SAGE (Stakeholder Advisory Group on EMF/ELF)

19 November 2010
In March 2002, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified Extremely Low Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields (ELF EMFs) as a class 2b carcinogen - “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. 

The Health Protection Agency recommended that the Government “consider the need for further precautionary measures” to reduce public exposure to EMF.

In 2004, the UK adopted new guidelines which set magnetic field levels above which people should not usually be exposed.  That left the question about what effects EMFs below these levels have on people, where there is an association with childhood leukaemia but no clear causal mechanism.

In response to this, the Stakeholder Advisory Group on Extremely Low Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields (SAGE) was set up at the behest of Government in 2004. 

The SAGE process was one third funded by Children with Cancer UK (formerly CHILDREN with LEUKAEMIA), the Department of Health and the energy industry. 

SAGE aimed to evaluate the science, and through engaging the industry, government, campaigners and academics on both sides of the debate, produce precautionary recommendations. 

We have been amongst the 40 SAGE members since the beginning and have contributed to the formation of the body of evidence collated by SAGE in examining the impact of public exposure to EMF.

SAGE issued its first interim assessment in April 2007 which identifies a building moratorium as the ‘best available option’ to reduce EMF exposure and urges Government to make a ‘clear decision’ on whether action is to be taken.

In response to a parliamentary question in June 2007, the Government referred the SAGE Report to the Health Protection Agency (HPA) for guidance.

In November 2007 the HPA recommended that “the attention of local authority planning departments and the electricity companies be drawn to the evidence for a possible small increase in childhood leukaemia which may result from siting new buildings very close to power lines.”

In October 2009, the Government issued its response to the SAGE First Interim Assessment and supported a few, but not all, of the low-cost options which had been recommended.

The Government has committed to:
•    work with the Health Protection Agency to develop clear information for the public on the risks of exposure to ELF EMF and the steps that can be taken to reduce exposure;
•    continue to explore the range of precautionary options through a forum such as SAGE.

The work covered in the second phase of SAGE, from 2008 to 2010, extended to EMFs produced by low-voltage distribution networks. It also explored the divergent range of views of the stakeholder group to the scientific evidence underpinning the issue.

Whilst it is clear that there is an association between an increased incidence of childhood leukaemia and exposure to EMFs, no causal mechanism has yet been established.

On 8th June 2010, SAGE submitted its second interim assessment to the Government through the channels of the Department of Health, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and the Department of Communities and Local Government.

The Assessment contains many detailed recommendations for measures that can be taken to reduce human exposure to potentially harmful EMFs from electricity distribution networks.

These measures are low-cost or no cost and do not require changes to law or regulation to help speed up their implementation.

The SAGE process has, for the time being, come to a close.  However we continue to work with Government, the industry, campaigners and other stakeholders to influence policy to reduce human exposure to EMFs. 

Read more: SAGE website


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