cigarettes, taken by Flickr user Schnella Schnyder

cigarettes, taken by Flickr user Schnella Schnyder

Auto "influencers" are the people you ask whenever you have a car question. By virtue of editing and other High Gear Media sites, we're known as sort of a de facto influencer. And so we get some of the most random questions you can imagine.

The latest was from the mother of a High Gear executive. She owns a Toyota Prius, and likes it. But she'd "seen something somewhere" about how her Prius causes cancer. So guess where the question landed?

Strangely, we'd chatted earlier in the week with another auto editor, from a very well-respected publication, about the persistence of "Prius cancer rumors".

It seems, people "hear," that the electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by various electrical equipment in Toyota's Hybrid Synergy Drive system have been "proven" to "cause cancer".

Sounded like an urban myth to us. Short answer: It is.

Conclusion: The Toyota Prius does not cause cancer.

There's relatively little public data on in-car EMF levels. But our editor friend knew of an independent test of those EMF levels in a cross-section of cars and other vehicles.

That study, not yet published, showed absolutely no difference between the Toyota Prius, or indeed any hybrid, and conventional gasoline powered cars. Moreover, it showed that the levels inside cars barely differed from the standard background levels we're all exposed to from living in an electrically-powered society.

(We will add a link to that test in this article when it is published.)

Still, the topic of EMF radiation is fraught with FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Power lines, commuter trains, various electronic appliances, and a number of other modern-day conveniences have all been accused of "causing cancer" at various times.

So let us stress: NO reliable, verifiable, repeatable, peer-reviewed data has EVER been presented that "proves" or even "indicates" that incidental EMF radiation "causes" cancer, or even raises its incidence or severity.

The caveat here is that certain workplaces (e.g. magnetic resonance imaging, or MRI, chambers) may have EMF levels thousands of times higher than the incidental levels. Those are different, although even there, there's a paucity of conclusive data.

It's worth noting that modern epidemiology is notoriously hard to prove. But EMF panics have been going on for 40-plus years, and no one's succeeded in showing anything of medical note.

Except, that is, that people often get scared and even hysterical about things they don't understand. That may have been evolutionarily advantageous, but it sure causes problems in a fast-moving modern society to which we have not genetically adapted very well.

As we told the executive in question: If it helps soothe your mother, we put our ma in a brand-new 2009 Ford Escape Hybrid. Whose battery pack is the same size as that of a Toyota Prius. And we wouldn't have done that if we were even the teensiest bit worried.

The professor will be available after class for further questions.

2010 Toyota Prius

2010 Toyota Prius

[The New York Times via Autoblog Green; cigarette photo by Flickr user Schnella Schnyder]