Powerline Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields: A Pilot Study of Risk Perception

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Abstract

The perception of the potential risk arising from human exposure to 50/60 Hz electric and magnetic fields was studied with a quasi-random sample of 116 well-educated, opinion leaders using the risk perception framework previously developed by Slovic, Fischhoff, and Lichtenstein. These individuals rated exposure to fields from transmission lines and electric blankets on a variety of scales that have been found useful in characterizing people's risk attitudes and perceptions. These judgments allowed us to conjecture about the likely desire for regulation of these potential hazards and the likely response to a publicized problem (e.g., an accident or ominous research finding) involving these two sources of exposure. Various forms of detailed information about 50/60 Hz fields were supplied to respondents. The provision of information produced modest, but statistically significant, changes in perceptions in the direction of greater concern about the risks. In response to questions of public policy, participants desired modest regulatory control of field exposure from transmission lines and little or no control of field exposure from appliances like electric blankets.

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