The Hidden Dangers Of Electromagnetic Fields

Many common household appliances transmit potentially harmful electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Protect yourself by identifying trouble spots and taking these precautions.

Electromagnetic fields existed long before Thomas Edison flipped the switch on the lightbulb. These invisible forces - electric and magnetic fields created by flowing electrical currents - are produced by everything from lightning bolts to common household appliances that make our lives easier. But according to a number of scientists, EMFs can also cause serious harm.

We already know that high-frequency EMFs such as UVB rays from the sun and ionizing radiation from X-rays for example, can lead to cancer. But much less is known about exposure to lower frequencies, like the 60-hertz (Hz) electrical fields emitted by TVs and food processors, or the 300-Hz to 300,000-megahertz (MHz) radiofrequency fields (RFs) produced by computer monitors, microwave ovens and cell phones.

The topic has proved controversial. Many epidemiological studies have found increased cancer risks among power-line, cable and electrical workers, and high rates of childhood leukemia in families living near high-voltage power lines. Yet similar studies have failed to validate these connections, and laboratory research has not shown that EMFs cause cancer in living tissue. When a leading EMF researcher was found to have falsified data in two government-funded lab studies, many concluded that the EMF-cancer connection could be dismissed.

Still, many scientists continue to suspect that EMFs, even the low-level ones found in the home, are not entirely benign. In 1998, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) labeled EMFs a possible carcinogen. Several laboratory studies have shown alterations in hormone levels, accelerated tumor growth and other cellular changes resulting from EMF exposure. There seems to be enough data showing association between cancer and EMF to make people think there something is going on.

With so much still unclear about the effects of these energy fields, the best strategy is one of prudent avoidance. Stay about four feet away from appliances when they're in use and minimize the amount of time you spend on your cell phone or near anything else that emits high RFs. What follows is a quick look at some likely EMF hot spots in and around your home.

In the kitchen:

Microwave
Blender
Coffee maker
Slow cookers
Dishwasher
Food processor
Garbage disposal
Electric oven
Refrigerator
Toaster

In the living room:

TV
Stereo
Laptop
Desktop computer
Telephone
Cell phone
Window air conditioner
Ceiling Fan

In the bathroom/laundry room:

Electric shaver
Hair dryer
Washer
Dryer
Iron

Other sources:

Vacuum cleaner
Electric clock
Baby monitor
Sewing machine
Electric blanket
Power tools
Copy/fax machines
Fluorescent lights

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Comments 18 comments

nicomp profile image

nicomp 7 years ago from Ohio, USA

"The topic has proved controversial. Many epidemiological studies have found increased cancer risks among power-line, cable and electrical workers, and high rates of childhood leukemia in families living near high-voltage power lines."

And even more studies have shown no correlation whatsoever.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Absolutely. The jury is definitely still out. But some of the findings are worrysome. Personally I'm absolutely convinced that some cell phones affect me more than others. I can talk for hours on my cell phone, but I've used others where I can feel a throbbing pressure near my ear. I have to turn them off or get a headache within minutes! :(


Sandyspider profile image

Sandyspider 7 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

This is a subject that I use to think about all the time. I try not to think about it too much anymore, it scares me.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

It definitely is a scary prospect. Even the best research institutes have no firm grasp of what effect (if any) these fields have on people. Sure, it could all amount to nothing, or it could be that by the time today's cell phone addicted youth retires, 50% of them have brain cancer! Yikes!


Marius 6 years ago

I see people’s biggest problem is to understanding radiation and how to quantify it relative to health and other things natural to life on earth.

I’m an electronic engineer and specialize in communication systems.

One thing I would like to make clear is that, electromagnetic waves are transverse waves that exist of an electric field perpendicular to a magnetic field. It is not nuclear radiation or nuclear particles.

Well, harmful electromagnetic radiation does exist. It will depend on frequency and intensity. For a wave to be harmful it needs to cross a threshold of destructive intensity for that frequency. The EU set the SAR for microwave to 2Watt per kg body tissue. To the non-technical person it means nothing leaving people vulnerable to absorb any information whether it is true, false or speculation, most people cannot quantify or make sense of such measures.

Luminance is measured in lux. There are about 683.002 lux per W/m2. If you are exposed 50 000 lux (73 W/m2 ) of white light (direct sun), it can damage your eyes, so we can say it is harmful electromagnetic radiation, but 300 lux (0.43 W/m2 ) of light in a typical office will in your entire life not harm your eyes at all. Still it is the same radiation (visible light) but seen as harmless electromagnetic radiation since it’s below the intensity that it can do harm.

Just a fun fact for people who think all electromagnetic radiation harmful and bad, visible light is electromagnetic radiation but in the visible frequency range which your eyes are very sensitive for. So for anyone who want to avoid all form electromagnetic radiation should stay out of any form of light and temperatures above -273°C as well.

Candles, fire, light bulbs, lightning, LED light everything that use electricity or that produce light, heat, radio waves, radiates electromagnetic radiation in some form, it does not mean that it will cause harm only

because it is electromagnetic. Small amounts of UV produces vitamin-D in the human body, too much causes cancer or sunburn.

People fear that their mains electricity supply with frequency 50/60Hz or power lines are produce dangerous electromagnetic radiation and can cause cancer. But then there is the Schumann resonances (SR) cause by lightning naturally and even exist on some other planets. It is an electromagnetic wave that travels in a waveguide created between the earth’s ionosphere and its surface. There are at anytime 2000 thunder storms on earth producing about 50 lightning strikes per second on the earth causing this electromagnetic frequency between 3 and 69Hz. It is also believed that the Q-bursts in this frequency could cause transient luminous events that can be seen. More than one of my sources confirm that NASA linked space sickness in astronaut to the absents of this frequency and since then build oscillators simulating it into manned space craft. In other words, NASA gave them “that” many people fear to prevent space sickness.

Analogously, 180dB of sound pressure can damage your ears in a very short period of time, so sound is harmful acoustic radiation at that intensity. But you can be exposed to 60dB of sound pressure (that is equal to a normal conversation) and these potentially harmful waves which can damage your ears at high intensity will be harmless even if you are exposed to it for your entire life time. 0dB sound environment can drive a person crazy due to the absence from any form of sound.

A 900km/h wind of a hurricane can destroy a city in moments, a 30km/h wind can blow for hundreds of years and cause no damage.

The magic word for anything that seems harmful in all these examples including electromagnetic radiation is “threshold” or “yield point” the point where destruction of damage occur.

If you put your head in front of an 800watt magnetron, like in you microwave oven. It will heat up in seconds, due to dielectric heating and will cause death in moments. If you stand under a microwave cell phone tower (cell site) who’s radiation many people fear, it will do absolutely nothing. The same as what sound of 20db (whisper) will do nothing to your hearing, same as candle light do nothing to your eyes and A 30km/h wind will not destroy your city.

There is probably no appliance that produce such a wide spectrum of electromagnetic radiation and nuclear as our own sun, from the lowest of magnetic fields on earth to low frequency RF to Microwave, Infrared, visible light, UV, x-ray, gamma ray, beta radiation, alpha particles, the sun throws it all at us for our entire lives at relatively safe intensities.

The suns total radiation on the surface of the earth is 250Watt per square meter, the microwave when standing directly under a cell phone tower measures at most 0.01Watt per square meter, the EU allowable safe exposure to microwave electromagnetic radiation termed as SAR Specific absorption rate is 2Watt per kg body tissue for cell phones. Worrying about "cell phone tower’s" radiation is like sitting in a sound proof room in a dead quite silence, worrying that the sound intensity will damage your ears. Or to lay outside at night, watching the stars wile worrying about getting a sun burn or skin cancer.

LCD screens use liquid crystal to polarize the light, it’s only a filter controlled by electronic pulses, the filter polarize the light and control its intensity from a normal light source, its electromagnetic radiation is mostly in the visible light spectrum and of harmless intensity as you can see with your own eyes.

CRT tubes have small amount of x-ray due to the bombardment of electrons form the electron gun but is way below the harmful threshold to humans. Its normally way bellow 0.5 milliroentgens per hour (mR/h) (0.13 µC/(kg•h) or 36 pA/kg) at a distance of 5 cm.

Although I mostly don’t believe propaganda from speculation. I do have my doubts about the safety of long term use of cellular phones and microwave ovens since both these devices operate close to the acceptable safe limits and can have technical problems that can cause them to radiate above the acceptable safe threshold of electromagnetic radiation in extreme cases.

For computers there are some electromagnetic radiation, a CPU clocking on 2.4GHz will produce a microwave radiation since all alternating currents will produce electromagnetic radiation, it is way below any threshold of concern.

1) Sun Average radiation on the earth surface = 250W/m2

2) Leakage of a microwave oven at 5cm < 10W/m2

3) Radiation under cell phone tower < 0.01W/m2

Make sure the radiation is in harmful frequency spectrum or classification, make sure the intensity is of dangerous levels before concerns should be raised.

There are very well defined safety threshold levels and all accreditation and conformances to standards are subjected to these thresholds. I have been reading the most ridiculous claims made by people such as using fans to blow the radiation of your computer away, which make as much sense of saying that I will blow your computers sound away with a fan or more accurately to blow the light (electromagnetic wave) away with a fan.

By the way, a fan also produce electromagnetic radiation. Some powerful fans can even cause interference on your TV set, that’s how much electromagnetic radiation do they produce, but although it can be high intensity, it is on a safe frequency range and harmless like most other appliances. Gestures like wiping electromagnetic particles of your face. There is no such thing as “electromagnetic particles”. Right up to university physics there have never been such a particle. Electromagnetic propagation is a wave like sound. Wiping it of your face, makes as much sense as wiping sound of your face or the white light from your bed lamp off your face. It is so easy to convince the public who cannot quantify or understand these measures to get them completely paranoid with these ridiculous claims and the internet is full of it.

I work with electromagnetic wave propagation, Radio Frequency design everyday, design electronic devices, antenna and radio systems, I work with accreditation systems and national and international stand


Marius 6 years ago

(continue) I feel very comfortable in this pool of electromagnetic radiation as much as I feel comfortable in the pool of visible day light since daylight is electromagnetic radiation. I have no concerns since I know what it is, how it works and how to quantify the magnitudes of it.

But my advice to the public who have concerns is: If you are in a weak cell phone reception area, where the phones transmitter will work much harder. If your cell phone seem to have signal problems, or use a cell phone all day it is safer to use a speaker phone or head set since there are valid reasons to debate the long terms effects on this reasonably high microwave levels. Cell phones can operate near the safe microwave (SAR) limits. If your microwave oven is old and rusty or door doesn’t close properly, please have it checked out. For most other domestic devices there is no scientific evidence of danger.

Nature it self surrounds us with radiation from nuclear radiation to electromagnetic radiation from the sun, these radiations are mostly much more than most “dangerous appliances” like you can see in my three point table above. All heat energy we have above -273°C and light is due to electromagnetic radiation from the sun. While most electronic devices can only be detected with the most sensitive of test equipment and there is no reason to be concerned. You do not ever have to spend any money on devices that protects you against it no matter what sales-talk some people try to use. For instance, you can shield a cell phones antenna to prevent/absorb/block radiation, the phone will only transmit stronger to maintain minimum power for reliable connection, running your batteries down faster. The phone consoles its power to maintain the minimum radiation for a reliable connection and will in response radiate more. So that idea does not seem to help either.

It's good to use sun glasses and sun tan lotion if you plan on going out into the sun for long, other than cell phones and microwave ovens that is debatable in extreme cases where that are excessively used or go faulty, there is no other known risk in the domestic environment with electrical appliances since they are way below the SAR limits for their radiation classifications.


Marius 6 years ago

We consider x-ray instruments as high radiation devices. Normally they have a "radio active" sticker on it, warning about the dangers of radiation. A typical dental x-ray that use a 70kV tube will require about 1.0mm of lead to shied the radiation. Then we compare them with natural radiation. The Health Physics Society provided the following facts:

mSv (mili sievert) amongst others is a unit of the biological risk in terms of radiation

Exposure to cosmic rays during a roundtrip airplane flight from New York to Los Angeles =0.03 mSv

One dental x-ray =0.04–0.15 mSv

One chest x-ray =0.1 mSv

One mammogram=0.7 mSv

One year of exposure to natural radiation (from soil, cosmic rays, etc.)= 3 mSv

This is just to point out, that besides the fact that the sun produce about 25000 times more electromagnetic radiation on us than standing directly under a cell site mobile tower, or the fact that all temperatures above -273°C will produce electromagnetic ration which is called Infrared, especially black bodies. We can see even in comparison to "high radiation devices" how our natural factors of radiation compare. With or without electronic devices, we will always find ourselves in a constant pool of natural electromagnetic radiation, ionizing or non ionizing. Without it our planet would be dark, dead and -273°C cold and life, water ext. will not exist.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 6 years ago from Toronto Author

Wow, Marius. Keep going. It's great! :)


Marius 6 years ago

All of us have radio active carbon-14 in us naturally due to the food we eat and radiocarbon dating is the proof of it.

Carbon-14, is a radioactive isotope of carbon with a nucleus containing 6 protons and 8 neutrons. It's presence in organic materials is the basis of the radiocarbon dating method to date archaeological, geological, and hydrogeological samples.

Radiocarbon dating, or carbon dating, is a radiometric dating method that uses the naturally occurring radioisotope (ionizing radiation) of carbon-14 (14C) to determine the age of carbonaceous materials up to about 58,000 to 62,000 years.

One of the most frequent uses of radiocarbon dating is to estimate the age of organic remains from archaeological sites. When plants fix atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) into organic material during photosynthesis they incorporate a quantity of 14C that approximately matches the level of this isotope in the atmosphere. After plants die or they are consumed by other organisms (for example, by humans or other animals) the 14C (radio active carbon) fraction of this organic material declines at a fixed exponential rate due to the radioactive decay of 14C. Comparing the remaining 14C fraction of a sample to that expected from atmospheric 14C allows the age of the sample to be estimated within a 60 000 year timeframe.

mSv (mili sievert) amongst others is a unit of the biological risk in terms of radiation

Since essentially all sources of human food are derived from plants, the carbon that comprises our bodies contains carbon-14 at the same concentration as the atmosphere. The beta-decays from this internal radiocarbon contribute approximately 0.01 mSv/year (1 mrem/year)to each person's dose of ionizing radiation. This is small compared to the doses from potassium-40 (0.39 mSv/year) and radon

40K occurs in natural potassium (and thus in some commercial salt substitutes) in sufficient quantity that large bags of those substitutes can be used as a radioactive source for classroom demonstrations. In healthy animals and people, 40K represents the largest source of radioactivity, greater even than 14C. In a human body of 70 kg mass, about 4,400 nuclei of 40K decay per second


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 6 years ago from Toronto Author

Yeah, but watch out for that solar activity messing up the C-14! (Just kiddin') :)


Marius 6 years ago

LOL yeah who knows :)


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 6 years ago from Toronto Author

I still haven't quite wrapped my head around that. If the "mysterious particle" truly does exist, the decay rates would vary literally from week to week. Very strange!


Marius 6 years ago

"mysterious particle"? are you refering to the 40K and 14C?


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 6 years ago from Toronto Author


Marius 6 years ago

Wow yes it is really interesting, and I get what you mean about solar system affecting carbon dating and decay. I would like to see what the outcome is once they get it all figured out. I don't want to deviate too much from the topic but it's also a new interesting science that is unfolding about dark matter and antimatter. It almost appears like we do have so much more to learn about science at that level. But I'm no expert in that field but it surly sounds very exciting. I'm sure it will help to bring more accuracy and certainty to existing methods once they have it figured out. Whether it will have an adverse effect on what we already know, well I’m not so sure.

What I mean is. We know if a ball drop how long it takes to hit the ground from a certain height. So any new theory will not change what we know about the ball falling but can only improve on precision, certainly and perhaps add explanations to what we already know. I think it will be difficult to disprove things that have already been proven, not impossible but unlikely. So I feel the old theory will still apply since it’s evident that the ball will fall, it still falls for the same duration over the same distance as correctly described by old theory before. I have the feeling it is the same thing. New theories, new explanations better accuracy but that we proved, that what worked well before, will still work the same as before. But of cause it’s pure speculation to assume anything at this stage, but it’s very interesting. I think with modern technology we will see a lot of new discoveries like this in years to come.


Tarin profile image

Tarin 6 years ago from San Diego

The electromagnetic fields could be generating an ordered flux of proteins. These ordered fluxes of proteins could be causing DNA damage that can cause cancer(like Alternate Lengthening of Telomeres and DNA methylation). However, some electromagnetic fields are good what makes these bad?


Marius 5 years ago

Before any biological risk is considered with regards to electromagnetic fields. One must first be sure about the power density as well as the frequency. Only those two parameters can determine its biological risk for tissue damage. I'm sure it is very unlikely that any damage will ever be found under 2W/kg body tissue for any electromagnetic wave in the radio spectrum. I know they are trying very hard by subjecting biological tissue to frequencies at resonance but none of the major studies confirmed any risk below the currently accepted SAR(specific absorption rate) limits. Many studies that claimed to gather proof have been criticized on various types of scientific errors. Some errors are statistical by nature, some are metrological errors due to wrong handling of tests or data. One result I recently saw was a study that claimed that they measured about 13.24W/m2 radiation from a Wi-Fi at a school to prove that Wi-Fi is dangerous. This translate to 42W output of that small USB device, and impossible for a PC to power a device like that. The error in that measurement is obvious. No Wi-Fi will ever produce more than 100mW most in the order of 30mW. Typically one should always get a measurement below 0.008W/m2. One can also argue that the radiation for 40min on a cell phone is equal to 1 years radiation of Wi-Fi. That’s another way to understand how low Wi-Fi radiation truly are. This is just to point out that I tend to stay focused on the larger studies. But unfortunately for the “lets ban peanut butter” crowd, they have been able to prove no significant biological risk below the currently accepted standards. Smaller individual studies commonly claim various results, often very inconsistent with other studies. Some standards are being reviewed in some countries for the sake of public pressure and not due to scientific significance.


Liam 4 years ago

You can say the same thing about X-rays and ct scans, some physicists say one ct scan will cause no harm some say one ct scan increases your risk of cancer to 1 in 2000.

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