What are EMFs and how do they impact our health?
Ever wondered what EMF stands for? Maybe you’d like to know what the main, everyday sources of microwave radiation are? Drawing on the latest scientific research, we’re tackling the most frequently asked questions on wireless technology, electromagnetic radiation, and what it all means for our health – empowering you to make informed choices for optimum wellbeing.
What are EMFs?
EMF stands for electromagnetic field. Electromagnetic fields are invisible fields of energy, or radiation waves.
There are many different types of electromagnetic fields in the world around us. They come from both natural sources (like sunlight) and man-made sources (like mobile phones).
What is the difference between ionizing and non-ionizing EMFs?
High frequency, ‘ionizing’ EMFs include ultraviolet light, gamma rays and X-rays, which scientists have known to be extremely harmful for decades.
Microwave ovens, cell towers, mobile phones, Wi-Fi routers, tablets, laptops, cordless home phones, smart meters, cordless baby monitors, games consoles, smart watches; anything which transfers data or sends sounds or images without a wire, all emit the same, lower frequency, type of EMF radiation - also referred to as wireless radiation, microwave radiation, radiofrequency or RF radiation.
You also have Magnetic Fields (MF), which are produced by things like high voltage power lines, electrical panels, houses with faulty wiring, and electric currents in water and gas pipes. Then there are Electric Fields (EF). Common sources of EF include household wiring, ungrounded electronics and chargers.
Why should I be aware of EMFs in my daily life?
We can’t see, touch or hear EMFs, and yet our homes, schools, workplaces, transport networks, public spaces and, perhaps most significantly, our bodies, are constantly blanketed in them.
Over the last century, our exposure to man-made EMFs has been steadily increasing in line with the growing demand for electricity and the more recent explosion of wireless technology, including smart phones, laptops and tablets. In fact, the levels of manmade radiofrequency radiation that exist today have reportedly reached (1) some quintillion times higher than natural background levels. Yes, that’s right – quintillion (1018). We now wear Wi-Fi-enabled devices in our pockets, sleep beside them every night, hold them next to our heads for hours on end and give them to children to play with.
How do EMFs affect health?
Electromagnetic radiation - whether from a mobile phone held to our ear or a wireless router kept on our desk - can penetrate deep into our bodies. Whilst research into the long-term effects of EMF exposure is often divided in opinion and still relatively limited (in part because many wireless technologies simply didn’t exist 10 years ago, meaning data on the long-term genetic impact is just not available yet), there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that prolonged exposure to electromagnetic radiation has detrimental biological effects. (2)
Dozens of appeals, petitions, bans and scientific papers (3) warning against the adverse effects of wireless technology on our health have been instigated, backed and signed by international doctors, scientists, organisations and government departments.
What symptoms can EMF exposure cause?
Reported symptoms attributed to EMF exposure range from heart palpitations and disturbed sleep to headaches, fatigue, anxiety and an inability to concentrate, leading to the creation of the term ‘electromagnetic hypersensitivity’, or EHS for short.
Have EMFs been associated with a greater cancer risk?
In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified EMFs as a ‘possible human carcinogen’. (4) Four years later, 215 scientists from 41 countries (5) stressed their ‘serious concerns’ to the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organisation (WHO) that ‘the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices […] affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines’, going on to say that ‘effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plant and animal life.’
Mobile phone radiation in particular has been repeatedly associated with cancer; most notably brain tumours. (6) This knowledge is not a secret, either. Mobile phone manufacturers are well aware of the potential risks of EMF radiation. Given that the wording is buried deep within its ‘settings’, you’d be forgiven for not knowing it, but your smart phone comes with an explicit warning (7) that it should never be worn or carried within 5mm of the body, due to the threat posed by RF radiation.
Can EMFs cause fertility issues?
Fertility issues in relation to EMF radiation exposure have cropped up repeatedly in the media spotlight. Studies have shown (8) that sustained exposure – from keeping a mobile phone in a front pocket, for example - can cause a significant reduction in sperm motility and sperm count as well as increased sperm DNA damage. Embryo growth in the early stages of pregnancy is also thought by some to be affected by RF radiation, with studies advising against (9) prolonged periods spent using wireless devices for pregnant women.
Are children at risk?
Children are thought to be especially vulnerable to the effects of RF radiation, given that they are still developing, their skulls are much thinner and their brains contain more fluid than an adult’s – meaning they will naturally absorb more radiation.
Are there any safety guidelines in place?
Many scientists argue that safety guidelines – such as those issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) – simply haven’t caught up; pointing out that our most advanced wireless technologies and now ubiquitous Wi-Fi coverage are being regulated by parameters that haven’t been reviewed since the mid-1990s. Activists are urgently calling for such guidelines to be updated, based on the hundreds of studies into the effects of RF radiation exposure that have been carried out since their implementation.
Worryingly, it has been suggested (10) that the highly influential wireless communications industry has been responsible for deliberately muddying the water when it comes to fair coverage of the risks associated with EMF radiation, orchestrating ‘a global PR campaign aimed at misleading not only journalists, but also consumers and policymakers about the actual science', according to The Guardian. (11)
What are governments doing to regulate EMF radiation?
Despite this lack of clear direction, some governments have already started to order reform. The European Parliament believed (12) there was sufficient proof of the potentially harmful effects of EMFs to recommend that all EU member states take special measures with the use of mobile phones and Wi-Fi networks, specifically advising a complete ban on Wi-Fi in schools. In 2015, The French National Assembly passed legislation (13) to limit exposure to EMFs, including a ban on wireless devices in nurseries, and very limited Wi-Fi use in primary schools.
What are the main concerns for the future of electromagnetic radiation exposure?
Telecommunications companies worldwide are now in the midst of rolling out the fifth-generation (5G) wireless network (14) at extremely high (millimetre wave) frequencies. Once properly in place, by creating hundreds of thousands – potentially millions – of new cell sites, 5G will allow every person on the planet instant access to super-high-speed wireless communications from anywhere on Earth. This would inevitably result in a colossal increase in inescapable exposure to wireless radiation for every living organism – the health implications of which are currently entirely unknown. (15) On top of the creation of new ground-based antennas, a number of companies are additionally proposing to provide 5G from outer space, using a combined 20,000 satellites orbiting the Earth and covering it with powerful, directed beams – and therefore, crucially, altering the Earth’s electromagnetic environment.
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