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Risk of birth defects by parental occupational exposure to 50 Hz electromagnetic fields: a population based study
  1. K G Blaasaas1,2,
  2. T Tynes2,
  3. Å Irgens3,
  4. R T Lie4
  1. 1National Institute of Occupational Health, Oslo, Norway
  2. 2Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, Østerås, Norway
  3. 3Department of Occupational Medicine, Haukeland Hospital, Bergen, Norway
  4. 4Section for Medical Statistics and Medical Birth Registry of Norway, University of Bergen, Haukeland Hospital, Bergen, Norway
  1. Correspondence to:
 K G Blaasaas, Norwegian Radiation Protection Authority, PO Box 55, N-1332 Østerås, Norway;


Objectives: To study the risk of birth defects by parental occupational exposure to 50 Hz electromagnetic fields.

Methods: The Medical Birth Registry of Norway was linked with census data on parental occupation. An expert panel constructed a job exposure matrix of parental occupational exposure to 50 Hz magnetic fields. Exposure to magnetic fields was estimated by combining branch and occupation into one of three exposure levels: <4 hours, 4–24 hours, and >24 hours/week above approximately 0.1 μT. Risks of 24 categories of birth defects were compared across exposure levels. Out of all 1.6 million births in Norway in the period 1967–95, 836 475 and 1 290 298 births had information on maternal and paternal exposure, respectively. Analyses were based on tests for trend and were adjusted for parents' educational level, place of birth, maternal age, and year of birth.

Results: The total risk of birth defects was not associated with parental exposure. Maternal exposure was associated with increased risks of spina bifida (p=0.04) and clubfoot (p=0.04). A negative association was found for isolated cleft palate (p=0.01). Paternal exposure was associated with increased risks of anencephaly (p=0.01) and a category of “other defects” (p=0.02).

Conclusion: The present study gives an indication of an association between selected disorders of the central nervous system and parental exposure to 50 Hz magnetic fields. Given the crude exposure assessment, lack of comparable studies, and the high number of outcomes considered, the results should be interpreted with caution.

  • birth defects
  • electromagnetic fields
  • occupational exposure
  • ICD-8
  • eighth revision of the international classification of diseases

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