Are EMFs really harmful?

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Electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) are invisible areas of energy, often referred to as Radiation, that are associated with the use of electrical power and various forms of natural and man-made lighting. EMFs are typically grouped into one of two categories by their frequency:

  • Non-ionizing: low-level radiation which is generally perceived as harmless to humans
  • Ionizing: high-level radiation which has the potential for cellular and DNA damage

Can EMFs be harmful to my health?

During the 1990s, most EMF research focused on extremely low frequency exposures stemming from conventional power sources, such as power lines, electrical substations, or home appliances. While some of these studies showed a possible link between EMF field strength and an increased risk for childhood Leukemia, their findings indicated that such an association was weak. The few studies that have been conducted on adults show no evidence of a link between EMF exposure and adult cancers, such as leukemia, brain cancer, and breast cancer.

Now, in the age of cellular telephones, wireless routers, and the Internet of things, all of which use EMF, concerns persist about possible connections between EMF and adverse health effects. These exposures are actively being studies by NIEHS recommends continued education on practical ways of reducing exposures to EMFs.

Does my cell phone emit EMF radiation?

Cell phones emit a form of radio frequency radiation at the lower end of the non-ionizing radiation spectrum. Currently, scientific evidence has not conclusively linked cell phone use with any adverse human health problems, although scientists admit that more research is needed.

The National Toxicology Program (NTP), headquartered at NIEHS, just completed the largest animal study, to date, on cell phone radio frequency exposure. For a summary of the findings, please visit the NTP Cell Phone Radio Frequency Radiation webpage.

The good news is that there are relatively easy ways to reduce your exposure to EMFs. These approaches involve reducing both the exposure level and duration.

Disable Wireless Functions

Wireless devices — including routers, printers, tablets, and laptops — all emit a Wi-Fi signal. Whenever possible, disable the Wi-Fi function on your devices. When using a computer, use an Ethernet cable for internet access instead of Wi-Fi and put the computer in airplane mode. To reduce your exposure to EMFs, turn on the Wi-Fi function only when necessary.

Replace Wireless with Wired Devices

Some devices — such as your wireless keyboard, headset, and mouse — function only when they are transmitting a wireless signal. Replace these devices with a wired version.

Keep EMF Sources at a Distance

If you have a Wi-Fi router in your home, locate it in a place that is some distance away from where people spend the most time. Avoid storing a cell phone in your pocket because these devices give out radiation even when you aren’t using them as a phone. If you use a microwave, do not stand in front of it when it is operating. Greater distance between you and the and the source significantly reduces exposure levels.

Use Your Smartphone Safely

Whenever possible, put your cell phone in airplane mode. Keep the device as far away from your body, especially when you are speaking on it. Avoid speaking on the phone in the car where the cell phone has to work extra hard to keep a decent signal, thus increasing EMF exposure. Use the speakerphone feature to avoid putting the phone up to your head. This is especially important for children who are more susceptible to cell phone radiation. When you replace your phone, look for a model with a lower Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) rating.

Prioritize Sleeping Areas

Because we spend a lot of time sleeping, this is an important time of day to protect yourself from electromagnetic radiation. If you have a Wi-Fi router, turn it off at night when it isn’t in use. Turn cell phones off or turn on airplane mode to reduce EMF exposure and save energy. Keep in mind that most cell phones will still work as an alarm clock in airplane mode. Remove all unnecessary wireless devices from the sleeping area or deactivate their Wi-Fi feature.

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