Health – Reproduction and development

In questions of health, the realms of fertility and pregnancy are of particular interest for the majority of people because on the one side questions to fertility and on the other side questions about deformities during the development of the embryo respectively abortions and childbirth complications are thereby involved. However it is difficult to obtain robust data as many factors influence reproduction and the development of an embryo. If the influence of these factors is not known respectively not considered in the evaluation, any conclusions in respect of Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) must remain speculative. As increases in temperature can have a negative influence on reproduction (sperm quality), temperature control is an absolute “must” in any study involving high frequency EMFs.

The influence of EMFs on male fertility

The connection between EMFs and fertility has been investigated by both animal and human studies. In the case of human studies this involved either purely laboratory tests (examination of sperms from exposed and less exposed men) or sperms before and after EMF irradiation or epidemiological work. In total, only a few (several dozen) investigations are available. The latest investigations relate primarily to the influence of high frequency fields, in particular those from mobile telephones. 

Unfortunately many of the studies have such large methodical errors that they cease to be meaningful. The EMF exposure is only vague estimated or insignificantly large (Exposure from mobile telephones held next to the ear). Then in may investigations other influences, such as a seated activity, alcohol consumption, etc., were not considered or insufficiently considered.  Although the majority of the publications come to the conclusion that a negative influence on fertility could be possible, it cannot be taken at face value.  In a survey of literature from 2007 the FOEN commented on the studies published at that time: “Every single work must be considered as unconvincing” and a panel of experts from the EU came to the conclusion in 2015 that recent studies with ELF-EMF exposure show no detrimental effects on human reproduction. Concerning RF-EMF, the committee concluded that "it is not possible to weigh the evidence on male fertility due to a lack of informative studies". However, in vivo studies show strong overall weight of evidence against an effect of low level RF fields on reproduction.

The influence of EMFs on the development of embryos

Unfortunately the same reservations as expressed above also apply to studies into pregnancy and the development of embryos. The results from both low frequency and high frequency Exposure are contradictory and give no clear picture. Findings in respect of deformations in herds of animals kept near to mobile telecommunications base stations are also scientifically controversial (see for example: Kommentar zu Hässig, M. et al (2012), "Vermehrtes Auftreten von nukleären Katarakten beim Kalb nach  Erstellung einer Mobilfunkbasisstation" (25 KB) (German only).

In the view of the German Commission on Radiological Protection, a negative influence of EMFs on the development of embryos is very unlikely and thus no further research is necessary. On the other hand, the WHO recommends that high quality animal studies are carried out whilst the EU Expert Commission advises that in connection with pregnancy in particular research into the effect of mid-frequencies (300 Hz – 100 kHz) for employees in sales, gastronomy, kitchens and medicine should also be carried out. In the Commission Report from 2013 the overall weight of evidence is summarised as: "These studies found that low level prenatal and early postnatal exposure to a variety of RF signals was not associated with any adverse outcome (...)".

In recent years, it was also investigated whether behavioural problems in children were associated with maternal mobile phone use during pregnancy. The current study findings are inconclusive. Some research revealed an association, other did not. The authors of the studies point out that limitations in their protocols may have shifted the results in either direction. Nevertheless, there is some weak evidence for a potential association between behavorial disorders in children an prenatal cell-phone use. A final conclusion, however, is not yet warranted.


Based on the current availability of data, no convincing evidence exists for EMF induced increased risks regarding fertility, foetal development and pregnancy. However, many studies are uniformativ due to methodological limitations. Based on this fact, possible damaging effects cannot, with any certainty, be discounted. Due to the minimal everyday exposure it can be assumed that high frequency fields from fixed installations (radio, TV, mobile telecommunications) as well as from mobile handsets are unlikely to cause any negative effects. 

Selected literature (overviews)

BioInitiative Working Group (2012). Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields. BioInitiative Report, www.bioinitiative.org. Sections 18 and 19.

Agarwal, A., Singh, A., Hamada, A., Kesari, K. (2011). Cell Phones and Male Infertility: A Review of Recent Innovations in Technology and Consequences. International Braz J Urol, 37, 4, 432-454.

Bundesamt für Umwelt (BAFU) (2007). Hochfrequente Strahlung und Gesundheit. Bewertung von wissenschaftlichen Studien im Niedrigdosisbereich. Bern: BAFU.

Dürrenberger, G., Leuchtmann, P., Röösli, M., Siegrist, M., Sütterlin, B. (2015). Fachliteratur-Monitoring "EMF von Strom-Technologien". BFE, Bern. Publication 291030, section 3.3.4.

Hug, K., Röösli, M. (2013). Strahlung von Sendeanlagen und Gesundheit. Bewertung von wissenschaftlichen Studien im Niedrigdosisbereich. Stand: Dezember 2012. Umwelt-Wissen Nr. 1323. Bern: BAFU.

Independent Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) (2012). Health effects from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.  U.K. Health Protection Agency, Oxfordshire. Chapter 7.1, 257-262.

International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) (2010). Guidelines for limiting exposure to time-varying electric and magnetic fields (1Hz to 100kHz). Health Physics, 99, 6, 818-836.

International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection ICNIRP (2009). Exposure to high frequency electromagnetic fields, bilogical effects and health consequences (100 kHz-300 GHz). Chapter III.5.2, 329-331.

Liu, K., Li, Y., Zhang, G., Liu, J., Cao, J., Ao, L., Zhang, S. (2014). Association between mobile phone use and semen quality: a systematc review and meta Analysis. Andrology, 2, 4, 491-501.

La Vignera, Ss, Condorelli, R.A., Vicari, E., D'Agata, R., Calogero, A.E. (2012). Effects of the exposure to mobile phones on male reproduction: a review of the literature. Journal of Andrology, 33, 3, 350-356.

Merhi, Z.O. (2012). Challenging cell phone impact on reproduction: a review. J Assist Rerpd Genet, 29, 293-297.

Pourlis, A.F. (2009). Reproductive and developmental effects of EMF in vertebrate animal models, Pathophysiology 16, 179–189.

SCENIHR (Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks) (2015). Opinion on Potential Health Effects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMF). Brussels: European Commission. Sections 3.6.4 and

Sienkiewicz, Z., Schüz, J., Poulsen, A.H., Cardis, E. (2010). Risk analysis of human exposure to electromagnetic fields. European Health Risk Assessment Network on Electromagnetic Fields Exposure (EFHRAN): D 2 - Report - risk analysis of human exposure to electromagnetic fields. Brussels: European Commission.

Ziskin, M., Morrissey, J. (2011). Thermal thresholds for teratogenicity, reproduction, and development. Int. J. Hyperthermia, 27, 4, 374–387.

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