Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs), Extremely Low-Frequency (ELF) and Radiofrequency (RF): What are the Health Impacts?
by Alex Quinn
Particularly now that wireless communications are so closely integrated into our daily lives, electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are all around us.
Our cities, especially the larger ones, are perpetually shrouded in an invisible electrosmog, a ‘sea’ of EMFs through which we swim every day.
But does this momentous development in civilisation come with health effects – and if so, can we do anything to reduce them?
What is ELF-EMF and what are its sources?
It’s important to realise that there are two main forms of EMF: radiofrequency (RF)-EMF and extremely low-frequency (ELF)-EMFs. The frequency range of ELF-EMF is 1–300 Hz, and the Earth’s natural geomagnetic field strength varies from around 60 μT (microtesla) at the magnetic poles to around 30 μT at the equator.
Many man-made sources of ELF-EMF exist. Prime among these artificial sources are power lines and electronic appliances, with vacuum cleaners, electric can-openers, microwave ovens, shavers and hair dryers among the most powerful. These appliances emit ELF-EMF at field intensities ranging from 17.44 to 164.75 μT, measured from 5 cm away. Since the intensity of magnetic fields decreases dramatically with increased distance from the source, the corresponding range of magnetic field intensities at 50 cm is 0.12–1.66 μT.
Table 1. ELF-EMFs produced by domestic appliances. Taken from IARC Monograph Volume 80 (2002).
The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (INCIRP) has set limits of 1 mT (millitesla) for occupational exposure to ELF-EMF, and 200 μT for general public exposure. While these limits are not breached by individual man-made sources, additive effects must also be considered, as we shall see.
What is RF-EMF and what are its sources?
The frequencies of RF-EMFs are considerably higher than ELF-EMFs, ranging from 100 kHz to 300 GHz. As its name suggests, the main uses of RF-EMF are in broadcasting information. In today’s data-driven world, this means that RF-EMF is constantly around us: it is produced by things such as mobile phone base stations, cordless phones, utility ‘smart’ meters, remote control toys, wireless networks, radar and baby monitors. In addition, there are various natural sources of RF-EMF, including the Earth, the Sun and other black body radiators.
Here’s a shocking statistic: did you know that having a cordless phone base station in your house can expose you to the same level of RF-EMFs as having a mobile phone mast in your back garden?
Do EMFs pose health problems?
The mainstream view is that the only potential danger from EMFs stems from their heating effects on tissue, in the case of RF-EMF, or of electrical currents induced in the body for ELF-EMF. However, there is strong evidence to suggest that the athermal effects of ELF- and RF-EMFs also contribute to various health problems.
According to the BioInitiative report, evidence indicates that risk of childhood leukaemia in young boys doubles when they are exposed to ELF-EMF levels of 1.4 mG (milligauss), while other studies indicate that leukaemia risks begin at 2, 3 and 4 mG. This occurs in the context of an ICNIRP limit of 1000 mG.
The BioInitiative report also found that ELF-EMFs interfered with recovery from childhood leukaemia: if a child was exposed to levels of ≥2 mG during recovery, their risk of death increased by 300%, while at levels of ≥4 mG that risk increased to 450%.
ELF-EMF has also been found to increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by increasing levels of a protein called amyloid beta, a leading risk factor for Alzheimer’s.
EMFs have also been found to decrease the levels of melatonin in the body. Melatonin is produced in the pineal gland of the brain, which produces melatonin when it directly or indirectly detects low light levels. EMFs may interfere with this mechanism because the brain confuses them with light waves, thus suppressing the pineal gland’s melatonin production. Melatonin is an absolutely vital hormone. It acts as a powerful antioxidant, and has been found to aid in the prevention of Alzheimer’s, depression, cardiovascular diseases, insomnia, mood disorders, tinnitus and various cancers.
Brain and auditory nerve cancers
RF-EMFs have been given a 2B classification – possibly carcinogenic – by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). They have been found to be possible causes of acoustic neuromas and brain tumours called gliomas. Studies have shown that using cordless phones, which produce RF-EMFs, can increase the risk of brain tumours by up to 470% after ≥10 years of use when habitually used on one side of the head. Mobile phones, in the same scenario, can increase the risk by up to 200%. Both mobiles and cordless phones can trigger reactions in people who suffer from electrohypersensitivity.
What about interactions between EMFs and other factors?
Of course, EMFs don’t affect us in isolation: everyone living in a city, for example, is bombarded by numerous chemical toxins and other environmental pollutants, and many of them take multiple pharmaceutical drugs – in addition to constant EMF exposure. We are at an early stage of investigating and defining these complex interactions, but existing research indicates that these combinations can have both beneficial and adverse effects. For example, in vitro DNA damage was caused by a 7 mT magnetic field in combination with ferrous chloride, but not with either agent alone. Other combinations of EMFs and agents enhanced analgesia and neural performance.
Call to action: Reduce your EMF exposure!
Thus, you should take as many steps as possible to reduce your exposure to EMFs. Suggested strategies include:
- Using fibre-optic cables for your broadband
- Using wired connections whenever possible
- Keeping mobile and cordless phones away from your body
- Using wired baby monitors: children are more effected by EMFs than adults
- Keeping wireless routers or cordless phones out of regularly used bedrooms or children’s bedrooms
- Reducing time spent in calls when using mobile or cordless phones
- Reducing children’s exposure to wireless devices as much as possible
- Avoiding using microwave oven
- Avoiding placing wireless computers on your lap
- Avoiding allowing your children to use remote-control toys for long periods of time, if at all
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