Do Electric Vehicles cause Cancer?

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Do Electric Vehicles cause Cancer?

Renault ZoeThis topic was raised by a reader on the MEC Facebook page.  Unfortunately the comment was written by someone who became quite abusive when replied to with research that challenged his position.

It’s a legitimate question as Electro Magnetic Field (EMF) radiation is a real thing.  It was something I was very concerned with myself when I first considered an EV (and a mobile phone for that matter).  When you sit in any vehicle (whether petrol/diesel/hybrid/ev) you are subjected to it.

You are also bathed in EMF on a daily basis from a multitude of sources – with computers, cell phones, power lines, fluorescent lights, home wiring, airport and military radar, substations, transformers and appliances.   Brain tumors, leukemia, birth defects, miscarriages, chronic fatigue, headaches, cataracts, heart problems, stress. nausea, chest pain, forgetfulness, cancer and other health problems have all been blamed on EMF.  Some studies have suggested a possible link with power lines and childhood leukemia while others could not make any case for it.

Research has been conducted over decades to make the case for EMF and cancer but it appears there is no human or animal based research that has been conclusive. Some of the research MEC has looked at includes the following:-

No Danger from Magnetic Fields in Electric Cars
(http://www.sintef.com/home/news-from-gemini.no/no-danger-from-magnetic-fields-in-electric-cars/)
Magnetic Field Exposure and Cancer
(http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/magnetic-fields-fact-sheet)
Electric and Magnetic Fields Associated with the Use of Electric Power -(http://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/materials/electric_and_magnetic_fields_associated_with_the_use_of_electric_power_questions_and_answers_english_508.pdf)
Increasing incidence of childhood leukaemia: a controversy re-examined
(http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2360402/)

The facebook commentator suggested such studies were funded by ‘the industry’ and hence invalid (there is some validity to claims of industry supported studies – Motorola and the US Air Force) however I could find no reference to these organisations in the above studies.  He didn’t elaborate on ‘the industry’ when asked.  The one person he did reference was Michael Repacholi on the respected website MicrowaveNews (http://microwavenews.com/).  MicrowaveNews is an independent site reporting on the potential health and environmental impacts of electromagnetic fields and radiation.

EMF even at low levels may contain risks that are greater than what is currently considered safe.  There may be some EMF risks involved with riding in an electric car although it is difficult to find peer reviewed science that demonstrates this.  The greater risk, as in other types of vehicles, would be death or injury caused by accidents.  Carcinogenic risks are of course something we are very familiar with from internal combustion engine vehicles.

We know that emissions from petrol/diesel vehicles do cause cancer and a range of other illnesses.  The World Health Organisation has stated that around 7 million people die annually from both outdoor and indoor air pollution.  A large number of these deaths can be directly related to the insidious and poisonous emissions from fossil powered vehicle exhaust.  When weighing up the possible EMF risks involved in driving an electric car we should also consider the uncontroversial facts surrounding the toxicity of our current transport fleet.

About the Author:

Had a car converted to EV in 2008 - established MY ELECTRIC CAR 2009 - had the pleasure of driving the Nissan LEAF, Tesla Model S (P85D) and the BMW i3 - all incredible! Predicts the wave of change to EVs in a much bigger way towards the end of 2016 and through 2017/2018. Also predicts big changes to car ownership when autonomous drive cars gain traction (2020 - 2025).

9 Comments

  1. John Murray August 20, 2015 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    Well said! There is risk with almost everything- the issue is the degree of risk relative to the alternatives and the benefits of the technology in question. The risks profiles of fossil fuels have been proven since the 1950 – that is why we have unleaded petrol, catalytic converters and emissions control legislation for automobiles. Sound like another attempt to create a no-cebo effect i.e. people start imagining illness when none actually exists.

  2. David Kennett August 20, 2015 at 6:13 pm - Reply

    There are enormous electric motors in millions of factories around the world – there has never been any suggestion that people working for long hours in their vicinity suffer as a result of exposure to the magnetic fields associated with them.

  3. HW March 17, 2016 at 12:23 pm - Reply

    EMF is a genuine concern. Dr. Martin Blank of Columbia University has written several peer review papers which provide insight into this issue and there have been a lot of researchers. In 2000 U.S. EPA’s Martin Halper was quoted in Fortune Magazine as saying he’d never seen such a strong correlation in data in all his years looking at chemicals. Problem was back then less insight into mechanisms and it seems there are actually a few key mechanisms now, but standards need to catch up. There are actually concerns certainly as low as 1.8 mG, particularly for longer term exposures. Makes sense to design things with potential concerns addressed from the outset, rather than have to retro fix things. Always strive for the best and you save a lot of problems down the track.

  4. Martin O'brian June 10, 2016 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    It’s to early to conclude on whether EVs can cause cancer. You mentioned cell phones. An article in the Norwegian newspaper VG 5 days ago stated that american scientists have found a correlation between cell phone use and cancer: http://www.vg.no/nyheter/utenriks/mobiltelefon/stor-studie-hevder-aa-ha-funnet-sammenheng-mellom-mobilbruk-og-kreft/a/23700946/

  5. JF October 16, 2016 at 8:07 am - Reply

    It’s worth mentioning that most non-electric cars are effectively electric anyway. Petrol engines have always required 40,000 volts several times a second to power the spark plugs. Modern diesel engines require current running to switch the solenoids controlling the injectors.

  6. Matty December 29, 2016 at 8:52 am - Reply

    Fair points. The science is unsure at the moment, but it may become a recognized problem in future so if they can enclose the batteries in a EM barrier that would be good. Also would have been good to show the EMs of a petrol car vs a hybrid vs an electric car. If they are similar then this would put to bed any arguments, the fact its not mentioned suggests to me that electric vehicles have way greater EMs. I hope not as am a big supported of environmentally friendly technology and practices. Cheers!

    • EV Tech December 29, 2016 at 11:32 am - Reply

      Hi Matty – prior to getting my first back in 2008 I had very similar concerns. No point in changing the fleet to EVs if it just meant a whole new type of pollution. All the investigation I’ve done both on and offline have satisfied me that EM from EVs are not a time bomb waiting to go off. Traffic accidents are responsible for 1.25 million deaths per year – outdoor air pollution (of which vehicle exhaust is a large contributor) is responsible for 3 million deaths annually. These issues are the real concern for our current mode of travel. Electric and autonomous technology tackle both head on. Think you should have a look at the SINTEF study conducted in 2014. The Norwegian Sintef organisation is a non-commercial research foundation located in Norway. With 2100 employees from 67 countries, SINTEF is the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia (description from their website). You can find the information here: https://www.sintef.no/projectweb/em-safety/.

  7. Valter February 3, 2018 at 4:59 am - Reply

    Aside from cancer concerns, we should consider risks of heart arrhythmia such as Atrial Fibrillation.
    Electrical signals in the heart produced by the pacemaker cells (cells within sinoatrial node) are at aprox. -60mV at the end of so called repolarization phase.
    The EMF signals we are exposed to in our environment are often many times higher than -60mV and can easily override the pacemaker signals.
    -It is a known fact that employees of AM radio station have heart rhythm disturbances.
    -EMS electromagnetic sensitivity affects way more people than medical establishment is willing to acknowledge.
    -Also here is the study demonstrating how DECT cordless phones causes heart irregularities http://www.magdahavas.com/new-study-radiation-from-cordless-phone-base-station-affects-the-heart/
    -I love the idea of EV but I am really concerned of unknown effects of sitting few hours every day on top of giant battery system, with all the current running around and magnetic fields (that can not be easily shielded from if at all).

    • EV Tech February 3, 2018 at 2:49 pm - Reply

      I agree Valter that there may be risks associated with EVs where the conclusions have not been fully reached and will no doubt not be reached for some time yet. There is research on both sides of this debate from leading bodies that conflicts (https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/horizon2020/en/news/clean-bill-health-electric-cars). However ICE vehicles also produce quite high levels of electro magnetic radiation although at lower levels than EVs. What is certain Valter is sitting in your ICE vehicle for a few hours every day surrounded by other ICE vehicles is definitely exposing you to cancer causing emissions in the form of exhaust gases. Studies also show those exhaust emissions also cause, heart disease, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer, respiratory disease, kidney disease, dementia. Poisoned air in cities due to vehicle emissions kills hundreds of thousands globally every year – there is no debate about that.

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