Effects of AC Magnetic Fields from Household Electric Current on Four Species of Tropical Fish

Study on Fish

Von: Patricia Ormsby

Datum: Sat, 9 Jun 2007 23:51:22 -0700 (PDT)

Inspired by people like Joanne Mueller (Guinea Pigs'R'Us), I decided to write up the results of an experiment I conducted a few years back in as much detail as possible using a scientific report format. Criticisms are welcome!



Effects of AC Magnetic Fields from Household Electric Current on Four Species of Tropical Fish

Patricia Ormsby
1600 Inokashira, Fujinomiya-shi, Shizuoka-ken, 418-0108 Japan pat @khaki.plala.or.jp


A group of more than 20 Corydorus aeneus (corydorus), one mated pair of Colisa lalia (gouramis), six Brachydanio rerio (danios) and one female Pterophyllum scalare (angel fish) were kept in aquariums under electromagnetic fields (EMF) emanating from household current from wiring within the wall near the aquariums or from power lines external to the house. The EMF values were 4-5 milligauss in the aquarium near the internal wiring, less than 1 milligauss in the aquarium away from the internal wiring, and 2-3 milligauss in a house under power lines. Equal attention was devoted to keeping the fish healthy in all cases. The health states of the fish were monitored. The fish in the aquarium away from the internal wiring recovered from illnesses and, in the case of the gouramis and corydorus, engaged in reproductive behavior. The angel fish showed a tendency to prefer the side of the tank away from the wiring. All of the fish kept under conditions of 2-3 milligauss and 4-5 milligauss ceased reproductive behavior and showed a gradual decline in health that proved fatal in all cases within two years.

Key words: tropical fish, electromagnetic fields, household current, milligauss, declining health, reproductive behavior


I conducted this experiment in four phases between 1998 and 2002, with conditions imposed externally. In other words, the conditions had to be changed to meet the needs of other people. At one point, for example, I received one angel fish (Pterophyllum scalare) and six danios (Brachydanio rerio) from a friend leaving the country and as soon as was feasible, purchased a larger aquarium. Using the resources I had available, including Dr. Innes’s book on Exotic Aquarium Fishes (Innes, 1966), I attempted to provide optimal conditions for the fish.

Prior to the beginning of this experiment, I had been keeping tropical fish in a ten-liter aquarium on a table top against a wall with internal electrical wiring which supplied power for the oxygenating equipment and additionally heating in winter. The magnetic field in the vicinity of the wiring was 4-5 milligauss. The fish in that aquarium inevitably became ill and died within a few months of purchase. I investigated all possible causes of disease in the fish and became aware that EMF from household current could cause illness (Firstenberg, 1997a,b). I purchased a TriField(R) Meter, measured the EMF, then moved the aquarium away from the wiring. Thus began Phase I of the experiment.

In Phase I, all of the fish (at this time, five adult Corydorus aeneus and two Colisa lalia (gouramis)) were kept in a field of less than 1 milligauss. Within three days, I observed their appetite and level of activity to improve and all the fish commenced mating activity. The result was a need to buy a second ten-liter tank.

In Phase II, half of the fish were kept in the low EMF aquarium and half in the high-EMF (4-5 milligauss) aquarium. Those in the high-EMF aquarium would cease reproductive behavior and gradually become ill. I would then switch the location of the aquariums to try to save them. Once out of the high-EMF area, they would quickly recover. During this phase, all fatalities occurred in the high-EMF area and none in the low-EMF area. The danios and angel fish were acquired during this phase. The gouramis, a few of the corydorus and all of the danios were lost (the danios due to an accident).

In Phase III, I purchased a 25-liter tank for the remaining fish, about twenty corydorus and the angel fish. Due to lack of space, one end of the tank had to be in the high-EMF zone. The angel fish avoided this zone, though the reasons are unclear. The corydorus showed little preference for position, but may have had a tendency to gather in the high-EMF area because of the looming angel fish above them in the low-EMF area. The angel fish remained in good health. The corydorus ceased reproductive behavior and began showing signs of declining health (susceptibility to infections, poor appetite, lethargy, emaciation, deteriorating barbels).

In Phase IV, all of the fish were moved to a house under power lines where the only positions in which aquariums could be installed were in fields of 2-3 milligauss. Under these circumstances, all of the fish gradually declined. The angel fish died within one year and the last of the corydorus, within two years.

Methods and Materials

The subjects in Phase I (1998) were five adult albino corydorus (Corydorus aeneus, two female and three male) and a mated pair of dwarf gouramis (Colisa lalia) kept in one ten-liter aquarium at 20-25 C, pH of 7.0, aerated by pump, with lighting from a window nearby and room lights. City water (Hachioji-shi, Tokyo, Japan) was allowed to stand for several days in order to allow the chorine to dissipate before being supplied to the fish. The food was a variety of commercially sold fish foods suitable to the species kept, supplemented with frozen blood worms and other raw items. A TriField(R) Meter was used to measure the AC magnetic field arising from a wire supplying household electric current (90 V, 60 Hz) to the aerator and heater. The aquarium was placed in an area with a field of less than 1 milligauss. The TriField Meter bears an explanatory label that says, “Studies suggest biological effects may begin to occur near 3 milligauss of AC magnetic field,” so I removed the aquarium from the vicinity of the wiring, where the field was measured in the range of 4-5 milligauss.

The Phase II subjects (1998-99) included those of Phase I plus the stabilized population of approximately twenty immature corydorus (offspring of the initial five), with the subsequent addition of one angel fish (Pterophyllum scalare) and six zebra danios (Brachydanio rerio). They were kept in two identical ten-liter aquariums under the conditions of Phase I, except that one of the aquariums had to be kept in the vicinity of the wiring with a field of 4-5 milligauss due to lack of space. The other was kept in a field of less than 1 milligauss. These were switched at intervals of about two months in order to rescue the affected fish. I considered the sound of the pump as a possible cause of distress in the tank nearest the wiring, and moved its location to a hook on the wall above the tanks, where the diminished sound would affect the tanks equally. The fish continued to decline in the tank near the wiring and recover in the tank removed from it.

The Phase III subjects (1999-2000) were approximately 20 remaining corydorus, including the five initial adults, and the angel fish. A 25-liter aquarium was purchased to accommodate the angel fish. It replaced the two ten-liter tanks and was placed with one end in the area with EMF of 4-5 milligauss and the other end in the area with less than 1 milligauss. The other conditions were as above.

In Phase IV (2000-2002), the subjects were the approximately 20 corydorus and one angel fish of Phase III. They were moved to a house in Fujinomiya-shi, Shizuoka-ken, Japan, which was located under two sets of power lines which produced an AC magnetic field of 2-3 milligauss, measured by the TriField Meter, in all areas suitable for aquariums. The fish were kept near a southern window in a 25-liter tank. The water was local spring water. Otherwise, the conditions were the same as above.


The author’s attempts to keep the fish alive under circumstances of 2-3 milligauss failed. All of the fish studied showed signs of decline under conditions of 4-5 milligauss and most died within a few months. Overt signs of decline were particularly pronounced among the corydorus, and included wasting of the barbels such that the fine ends would become blunted and progressively shorter until they were lost completely. The danios perished in an accident and were not available long enough to draw any objective conclusions, though it was my subjective impression that they fared better when in the lower field. Otherwise the effects of the 4-5 milligauss field were striking in contrast with the field of less than 1 milligauss, and the effects of the 2-3 milligauss field were unmistakeable.

Prior to Phase I

I struggled to maintain the health of fish purchased (by another person), initially using pamphlets from shops selling these types of fish and products such as antibiotics that were supposed to help cure the diseases that continued to crop up among the fish. I obtained a detailed book on the care of aquarium fish (Innes, 1966) and continued striving in all possible ways to keep the fish healthy. A variety of tropical fish were kept this way, most dying within a year.

In 1997, I became aware of the possibility of effects arising from electromagnetic fields of various kinds and purchased a TriField(R) Meter in 1998 to attempt to learn more about the fields in my living and working environment. A friend living in central Tokyo had suffered a prolonged bout of flu-like symptoms and asked me to investigate “new pollutants” her doctor had told her were to blame and were causing many people to experience similar illness. In a search through environmental literature, I encountered an article in the Earth Island Journal (Firstenberg, 1997b), which described symptoms of microwave radiation sickness in humans resulting from activation of a PCS network. These included “pressure behind the eyes; dry, puffy lips; swollen thyroid; sudden rise in pulse rate and blood pressure; pressure or pain in chest; insomnia; dizziness; headache; nausea; loss of appetite: coughing or wheezing: sinus problems; testicular or pelvic pain; muscle spasms; tremors; irritability; memory loss; pain in the legs or the soles of the feet; pains that move around the body; varying degrees of dehydration; and occasionally fever, rash or nosebleeds.” Many of these symptoms matched my friend’s description and I began to wonder if the general debility among the fish in my care had a similar cause. While I could find no detectable microwave radiation in the vicinity of the aquarium, the magnetic field was large and within a range that the label on the TriField Meter suggested could have biological effects. So I moved the aquarium out of it.

Phase I

The fish (two gouramis and five corydorus) became more active almost immediately. Within three days, the gouramis began engaging in mating behavior (the male wrapping his body around the female and building bubble nests, eggs appearing) which none of the fish in my care had ever done. Shortly thereafter, the corydorus started mating too, with the males engaging in display dances and other clearly defined mating behavior (see Innes, 1966) and both of the females in turn pressing eggs onto the glass walls of the aquarium.

Phase II

A second ten-liter aquarium was purchased and the adults were moved into that. They had to be placed in the higher field (4-5 milligauss) again as there was insufficient space. There was a significant initial die-off of the very young fry, but they stabilized at approximately 20 young corydorus. Meanwhile, the adult gouramis had fallen ill and perished about one month after being returned to the higher field, and the corydorus were beginning to show signs of debility, with lethargy and poor appetite. At this time, half of the young were placed with the adults and the tanks’ positions were switched. The adults recovered quickly and began engaging in mating behavior once more. I considered at this time the possibility that the debility in the high field might have been caused by the louder sound of the air pump operating near the tank in the higher field, so I installed a hook on the wall above the tanks and moved the air pump up to where its sound should have had little effect on either tank. I continued having to switch the tanks at an interval of approximately two months as the fish in the higher field weakened. During this time, a few of the young corydorus in the higher field perished.

A friend leaving Japan brought his collection of one angel fish and six danios for my care. I’d been happily telling my friends how I’d finally figured out how to keep aquarium fish healthy. The angel fish went into one tank and the danios into the other, and I continued switching the tanks at intervals to avoid letting the fish in the higher field get too weak. A few months later, the danios and one young corydorus in the higher field perished due to an accident in which the water left to stand to remove chlorine became contaminated, probably with citric acid, which my husband used as a health tonic. I moved the surviving corydorus out of the higher field to help them recover. For the sake of the growing angelfish, I bought a 25-liter tank.

Phase III

Space would not allow me to keep all of the 25-liter tank out of the higher field. I noticed that the angel fish almost never ventured into the higher field, but the corydorus would congregate anywhere, including the higher field. I began taking note of random sightings of the angel fish. After 100 randomly timed observations, I found approximately 70 times the angel fish was on the far left from my viewpoint, furthest from the wiring. About
25% of the time, she would be in the center, and rarely, she would venture into the right third, nearest the wiring. I tried rearranging the objects in the aquarium, but that had no observable effect on her choice of position. The angel fish remained healthy and grew. The corydorus ceased reproductive behavior and showed a decline, though not as pronounced as when they lived full time in the higher field. There were no fatalities in the approximately six months of this phase.

Phase IV

All of the remaining fish (about 20 corydorus and one angel fish) were moved to a 25-liter tank in a house with a field of 2-3 milligauss. From thenceforth, none of the corydorus showed mating behavior. All of the fish declined in health, with loss of appetite and susceptibility to infections in all and deterioration of the barbels in the corydorus. The angel fish perished within one year and the last of the corydorus, within two years.

Discussion and Conclusions

This study should be regarded as nothing but preliminary. Follow-up research under more rigorously controlled conditions and careful observation would be welcome in order to obtain statistically significant figures. Nonetheless, I believe the results would have value to anyone trying to keep aquarium fish healthy.

I would also imagine that under more optimal circumstances than I was capable of providing, the fish might be able to survive elevated EMF. I note that aquariums are sold with fluorescent lighting, so presumably some people are able to keep fish well even under heightened electric fields, which are likewise found to have negative health impacts (according to the information on the TriField Meter, above 1 kV/m of AC electric field¯within a meter of fluorescent lights that I have measured).

What this study shows is that under the given circumstances, changes in AC magnetic fields caused easily observable changes in the fish’s behavior and health.

Regarding the corydorus, I speculate that either they do not sense heightened AC magnetic fields so as to take protective action or simply fail to take protective action for other reasons or they were intimidated by the angel fish looming above them in the lower field. Many Corydorus species are from the Amazon, though C. aeneus is from Trinidad (Innes, 1966). The angel fish are from the Amazon, and may be sensitive to EMF to help them avoid hazards such as electric eels. In the case of the danios, I have too little data; but in the case of C. aeneus from Trinidad, Colisa lalia from northern India, and Pterophyllum scalare from the Amazon basin, there were clearly observable effects on their health and behavior from AC magnetic fields.


Firstenberg, Arthur (1997a) Microwaving Our Planet¯The Environmental Impact of the Wireless Revolution, Cellular Phone Task Force, Brooklyn, New York.

Firstenberg, Arthur (1997b) Microwaving Our Planet. Earth Island Journal, Summer 1997.

Innes, William T. (1966) Exotic Aquarium Fishes, 19th Edition, Revised, Metaframe Corporation, Division of Mattel Inc., Maywood, New Jersey.



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