Insurers are a jolly lot. After asbestos, pollution, global warming and breast implants, much time is spent on both sides of the Atlantic trying to predict what the next liability explosion of biblical proportions will be. A current favourite of the doom and gloom merchants is the risks posed to the health (especially of young children) by electromagnetic fields (EMFs).

Simply, these are the electromagnetic fields which are produced not just by electric cables and pylons but anything which uses an electric current. As such we are all exposed to them in our daily lives. One of the issues raised in the recent Court of Appeal decision of Durridge, Bye and Holiday -v- The Secretary of State for Trade and Industry [Judgment 6th October 1995], is the present state of scientific research in the health risks from EMFs. This was an appeal seeking a judicial review of the refusal of the Secretary of State to issue regulations under the Electricity Act 1989 to restrict the laying of electric cables for the National Grid. The legislation provides that if there is a danger then the Secretary of State is under a duty to protect the public by exercising the power to make such regulations.

The state of expert scientific evidence was such that the applicants had to accept that there was no evidence that exposure to EMFs actually caused cancer and, in particular, leukaemia. The evidence for the applicants only went so far as to say that "prolonged exposure to power frequency magnetic fields, while not a direct causal factor in inducing human leukaemias, may enhance the risks of these cancers, especially in young children, when acting in conjunction with other social and environmental factors".

The Court of Appeal said that this link was not sufficient to compel the Secretary of State to act. The Court of Appeal also did not accept that the application of European Community law imposed an obligation on the Secretary of State to apply the lesser standard of risk which was referred to in the scientific evidence before the Court and so make regulations limiting electromagnetic emissions.

A tremendous amount of scientific research is being carried out worldwide at present into the potential links between certain forms of cancer and EMFs. While this research is continuing and in view of the heightened public interest in the subject, it is prudent for all professionals who could possibly be affected by the outcomes of such research (for example valuers of property and electrical engineers and designers) to keep in mind the potential implications of this research in their own professional dealings with their clients. In particular, valuers should consider whether they should tell their clients that they have not performed any investigations into the presence or effect of EMFs at a particular property and that if there is any concern over this, a client should carry out their own investigations with a suitable specialist.

Keywords: Electromagnetic fields - Problems posed for Surveyors, Valuers and Engineers - Professional Indemnity

The content of this article is intended to provide general information on the subject matter. It is therefore not a substitute for specialist advice.