mG in children greatly increases their chances of contracting leukemia. This is a statistically valid number. There have been numerous other studies on this problem, many of them appearing in either the American Journal of Epidemiology or the International Journal of Epidemiology within the last ten years.

    The Institute for Bau-biology and Ecology has set standards for EMF, and the Insight’s readings are up to 100 times higher than the minimum reading considered “strong” in their tables.

    I have always liked Hondas, and Honda’s commitment to being first in environmental thinking among the automakers here and abroad. Our family has had four of their cars: a Honda 600 back in the ’70s, an Accord, a Civic, and now the Insight. I feel that Honda had always tried to be environmentally concious, but they dropped the ball in a big way on this vehicle. I know that they are aware of EMF, since they must consider EMF compatibility just to insure that automobile systems do not electrically interfere with one another. But it is clear that they are not considering the effects of EMF on the driver and passengers.

    The kicker for me is a line in the Honda Insight Service Advisor and Parts Counterperson Guide, and I quote: “Anyone with a heart pacemaker, ICD, or other medical implant that can be affected by strong magnetic fields should stay away from the rotor.” The driver is not far from that rotor, and that is truly frightening.

    One person I talked to offered me a possible aftermarket solution with involves layering mu-metal, an iron/nickel shielding material on the floor and rear deck to minimize the EMF in my Insight. But they don’t know how much the EMF will be minimized, if it will be safe to drive, or if I should gamble thousands of dollars to find out. We feel that the EMF problem could have been handled during production of the car by using source identification, field cancellation, and shielding. As it is now, the car sits in my garage awaiting a solution. I faxed Honda my concerns in December, and they have not responded.

    A follow-up from Brian (5/17/04):

    I sold the Honda Insight back to the dealer six months after purchase, at a loss of about $7,000. Honda finally did respond, and told me the EMF was “within the curve” of some other automobiles (so vague, and without any example, that it was basically a non-reply), and that the car was fine. I asked if they would test my car at their labs in southern California, and they said no. I now make it a habit of talking to owners of Honda Insights whenever I can, and at least one owner sold the car within a few weeks.

    In the last year, I’ve had inquiries from officials in positions to order government vehicles. I forwarded all my info to them, and the results are still pending.

    After I sold the Insight, I almost bought a used Honda minivan. Just before purchase, I checked the EMF, and although the driver seat was fine, the front passenger seat (where the kids sit in this soccer-mom vehicle) had very high EMF. I still think that Honda is a pace-setter in MPG and safety, but they have not addressed the EMF problem. My feeling on this is that EMF will eventually rival tobacco and asbestos as health issues.

    Incidentally, the Prius I measured was fine in the front seats, but the left rear seat had similar readings to the Insight.

  • verbier88s

    Sounds like you should stop driving those cars immediately!!!!

  • verbier88s

    I don’t know much about the topic, but found this article interesting:

    Brian of Leucadia CA (3/24/01):
    I am writing to you because of a serious problem I have with my new hybrid car, the Honda Insight. I have measured with a Trifield meter, and we have found that the electromagnetic field (EMF) impacting the driver and passenger are dangerously high. Everything we found has been backed up by professional measurement with much more sophisticated instrumentation.

    The driver is receiving up to 135 milligauss (mG) at the hip, and up to 100 mG in the upper torso and head area. For comparison, my VW van measures between 1 and 2 mG. The technicians who measured the EMF advised me not to drive my Honda until this problem is fixed.

    To put this into perspective, the Liburdy and Colleagues Study in 1993 found that just 12 mG stimulates the growth of estrogen-sensitive breast cancer cells. Epidemiological studies have found an increased risk of breast cancer among both men and women exposed to high electromagnetic fields at work. A study by the Natinoal Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) called “assessment of health effects from exposure to power line frequency electric and magnetic fields” confirms the dangers of high EMF.

    In addition, epidemiological studies worldwide have found that exposure above 2-3 mG in children greatly increases their chances of contracting leukemia. This is a statistically valid number. There have been numerous other studies on this problem, many of them appearing in either the American Journal of Epidemiology or the International Journal of Epidemiology within the last ten years.

    The Institute for Bau-biology and Ecology has set standards for EMF, and the Insight’s readings are up to 100 times higher than the minimum reading considered “strong” in their tables.

    I have always liked Hondas, and Honda’s commitment to being first in environmental thinking among the automakers here and abroad. Our family has had four of their cars: a Honda 600 back in the ’70s, an Accord, a Civic, and now the Insight. I feel that Honda had always tried to be environmentally concious, but they dropped the ball in a big way on this vehicle. I know that they are aware of EMF, since they must consider EMF compatibility just to insure that automobile systems do not electrically interfere with one another. But it is clear that they are not considering the effects of EMF on the driver and passengers.

    The kicker for me is a line in the Honda Insight Service Advisor and Parts Counterperson Guide, and I quote: “Anyone with a heart pacemaker, ICD, or other medical implant that can be affected by strong magnetic fields should stay away from the rotor.” The driver is not far from that rotor, and that is truly frightening.

    One person I talked to offered me a possible aftermarket solution with involves layering mu-metal, an iron/nickel shielding material on the floor and rear deck to minimize the EMF in my Insight. But they don’t know how much the EMF will be minimized, if it will be safe to drive, or if I should gamble thousands of dollars to find out. We feel that the EMF problem could have been handled during production of the car by using source identification, field cancellation, and shielding. As it is now, the car sits in my garage awaiting a solution. I faxed Honda my concerns in December, and they have not responded.

    A follow-up from Brian (5/17/04):

    I sold the Honda Insight back to the dealer six months after purchase, at a loss of about $7,000. Honda finally did respond, and told me the EMF was “within the curve” of some other automobiles (so vague, and without any example, that it was basically a non-reply), and that the car was fine. I asked if they would test my car at their labs in southern California, and they said no. I now make it a habit of talking to owners of Honda Insights whenever I can, and at least one owner sold the car within a few weeks.

    In the last year, I’ve had inquiries from officials in positions to order government vehicles. I forwarded all my info to them, and the results are still pending.

    After I sold the Insight, I almost bought a used Honda minivan. Just before purchase, I checked the EMF, and although the driver seat was fine, the front passenger seat (where the kids sit in this soccer-mom vehicle) had very high EMF. I still think that Honda is a pace-setter in MPG and safety, but they have not addressed the EMF problem. My feeling on this is that EMF will eventually rival tobacco and asbestos as health issues.

    Incidentally, the Prius I measured was fine in the front seats, but the left rear seat had similar readings to the Insight.

  • howie

    I think he was probably suggesting tying it in to the gound (Negative) side of the battery. That is usually how electronics in vehicles are grounded.

  • howie

    a few other observaitons.

    For those of you comparing the emf from the walls in the house to the hybrid car…. you have to realise that the car is using MUCH more electrical current than anything in your house. Your vacuume might be 1/4hp where the Hybrid car is… I dunno… 98hp. that requires more current. (Volme level as an example for those unfamiliar with electrical.)

    i think that there are some very valid concerns here on all sides. they certainly seem to be glossing over concerns at the dealer level.

    the faraday cage would likely solve all the problems. That is what gets built into the walls of high security installations to prevent the transmission of data outside the walls. I am sure it is only a matter of math to calculate the mesh required to bleed off any field created by the drivetrain of the vehicle.

    ee1979… you said,

    Could you please elaborate as to what microwaves have to do with Electromagnetic fields ? You are comparing apples to oranges. Yes, the microwave produces non-ionized radiation to excite water molecules to utilize a phenomena known as friction to heat food, or whataver you put in there. But this has ZERO relevance to the electromagnetic fields created in a hybrid vehicle.

    I think he’s probably simpy commenting on the fact that a “micro- wave” is a wave of elecromagnetic energy that radiates form a source and is, obviously, harmful. Personally I wouldnt say it is comparing apples to oranges… more like Granny smith to Macintosh.

    Anyhow… my two cents worth for the day. sounds like it need a bit more of an ad campaign by the manufacturers with belivable data…. or… perhaps an episode of Mythbusters is in order!!

  • Rich

    The article was a summary of findings, not a treatise. I have read the background articles that the article author was citing and I thought it was a short and good summary of where we are on the EMF and hybird issue. Even as an avid pro-hybrid person, I nevertheless found that many of the commentators were shooting from the hip to defend hybrids. I want a hybrid BUT I too want that research done!!

  • David Simon

    I have never read such crab ,but ignorant proponents of the safety of EMF in Cars.
    I have a gauss meter the instument screams on my passanger seat ,it registers dangerous
    The back seat is worse . Encourage people to strap their baby in the back seat exposing the child to emf for a long drive is thoughtless and harmful to the child

  • Laurel

    My ’08 Prius made me physically ill. My symptoms only occurred after I had been in the car for an hour or more. They included: extreme sleepiness, headache – the longer in the car – the worse it got; dizzyness and disorientation – I had trouble focusing when moving my head to check blindspots and the mirrors…my leg calves itched. I think the EMF is caused by the charging of the battery. I can’t find it now, but at the time I found an article on the net that said that in Europe they built the cars with shields to protect the passengers from EMF, but not in the USA. In the USA, they just deny any problems. Not everyone is sensitive to EMFs….in fact most aren’t….

  • sarah

    hello, i know it’s years later, but i’m wondering what the measurement in milligaus (mg) was for where you lived near the voltage lines? i’m compiling my own data on this, for my own personal use and it has me curious what your reading was. it is incredible, and no wonder, that you could hear and feel it. I’d love to hear from you, thanks!