Are electromagnetic fields such as mobile communications harmful to insects?

The results of the meta-analysis by Thill, Cammaerts & Balmori (2023) show that mobile phone radiation has negative effects on insects

 

BEEFI: Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields on Insects: a Systematic Review and Metaanalysis, Reviews on Environmental Health; Authors: Thill A, Cammaerts M-C, Balmori A., 2023  doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2023-0072 | www.emf-portal.org/de/article/52384

The negative effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF) on insects are the subject of intensive scientific research. New findings indicate that EMFs can affect the reproductive ability, behavior, DNA and health of insects. Studies show disturbed behavior in bees, a decrease in pollination performance and a decline in insect populations near EMF sources such as power lines and mobile phone masts. The strong effect of the combination of various damaging influences in the field further intensifies these negative effects.

It is strongly recommended that the precautionary principle be applied to the expansion of mobile communications infrastructure, as it cannot be ruled out that the effects on insect populations will be problematic. More research is needed to understand interactions with other factors. These findings should be taken into account in political decisions and planning so as not to further accelerate insect extinction.

The 2023 study by Thill, Cammaerts & Balmori documents the harmful effects of EMF on insects. Take a look at the key findings and facts of this study.

The original study is available for free download below in English, German and French, as is a fact sheet in English, German, French, Spanish and Italian. 

Backgrounds

The long road to meta-analysis by Thill, Cammaerts & Balmori

 

Already at the 1999 symposium „Effects of electromagnetic fields on the living environment“ organized by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS), the organizations demanded studies on the effects on animals and insects:


„The specific issues that need to be addressed include

  • EMF exposure of animals, plants and marine organisms,
  • Orientation and migration effects on birds and marine organisms,
  • Behavioral changes in insects“ (conference proceedings, p. 8).

Unfortunately, this statement had no consequences. Existing research on the effects of the geomagnetic field, radar and mobile phone radiation on animals, by Wiltschko (birds) and Warnke (bees), for example, were not systematically evaluated. Studies published in the 2000s were downplayed by the authorities, and no government-sanctioned research projects were commissioned.

The relevance became even greater as the expansion of the mobile communications infrastructure led to widespread exposure for the first time. In 2008, BUND (German Association for the Environment and Nature Conservation) pointed this out in its position paper 46:


„As early as the 1970s, it was found that bees under the influence of low-frequency fields (10 to 20 KHz) show stress reactions and a greatly reduced ability to find their way back home. In 2005, a pilot study on the effect of electromagnetic radiation on bees found that the home-finding ability and the Honeycomb building were severely impaired.“

24 years after the BfS symposium, the EESC (European Economic and Social Committee) called for further studies on July 13, 2023:

‚The Committee calls for an EU study to provide accurate data on the impact of electromagnetic radiation from telecommunication antennas on wild pollinators in their natural habitats and on the political measures to ensure effective pollinator protection‘ (1.8) (https://kurzelinks.de/ls66).

The English biologist Prof. Dave Goulson wrote in his 2021 book „Silent Earth“:


„It seems plausible that such fields can trigger strong behavioral changes (in insects) … What worries me most is the fact that so little research is being done in this area. We have introduced a series of global telecommunications networks in a huge, irreproducible experiment in which virtually every living being on this planet is exposed to a rapidly increasing dose of high-frequency radiation, although we are not yet fully aware of the consequences“ (p. 221/223).

In November 2023, a working group led by Prof. Dr. Daniel Erni (University of Duisburg-Essen) spoke at Sciencebrunch 36 of the Swiss Research Foundation for Electricity and Mobile Communication (FSM) on the topic „Where are mm-waves absorbed in tissue? Research approaches virtual microdosimetry of the skin“. They also investigated the effects of mm-waves in the presence of 5G and 6G, on bees. Their findings lead them to the conclusion:

„Insects are our friends. What would be a suitable exposure measure? SAR? There are new interesting questions and a correspondingly great need for research.“

Their presentation shows the effects of EMF on bees in computer simulations.

New EMF (red) and magnetic (blue) studies: The data situation has improved. The number of studies carried out has increased since around 2010.

The number of studies carried out has increased since around 2012. There are now many studies that indicate that EMFs have negative effects on insects, as documented in the meta-analysis by Thill, Cammaerts & Balmori (2023). The overall result: non-thermal biological effects of EMF in the laboratory have been clearly demonstrated. These effects would affect the reproductive capacity, behavior, DNA and health of insects. The laboratory results, which demonstrate damage, cannot be transferred 1:1 to the field effects, but: „It is very likely that the effects shown in the laboratory also occur under real conditions“ (p.8 of the study). The Thill study documents new field studies that confirm this. The study by a working group Treder et al. (2023) from the University of Hohenheim reports disturbed home-finding behavior in bees; Molina-Montenegro et al. (2023) show declining pollination performance and Nyirenda et al. (2022) and Adelaja et al. (2021) decreasing abundance (density) of insects in proximity to EMF sources (high-voltage power lines, mobile phone masts).

In the field, insects are not only exposed to EMF, but also to other damaging influences, so that even greater damage must be assumed due to combined effects. Thill et al. continue:

„On the basis of an assessment of the overall situation of studies on insects, a warning must be issued against the unconsidered expansion of further mobile phone infrastructure, as harmful effects on insect populations are to be expected, especially when interactions with other noxious agents are taken into account (including high-voltage power lines and artificial lighting). This could lead to a further decline in already dwindling pollinator populations and would therefore come at a cost to humanity“ (p. 11).

The current state of research requires the precautionary principle to be applied to mobile phone expansion. It would be irresponsible to wait until all the details have been clarified. The findings on the risk posed to insects by electromagnetic fields are no longer just uncertain, but are approaching proof. According to the review by Mulot et al. (2022), prepared for the Swiss government:

„Anthropogenic NIR (Non-Ionizing Radiation) poses a potential threat to arthropod populations by affecting the fitness, reproduction and behaviour of individuals.“ „NIR has a clear sublethal effect on arthropods, both at the cellular and organismal level.“

The impact of EMFs on insect mortality is a complex issue because insect mortality has many causes, including habitat loss, climate change, the use of pesticides and changes in land use. EMFs play a role in this problem. Further research and investigations are needed, also to identify interactions with other factors. The Thill study now provides a detailed research overview that proves that electromagnetic fields are used by insects (as well as birds) for orientation, but that technically generated fields have a negative effect on their orientation and the organism as a whole.

Dr. Herbert Zucchi, Emeritus Professor of Zoology and Animal Ecology (Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences), wrote to the authors of the Thill study: „I have now read it and am very impressed. May I distribute it further?“

And Dr. Ulrich Warnke, a pioneer of bee research, says in an interview with diagnose:funk: „This meta-study was carried out according to scientific criteria and therefore the results – insect decimation also through technically generated mobile and communication frequencies – must definitely be taken into account in political considerations.“ (Kompakt 1-2024).

Thill A, Cammaerts M-C, Balmori A (2023): Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields on Insects: a Systematic Review and Metaanalysis, Reviews on Environmental Health; www.doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2023-0072    www.emf-portal.org/de/article/52384

Summary of the study results (from the study)

„Summary: Worldwide, the number of insects is declining at an alarming rate. Among other causes, the use of pesticides and modern agricultural practices play a major role. The cumulative effects of multiple low-dose toxins and the spread of toxins in nature have only recently begun to be methodically studied. Existing research points to another factor of anthropogenic origin that could have subtle detrimental effects: the ever-increasing spread of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) through man-made technologies. This systematic review summarizes the results of studies that have investigated the toxicity of electromagnetic fields to insects. The main aim of this review is to weigh the evidence for harmful effects of increasing technological infrastructure on insects, with a particular focus on power lines and the mobile phone network. The current generation of mobile phone technologies, 5G, is being rolled out without having been tested for potential toxic effects.

With humanity’s quest for ubiquitous technology, even minor effects of electromagnetic fields on organisms may eventually reach a saturation level that can not be ignored. An overview of the reported effects and biological mechanisms of exposure to electromagnetic fields is given, which also takes into account new findings in cell biology. Non-thermal biological effects of EMF on insects have been clearly demonstrated in the laboratory, but only partially in the field, so the wider ecological effects are still unknown. There is a need for more field studies, but the extrapolation from the laboratory, as is common in ecotoxicology, already suggests an increase in the threat level of EMF effects on insects.“

Interview with bee researcher Dr. Ulrich Warnke on the new insect review

Renowned scientist Ulrich Warnke is encouraging political leaders to take measures to protect insects after the release of a new meta-study showing dramatic increases in insect mortality in connection with radiofrequency radiation from cellular communications.

The new meta-study by Thill, Cammaerts and Balmori shows the connection between electromagnetic fields and the disappearance of insects.  Warnke emphasizes the essential role of insects for biodiversity and the ecological stability of the planet and warns about the impact of insect mortality on ecosystems and human society.

Insects have existed on earth for more than 300 million years and represent an evolutionary factor. Their disappearance has far-reaching effects on the food chain and ecosystems.

Warnke criticized the reaction of politicians and the media to the issue and highlighted the need for further field studies to investigate the ecological effects of non-thermal electromagnetic fields on insects. He said laboratory studies will help ecologists better understand the mechanisms and potential harms of RF fields, and expressed the hope that politicians and society will take measures to protect insects.

Read the full article in PDF format here.

The main findings of the study

1. Real irradiation situation is harmful - limits do not protect

„However, some recent epidemiologic studies in humans and field studies in insects, birds, and pine trees in the vicinity of cell towers suggest chronic adverse effects, even at current power levels“ (p.6).

„36 of the 55 high frequency studies reported in this review used field strengths of less than 6 V/m (~100 mW/m2), and 31 of these 36 studies (86%) nevertheless found statistically significant adverse effects starting at around 2 V/m and peaking at 6 V/m. This is below the limits recommended by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) (41 V/m or 61 V/m above 2 GHz) and even below the particularly stringent installation limits that apply in only a handful of countries“ (p. 10).

 „These findings on biological effects on insects from around 2 V/m imply that the existing standards need to be revised and tightened to take account of nature conservation and wildlife concerns“ (p.10).

2. Studies show damaging effects on reproduction, DNA, behavior…

and the development of oxidative stress.

The toxicity estimate derived from the meta-analysis „could, in the worst case, be interpreted as a 50% increase in DNA damage or a 33% reduction in reproductive capacity“ (p.6).

„In the case of RF-EMF, the observed effects were predominantly harmful (57%). About a quarter were classified as uncertain effects (e.g., increased or decreased locomotion). In the LF-EMF (133 experiments), a behavioral effect was observed in 29% of the experiments; in 12% of the experiments, the effect concerned the metabolism, and in 11%, the reproductive ability was impaired. For RF-EMF (238 experiments), the following trends were observed: reduced reproductive capacity in 37% of the experiments, altered behavior (18%), oxidative stress (10%), DNA damage (7%), and impaired development (5%). No effect was observed in 10% of the experiments“ (p.7) (Note: HF=high frequency; LF=low frequency).

3. High significance of the results despite weaknesses in the study situation

„The vast majority of studies have found effects that are generally harmful. It is unlikely that these findings are the result of chance. Sceptics might object that most of the studies were not randomized controlled trials (but see reference [103]). Despite these shortcomings, the consistent results of numerous studies conducted by different research groups with different protocols provide an irrefutable argument for adverse effects of low-power LF and RF EMF on insects“ (p. 8).

  1. Anglemyer A, Horvath HT, Bero L. Healthcare outcomes assessed with observational study designs compared with those assessed in randomized trials. Cochrane Db Syst Rev 2014;2014. https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.mr000034

4. Conclusion: The indications and evidence require a precautionary protection policy

„On the basis of an assessment of the overall situation of studies on insects, a warning must be issued against the ill-considered expansion of further mobile phone infrastructure, as harmful effects on insect populations are to be expected, especially when interactions with other noxious agents are taken into account (including high-voltage power lines and artificial lighting). This could lead to a further decline in already dwindling pollinator populations and would therefore come at a cost to humanity“ (p.11).

The authors advocate for the financing and implementation of field studies and, due to the many indications of the potential for damage, the application of the precautionary principle, i.e. no transmission masts (cell-towers) may be erected in nature conservation areas, i.e. the preservation of „white zones“ for flora and fauna.

Claims

In some of the studies evaluated, insects were found to be damaged by mobile phone radiation from a field strength of 2 V /m (~ 10,000 μWatt/m²). The German Federal Office for Risk Assessment recommends a safety factor of 100 for setting toxicological limits. This can also minimize the synergistic effects of different pollutants.

diagnose:funk is calling on politicians to maintain and expand radio-free protection zones for insects. This means:

To protect insects, the German government must limit mobile phone coverage to a maximum of

100 µWatt/m². Reception is still possible with the full range of bandwidth.

 

No new mobile phone masts may be built or operated in nature conservation areas.

 

The interactions between electromagnetic fields and other environmental pollutants must be investigated.

 

Further field studies need to be funded and carried out to clarify how insect populations are already negatively impacted by the current infrastructure.

Here you can find more information:

BEEFI study (english)

Thill A, Cammaerts M-C, Balmori A. (2023): Biological effects of electromagnetic fields on insects: a systematic review and meta-analysis

doi:10.1515/reveh-2023-0072

Fact sheet: EMF and insects (english)

Here diagnose:funk provides you with the relevant information on one page.

The fact sheet is intended for sharing a concise summary.

Etude BEEFI (français)

Thill A, Cammaerts M-C, Balmori A. (2023): Effets biologiques des champs électromagnétiques sur les insectes : une revue systématique et une méta-analyse

fiche d'infos

Fiche d'information : CEM et insectes (français)

Ici, diagnose:funk vous fournit les informations pertinentes sur une seule page. La fiche d’information est destinée à partager un résumé concis.

Scheda informativa: CEM e insetti (italiano)

Qui diagnose:funk fornisce le informazioni pertinenti in un’unica pagina.

La scheda informativa è destinata alla condivisione di un riassunto conciso.

Ficha informativa: CEM e insectos (español)

Aquí diagnose:funk le ofrece la información pertinente en una sola página.

La ficha informativa está pensada para compartir un resumen conciso.

The German files (study and fact sheet) can be found on our german webseite insekten-schuetzen.info.