Power lines and electrical products: Extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields

Power lines and electrical products emit extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields (EMF). Learn about the safety of power lines and electrical products.

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About extremely low frequency EMF

Extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) are invisible waves that travel through space and exert force on charged particles.

Extremely low frequency EMF:

An electric field is created whenever you plug a wire from an electrical product, like a lamp, into an outlet. When you turn the lamp on, the flow of current, known as alternating current (AC) forms a magnetic field. Together, the electric and magnetic field radiates out like a wave and are known as electromagnetic fields or EMF.

In Canada, the electricity that is distributed to our homes and other buildings is AC with a frequency of 60 Hz. This is considered extremely low frequency EMF.

Sources of extremely low frequency EMF

Electrical products create extremely low frequency EMF when they are plugged into a wall outlet and are turned on (drawing a current). Common sources of extremely low frequency EMF are:

Power lines and your home

Power lines that distribute electricity around your home emit extremely low frequency EMF. These fields are strongest at their source. This means you are exposed to stronger extremely low EMFs when you are close to a source such as:

As you move away, your level of exposure rapidly decreases. When you are inside your home, the electric fields from transformer boxes and high voltage power lines are often weaker than the fields from household electrical appliances.

Recommended human exposure limits

The potential health effects of extremely low frequency EMF has been studied extensively. While some people are concerned that long term exposure to extremely low frequency EMF may cause cancer, the scientific evidence does not support such claims.  

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has issued guidelines for limiting exposure to extremely low frequency EMF. These guidelines help ensure that exposures to extremely low frequency EMF do not create electric currents that are stronger than the ones made naturally in your body. The electric signals used by your brain and nervous system make it possible for you to move, think and feel.

Extremely low frequency EMF exposures in Canadian homes, schools and offices are far below the limits recommended in the ICNIRP guidelines. You don’t need to take precautions to protect yourself from these kinds of exposures. 

Exposure to extremely low frequency EMF is not the same as electrical shock. Electrical shock can happen when an electrical product is used incorrectly. Learn how to use electrical products safely.

What we do to keep you safe from extremely low frequency EMFs

To protect your health and safety, Health Canada:

We do not regulate the delivery of electricity in Canada. For questions about power lines, transformer stations or other electrical infrastructure near your home, school or office you can contact:

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