Cell phones, computers, tablets, plasma televisions, Bluetooth audio systems and headsets, Hands Free vehicle technology, routers and modems, cable networks and now, smart watches. We have a strange attraction to watch reality television shows that depict individuals living “off the grid,” but have you ever stopped to consider what “grid” we are actually living in? The surge in technology growth, over the last two decades, has streamed by us much like the old Looney Tunes character, the RoadRunner. As the vast majority of us still stand bedazzled by the endless technological possibilities, a small, but growing segment is beginning to wonder whether we are turning a blind eye to the potential dangers of this technological era. Apprehension is mounting as we consider the children of this era, who are immersed in a technological blanket like no other generation before them. Most of us are fairly quick to defend the unquestionable opportunities technology has afforded to us and in all fairness; we have reached a point at which the necessity for technology is unavoidable. However, it still important to bear in mind that not all that glitters is gold.
Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are invisible energy or electrical fields that span our entire environment and interact with the energy fields present in our bodies and in physical objects around us. The EMF spectrum includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, visible light, ultraviolet, x-rays and gamma rays. Each of these categories on the spectrum is associated with an increasingly greater wavelength or frequency. Each position of the EMF spectrum also emits a degree of radiation, making some of these wavelengths potentially dangerous for human health.
Various health concerns have arisen in connection with extremely low frequency EMFs (ELF-EMF) and radiofrequency EMFs (RF-EMFs), which are the two categories on the lowest end of the EMF spectrum. Power lines, electrical networks, and various household electric appliances such as ranges, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners and hair dryers, generate ELF-EMFs. The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection has set occupational and public limits for ELF-EMF exposure to protect the nervous system from potential harm resulting from continuous ELF-EMF exposure. RF-EMFs are used in communication systems and therefore, produced by mobile phones, cordless phones, utility “smart” meters, remotes, and wireless networks. Exposure guidelines are allegedly maintained by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP).
Parents, doctors, and general consumers have been increasingly concerned about the possibility of long term health effects due to EMF exposure. Unfortunately, with only 15 strong technological years behind us, research in the area of long-term health effects from EMF exposure is lacking. Current research should give adequate concern for the potential health effects, but authorities seem hesitant to acknowledge the conclusions established by these studies. Institutes such as the World Health Organization have issued generalized cautions about potential health effects of RF-EMF exposure, but medical and science journals are clearly more forthcoming in their conclusions. For example, the International Journal of Oncology (2013) recently published a study that clearly demonstrated potential harm on brain health, linked to EMF exposure from mobile and cordless phone use.
Exposure to RF-EMFs and ELF-EMFs during pregnancy, infancy, and childhood is particularly concerning since the rate of cell growth and maturation is highest during these developmental stages. Growing cells are much more sensitive to environmental toxins such as EMFs, compared to established cells. Research has indicated that EMF exposure to growing cells could not only affect an individual cell’s ability to grow and reproduce naturally, but also lead to functional complications. A healthy cell is the foundation for healthy organ function and therefore, when cells are not able to mature properly, the organ’s ability to function optimally is also compromised, leading to poor health outcomes. As we see a growing number of children exposed to cell phones and electronic devices, it would be sensible to consider the possible effects of EMF exposure on their future health.
Potential health effects from EMF exposure is not only a concern for those in developmental stages, but for the adult and elderly individual, as well. Various reports have indicated that EMF exposure can compromise the health of the brain and nervous system, and contribute to declining mental health and cognitive function. EMF exposure also increases the amount of damaging free radicals in the body, and makes it increasingly necessary to combat the attack of these dangerous molecules. Consuming a diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables and limiting EMF exposure can be large steps in reducing poor health outcomes associated with EMF exposure.
When viewed in totality, the possible health consequences of EMF exposure are much greater than we have anticipated. Only time will draw a clearer picture of the role toxic EMF exposure may play America’s current health disparities. In the meantime, taking precautions and minimizing lengthy exposure would be prudent; especially among pregnant women and children.
World Health Organization. (2014). Electromagnetic fields and public health mobile phones. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs193/en/
Hardell, et al. (2013). Case-control study of the association between malignant brain tumours diagnosed between 2007 and 2009 and mobile and cordless phone use. International Journal of Oncology, 43(6), 1833–1845. http://doi.org/10.3892/ijo.2013.2111
Sangün, et al. (2015). The effects of electromagnetic field on the endocrine system in children and adolescents. Pediatric Endocrinology Reviews, 13(2), 531-45.
Grelliera, J., Ravazzanid, P., & Cardisa, E. (2014). Potential health impacts of residential exposures to extremely low frequency magnetic fields in Europe. Environment International, 62, 55-63. doi:10.1016/j.envint.2013.09.017
BioInitiative Working Group. (2012). A Rationale for Biologically-based Exposure Standards for Low-Intensity Electromagnetic Radiation. Retrieved from: http://www.bioinitiative.org/