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Is Radio-Frequency Radiation Safe?

Girl on laptop with phoneTake a look around your home. You probably have one or more of the following: Wi-Fi, a cordless (DECT) phone, a mobile phone, a tablet, a Smart Meter, a baby monitor, a wireless games console or a nearby mobile phone mast.

We use these devices day-in, day-out, often without a thought to whether or not they are safe.  Many of us think that if they were not safe, they wouldn’t be available to use.

An accumulating body of research suggests that exposure to these technologies could have long-term implications for our health. This has led the IARC (the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer) to classify powerline and radio frequency radiation as “possible carcinogens” (cancer-causing agents)[1].

More studies need to be done on the subject to reach a definitive conclusion. However, if you are concerned about the potential health effects, this page explains more about wireless radiation, where it occurs, and how you can reduce your exposure to it.

What is electromagnetic radiation?

To understand more about the kind of radiation emitted by wireless technologies, it is necessary to learn a little about electromagnetic radiation.

Electromagnetic radiation is created when charged particles are accelerated. The waves it travels in are found everywhere, ranging from very low frequency, long wavelength AM radio waves right up to high frequency, short wavelength gamma rays which can even penetrate metals. It is even emitted by humans, in the form of infrared radiation.

The electromagnetic spectrum gives a guide to the types of radiation found on each frequency.

Ionising and non-ionising radiation

The electromagnetic spectrum can be split into two parts – ionising and non-ionising radiation.

 The highest-frequency portion of the electromagnetic spectrum is ionising radiation. It contains radiation such as x-ray, ultraviolet (found in sunlight) and gamma ray. This type of radiation is capable of breaking molecules into smaller parts and removing electrons from atoms, causing them to become charged. This can be used to our advantage, for example in generating power and in diagnostic x-rays, but we also know that ionising radiation is capable of damaging our health in large doses because it can cause cell mutations, leading to diseases such as cancer.

Non-ionising radiation has enough energy to move and vibrate atoms, but not enough to remove electrons. Under this category we find radio frequency, infrared and ultraviolet radiation. Microwave radiation is found at the highest end of the radio frequency band.

Radio frequency (RF) radiation is the term given to the type of radiation emitted by devices such as mobile phones, base stations and wireless devices.

What are the sources of RF radiation?

Devices and appliances which give off radio-frequency radiation include the following:

  • Mobile phones
  • Tablets
  • Cordless (DECT) phones
  • Wi-Fi routers
  • Smart Meters
  • Mobile phone masts and base stations
  • Microwave ovens
  • Laptops
  • Wireless games consoles
  • Baby monitors
  • Burglar alarms
  • Remote controls

Is RF radiation safe?

Because the type of radiation emitted by these technologies is non-ionising, there is a widely-held perception that it is harmless.

However, there is a growing body of research that suggests an association between RF radiation and both long and short-term effects on human health. It is important to remember that this body of research is not presently strong enough to demonstrate a causative link between exposure to RF radiation and health conditions such as cancer, but since safety has a tendency to lag technological advances, we recommend taking precautionary measures to protect yourself against potential health effects.

 Research

A number of peer-reviewed studies have indicated an association between exposure to RF/wireless radiation and health effects such as skin conditions, fatigue, headaches, dizziness, sleep disturbances and even brain tumours. Even ELFs (extremely low frequency magnetic fields) have been linked to childhood leukaemia. Here are some examples of the research that has been conducted:

  • Childhood leukaemia close to high-voltage power lines--the Geocap study, 2002-2007 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23558899)

Summary: An increase in incidences of childhood acute leukaemia was found close to high-voltage overhead electrical power lines.

  • Neurobehavioral effects among inhabitants around mobile phone base stations (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16962663)

Summary: People living near to mobile phone base stations were found to be at increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric problems. The authors recommend revision of guidelines for public exposure to RF radiation from mobile phone base stations.

  • Association of mobile phone radiation with fatigue, headache, dizziness, tension and sleep disturbance in Saudi population (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15195201)

Summary:  Mobile phone usage was found to be a risk factor for various health hazards. It was recommended that excessive use of mobile phones should be avoided.

  • Diseases of modern living: neurological changes associated with mobile phones and radiofrequency radiation in humans (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15135881)

Summary: Radio-frequency radiation from mobile phones was shown to cause peripheral neurophysiological changes in some people, even at levels below the present safety threshold. 

  • Skin changes in patients claiming to suffer from "screen dermatitis": a two-case open-field provocation study (http://www.es-uk.info/research-studies.html

Summary: A high number of mast cells were observed in patients sitting in front of a television. The researchers concluded that this could explain the symptoms of itch, pain, oedema and erythema the patients claimed to be suffering from.

  • Effect of mobile telephones on sperm quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412014001354)

Summary: Mobile phone radiation exposure was associated with reduced sperm viability and motility.

If you wish to read more, there are further references to studies of this kind on the ES-UK website.

What you can do to help to protect yourself

What we know for certain is that the amount of radiation your body absorbs decreases the further away you get from the source. Therefore, most of the measures we suggest you can take to reduce the potential effects of radiation on your body involve reducing your exposure to the radiation itself.

Measure the fields

In order to make changes to your living or working environment to reduce your exposure to RF radiation, you need to pinpoint where the main sources of this radiation are.

An EMF meter or monitor is helpful for detecting fields that you may not have realised are present, for example a neighbour’s Wi-Fi router on the other side of a wall, or even a mobile phone mast hundreds of meters away. Some meters available detect ELF (extremely low frequency fields), produced by power lines and many domestic appliances.

Some meters not only pick up when radiation is present; they also indicate how strong this radiation is. For example, an acoustimeter allows you to identify which types of radiation are in your living space with a sound output, enabling you to hear the signal modulation.

Once you know where the fields are at their strongest, you can begin to take protective steps. For example, you can move your bed or sofa to lower-exposure parts of the room.

Avoidance

Now you know where the fields are in your home or office, you may wish to take steps to avoid them. Follow these simple tips to reduce your exposure to RF radiation:

  • Move furniture, particularly the bed and seating arrangements, away from areas where high fields are detected.
  • Keep your mobile phone away from your bed whilst you sleep at night – never keep it under your pillow. Using a mobile phone or tablet before bed not only exposes your body to radiation; the blue light given off can also suppress melatonin production, leading to a less refreshing sleep. Long-term, low melatonin has been linked to serious conditions such as cancer[2].
  • Low-radiation earphones are helpful for reducing levels of mobile phone radiation reaching the body. They convert the electrical signal into harmless air waves. If you don’t want to use earphones, you can simply use the speaker phone facility to reduce the amount of radiation reaching your head.
  • When signal strength is weak, the phone has to work harder to transmit and receive, and therefore emits higher levels of radiation. Therefore, try to only use your mobile when you have full bars of signal.
  • Only allow children to use mobile phones when it is absolutely essential. They should be encouraged to keep calls short.
  • Don’t use your phone in an enclosed metal area, like a car, train carriage or aeroplane. These surroundings ‘trap’ radiation and impede signal, meaning that your phone needs to work harder (i.e. emit more radiation) to get reception.
  • Invest in a mobile phone case with shielding material inside to reflect radiation away from your body, reducing the total amount absorbed.
  • Text instead of call – further proximity from the body means that you’re absorbing less radiation.
  • Swap your DECT (cordless) phone for a traditional corded phone. Some cordless models are believed to emit much higher levels of radiation than mobile phones. If you must have one, keep it as far away as possible from main living and sleeping areas.
  • Say no to a Smart Meter. These are being rolled out throughout the country, but many people are concerned about the long-term health consequences of an additional RF radiation source in the home. Campaigners from the group ‘Stop Smart Meters UK’ suggest that the radiation emitted by a smart meter could be up to 800 times higher than that from a mobile phone. While this is still up for debate, if you haven’t already got a Smart Meter you can opt out by ‘withdrawing consent’ – find out more at stopsmartmeters.org.uk.

Shielding materials

Unlike ionising radiation such as gamma rays, which can penetrate through many metals, radio frequency electromagnetic radiation can be physically blocked by certain materials.  Copper is often used to shield from radio frequency electromagnetic radiation due to its capability to absorb magnetic and radio waves.

Shielding materials are a popular choice for people who are concerned about the effects of this sort of radiation and/or are particularly sensitive to electrical fields. Typical shielding materials include metal screen, sheet metal and metal foam.

You can purchase shielding material by the metre (we offer a net-like polyester material with copper fibre content that reflects analogue and RF waves) and use this as a curtain lining or bed canopy.

Mobile phone cases containing shielding material, such as the WaveWall and the Blocsock, are proven to reflect radiation away from the body and are a popular choice for those concerned about the potential long-term health consequences of mobile phone usage.

Harmonising devices

These devices aim to neutralise the effects of electromagnetic fields on the body, rather than remove the fields or reflect them away.

In general, these devices tend to be based on the premise in holistic energy medicine that all humans have a ‘biofield’ (a natural energy field). Electromagnetic fields are thought to disrupt this energy field and put us ‘out of sync’.  The harmonising devices are designed to strengthen and balance this biofield, reducing any negative effect that these EMFs may have.

There are a variety of these devices available on the market today, from wearable to standalone.  Some are designed to be applied to specific devices, others cover a range. There is some variation between brands in the way that these devices are designed; however, most are in the form of foil discs with a pattern programmed into the device, designed to re-tune energy into a Schumann-like frequency that naturally resonates in the atmosphere.

Other devices, such as the Geomack products, are based on a natural crystal technology.

Since this technology is a recent development, there is still more independent research to be done. There is anecdotal evidence that suggests that harmonising products may be effective.

dLAN systems

It is currently believed that exposure to RF radiation from Wi-Fi is, in general, lower than that resulting from mobile phone usage. Wi-Fi signals are low power, usually 0.1 watt[3]. However, Public Health England recommends (as it does with mobile phones) a ‘precautionary approach’[4].

If you’re used to the convenience of fast internet access at home or work, there is an alternative. A dLAN system delivers fast internet on a network without Wi-Fi, simply working via the electrical wiring in your home’s plug sockets.

 

Products that may help


References:

[1] http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf

[2] http://www.academia.edu/5672136/The_Dangers_of_LED-Blue_light-Melatonin-Insomnia-Cancer-_RSH

[3] http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/cancer-controversies/mobile-phones-wifi-and-power-lines

[4] https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/wireless-networks-wi-fi-radio-waves-and-health/wi-fi-radio-waves-and-health

Please note: Information on this website is not to be used as a substitute for a consultation with a medical practicioner.