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What Is EMF Radiation?

Human exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) is nothing new. But the technological explosion that happened in the last century and which shows no signs of stopping in this century has significantly increased our exposure to human-made electromagnetic fields. These days everyone is constantly exposed to a variety of both magnetic and electrical fields at home, work, school, and everywhere in between. Everything from the generation and transmission of electricity to household appliances to personal electronic devices contribute to the problem.

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Small electrical currents naturally exist in our bodies – generated by chemical reactions that happen as part of our normal body functions. All the nerves in your body send signals by transmitting electric impulses.

Almost every biochemical reaction – everything from brain activity to digestion – includes rearranging charged particles. Even your heart utilizes electrical activity – as is measured by an electrocardiogram and in some cases regulated by a pace maker.

Because we have all that electrical activity going on inside us, low frequency electric fields can affect our bodies just like they can anything else composed of charged particles. Studies show low frequency magnetic fields cause circulating currents inside our bodies. The power of these currents is dependent on the strength of the exterior magnetic field.

If they are big enough these currents can stimulate your muscles and nerves, or even impact other biological processes. You can use an EMF meter to detect and measure electromagnetic fields.

What are Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)?

Electromagnetic Fields

Electric fields are produced from a difference in voltage between two sources of charge. The greater the difference, the stronger the electric field.

Magnetic fields are produced when there is a flow of current (positive charge) between two sources of charge. In the case of magnetic fields, the stronger the current, the stronger the field.

Electromagnetic fields include both of these phenomena in combination and are described by several parameters such as wavelength (in nanometers), frequency (in Hertz or cycles/second), and field strength (in Gauss). Electromagnetic fields run across the entire electromagnetic spectrum and include radio waves, infrared light, visible light, ultraviolet, microwaves, x-rays, and gamma rays.

Since electromagnetic emissions travel as waveforms, wavelength or distance between pulses of energy (visualized as “peaks”) is used to describe the form of the wave. Frequency is a description of the intensity or how often pulses of energy are emitted from a radiating source.

Higher frequency waves have short wavelengths and lower frequency waves have longer wavelengths. But, could you not have a very fast, long wavelength wave?

The answer to that is no. Electromagnetic spectrum travel at the speed of light, which is a constant, therefore frequency and wavelength are always interrelated since the speed of the wave is a limited factor.

Some emitted electromagnetic waves travel slower than the speed of light, but this is due to local forms of interference. It is for this reason that accurate estimates of the speed of light are performed under vacuum conditions.

Natural Electromagnetic Fields

Natural sources of electromagnetic fields include visible and non-visible light, as well as electric charges generated in the atmosphere during thunderstorms. The earth has its own electromagnetic field, generated by the rapidly-spinning nickel-iron core.

This electromagnetic field is very important, since it shields the earth from much of the solar wind. When you consider the upper atmosphere of the sun, the inner planets, Earth included, essentially exist within the sun’s atmosphere.

Without the Earth’s electromagnetic shielding, the solar wind would gradually strip away the atmosphere of the earth. Since Mars has a very weak electromagnetic field, this is precisely what astronomers believe left the planet with very little atmosphere.

Man-Made Electromagnetic Fields

Electrical equipment is a common source of electromagnetic fields including power lines, sockets, and various electrical appliances. In addition to these common sources are x-ray machines, cell phones, modems, microwave ovens, television and radio antennas, and lamps and flashlights.

Simply because something emits electromagnetic radiation does not mean it poses a health risk. The intensity (field strength), wavelength, and frequency all factor into whether a source of electromagnetic radiation is dangerous or benign.

Is EMF Radiation Harmful?

Is radiation harmful?

No one disputes that electromagnetic fields at higher levels can trigger adverse biological effects. But scientists and medical professionals are diligently studying and debating whether or not low-level exposure to EMF radiation is harmful. Given the proliferation of WiFi, cell phones, and other devices giving off EMF radiation, it is a question that needs to be answered.

While the scientific community grapples with the questions, many people find themselves at the front lines of the debate due to increased EMF sensitivity. If that is you, finding various ways of EMF protection for yourself and your loved ones is of primary importance. There are a variety of protective products and devices available – everything from Faraday productsLaptop Radiation Shields, EMF Protection Necklace, and Negative Ion Bracelets to EMF shielding bed canopies , EMF protection clothing, and radiation absorbing plants.

Protecting yourself isn’t just about items that block EMF radiation. There are also low EMF versions of many products – everything from low EMF hair dryers, air tube headsets, and far infrared heating pads, to low EMF infrared saunas. Making the right choice on which ones you purchase can have a significant impact on the amount of EMF radiation you and your family are exposed to.

It is important to recognize that there are beneficial aspects of electromagnetic force as well. Pulsed Electromagnetic Force therapy (via best PEMF devices) has been shown to be very helpful for some people in alleviating various pains and emotional issues.

Our goal at EMF Risks is to offer information about the potential dangers of EMF radiation, and also practical ways to shield yourself from its effects. That includes practical tips on how to manage your home in the healthiest way possible, along with reviews of products that are low-EMF alternatives to necessary items.

Can EMFs Affect Human Health?

The answer to that question is yes. EMF exposure can have a negative impact on human health. There is a caveat, however, in that not all EMF exposures are the same.

Three factors that affect your exposure are field intensity, frequency, and wavelength. For most EMF sources, distance is the main means of protection since electromagnetic spectra follow the inverse square law.

Some sources of EMF are shielded, such as microwave ovens, and pose no health risks if used indoors and in close proximity. Other sources, such as high voltage power lines, have no magnetic shielding but are strung along high towers which puts distance between the lines and anyone or anything on the ground.

Despite these safety measures, many countries have regulatory laws declaring safety thresholds for exposure, abiding by the precautionary principle. In layperson terms, the precautionary principle basically states “better safe than sorry”.

Exposure to high levels of EMF from unshielded sources in close proximity include neurological effects (dizziness, confusion, insomnia, irritability, headache, fatigue), dermatological symptoms (dry skin, itch, hair loss), and digestive issues.

What Are the Health Concerns?

emf health concerns

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a division of the World Health Organization, states that EMF are potentially carcinogenic to humans. There are some studies which support this position; however, several meta-analytic studies have concluded that there is no conclusive evidence of risk (see below).

Despite the uncertainties, IARC chooses to employ the precautionary principle and deem EMF emissions as a potential source of radiative energy that contributes to cancer. Since the jury is still out and if you have concerns regarding EMF, it might be best to reduce your exposure as much as possible.

Symptoms of High EMF Exposure

If you have any of the following symptoms, they may indicate you are being exposed to very high levels of EMF:

Insomnia and sleep disturbances

Headaches

Depression

Fatigue

Inability to concentrate (may relate to insomnia)

Memory problems

Dizziness

Dysesthesia (itching sensations in the skin)

While there are other causes for these symptoms, a constellation of them when you are near a high EMF source on a regular basis may indicate that you are receiving levels of exposure in excess of safety limits.

What Are Some of the Studies that Have Linked EMFs to Cancer?

There are no conclusive studies linking EMF radiation to cancer, although a few studies have reported an association. The most thorough analyses of available medical literature on the subject are performed through meta-analysis of the collective results of many studies.

In our review of the literature, this is what we found. A meta-analysis using PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses; Moher et al. PLoS Medicine 6:e1000097, 2009) guidelines was performed by Petri and colleagues (Environmental Health 16:41, 2017) who examined 48 epidemiology studies (40 on animal life, 8 on humans) which focused on effects produced by living near to high voltage transmission lines.

After removing the confounder effects, they concluded that there is no evidence of adverse health effects produced by these sources. The authors have provided their compiled information in the form of a publicly-accessible database (www.emf-portal.org) that catalogues (as of December 2019) more than 30,000 studies and 7000 research summaries.

Crespi and colleagues (British Journal of Cancer 115:122, 2016) conducted a case-control study and examined childhood leukemia rates for people living near 200 kV power lines. People surveyed were divided into two groups: those living within 50 m and those living beyond 50 m of the power lines.

An elevated rate of childhood leukemia was determined for residents in the < 50 m group, but was not statistically significant 

Pedersen and colleagues (PLoS One 9:e107096, 2014) also examined childhood leukemia rates under comparable conditions and similarly concluded that no significant effects were present.

Do EMFs Affect the Immune System?

There is no official regulatory position on whether EMF radiation affects the immune system. There are, however, several published studies which report adverse immune effects.

Olle Johansson (Johansson O, 2009, Pathophysiology 16:157-177) performed an extensive literature review of available EMF studies which specifically addressed the issue of immune system effects. He concluded that many studies report demonstrable effects on immune function at EMF levels equivalent to wireless technologies.

Mast cells, which release proinflammatory cytokines, are stimulated by EMF and that chronic exposure even to low frequency EMF in the daily environment may partially explain the increased incidence of eczema, asthma, and allergies in post industrial nations. He concluded that 3-10% of the adult population in the US and Europe are immunodeviated by daily EMF exposure.

Boscolo and colleagues in a previous study of both laboratory animals and human patients (Boscolo et al., 2007, Int J Immunopathol Pharmacol 20:59-63) concluded that people exposed to unshielded electrical equipment or radio and television frequencies may suffer immune deviation if their immune systems are susceptible. They thus characterized a subset of the adult population that may be particularly vulnerable to EMF exposure.

Mahaki and colleagues have conducted a very recent medical literature review (Mahaki et al., 2019, Electromag Biol Med 38:84-95) and have presented a different view of extremely low frequency (ELF) EMF immune effects. Long-term exposure to low density ELF-EMF may result in reduced responsiveness of the adaptive immune system.

This division of the immune system (B-cells and T-cells) adjusts to antigen presentation from disease agents and seeks to optimize a counter response. Reduced adaptive immune response would leave the immune system unable to learn from past infections.

In contrast, short-term exposure to high density ELF-EMF tends to increase the responsiveness of the innate immune system. This division consists of the surveillance cells that intercept disease agents and are the first line of defense against infection.

Several other studies similarly conclude the ELF-EMF could be used therapeutically to assist in fighting troublesome infections (Rosado et al., 2018, Front Public Health 6:85; Markov et al., 2006, In: Ayrapetyan SN, Markov MS, eds. [Springer, Dordrecht] Bioelectromagnetics Current Concepts, NATO Security Through Science Series).

How Do I Know If I Am Being Exposed To EMFs?

There are several ways to determine if you are being exposed to EMF, however, the intensity and source are the main factors in determining whether there is any danger. Many sources of EMF do not pose health risks since their field intensities are below the threshold for dangerous exposure.

How Do You Determine EMF?

how do you determine emf

  1. Survey the area: Look around your local environment for sources of EMF. If you are concerned about EMF, a casual survey of where you live or work will help you identify sources of EMF and determine whether your exposure is an issue.
  2. Use an EMF meter: EMF meters can be purchased online or at electronics stores. These devices are routinely used by technicians to determine sources of local interference with electrical devices. EMF meters are not very accurate and cannot detect very high frequency EMF, so keep that in mind when using one.

What is Electromagnetic Interference (EMI)?

Electromagnetic interference of EMI is when the electromagnetic emission from one source disrupts the electromagnetic fields of a second source. There are many forms of EMI and these can affect electrical circuitry, causing failures.

Sources of EMI

Man-made sources of EMI include electronic circuitry and shifting or switching of currents on a large scale. Natural sources of EMI can be produced locally through plasma currents generated by lightning or from cosmic background radiation.

These latter sources are the main reason for 60 Hz interference in many electrical circuits when they are not properly shielded.

Ways of Describing EMI

Continuous or intermittent: EMI can be described based on duration as either continuous or intermittent. Continuous interference sources typically arise from electrical circuitry and do not time-vary, but can also originate from natural sources.

Intermittent sources, also known as impulse noise, are periodic pulses of disruptive electromagnetic emission. Typical sources of impulse noise include lightening, switching of large currents, and electrostatic discharge.

Narrowband or broadband: EMI can also be characterized as narrowband or broadband. Narrowband sources are typically in the form of a carrier wave or internal disruptions in transmitters from intermodulation.

Intermodulation is also known as amplitude modulation of signals which include two or more frequencies that periodically interfere either constructively or destructively. Constructive interference is basically wave-pulse stacking, which periodically boosts the intensity of emitted energies.

Destructive interference results from waveforms that are inverse to each other and either dampen, or in some instances, cancel out energy pulses. These inverse cancellation phenomena are very similar to the mechanism by which noise-cancellation headphones operate.

Narrowband interference appears as periodic spurious signals that appear randomly (until the waveforms are separated). These effects can cause a disruption of received signals and circuit hardware in transmitter circuits usually attempts to compensate to allow reliable signal transmission.

Broadband disruption sources can be produced from plasma sources, such as arc welders on the local level and the sun on a global level. For example, an event known as a sun-out occurs when a satellite passes between the receiver and the sun, which temporarily mutes the transmitted signal.

What are the Typical Sources of EMFs?

The main sources of EMF we encounter daily are from microwave ovens, cell phones, routers, computers, Bluetooth devices, and power lines. These sources do not emit much EMF because they are shielded, however cellular phones can be a risk since they are used in close proximity (against the ear while talking, unless you have a wired headset).

Can I Do My Own EMF testing?

There are no limits on self-testing and you do not have to be an engineer to perform them. You can conduct your own EMF tests with a commercially-available EMF meter.

These can be purchased online or in electronics stores. In some stores, EMF meters may be rented, which can save you quite a bit of money.

When Should I Hire a Professional EMF Tester?

If you are concerned about doing a proper job of an EMF survey, then putting together a plan for how to reduce EMF in your target area (home, workplace, etc.), hiring a professional tester will make finding a solution a lot easier. Professional EMF testers will conduct an environment survey, denote primary sources of EMF radiation, and recommend or actually perform modifications to reduce EMF in the area.

These modifications can be shielding placement on appliances, identification and grounding of currents travelling along water pipes, and repair of electrical circuitry. Many times, EMF pollution is the summation of several small sources that all need to be addressed to produce the desired improvements.

Are There Different Kinds of EMFs to be Concerned About?

There are many common sources of electromagnetic radiation to which we are routinely exposed. Most of these sources, although they can be detected using equipment, are not a danger to most people (see electromagnetic hypersensitivity below). 

Intense sources of electromagnetic radiation are a concern for human health and safety. You should be concerned about exposure to intense, high level EMF sources and sources of ionizing radiation. 

Radiation: Ionizing and Non-ionizing

We use the term “radiation” to describe electromagnetic emissions because it is the most accurate single word to describe a source of radiant energy. However, the term “radiation” is troubling to most people, so allow us to make some distinctions before proceeding with this discussion.

When we think of radiation, it is classified into two general categories: ionizing and non-ionizing. Ionization is a process where chemical bonds are broken and atoms are transformed to their ionized or charged states by the loss or excess addition of electrons.

The energy sufficient to invoke such changes is considered harmful in that chemical structures of molecules can be altered. Energy intensities needed to produce these kinds of changes are often seen with high energy x-ray sources (not your typical medical or dental x-ray), gamma radiation, and some forms of hard beta radiation (from some kinds of radioisotopes like radioactive phosphorus and sulfur used in laboratories).

The overwhelming majority of electromagnetic radiation to which people are routinely exposed is non-ionizing. However, that does not mean that non-ionizing electromagnetic sources are completely benign.

What EMF Levels are Considered Safe?

Your level of exposure is not a concern from the following sources if the emission is below the following levels (in volts/meter, which is E or electric field strength):

Natural sources (earth, sun): 200 V/m

Transformers (near transmission power line sources): 10000 V/m

Transformers (away from transmission power line sources): 100 V/m

Electric trains: 300 V/m

Televisions and computers: 10 V/m

Television and radio transmitters: 6 V/m

Microwave ovens: 14 V/m

What Distance is Considered Safe?

It all depends on the intensity of the source. The most common unshielded higher intensity EMF sources are high voltage power lines.

Power line towers are specifically designed to keep live wires away from people, animals, and structures. You may have noticed that not all towers are the same design or height.

Tower height directly relates to the amount of current passing through the power line, with higher towers carrying higher amounts of current. This distance regulation is primarily to prevent accidental electrical discharge; however, cables are not magnetically shielded.

The distance does have a positive effect on EMF in that electromagnetic radiation intensity diminishes with distance by the inverse square law. Most EMF levels directly under high voltage power lines are below 100 milli-Gauss and drop to undetectable levels 30-40 meters away.

How are the Different Kinds of EMFs Measured?

There are several different kinds of meters that can be used to detect EMF. Standard EMF meters measure magnetic fields in milli-Gauss, whereas electrical fields on the body are measured by another kind of meter, an electric field test meter that measures in Volts/meter.

Radio waves are measured using an RF (radio frequency) meter; a high energy version of an RF meter is used to detect microwave emissions. The variety of meters required to survey what is, in general, called EMF is the very argument for hiring an EMF survey professional to do the job for you.

Are All EMF Test Meters the Same?

As stated above, not all meters are the same design. EMF meters typically come in single-axis or triple-axis designs.

Single-axis meters will give different results based on the orientation of the meter, since they can only “look” in one axis. This is useful if you are trying to locate an EMF source by turning the meter to find the maximum signal strength.

If you are using a single-axis meter for EMF emissions strength calculations, the process becomes complicated, requiring multiple survey points and complex mathematical calculations.

Triple-axis meters “look” in the x, y, and z planes and take a local estimate of the EMF emissions. As such, meter placement is not orientation-dependent. Most meters in this category can detect standard 60 Hz noise and lower, down to very low frequency emissions by lamps and electrical appliances.

If you intend to survey for radio frequency or microwave emissions, a higher-end RF meter that can detect just beyond 6 GHz is useful. This will pick up wi-fi and other radio bands.

How Much Do the EMF Test Meters Cost?

EMF meters typically run in the $650-$1000 range. For most users, those prices are good incentives to rent a meter or hire a professional rather than investing in your own meter.

Can the EMFs Be Shielded?

Yes, EMF can be shielded. However, different materials are required depending on the source of EMF.

Magnetic field shielding usually requires grounded metal cage material or alloy sheeting. Some types of EMF can be shielded using special metallic paints

This is where consultation with a professional is a must.

I Am Very Sensitive to EMFs, but What Can I Do?

If you are not quite ready to go hide in a cave, the first step you should take is to conduct a thorough survey of your area. Try to identify all the potential sources of magnetic fields in your immediate environment.

Hiring a professional is recommended if you have EHS (electromagnetic hypersensitivity). They can help you with shielding issues, equipment placement, and help in tracking down stray currents from electrical circuitry.