Children and adults exposed to low-frequency magnetic fields at the ICNIRP reference levels: theoretical assessment of the induced electric fields

J.F. Bakker, M.M. Paulides, E. Neufeld, A. Christ, X.L. Chen, N. Kuster, G.C. van Rhoon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


To avoid potentially adverse health effects, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has defined reference levels for time varying magnetic fields. Restrictions on the electric fields induced in the human body are provided based on biological response data for peripheral nerve stimulation and the induction of phosphenes. Numerical modeling is commonly used to assess the induced electric fields for various exposure configurations. The objective of this study was to assess the variations of the electric fields induced in children and adults and to compare the exposure at reference levels with the basic restrictions as function of anatomy. We used the scalar potential finite element method to calculate the induced electric fields in six children and two adults when exposed to uniform magnetic fields polarized in three orthogonal directions. We found that the induced electric fields are within the ICNIRP basic restrictions in nearly all cases. In PNS tissues, we found electric fields up to 95% (upper uncertainty limit due to discretization errors, k = 2) of the ICNIRP basic restrictions for exposures at the general public reference levels. For occupational reference levels, we found an over-exposure of maximum 79% (k = 2) in PNS tissues. We further found that the ICNIRP recommendations on spatial averaging in 2 × 2 × 2 mm³ contiguous tissue volumes and removal of peak values by the 99th percentile cause the results to depend strongly on the grid discretization step (i.e. an uncertainty of more than 50% at 2 mm) and the number of distinguished tissues in the anatomical models. The computational results obtained by various research institutes should be robust for different discretization settings and various anatomical models. Therefore, we recommend considering alternative routines for small anatomical structures such as non-contiguous averaging without taking the 99th percentile in future guidelines leading to consistent suppression of peak values amongst different simulation settings and anatomical models. The peak electric fields depend on the local tissue distribution in the various anatomical models, and we could not find a correlation with the size of the anatomy. Therefore, we recommend extending the evaluation using a sufficient set of anatomies including other than standing postures to assess the worst-case exposure setting and correspondence to the basic restrictions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1815-1829
Number of pages15
JournalPhysics in Medicine and Biology
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Electricity
  • Environmental Exposure/analysis
  • Female
  • Humans
  • International Agencies/standards
  • Magnetic Fields
  • Male
  • Models, Anatomic
  • Radiation Protection/standards
  • Reference Standards


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