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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Non-specific physical symptoms in relation to actual and perceived proximity to mobile phone base stations and powerlines

Christos Baliatsas12*, Irene van Kamp2, Gert Kelfkens2, Maarten Schipper2, John Bolte2, Joris Yzermans3 and Erik Lebret12

Author Affiliations

1 Institute for Risk Assessment Sciences (IRAS), Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands

2 National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Antoine van Leeuwenhoeklaan 9, 3720 BA Bilthoven, The Netherlands

3 Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL), Utrecht, The Netherlands

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:421  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-421

Published: 1 June 2011

Abstract

Background

Evidence about a possible causal relationship between non-specific physical symptoms (NSPS) and exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by sources such as mobile phone base stations (BS) and powerlines is insufficient. So far little epidemiological research has been published on the contribution of psychological components to the occurrence of EMF-related NSPS. The prior objective of the current study is to explore the relative importance of actual and perceived proximity to base stations and psychological components as determinants of NSPS, adjusting for demographic, residency and area characteristics.

Methods

Analysis was performed on data obtained in a cross-sectional study on environment and health in 2006 in the Netherlands. In the current study, 3611 adult respondents (response rate: 37%) in twenty-two Dutch residential areas completed a questionnaire. Self-reported instruments included a symptom checklist and assessment of environmental and psychological characteristics. The computation of the distance between household addresses and location of base stations and powerlines was based on geo-coding. Multilevel regression models were used to test the hypotheses regarding the determinants related to the occurrence of NSPS.

Results

After adjustment for demographic and residential characteristics, analyses yielded a number of statistically significant associations: Increased report of NSPS was predominantly predicted by higher levels of self-reported environmental sensitivity; perceived proximity to base stations and powerlines, lower perceived control and increased avoidance (coping) behavior were also associated with NSPS. A trend towards a moderator effect of perceived environmental sensitivity on the relation between perceived proximity to BS and NSPS was verified (p = 0.055). There was no significant association between symptom occurrence and actual distance to BS or powerlines.

Conclusions

Perceived proximity to BS, psychological components and socio-demographic characteristics are associated with the report of symptomatology. Actual distance to the EMF source did not show up as determinant of NSPS.