Non-ionizing electric and magnetic fields (EMFs), from power lines to wireless networks, are present in everyday life. No scientific evidence has been found to suggest that exposure to these EMFs directly damages DNA or cells or causes cancer.
While some studies have suggested that extremely low-frequency electric and magnetic fields (ELF-EMFs) may reduce melatonin levels, leading to increased cancer risk, animal studies have not shown any indications that EMF exposure is associated with cancer. Despite this, given the widespread exposure to these fields, even a small increase in risk would be of clinical importance.
What Are Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMFs)?
Electric and magnetic fields are made up of energy, called radiation, that comes from the movement of electrons through a wire. An electric field is created by voltage, the force that pushes the electrons through the wire, much like water being pushed through a pipe. As the voltage increases, so does the strength of the electric field. Electric fields are measured in volts per meter (V/m).
Magnetic fields come from electrons flowing through wires and devices and grow in strength as the current increases. Magnetic fields become weaker as you move away from the source and are measured in microteslas (μT, or millionths of a tesla).
Electric fields are generated regardless of whether the device is on or off. In contrast, magnetic fields are only created when current is flowing, which usually requires the device to be switched on. Power lines maintain a constant magnetic field as they are always conducting current.
Electric fields easily block or stop walls or other objects, while magnetic fields can go through buildings, people, and most other materials. Electric and magnetic fields are called electromagnetic fields or EMFs. Electric and magnetic forces in EMFs are caused by electromagnetic radiation.
Typical Sources of Non-Ionizing EMFs
Non-ionizing EMF radiation is generated both through natural and artificial processes. The most well-known natural EMF is the Earth’s magnetic field, which results in the compass needle pointing North. Human-created EMFs can be found in the electromagnetic spectrum’s ELF and radiofrequency ranges and originate from various sources.
1. Extremely Low-Frequency EMFs (ELF-EMFs)
ELF-EMFs are electromagnetic fields that have an extremely low frequency. These fields come from power lines, wiring in walls, and electrical appliances like shavers, hair dryers, and electric blankets.
2. Radiofrequency Radiation
Radiofrequency radiation is a type of electromagnetic radiation that is emitted from wireless communication devices and equipment. This radiation is emitted in the frequency range of 1.8 to 2.2 GHz and is most commonly found in cell phones, smart meters, and other portable wireless devices. This radiation can cause potential health risks and thus should be monitored and avoided as much as possible.
Sources of Radiofrequency Radiation
Here are the most common sources of radiofrequency radiation:
1. Radio and Television Signals
Radio and television signals are a form of electromagnetic radiation that sends information from one place to another. AM and FM radio signals broadcast music and other audio content over long distances, while VHF and UHF TV signals are used to broadcast video content. These signals travel through the air and can be picked up with the right equipment.
To broadcast these signals, large antennas are needed. They are usually placed in an off-limits area to the general public since they could be exposed to high levels of radiofrequency radiation close to the source. Antennas used for FM radio and TV broadcasting are much smaller and usually mounted on top of a tall tower or building, with low exposure to the general population.
2. Radar, Satellite Stations, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) Devices, and Industrial Equipment
Radiofrequency is a type of electromagnetic radiation that sends signals over a long distance. It is used for various applications such as radar, satellite transmissions, MRI machines, and industrial equipment. These systems require a higher radio frequency than cell phones, allowing them to send and receive signals over a greater distance.
3. Microwave Ovens
Microwave ovens are common household appliance that emits radiofrequency radiation at a higher frequency than cell phones. Despite this, manufacturers have designed them with effective shielding that drastically reduces the radiation detected.
4. Cordless Telephones
Cordless phones work by transmitting and receiving radio signals over short distances. They can use analog or digital technology, meaning the signal is either sent in analog form or digitally encoded. The signal strength is usually lower than cell phones since the distance between the base and the handset is limited.
5. Cell Phone Base Stations
Cell phone base stations emit radiofrequency energy that people in the vicinity of the tower or base station can experience. The amount of energy exposure depends on the area’s population density, how close an individual is to the source, and when the exposure occurs.
Studies have shown that the proximity to base stations is the biggest contributor to the total radiofrequency EMF exposure. Exposure levels decrease with increased distance from the source. Maintenance workers also experience varying levels of exposure depending on their tasks, the type of antenna, and their location concerning the base station. Estimating the cumulative exposure of such workers is difficult.
6. Televisions and Computer Screens
Televisions and computers with LCD screens typically emit electric and magnetic fields at different frequencies. Some laptops and desktop computers have liquid crystal displays, which do not produce many electric or magnetic fields. Additionally, newer computers have conductive screens that limit the static electric fields produced by the screen to a typical background level.
7. Wireless Local Area Networks
Wi-fi is a wireless network that uses radio waves to connect devices to the internet. Devices that use wi-fi typically operate at frequencies similar to cell phones, usually between 2.4 and 2.5 GHz, although newer devices may operate at higher frequencies. The radiofrequency radiation exposure from wi-fi devices is much lower than that from cell phones and is less than 10 W/m2.
8. Digital Electric and Gas Meters
Smart meters are electronic devices used by utility companies to measure the amount of electricity and gas a home consumes. They use radio frequencies in the same range as cell phones, which allows them to transmit data about energy usage back to the utility company. These devices emit low levels of radiofrequency radiation, which may be indistinguishable from the total radiation levels in a home.
Electric devices used in the home emit magnetic fields close to the source. As you move away from the device, the strength of the magnetic field drops quickly. For example, a computer screen will have a significantly lower magnetic field if you sit 12 to 20 inches away from it. Generally, the magnetic field will be much weaker than 1 foot away from the device.
Possible Associations Between Non-Ionizing EMFs and Cancer in Children
Multiple studies and reviews of existing research have been conducted to see if there is any link between exposure to non-ionizing EMFs and cancer risk in children. Most of these studies have looked at the two most common cancers in children, leukemia and brain tumors, and how they may be related to living near power lines, having magnetic fields in the home, or a parent’s exposure to high levels of magnetic fields in their workplace. However, no clear correlation between any source of non-ionizing EMF and cancer has been identified.
1. Power Lines Exposure
Living near power lines is associated with an increased risk of childhood leukemia in some cases. Older studies suggest that living close to power lines can be linked to childhood leukemia; however, newer studies have not been able to draw a definitive link. Most studies have not found an association between living near power lines and leukemia; however, high magnetic fields in some homes can increase the risk.
2. Electrical Appliances Exposure
Children can be exposed to magnetic fields from electrical appliances in the home. Although the fields around many appliances are stronger than those produced by power lines, they don’t contribute as much to a person’s total exposure because they are used for shorter periods. Moving away from the appliance reduces exposure quickly. There is currently no evidence that exposure to magnetic fields from home appliances increases the risk of childhood leukemia.
3. Wi-Fi Exposure
The UK Health Protection Agency has extensively researched children’s exposure levels to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from wi-fi networks in schools. After a review of their findings, the agency stated that the wi-fi exposure levels are well below the recommended maximum, and there is no reason to discontinue its use. Additionally, the review of other studies found no evidence of biological effects from the wi-fi exposure.
4. Cell Phone Base Stations Exposure
Exposure to cell phone base stations has been studied to determine if it increases cancer risk in children living near them. However, the research has not found evidence that living close to a cell phone base station increases children’s risk of developing cancer.
5. Parental Exposure and Risk in Offspring
Research has investigated the potential link between a mother or father’s exposure to elevated levels of magnetic fields before conception and during pregnancy and the likelihood of their child developing cancer. Although the findings have been inconclusive, further investigation is necessary to assess the correlation.
6. Exposure and Cancer Survival
The effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields on cancer survival have been investigated in several studies. An analysis of data from over 3,000 children with acute lymphoid leukemia from eight countries found that exposure to ELF magnetic fields did not correlate with the risk of relapse or survival. The results of these studies were inconsistent.
Possible Associations Between Non-Ionizing EMFs and Cancer in Adults
Many researchers have looked into the link between being exposed to non-ionizing electromagnetic fields (EMF) and cancer in adults. Some studies have suggested that there might be a higher risk of cancer from exposure to EMF, but not enough evidence to prove it.
1. Residential Exposures
Most studies looking at the link between breast cancer in women and exposure to low-frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMFs) in the home have not found a connection. While some studies have suggested a possible association, only one has had results that could be considered statistically significant.
2. Exposures to ELF Radiation in the Workplace
Employees exposed to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in the workplace have been studied to assess the risk of developing certain cancers. In the past, research indicated that people working in occupations such as power plant operators or telephone line workers exposed to ELF radiation had a higher probability of developing cancer, particularly leukemia, brain tumors, and male breast cancer. However, more recent studies considering exposures to magnetic fields and job titles have not shown any increased risk of developing leukemia, brain tumors, or female breast cancer.
3. Exposures to Radiofrequency Radiation in the Workplace
Workplace exposure to radiofrequency radiation has been studied to determine the risk of cancer in workers. Studies have found no increase in the risk of brain tumors among those exposed to radar. Still, some studies did find a higher risk of nonlymphocytic leukemia and brain cancer among those exposed to radiofrequency or microwave-emitting equipment.
However, studies found no increased risk of brain tumors or leukemia among electrical utility workers exposed to pulsed electromagnetic fields produced by power lines and among employees of a wireless communication products manufacturer.
Additionally, a large prospective study among police officers in Great Britain found no evidence for an association between radiofrequency EMF exposure from personal radio use and the risk of all cancers combined. A large multinational population-based case–control study also found no clear evidence that occupational exposures to radiofrequency radiation are associated with increased risks of glioma or meningioma.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization, looked into the potential risks of static and extremely low-frequency electric and magnetic fields. After thoroughly reviewing the available evidence, they concluded that there was limited evidence that these fields could be linked to childhood leukemia and classified them as possibly carcinogenic to humans. They did not find enough evidence to classify static electric and magnetic fields and extremely low-frequency electric fields as carcinogenic to humans.
The European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks also assessed the potential risks of electromagnetic fields in 2015. They studied the possible effects of exposure to these fields on human health. The research concluded that exposure to extremely low-frequency fields from cell phones might increase the risk of childhood leukemia, although the exact mechanism for this is unknown.
Additionally, no evidence was found to suggest that radiofrequency exposure from cell phones is linked to brain tumors or other cancers of the head and neck region. However, further research is needed to determine if there is a connection between cell phone use and acoustic neuroma.
EMF Grid is your go-to site for all the research going on in the world regarding EMF, EHS, and more. There’s no doubt that we’re constantly bombarded with electromagnetic radiation from a variety of sources daily. While the jury is still out on the long-term EMF effects on health, it’s better to be informed. Read more about how to avoid EMF exposure today.