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Environ Health. 2017 Apr 17;16(1):41. doi: 10.1186/s12940-017-0248-y.

Biological effects of exposure to static electric fields in humans and vertebrates: a systematic review.

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Research Center for Bioelectromagnetic Interaction, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstraße 30, 52074, Aachen, Germany.
Research Center for Bioelectromagnetic Interaction, RWTH Aachen University, Pauwelsstraße 30, 52074, Aachen, Germany.
Center for Occupational and Environmental Health Risk Assessment, Exponent, 17000 Science Drive, Suite 200, Bowie, MD, 20715, USA.



High-voltage direct current (HVDC) lines are the technology of choice for the transport of large amounts of energy over long distances. The operation of these lines produces static electric fields (EF), but the data reviewed in previous assessments were not sufficient to assess the need for any environmental limit. The aim of this systematic review was to update the current state of research and to evaluate biological effects of static EF.


Using the PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-analyses) recommendations, we collected and evaluated experimental and epidemiological studies examining biological effects of exposure to static EF in humans (n = 8) and vertebrates (n = 40).


There is good evidence that humans and animals are able to perceive the presence of static EF at sufficiently high levels. Hair movements caused by electrostatic forces may play a major role in this perception. A large number of studies reported responses of animals (e.g., altered metabolic, immunologic or developmental parameters) to a broad range of static EF strengths as well, but these responses are likely secondary physiological responses to sensory stimulation. Furthermore, the quality of many of the studies reporting physiological responses is poor, which raises concerns about confounding.


The weight of the evidence from the literature reviewed did not indicate that static EF have adverse biological effects in humans or animals. The evidence strongly supported the role of superficial sensory stimulation of hair and skin as the basis for perception of the field, as well as reported indirect behavioral and physiological responses. Physical considerations also preclude any direct effect of static EF on internal physiology, and reports that some physiological processes are affected in minor ways may be explained by other factors. While this literature does not support a level of concern about biological effects of exposure to static EF, the conditions that affect thresholds for human detection and possible annoyance at suprathreshold levels should be investigated.


Biological effects; Exposure; Field perception; High-voltage direct current; Physiological functions; Power line; Static electric fields

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