Maternal proximity to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields and risk of birth defects

  • Nathalie AugerEmail author
  • Laura Arbour
  • Wei Luo
  • Ga Eun Lee
  • Marianne Bilodeau-Bertrand
  • Tom Kosatsky


Causes of birth defects are unclear, and the association with electromagnetic fields is inconclusive. We assessed the relationship between residential proximity to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields from power grids and risk of birth defects. We analyzed a population-based sample of 2,164,246 infants born in Quebec, Canada between 1989 and 2016. We geocoded the maternal residential postal code at delivery and computed the distance to the nearest high voltage electrical transmission line or transformer station. We used log-binomial regression to estimate risk ratios (RR) and 95% confidence intervals (CI) for the association of residential proximity to transmission lines and transformer stations with birth defects, adjusting for maternal and infant characteristics. The prevalence of birth defects within 200 m of a transmission line (579.4 per 10,000 per live births) was only slightly higher compared with distances further away (568.7 per 10,000). A similar trend was seen for transformer stations. Compared with 200 m, a distance of 50 m was not associated with the risk of birth defects for transmission lines (RR 1.00, 95% CI 1.00–1.01) and transformer stations (RR 1.01, 95% CI 1.00–1.03). There was no consistent association when we examined birth defects in different organ systems. We found no compelling evidence that residential proximity to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields from electrical power grids increases the risk of birth defects. Women residing near electrical grids can be reassured that an effect on the risk of birth defects is unlikely.


Congenital abnormalities Electric power supplies Electromagnetic fields Environmental exposure Pregnancy outcome 



The authors thank Denis Gauvin for information on the electrical infrastructure in Quebec.


This work was supported by the Public Health Agency of Canada (6D02363004), the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MOP-142277) and the Fonds de recherche du Québec-Santé (34695).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The University of Montreal Hospital Centre’s Institutional Review Board waived the need for ethical review as the data were de-identified. All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. For this type of study formal consent is not required.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 34 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Public HealthUniversity of Montreal Hospital Research CentreMontrealCanada
  2. 2.Institut national de santé publique du QuebecMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational HealthMcGill UniversityMontrealCanada
  4. 4.Department of Medical GeneticsUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  5. 5.Maternal, Child and Youth Health Surveillance, Centre for Surveillance and Applied ResearchPublic Health Agency of CanadaOttawaCanada
  6. 6.National Collaborating Centre for Environmental HealthBritish Columbia Centre for Disease ControlVancouverCanada

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