Safety for citizens

Safety is a top priority for Elia. We want to keep everyone safe, including members of the public.

Living near a high-voltage connection

Electric and magnetic fields are all around us in our everyday lives. Some of these fields have natural origins, like sunlight, while others are generated by human activities, like television and radio. Their presence is not immediately obvious.
 
We can sometimes tell when there is an electrical field, but magnetic fields are unnoticeable today. Most concerns about the health impact of fields relate to variable magnetic fields.
 
Elia is fully committed to transparency. As such, we carry out free measurements of electric and magnetic fields at the request of local residents. We have also produced a brochure containing detailed information about living near a high-voltage connection (in Dutch).

 

What is the difference between an electric field and a magnetic field?

Put simply, an electric field forms around a stationary charge, and a magnetic field around a moving charge.

An electric field is created by the forces that electric charges exert on one another. Whenever two or more electrically charged objects are near each other, an electric field is generated. Exchanges of electric energy occur everywhere in nature. At home, you create an electric field whenever you plug a lamp into a power socket. This action charges the cable, which becomes energised all the way to the switch. If you switch the lamp on, this will produce a magnetic field.
 
Magnetic fields are created by moving electric charges. For instance, a magnetic field is produced by the electric current flowing through a power cable. The forces of a magnetic field have a certain strength and direction, which can be constant or variable. Electrical devices and power cables generate variable magnetic fields because the electricity grid uses alternating current. The polarity changes from positive to negative and back again 50 times a second.

 

How can we tell if there is an electric field?

You can sometimes feel the effects of an electric field if you are near or underneath a high-voltage power line:

  • the surface of your skin may prickle;
  • you may feel a tingling sensation if you touch a metal object;
  • you may feel a slight shock if you touch a metal object;
  • you may hear a crackling sound if the weather is damp.

 

How can we tell if there is a magnetic field?

Nowadays, there are no situations in which we can feel the effects of magnetic fields. However, here are two examples from the past:

  • older types of cardiac stimulators (or pacemakers);
  • older computer screens using cathode ray tube (CRT) technology.

 

What impact do these fields have on our health?

The European Union has set exposure limits for magnetic fields.

In places accessible to the public, the magnetic field is far below the exposure limit of 100 microtesla. Think of the magnetic fields generated by HV power lines, underground cables and transformer stations.

If your exposure remains below the exposure limits, you can assume that you are adequately protected against the health risks currently known to science.

Over thirty years of research has produced no formal proof that exposure to electromagnetic fields poses a risk to health if the exposure limits are respected. However, research has also been unable to prove that there is no risk, which has increased concern and confusion among members of the public. That is why the health impact of magnetic fields is still being researched on today.

 

What is Elia doing?

Elia has been actively helping to advance scientific knowledge for many years now. We support a number of independent research centres and universities forming part of the Belgian BioElectroMagnetic Group (BBEMG).

Elia financially supports research into electric and magnetic fields and has no influence or say on what is published.

Furthermore, we regularly ask BBEMG to explain and clarify the scientific value and scope of publications.

Elia has also signed a research agreement with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). The agreement ensures that Elia has access to the findings of international research in the field.

We are fully committed to transparency, actively contribute to research and help to inform the public about the issue. We also carry out free measurements of electric and magnetic fields at the request of local residents.

Download our brochure, which contains detailed information about living near a high-voltage connection.

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