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Managing electromagnetic fields from residential electrode grounding systems: a predecision analysis.

  • von Winterfeldt, D1
  • Trauger, T
  • 1 University of Southern California, Institute of Safety and Systems Management, University Park, Los Angeles, USA.
Published Article
Publication Date
PMID: 9139635


Several epidemiological studies have linked exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) with health effects, including leukemia and brain cancer, but the research is still inconclusive. In particular, no clear causal mechanism has been identified by which EMFs may promote cancers. Nevertheless, the concerns raised by the positive epidemiological studies have led to increasing efforts to reduce EMFs from a number of sources. One source of EMFs are home grounding systems that are connected through water pipes in homes to water mains. This paper analyzes whether home owners who are concerned about electromagnetic fields exposure from home grounding systems should take any action to reduce fields. Assuming that the grounding system produces elevated magnetic fields (e.g., 2-3 mG or higher), this study investigates several readily available alternatives and evaluates them with respect to five criteria: risk reduction, cost, fire risk increase, worker risk, and electrical shock risk. Because of the lack of conclusive evidence about an EMF-cancer relationship, this study uses a parameterized approach that makes conditional estimates of health risk depending on future research outcomes and on the nature of the EMF/health effects relationship. This type of analysis, which is called predecision analysis because of its preliminary nature, is therefore highly dependent on a set of assumptions. Nevertheless, this predecision analysis had some fairly clear results. First, waiting for more research or taking a fairly inexpensive corrective action (insulating the water pipe to reduce ground current flow) seem to be the main contenders for the best decision for many different assumptions and parameters. Second, the choice between these two actions is very sensitive to variations in assumptions and parameters. Homeowners who accept the base-case assumptions and parameters of this study should prefer to wait. If any of the base-case parameters are changed to more pessimistic estimates or if psychological concerns (like worry and regret) are considered, then the best action is to insulate the pipe to reduce the current flow through the water pipes.

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