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Health Risks From Exposure to Electromagnetic Radiation (EMF)

Last Updated on October 4, 2023

Health Risks of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR)
Non-ionizing Electromagnetic Radiation (EMF) can present many health risks.

Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR), or Electromagnetic Field Radiation (EMF), is the generated byproduct of electricity traveling through electronic devices.

Radiation is classified as either ionizing or non-ionizing based on the radiation’s capacity to ionize atoms and interfere with chemical bonds.

Very high-frequency radiation like X-rays and gamma rays pose these hazards.

Modern electronic devices, such as laptops, develop a low-frequency field of radiation that is strongest when closest to the source and reduces in intensity when moving away from the source.

Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) radiation is given off by the internal circuitry of a device, and higher energy Radio Frequency (RF) radiation is given off by wireless transmitters for Bluetooth, WiFi, and Cellular capabilities. While these are classified as non-ionizing radiation, they still present different health dangers to the human body. 

The following summarizes just some of the effects of non-ionizing Electromagnetic Field Radiation (EMF).

Non-Ionizing Electromagnetic Field (EMF) Radiation Health Risks

There are complex biological effects caused by Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) coming from mobile devices. The video below briefly explains some of the major effects on the body.

Watch Video: Biological Health Effects of EMF Radiation

The fundamental mechanisms between these fields and our bodies is not yet fully understood.

What we do know is that increasing research is suggesting that numerous biological effects exist from non-ionizing EMF coming from our mobile devices, and many of these exist regardless of if a cell is damaged by the heat produced by these waves. This shows that even if levels are low enough to save our cells from heat damage, adverse biological changes might still be present, even if we are unaware of them.

Some of these biological effects and their associated health patterns are explained below.

Heat Damage – As we said before, EMF radiation can cause dielectric heating. This heating is created by an oscillating frequency passing over body cells, a similar action/reaction when using a microwave oven to cook. This heating can cause cell death, cell damage, and cell mutations, which can eventually lead to cancer. The heating influence varies with the power and frequency of the electromagnetic energy and is measured as Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) in watts per kilogram (W/kg).

There are national and international safety limits for exposure to various frequencies of electromagnetic energy based on SAR guarding against thermal damage. However, many are arguing that these standards need to be updated, as they are using tests from the early 90’s that don’t reflect usage patterns of mobile devices today.

Sleep Problems – Dr. Neal Cherry investigated data on cell damage in controlled, repeatable laboratory studies. He pointed out that in one study, human breast cells exposed to Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) are affected. This exposure totally eliminated the effectiveness of melatonin, used to help us sleep. Exposure also caused long-term DNA damage and impaired body cells.

Fertility Problems – Many studies link EMF radiation emissions to fertility issues. EMFs have been found to impact both male and female fertility and to affect the unborn fetus in women numerous ways, including fragmenting DNA. Males are especially vulnerable to EMF radiation exposure because the male reproductive organs sit close to the surface of the body.

One study showed how EMFs directly impact DNA in reproductive organs and tissues, especially since there is no bone to protect this fragile area that houses the ovum or testicles. A 2011 study reveals that use of laptop computers connected to WiFi decreases human sperm mobility and increases sperm DNA fragmentation. A 2008 U.S. study finds that the use of cell phones reduces the sperm count, motility, viability and normal morphology of sperm in men.

In a Kaiser Permanente cohort study published in 2017, 913 women were followed throughout their pregnancies, while tracking their EMF exposure. Researchers found that expectant mothers who fell into the “high exposure” category (75% of the subjects) were nearly three times as likely to miscarry compared to the “low exposure” group.

Developmental Problems – If a baby is conceived, EMF exposure to a child in the womb can cause many more biological effects than it can to adults. This is because an unborn child, and even a young child, is developing at a very fast rate, and with their small size and watery tissues, EMF can go through more of their body, and biological effects on cells will multiply as the child grows. Children absorb up to 60 percent more energy per pound of body weight than adults do.

How Mobile Phone Radiation Penetrates the Brain

This exposure is unprecedented and not experienced by previous generations.

DNA Fragmentation – EMFs can create an imbalance of too much ROS (reactive oxygen species) and too little antioxidants to get through the membrane into the nucleus. It interacts with and causes specific breaks in DNA strands, and this results in oxidative stress and a cellular stress response. When oxidants, or free radicals, are not controlled in the cell, excessive amounts can lead to chronic illnesses like cancers, necrosis (neuron death) and neuronal damage in brain tissue, as well as neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, spinal injury, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy.

University of Basel in Switzerland released a study in 2009 that found an intermittent 50 Hz Electromagnetic Field (EMF) at a flux density of  one Tesla (or 10 Gauss) exposure to a human cell induced a slight but significant increase of DNA fragmentation. One Tesla is a higher level density than what is considered to be a safe exposure limit.

Toasted Skin Syndrome

VGCC Activation – VGCC’s, or voltage-gated calcium channels, is a sensor in the cell membrane that regulates calcium ion transport into the cell. EMFs can force the voltage sensor (which detects electrical changes) to open the gate to the cell membrane, immediately allowing a ton of calcium ions, called intracellular Ca2+, into the cells.

The sensor is extraordinarily sensitive to the electrical forces from EMFs, and can lead to multiple regulatory responses, like the production of free radicals, hormonal effects, fertility effects, neurological effects, cell death, and breakdown of the blood-brain barrier. Extra intracellular calcium has been linked to Autism.

Leukemia – The Canadian Federal-Provincial-Territorial Radiation Protection Committee reported in 2005, “The outcome of a recently conducted pooled analysis of several epidemiological studies shows a two-fold increase in the risk of leukemia in children living in homes where the average Electromagnetic Field (EMF) levels are greater than 0.4 microtesla (4 milligauss). In 2001, there was a review conducted by Ahlbom et al. on the interrelationship between EMFs and health. They concluded that there was a doubling in childhood leukemia for Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) of over 0.4 µT. However they added “This is difficult to interpret in the absence of a known mechanism or reproducible experimental support”.

In October 2001, the World Health Organization released a factsheet about the relationship between Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) EMR and cancer. It said, based on early findings that ELF was a “possibly carcinogenic” source for childhood leukemia.

Cancer – Concluding in 2016, a major in-depth peer-reviewed study was conducted by the US National Toxicology Program (NTP). More than 2,500 rats were exposed to varying levels of RF radiation – one type of radiation emitted by cell phones. Radiation exposure exhibited a directed dose-response relationship, as in the more radiation rats received the higher amount of rare brain and heart cancer they developed.

Tumors were not found in rats not exposed to the radio frequencies. In the report released alongside the study, researchers noted “Given the widespread global usage of mobile communications among users of all ages, even a very small increase in the incidence of disease resulting from exposure to [wireless radiation] could have broad implications for public health.”

The University of Washington conducted research on microwave Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) impact on the brains of rats. The research showed breaks in the DNA associated with increased free radicals and increased cell deaths. This study emulates levels of exposure when using a cell phone against your head.

The National Cancer Institute studied people exposed to work related microwaves. They concluded that there was a tenfold increase in brain tumors among those working 20 years or more. Other studies showed people who work around Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) are more likely to get breast cancer than those less exposed.

US Military Caution – The US government standard, Federal Standard 1037C defines EMF caution as Electromagnetic Radiation Hazards (RADHAZ or EMR hazards). These are hazards caused by a transmitter/antenna installation that generate Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR). They go on to say these hazards will exist when an Electromagnetic Field (EMF) of sufficient intensity generated to: (a) induce or otherwise couple currents and/or voltages of magnitudes large enough to initiate electroexplosive devices or other sensitive explosive components of weapon systems, ordnance, or explosive devices; (b) cause harmful or injurious effects to humans and wildlife; (c) create sparks having sufficient magnitude to ignite flammable mixtures of materials that must be handled in the affected area.

World Health Organization Caution – Drawing from scientific and medical communities, the World Health Organization states that health effects like headaches or promotion of cancer are unlikely to be caused by cellular phones or their base stations.

Concerns have been raised though, especially after the enormous increase in the use of wireless mobile phones and other devices. Electronic devices emit RF radiation and there is growing concern that these transmitted signals may be harmful to human health.

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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.