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Electric Cars & EMF Radiation: Could Your Tesla Be Bad for You?

Last Updated on February 20, 2024

Today, consumers have a range of choices when buying an electric vehicle, from hybrids to plug-in hybrids to all-electric cars like the Tesla. You now see them everywhere, driving on roads or plugged into a charger in a parking lot or garage.

Only about 17,000 electric cars were on the world’s roads in 2010. In 2019, that number reached 7.2 million. Bloomberg New Energy Finances estimates that by 2040, over half of all new cars worldwide will be powered by batteries.

While devoid of carbon monoxide or other stinky pollutants, high-tech electric cars are instead emitting a gasless pollutant: Electromagnetic Field radiation, or EMF radiation.

EMF radiation is a low form of energy released by any piece of technology with a plug or a battery that uses an electric current to function. Modern science has proven that extended exposure to these emissions cause adverse health effects.

The Evolution of Electric Cars

Believe it or not, electric cars were around long before the release of Tesla, Prius and other current electric and hybrid models. In fact, the evolution of electric cars dates back to 1832!

Over 100 years ago, in 1900, electric cars accounted for about one-third of all vehicles in the U.S.

Before gasoline-engine models took over, electric cars were becoming quite popular with urban residents, especially women, because they were quiet, easy to drive, and did not emit stinky pollutants. Innovators such as Thomas Edison began taking note of the electric cars’ high demand and started exploring ways to improve the technology.

They were all the rage and showing no signs of declining in popularity. However, as the saying goes, “all good things come to an end,” and by 1935, electric vehicles completely disappeared.

Inexpensive Texas crude oil and better roads contributed to this disappearance, and as a result, gas stations popped up across the U.S., which led to the rise in popularity of gas-powered vehicles.

Decades later, however, the realization that fossil fuels are in short supply and are bad for the planet has sparked a resurgence of electric cars, with a couple of technology updates. Electric vehicle benefits include zero tailpipe emissions, better efficiency and greater reductions in greenhouse gas emissions when coupled with a low-carbon electricity sector.

EMF Radiation Risks from Electric Cars

You cannot see the EMF radiation emitted by electronic devices, but repercussions in intense or long doses include cell damage, DNA fragmentation, fertility problems, and neurological effects that can lead to health disorders and behavioral issues.

  • Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) EMF radiation emits from all electronic devices, originating from their batteries, parts and internal circuitry.
  • Radio Frequency (RF) EMF radiation, emits only from devices that have wireless connections. Think cellular phone service, Bluetooth, and WiFi.

ELF radiation emits at a lower frequency than RF radiation, but both can cause biological effects in humans and the environment.

The closer you are to the transmitter or battery in an electronic device, the more you are exposed to this radiation, and the more at risk you are of developing adverse health effects.

With electric cars, a big battery is being used close to your body, with electronic circuitry running around the edge of the cabin. This can expose you to increased amounts of ELF radiation.

Electric cars need to be plugged in and charged, just like any other rechargeable battery powered device. When charging, the EMF radiation emitted from the connection point is greater than the outdated ICNIRP standards of radiation levels.

Electric Cars vs. Gas-Powered Cars

All-electric vehicles (EVs) use a battery pack to store the electrical energy that powers the motor. Conventional cars use direct currents (DC) but electric cars convert direct currents to alternating currents (AC) via a power converter. Some say AC–since it can change direction and operates at a higher frequency–might be more harmful than the direct currents (DC) of conventional cars, which travel in a straight line one way.

Hybrid cars use both batteries and fuel, although the battery is usually smaller and less powerful.

A traditional gas-powered vehicle does contain a small battery, but it only serves to turn on the internal combustion engine in the hood of the car and the dashboard accessories. Then, fuel is injected into the combustion chamber and combined with air, then ignited by a spark from the spark plug. This ignition is what generates the energy to move your car.

Although gasoline is the most common transportation fuel, there are alternative fuel options like natural gas, hydrogen, or biodiesel.

A Look at Tesla Cars

Not only do electric cars operate differently from conventional cars, but their structure is radically different, too. Tesla, Inc., is an American automotive and energy company started by entrepreneur Elon Musk. During the first half of 2020, registration data showed that Tesla owned nearly 80% of the US’ electric car market. This popularity has caused Tesla to grow 350% in value over 2020, making Elon Musk one of the two richest people in the world.

Tesla’s mission is to transition the world to sustainable energy.

Its founders believe that electric cars could not only achieve similar functionality of internal combustion engine cars but could surpass them without the expense of pollution and engine maintenance.

Most electric carmakers put the charger, power inverter, electronic controls, and electric motor in the engine bay in the hood of the car.

However, Tesla integrated those components into parts of the car that you can’t see. The very large battery pack, for instance, resides in a flat box under the bottom frame of the car. It contains the energy storage cells along with cooling and electronic controls, and a titanium shield protects it from the road.

This leaves room under the hood for a storage compartment, named the “frunk,” otherwise known as the front trunk.

Tesla Energy Output

Tesla uses energy cells made in the common 18650 cylindrical format, which is the same format as most laptops and tablets (just a lot bigger).

Tesla cells use Nickel-Cobalt-Aluminum-Lithium chemistry and have about 50% more energy density than other Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV) cells, which attribute to Tesla’s long range.

Although its performance and sustainability is rather notable, the EMF radiation coming from the battery might be cause for concern, especially given its placement under the entire bottom of the main cabin. Other electric cars with batteries placed in the trunk or hood maybe expose you to less ELF, given their distance from you.

Dr. Joel Moskowitz, Director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California Berkeley, shared that hybrid and electric cars may be cancer-causing as they emit increased levels of ELF.

Recent epidemiologic studies have connected ELFs to a higher risk of developing certain types of Cancer, Depression, and miscarriage, and many studies show that this exposure can have direct in vivo and in vitro bioeffects. ELFs can increase oxidative stress, which can damage DNA, involve lipid peroxidation, and cause other body system disturbances.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization considers magnetic fields as carcinogenic in humans. This safety principle dictates how companies should design products to minimize exposure to EMF radiation since health risks increase with the length of exposure to these invisible emissions.

EMF Concerns in All Cars 

From work to school to errands to leisure, people spend a great deal of time in their vehicles, whether they be hybrid, electric, or gas-powered.

Aside from the potential health dangers of having an ELF-emitting battery power your electric car engine, there are many other sources of EMF radiation in all types of cars that may be more of a concern. There are over 50 electronic control units in modern cars, meaning 50 plus sources of EMF radiation. These include Bluetooth connections, push-button starts, car alarms, and dashboard controls.

The frame of the car itself can create an environment that also increases your exposure to EMF radiation. As technology in cars continues to advance, the radiation dangers increase, too, especially with 5G and driverless cars coming to center stage.

Short-term car EMF radiation while driving has been found to contribute to headaches, dry eyes and blurred vision, neck stiffness, and irritability, whereas long-term car EMF radiation is said to lead to an increased risk of various organ cancers, especially for owners of electric cars because of the high level of EMFs from underneath their seats.

  • Metal Car Frame

Unless you are in a convertible or soft-top, the metal framing of automobiles almost completely surrounds the car, acting as a conductive cage.

In science, this type of conductive cage is called a Faraday Cage. This means electrostatic charges are collected on the outside, and electromagnetic radiation cannot get in. Radiation sources inside are contained, and therefore magnified within the cage.

While a car isn’t a perfect Faraday Cage and does allow some EMF to come in and leak out through windows and holes, any source of radiation inside the car might be more intense than if it was outside the car. Phones, tablets, video gaming devices, hotspots, Bluetooth, and the radiation given off by the car battery and other parts, might further increase your exposure to EMF radiation.

One study found that because of the resonance nature of car’s walls, radiation levels were amplified,  increasing SAR in humans when using a mobile phone in the car.

This Faraday Cage effect isn’t just present in cars. Airplanes, subway trains, and even some buildings also have conductive metals in the frame that can have similar effects.

Research found not only does the Faraday cage effect amplify the ambient radiation felt by humans, but also the nature of the Earth’s reflective surface under the car. The surface of the Earth is naturally reflective—known in the scientific community as albedo. Albedo looks at how much solar radiation is reflected out of total radiation. The same physical phenomena occurs with EMF radiation, increasing the exposure levels of EMF radiation in cars.

  • Car Repairs

In one of the first and only long-term studies to date conducted on exposure to ELF in cars, researchers found that as cars got in accidents and needed repairs, the levels of radiation in the cars increased. Replacing tires also impacted the magnetic field within the cars, due in part to the rubber within the tires absorbing radiation. As components are worn down and changed within the infrastructure of the car, it impacts the conductive cage surrounding the car, altering the magnetic field and radiation levels.

  • WiFi

WiFi is a form of RF radiation, and is considered more dangerous than cellular radiation because it transmits at a higher frequency. Newer vehicles are commonly equipped with built-in WiFi hotspots so that people can connect without depending on cell towers. With a car moving, cellular connectivity is always changing, and phone antennas aren’t strong enough to get a constant fast signal.

With a vehicle WiFi hotspot, the car is manufactured with a permanent or interchangeable SIM card (to access wireless data) and special external antennas that receive a better and faster signal from a cell tower than your phone would. You can connect your mobile devices, connect to your vehicle remotely, and have faster access to vehicle apps with the hotspot.

Although convenient, WiFi routers use 2.4 GHz and 5.0 GHz bandwidths, which can travel up to several hundred feet. Microwave ovens use the identical 2.4 GHz frequency to cook food by penetrating the food and oscillating (heating up) the matter. The WiFi emissions may be less intense, but can heat up cells and generate a reasonably high current flow in the body.

  • Batteries

The large AC batteries in the front and rear (or bottom) of hybrid and electric cars do not help the EMF radiation situation. However, there are batteries in all cars. The majority of conventional car batteries are a form of DC power which is generated from a chemical reaction inside of the battery. While they do not usually emit EMF radiation consistent with AC power, they can emit a powerful, temporary field of DC voltage when changing currents. Namely, when the vehicle starts.

Drivers that are EMF sensitive are likely to respond to this heightened radiation. However, the batteries are usually located within the hood, and the farther away you are from the source, the safer you are in terms of EMF exposure.

  • A Moving Target

Since cars are used to get from Point A to Point B, they are consistently on the move. You might have noticed when traveling that you cell phone signal goes in and out, and your cellular data seems delayed.

One reason for this was mentioned before: the Faraday Cage effect might be keeping your signal from leaving the car.

Another reason for less than ideal cell service might be because your service provider might not have adequate coverage in the abandoned area you are road-tripping through. Even if the car stopped, your cell phone signal would not be able to reach a cell tower close enough.

Additionally, when a car is moving at 60 mph, the closest cell phone tower is always changing every mile or so. Your phone is constantly having to recalibrate the distance you are from a tower, raise the power level if it has to in order to reach that tower, then send signals out to find another tower as the other one quickly becomes out of reach.

Sounds like a high-stress situation for your phone, right? Cellular networks have to actually reconfigure, and they have to do it fast, without you detecting any loss in coverage. As a fast-moving target, you are exposing yourself to increased levels of EMF radiation since your phone, tablet, and WiFi hotspot are all overworking to find a signal, even if you are not actively using your device. Moreover, when your phone has poor connectivity, it emits more EMF radiation as it sends out a stronger signal to connect.

  • Children

are more susceptible to the harmful effects of EMF radiation due to their small size and still-developing bodies. In cars, there is potential for higher exposure to EMF radiation because their smaller stature means they are closer to the floor of the car, where most of the electronics are located.

While one study found that the exposure levels of children are still lower than the regulated standards, we know that the current exposure limit standards are outdated and are leaving people at risk. As many scientific studies have found, the standards set by ICNIRP are inadequate at protecting people’s health, let alone children.

Pick Your Poison

So, you can buy a Tesla and reduce your carbon emissions, or you can buy a traditional gas-powered car and potentially reduce your EMF emissions. But to what extent? And which pollutant should you reduce more? These are difficult questions to answer.

First, both electric and gas-powered cars come with their fair share of carbon and EMF emissions.

Tesla’s title as a zero-emissions car is a little misleading, since their large, lithium-ion batteries, which are material- and energy-intensive to produce, release more carbon emissions during production than during the production of regular vehicles. Even so, the Union of Concerned Scientists also discovered that electric vehicles generate half the emissions of a conventional car throughout its life, and produce zero emissions while driving.

Every year, hundreds of Americans die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, which is an odorless toxin released by gas-powered vehicles. While your body might be taking in less EMF with traditional gas-powered cars, it is taking in more carbon monoxide.

In terms of EMF emissions, electric cars have a large battery emitting ELF radiation, but all new cars have many technological advancements like WiFi hotspots, Bluetooth, and electric controls that also emit EMF radiation. In addition, all cars with metal frames could be trapping and magnifying the sources of radiation inside the car.

In the end, electric cars should not be seen as the worse option, since ELF coming from an electric battery does not travel far at all, and doesn’t affect the main cabin as much as RF radiation (which can be present in all types of cars). If you have a sensitivity to EMF, this is definitely something you should be mindful of, and some cars might be worse than others depending on what affects you. However, for the majority of the population who does not exhibit any sensitivities, an electric car might be worth it for the environment and your wallet.

Either way, there are many other ways you can reduce your exposure to EMF radiation while driving.

Ways to Reduce EMF Exposure While Driving

Avoiding EMFs within your automobile is a challenge because all cars are electronic in nature, specifically electric and hybrid cars. Their very essence, the motor, is based on an electrical current that flows from the front to the back of the car.

However, avoiding the potentially high levels of EMF radiation from automobiles is important because there are many adverse health symptoms associated with short- and long-term EMF exposure. As the number of sources continue to increase in cars as they become more technologically advanced, it is important to pay attention to new research surrounding the potential health effects of spending time in cars.

The following are tips to limit your exposure to EMFs while driving:

  1. Make your car an electronic-free zone. We know, it’s so easy to pass the time on a long road trip when you are using electronic devices. But there are also plenty of other fun ways to kill time as a passenger that don’t require staring at electronic screens: reading, playing games, and napping are surefire ways to get from point A to point B while ensuring everyone in the car has reduced exposure to EMFs.
  2. Turn your phone on Airplane Mode or turn it off until you reach your destination. Not only are cell phones distracting for the driver, but they produce EMF radiation that can multiply within the confines of your car. If you need navigation, you can still use GPS while in Airplane Mode.
  3. If you have to use your phone, stopping your car somewhere with good reception and getting out is the best option. If you need to keep driving, holding your phone close to a window, open or closed, will help with both your cell phone reception and with mitigating the Faraday Cage effects of your enclosed car.
  4. If you want to listen to your favorite Spotify playlist, the best option is to pre-download music and hook your phone up to your car via an audio cable, instead of using Bluetooth. If you do use Bluetooth to connect your phone, keep your phone at least one foot away from you. You can also disable the front speakers and only have music playing from the back speakers to reduce EMF exposure coming from the sound system.
  5. When you are not using your vehicle’s computer systems, opt to turn them off. Any type of computer system will emit EMF radiation, especially the onboard computer that controls the media system.
  6. Wear protective clothing. Shielding clothing will help directly protect your body—and its more vulnerable areas such as the head and abdomen—from the harmful EMF radiation present in vehicles. DefenderShield clothing uses multiple layers of advanced shielding to block up to 99% of EMF radiation.

Of course, driving less often (bike or walk whenever you can!) can decrease BOTH the amount of EMF radiation you are exposed to and the amount of carbon emissions released into the atmosphere.

The Future is Now

Gone are the days of the gas-guzzling Hummers and massive Expeditions—now it’s the mileage, efficiency, and eco-friendly nature of hybrid or fully electric cars that attract people.

However, as technological advances and environmental concerns contribute to the popularity surge of electric cars, it is important to stay mindful that these battery-operated vehicles could still impact your health.

Although the negative environmental effects on the Earth are less than gasoline-powered versions, exposure to EMF radiation is increased while inside electric vehicles like a Tesla or Prius. While in an electric car, using simple tips and consider using EMF radiation shields such as laptop shields, phone cases, and blankets as you minimize your footprint on our beautiful planet.

It is difficult to completely eliminate all EMF emissions around you, but being aware of them and finding easy ways to reduce them when you are able will have more of an effect than you might think.

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Daniel T. DeBaun

Daniel T. DeBaun is an internationally recognized and influential expert in Electromagnetic Radiation (EMF) and shielding electronic emissions, with a particular focus on the effect of exposure from mobile devices such as laptops, tablets and cell phones. Daniel’s concern regarding the health impact of electronic radiation emissions grew from over 30 years of engineering experience in the telecommunications industry, where he held a variety of leadership and executive positions at Bell Labs, AT&T, SAIC and Telcordia. Daniel is co-author of recent bestseller, Radiation Nation: The Fallout of Modern Technology, a complete guide to EMF radiation safety and protection. Daniel is also a highly regarded industry consultant, speaker as well as frequent guest national radio and television programs discussing EMF health issues.