Concerns over the safety of cars’ on-board electrical systems have prompted Jaguar to test its vehicles for harmful electromagnetic radiation.
The move follows Volvo’s decision to make adjustments to three of its models after they were found to generate fields of 12 to 18 microtesla.
Although this is relatively weak and well below UK guidelines on acceptable levels of electromagnetic radiation, scientists in Sweden believe it could damage the health of children and pregnant women.
Volvo said it was taking action to reassure its customers while Jaguar, which is also owned by Ford, said it too wanted to make sure its vehicles were safe. ‘We are investigating. There is no data at the moment. We just want to make sure the cars are safe. We don’t know how long the research will take,’ said a spokesman.
Luxury car maker such as Jaguar are likely to fit more electronics to their models than other manufacturers. However, the spokesman could not say which systems might contribute the most to any electromagnetic field.
Meanwhile, Volvo decided to take action in response to research carried out by Swedish scientist Kjell Hansson Mild, of the National Institute for Working Life, on the possible biological effects of electromagnetic radiation.
He contributed to an evaluation by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, funded by the World Health Organisation, that concluded last year that low-strength magnetic fields were probably carcinogenic. It placed them in the same bracket as diesel fumes, chloroform, welding fumes and the pesticide DDT.
Hansson Mild said in his view there is a potential health danger from the tesla levels of the magnetic fields given off in cars. The combined field produced by the ignition starters, generators, fuel pumps and other sources is four to six microtesla.
He said the radiation is the equivalent of living under a high- voltage power cable. Epidemiological studies of childhood leukaemia and occupational studies show you have a higher chance of cancer if you are exposed to this level, he said.His research was published in the Swedish car magazine Vi Bilagare, prompting hundreds of worried Volvo drivers to contact the company.
It found that in the S60, V70 and S80 models, which all have a power cable running the full length of the car from a battery in the rear to the engine, fields of 12 to 18 microtesla were recorded.
A spokesman for the company said it was seeking a solution to the problem for future production of the three models. ‘We are doing this because of people’s worries. It’s very difficult to prove your point, to calm customers down. We know that these EM fields are not a problem but some customers are more worried than others.’
Under the limit
The legal limit in the UK for electromagnetic field exposure is 200 millitesla over a 24-hour period, putting the limit thousands of times above the level found in cars.Prof Tony Barker, a consultant clinical scientist at the University of Sheffield’s department of medical physics and clinical engineering, is unconvinced that low-strength fields are a problem.
As chairman of the Institution of Electrical Engineers working group on the EMF issue, he says, ‘The Volvo figures are of a similar order to living right under power cables. While cable studies have hinted at a problem I can see no scientific reason why these fields should have an effect.’
He said the studies were based on statistics rather than a proven medical link between electromagnetic fields and cancer.