News of smartphones, wifi, and power lines causing cancer is easy to ignore. Afterall, you’re not about to ditch your phone any time soon, we’re literally surrounded by wifi in every building we enter or just walk by, and, well, you’re not about to move to an off-grid cabin in the woods.
I’ve quite frankly ignored it for years too. Because it just seemed like too much. Too much to absorb let alone figure out a solution. But, it’s an important issue and it’s something I’m asked about more and more, so I decided it was time to take my head out from the sand.
This is a pretty detailed post. But in true Green at Home fashion, I want to make sure you have the facts not the hype to help you understand the issue and what you can do about it – without totally freaking out, being seen as a Luddite, or abandoning your life as you know it.
Ready? Let’s go…
A Primer: What Are EMFs?
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are areas of radiant energy, or radiation. There are two different types of this energy:
- Ionizing radiation can cause molecular changes – like DNA damage – and has been clearly associated with cancer. Examples are X-rays and radon.
- Non-ionizing radiation has a lower energy and does not cause cellular damage. They include radiofrequency (RF) radiation, which is used in cell phones, radio and television broadcasting, cordless phones, and microwave ovens – to name a few.
For the purposes of this post, I’m going to focus on RF radiation, primarily produced when cell phones are communicating with cell towers. It is also produced from wifi, Bluetooth devices, and power lines.
Are EMFs Harmful?
Well, now, this is a loaded question.
As I mentioned above, RF energy doesn’t impact our DNA in a way that demonstrates a direct link with cancer. But it does cause tissues in our bodies to heat up. High levels of RF energy cause heat to build up faster than the tissue can dissipate the heat, causing tissue damage.
If you start Googling to find out whether EMFs are harmful, GOOD LUCK. You’ll find polarizing articles that blur the lines between emotion, science, and a business’s bottom line.
The thing is, while there are numerous studies complete or underway, they can (and often are) used in a way that serves the existing beliefs of the reader. The side who believes EMFs are toxic will take a single study that mentions a potential link with cancer as conclusive proof. Whereas regulators and researchers will focus on the fact that most studies can’t conclusively point to a cause-and-effect and end with the recommendation that “further study is necessary.” This fact sheet outlines some of the major studies on EMFs done to-date.
It’s worth noting that bulletin issued by the FCC (not the world’s most progressive when it comes to environmental health) points to animal studies showing biological effects after exposure to relatively low levels of RF radiation. These reported effects have included certain changes in the immune system, neurological effects, behavioral effects, effects on brain tissue, and effects on DNA. These studies were far from conclusive about a link between the RF we are exposed to and the health effects, but they are still concerning.
Taking science aside, individuals experience symptoms that may be attributed to EMFs. Headaches, fatigue, trouble sleeping, etc. are seemingly unexplained, but disappear with EMF remediation. Can’t really be scientifically proven, but many people are convinced it makes a difference (and I happen to believe people when they say they feel better or worse, even if no medical test can verify it). EMF sensitivity is seen in certain individuals more than others, and can exhibit sudden onset without warning – similar to multiple chemical sensitivity.
Do Cell Phones Cause Cancer?
In 2011, an expert Working Group appointed by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), classified cell phone use as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” – admittedly based on limited and inconclusive evidence. There’s no proof that they do cause cancer, but there’s also no proof that they don’t.
The National Toxicology Program, out of the US National Institutes of Health, recently completed a series of large-scale studies in rodents of exposure to radiofrequency energy (the type used in cell phones). The researchers found that greater RF radiation intensities lead to increased development of rare forms of brain and heart cancer that could not be easily explained away.
The NTP studies found that high exposure to radiofrequency radiation used by cell phones was associated with:
- Clear evidence of tumors in the hearts of male rats.
- Some evidence of tumors in the brains of male rats.
- Some evidence of tumors in the adrenal glands of male rats.
The findings cannot directly be applied to humans because exposure levels and duration were greater than would be experienced through normal cell phone use and exposure was to the whole body, rather than localized like with cell phones.
These results are also based on 2G and 3G technology, which is quickly being replaced with 4G and 5G – effects of 5G in particular are a large concern amongst advocacy groups but the science is still limited.
What Regulations Exist?
The rate at which EMF energy is actually absorbed in a body is called the “Specific Absorption Rate” (SAR). The FCC (US) and Health Canada limit for public exposure from cellular telephones is an SAR level of 1.6 watts per kilogram (1.6 W/kg).
Unfortunately, testing for products is done with a 5 to 15mm gap between the phone and the measurements. They also test phones at full charge – turns out when the battery starts running down, the phone has to work harder to keep a signal and therefore the EMFs increase.
Do EMF Shields or Harmonizers Work?
According to the FTC, there is no scientific proof that EMF shields significantly reduce exposure from EMFs. Shields that only block a certain part of the phone are ineffective, as the whole phone emits radiation. Also, some shields may interfere with the phone’s signal, making it work harder to and possibly emit more radiation.
Harmonizers claim to redistribute the chaotic energy waves emitted from phones and wifi equipment, for example, into a more ordered state that the body can handle more effectively. Manufacturers will show studies that the blood cells vibrate less when using a phone with their harmonizer installed. And many consumers claim to sleep better and have reduced symptoms.
There is little, if any, peer reviewed 3rd party evidence that these work to reduce or eliminate the long-term health risks of EMFs. (If you have any, please share with me!)
The bottom line is that if you are feeling symptoms that you think are attributed to EMFs, and feel better after implementing harmonizers or shields, by all means, keep using them (as long as you’re using them properly). But it’s a personal choice whether to make the investment in the technology that may or may not offer significant health benefit.
How Can you Reduce Your EMF Exposure?
The jury is out on how harmful EMF exposure is to the general public. In my mind, it’s a great place to apply the precautionary principle. Do what you can to reduce your exposure, to the extent that feels right for you, and continue on with your life.
Here are some simple tips you can implement to reduce your EMF exposure from your phone and in your home:
- Use wired headphones (not Bluetooth) or use the speakerphone option, and keep the phone away from the body. When CBC’s Marketplace tested phones with no gap (as we would experience with it in our pocket, for example), it found the 3 phones they tested exceed government limits.
- Talk less, listen more. This might sound like a lesson in customer service, but talking less while on your phone will reduce your exposure to EMFs. The phone radiates more energy when you talk than when you listen or receive messages.
- Text more than talk. Cell phones emit less radiation when texting.
- Save calls for areas with good reception. The phone has to increase power to get the signal through, which increases the radiation it emits.
- Limit children’s time on cell phones due to higher absorption rates of energy per body mass.
- Aim the battery away from your body when carrying your cell phone in your pocket (i.e. put your phone screen-side in).
- Shut down your wifi overnight. You can plug your router into a programmable powerbar that automatically shuts off when you’re sleeping.
- Do not charge your phone in your bedroom overnight. If you must, keep it on airplane mode.