Should We Be Concerned About Radiation in Hybrid Electric Vehicles?

Our family recently spent ten days in Israel. For a country with a population of between 7.5 million, the innovation and entrepreneurship from many sectors appears impressive. During one of our trips up to the north of the country, where yes, yours truly drove her first ATV up the mountains of the Golan Heights (near the city of Qiryat Shemona, to be exact) with her small children in tow, a close friend (Israeli) mentioned in passing that the Israeli government evaluated the feasibility of switching some or a portion of its police fleet to hybrid electric vehicles to create greater fuel efficiencies and reduce carbon emissions but decided against it. Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection conducted an independent study, according to my friend (who by the way owns a Toyota Prius which I will come back to in a moment) that found that hybrid electric vehicles from several manufacturers exceeded the maximum exposure levels allowed by the Israeli government. I found myself shocked by the findings particularly because I had not heard of any of these claims in the States. A quick search led me to this article that highlights the controversy in detail, “According to Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection, this may be the case. A research committee funded by the ministry studied radiation from hybrid vehicles over the course of the last nine months, found Ëœsurplus’ radiation in some models sold in Israel and worldwide, reports Israel’s The Marker.

The controversial radiation in question involves the electromagnetic field (and AC current) coming from the battery pack (in the back of most hybrids) to the engine in the front of the car. And according to that article, “the medical implications of this non ionizing radiation, similar to radiation from cell phone antennas, are not yet clear.

But not everyone agrees with the study, its results (which by the way, we could not access anywhere on the net), or the rationale as to why the study was done in the first place. This article attacks the study on several grounds particularly around the quantitative findings, “What do the numbers mean?   Is it unsafe to drive a hybrid?   The numbers have little meaning without comparison to other objects and without medical proof that exposure to this type and level of radiation is harmful. The author goes on by making this point, “While it’s possible that radiation could be a concern, proof is needed before any undue determination is made. Publicly posting results to this study without concrete proof of proven medical concerns is irresponsible and ill advised.   Take the findings of this study with caution as hybrids have been on our roads here for more than a decade with no known radiation related illnesses reported.

So how should anyone weigh the data? We’d love to see what MetalMiner readers have to say. Some of you would probably argue more risk comes from taking children out on ATV’s or more radiation exposure exists from the air travel required to get to Israel than the average time a child spends in the back of a hybrid electric vehicle.

My gut tells me that like anything, too much of something is never a good thing. My friend who owns the Prius (by the way, the current model is expected to fall within Israeli radiation limits) put it to me this way, “had I known then what I know now, I might not have purchased one. And though her kids spend little time in the back of her car, when we consider all of the “new technology out there, it does make one pause to say, “with cell phones, iPods, new energy efficient light bulbs, more electronic gaming, video and vehicles, cumulatively, do these technologies raise a health concern? One local school in the city of Chicago has cell tower sitting on its roof. Do we know how safe that is? No, and I know that I wouldn’t want my kids exposed to that either. I’d be interested in hearing from some of you who develop these technologies. What do you think?

–Lisa Reisman

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  • I have driven my Hybrid for 8 years now and I’m not concerned about electromagnetic radiation. First the battery pack is DC current not AC current and so are the wires from the battery to the front engine/motor compartment. It turns to AC in the front of the car by an inverter under the hood.

    The 30-50% decrease in proven dangerous air pollution cancels out any theorized electromagnetic danger, in my mind. It can’t hurt to error on the cautious side but put in perspective of the real radiation threats in our daily lives, like radon in our homes .



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