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, 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.”