Technology Explained Web Culture

Is Electromagnetic Radiation Dangerous? How To Protect Yourself?

Tina Sieber 10-01-2014

Can cell phones cause cancer 5 Tech Myths Debunked: Cell Phones Don’t Cause Cancer and More Myths are more common than most people will admit. They perpetuate because they sound like they could be true - and nobody has time to fact-check every last detail. Eventually, as the myths are repeated... Read More after all? The media certainly knows how to screw with facts. How does radiation emitted by electronics really affect your body? Well, calm down! The truth is, we know too little to make definite claims, but some evidence and a lot of common sense suggests that you’d better be safe than sorry.


Are All Types Of Radiation Dangerous?

No! We are subject to natural radiation all day long, whether we’re indoors our outdoors. We are exposed to background radiation like terrestrial radiation, cosmic radiation, or Radon, a radioactive gas found predominantly in areas with natural occurrences of Radium. And then there is the sun, our most important natural source of radiation, i.e. sunlight. We are used to it, most of it is harmless, we even depend on it. What we have to be wary of is extensive exposure to radiation, whether it’s natural or artificial.

What Is Electromagnetic Pollution?

Electromagnetic pollution is a buzzword describing the excessive exposure to electromagnetic radiation or electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted by electronic devices like cell phones, cordless phones, WiFi routers or Bluetooth-enabled equipment.

The energy emitted by electronics is non-ionizing radiation, meaning it does not have the capability to break chemical bonds. In other words, it doesn’t damage your DNA, which is a potential cause of cancer. While electromagnetic radiation cannot cause immediate damage, it does interact with our bodies, which can potentially lead to indirect damage, especially following long term exposure.

Common Sources of Radiation

How Does Electromagnetic Radiation From Electronics Affect The Body?

Our bodies can absorb electromagnetic radiation as energy, meaning molecules in the tissue directly exposed to radiation get excited. In other words, they heat up. This is exactly what happens when we sunbathe. The molecules in our skin are excited by waves in the sunlight and thus sunshine feels warm on our skin.


Now, the heat caused by the non-ionizing spectrum of sunlight is considered harmless. Moreover, the energy emitted by electronic devices is magnitudes lower than that of the sun! Energy is directly proportional to the radiation’s frequency. Ultraviolet light — the kind that has a high potential to cause skin cancer — has a frequency of around 10 to the power of 16, while low intensity microwaves found with cell phones have a radiation of around 10 to the power of 9. This alone should put you at ease — but, not so fast.

Electromagnetic Radiation Spectrum

During recent years, much attention has been given to the specific absorption rates (SAR) of cell phones and their effects on our health. SAR describes the amount of energy from radiation absorbed by the human body over a set amount of time. While manufacturers have to honor safety limits set by the FCC and many national governments, those values are somewhat arbitrary. We still don’t understand enough about the potential effects of electromagnetic radiation, both in terms of its interaction with biological material and the effects of its increasing and cumulative use.

The fact is, we are increasingly subjected to artificial electromagnetic radiation. We bathe in EMFs all day long, artificial electromagnetic radiation is emitted by a growing number of devices, and our relationships with these devices becomes more and more intimate. There is no way anyone can be sure of the outcome.


Evidence For Health Hazardous Effects Of Electromagnetic Pollution

In 2011, wireless radiation was classified as a potential carcinogenic by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization (WHO). This was in response to studies that indicated a potential correlation between cell phone radiation and cancer. While several scientific studies suggest a link between radiation and cancer, especially for long term user of cell phones, others dispute or relativize the link to cancer. Most of these studies are either flawed or outdated by now and thus, science remains inconclusive.

The way we use wireless technology today is radically different than how we used it a decade or two ago, when most of today’s devices didn’t even exist! It takes time to study long-term effects on the human body. Meanwhile, the use of technology — think Google Glass or Smart Watches — continues to evolve too quickly for mandatory long term scientific studies or regulatory agencies to keep up. I dare to say that this is an undisputable fact.

In the meantime, alarming reports remind us to be cautious, although studies by school kids should be taken with a grain of salt. Apparently, the report of cress seedlings dying when placed next to a WiFi router was based on an amateurish study that was biased and had other significant flaws. That doesn’t mean the conclusion is false, it just means it can’t be trusted.


Humans aren’t cress seeds, but we do keep wireless devices close to our bodies. If this is done over a long period of time, it could be damaging to our health, as some cases suggest.

Ironically, when I searched for scientific studies on the relation between cell phones and occurrences of cancer, I found a publication that discussed the use of widespread mobile technology in preventive health care. The authors speculate that delivering health information via cell phones could aid cancer prevention. So in the end, technology might do us more good than bad.

How Can You Protect Yourself From Electromagnetic Pollution?

Artificial electromagnetic radiation from electronics is prevalent in our environment. At current rates and given you don’t use electronic devices excessively, it is most likely harmless, at least for adults. However, if you have adopted habits that are potentially risky and experience symptoms that may be attributed to electromagnetic pollution, you can try some of the strategies below.


Artificial Sources Of Electromagnetic Radiation

Mobile Phones

Avoid using your cell phone for calls when possible. Other times, keep calls short and use a headset. Avoid calls when the network signal is weak, as this is when your phone’s radiation is the strongest. If possible, don’t wear your phone close to your body or regularly switch where you keep it. Don’t keep your phone close by when you sleep or set it to airplane mode. Not only will this decrease the radiation emitted by your cell phone and potentially improve your sleep — if only for the lack of notifications — it will also save battery 10 Proven and Tested Tips to Extend Battery Life on Android Suffering from poor battery life on Android? Follow these tips to get more juice out of your Android device's battery. Read More . Finally, look for a cell phone with a low SAR rating when purchasing your next one.

Cordless Home Phones

Make sure your DECT cordless phone reduces its signal power when the handheld is in idle mode or rests in the base station. Use the phone close to its base station. When its time comes, replace it with a corded phone or one that has lower radiation levels.

WiFi and Bluetooth

The strength of these wireless signals drops quickly over relatively short distances and thus the energy that reaches your body is extremely weak. Moreover, WiFi energy is considered non-thermal, meaning it does not cause heating of tissue. So technically, you don’t have to worry.

That said, children may be more vulnerable. If you are concerned, consider connecting to the Internet using an Ethernet cable, which would allow you to turn your wireless router off while it’s not needed by mobile devices. If your router must be always-on, place it at the maximum distance from your desk or bed that still allows you to get a reasonably strong signal. Again, based on what we know today, WiFi signals are harmless and it’s close to impossible to overdose on them.

Relax! Everything Will Be Fine

At this point, the science isn’t clear. I dare to say that this is mostly due to the fuzzy field within which research presently operates. The intimate use of technology is a very new development and biological systems are rather rigid. Consequently, we won’t see effects clearly for a long time, a phenomenon we know very well from climate change. By the time we can no longer deny the effects, the damage (if any!) is irreversible, at least for our children.

Our elders know that it’s better to be safe than sorry; it’s the precautionary principle we should all follow. Embrace technology, except don’t do it literally. Use it in reasonable doses, with caution, teach your children responsible use of technology, and everyone will be fine. Cell phones and other electronics do not cause health issues, unless overdosed. What’s far more damaging to your health is anxiety, so try to relax Meditation Made Easy: Tools & Resources To Aid Your Well-Being If you have come to the conclusion that meditation is a method to calm your mind and achieve well-being worth trying, then we can help you with resources and tools. Read More .

Image credits: Common Sources of Radiation via Science Media Centre, Electromagnetic Radiation Spectrum via Scientific American, Sources of Electromagnetic Radiation via Scientific American

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  1. BILL
    January 6, 2016 at 12:35 am


  2. sl0j0n
    November 29, 2015 at 6:44 am

    The issue isn't "non-ionizing radiation;" It's the FACT that the earth's natural background electromagnetic radiation [the "Schumann resonance"] is overpowered, in effect, silenced, by the far higher-powered electromagnetic radiation produced by the microwave technology that cell phones and their cell phone towers use.
    FACT: The so-called "Schumann resonances" have occurred on earth as long as lightning has been striking between the earth's surface and the ionosphere. In other words, far longer than humans have been in existence. In fact, ALL life on earth came into existence without any other forms of "electromagnetic radiation" competing with the natural background signals in the Schumann resonances.
    FACT: In experiments where people have been isolated from the natural background energy in the Schumann resonances and their harmonic frequencies by living underground in structures designed to prevent exposure to the Schumann resonances, those subjects became ill in the absence of those frequencies.
    FACT: Studies have shown that the Schumann resonances [SR] have beneficial effects on human physiology. [See ]

    Most importantly, according to some estimates, the global mobile telephone industry is worth over $340 TRILLION [US$]. With that much money involved, it's inconceivable that the telecommunications industry and it's governmental minions would honestly expose the various companies involved to the destructive liability which would be incurred, if there is ANY chance at all that microwave technology is dangerous in the least, 'best case' scenario.

    In other words, who do you TRUST to look out for your interests?

    Have a GREAT day, Neighbors!

    DON'T hold your cell phone to your head!
    Use SPEAKER phone options!
    Keep at least 1 INCH clearance between your body & any cell phone that is 'turned on'.

  3. JoePerkins
    January 15, 2014 at 10:35 am

    You're welcome.

  4. dragonmouth
    January 13, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    "The nature of science is that it never has all the answers or can claim absolute truth. Scientific findings are always evolving in light of new evidence. And the first sight of new evidence is often a random observation that is then studied in detail, to verify its true nature."

    Very refreshing, open-minded attitude on your part. It is in stark contrast to your set-in-concrete attitude about the human causes of global warming, and energy generation. No, I am not trying to change the subject or to hijack the thread. Just noting the inconsistencies.

    • Tina S
      January 13, 2014 at 2:40 pm

      Not going to argue with you, just will summarize what I think for others. After all, I don't want to accidentally be thrown into the wrong camp. :)

      DM is referring to my "attitude" that an overwhelming majority of scientific data agree that the increase in carbon dioxide and the increase in temperature that we have seen since the onset of the industrial revolution are not random, but indeed related.

      In terms of energy creation, I think he refers to a comment of mine where I said that the sun - during a single day - provides Earth with *much* more energy than all of humanity consumes during an entire year. I then expressed the notion that it's only a matter of harvesting that energy and that I strongly believe humans are brilliant enough to come up with the technology to make this happen.

  5. Umar Farooq
    January 12, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    @Tina Sieber
    Dear author, I have a question for you:
    Muslims offer prayers 5 times a day and during each prayer, they place their forehead on ground at least 8 times for about 3 seconds interval.
    I heard that a research pointed that this practice helps to flush the EMF effects from human body to ground..... could u please verify it???? or if I want to verify this statement, how can I verify???

    • Tina S
      January 12, 2014 at 9:19 pm

      Umar, I have not heard of this and if you would like to verify it, I recommend searching scientific publication databases like NCBI's PubMed. Please let me know in case you find such a study. Thank you!

  6. Pavels
    January 11, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    There are times I regret getting a PhD in natural sciences, and this type of discussions is one of them. It pains me to see how often science education is completely lost on an average person.

    If you want to be scientific and understand the world around you, you should accept facts when there is solid evidence, and not in any other way. That is why the organizations with high public profile (like WHO, for instance) are bad for science-related opinions - they are all about politics. Vast majority of their classifications are not based on any scientific evidence at all, rather on social opinion already in place.

    There is no evidence, nor a plausible way how common electronics can be dangerous. If you dig a bit into how low-frequency radiation interacts with organic molecules, you will see the reason. The logic nowadays is "we don't know for sure it's harmless, so it must be harmful".

    Just a bit of info. The research group I work in has a nuclear magnetic resonance machine with a magnet that is some six orders of magnitude stronger than the strongest field a mobile phone can create. It's an old model so the shielding is poor - most electronic devices glitch or are damaged if brought closer than certain distance.

    People work with this machine (and many others around the world) for decades with no noticeable effects. If those silly fears had any feasibility, an MRI scan would probably be banned. Again, there are loads of evidence that it doesn't do any noticeable harm to patients (unlike X-Ray scans, but again, you need to do A LOT of them to really matter).

    Your body fixes thousands of cells that are damaged every time you go out on a sunny day, and you are concerned with radiation that can't even do cellular damage to begin with...

    Yes, there weren't any cell phones when we lived in caves. No, it is not a legitimate reason to worry about their safety.

    Additional note: statistical analysis is really useful only when it gives either very high correlation, or a sensible causative link can be postulated. Otherwise it's essentially worthless playing with numbers, that sadly garners a lot of media attention. The study should also be correctly performed and controlled, as to reduce the bias intrinsic to it.

    So far, the electromagnetic radiation debacle looks like this: "We can't really explain how this radiation causes any damage, but that one guy had a nosebleed". Very scientific...

    • Tina S
      January 12, 2014 at 9:59 pm


      Thank you for your thorough comment. Unfortunately, your example and your last comment discredit much of what you wrote.

      I think you are mixing up magnetism and electromagnetic radiation. Yes, the MRI may create a stronger magnetic field than a cell phone. But no one claimed that was damaging in the first place. In terms of electromagnetic radiation, the MRI is only in the range of radio frequency, which is far less than the average cell phone. So you're making a mute point.

      As for your conclusion, the situation is more like this: "A couple of young women with no history of cancer in their family had skin/breast tumors right where they used to wear their cell phones in their bras for many years and medical doctors agree that this is strong evidence that cell phone radiation can potentially cause cancer."

      Given the circumstance that many and especially young people wear their cell phones close to their skin day in day out for many hours, wouldn't you agree that we should lean on the side of caution, rather than what we *think* we know for sure?

      The nature of science is that it never has all the answers or can claim absolute truth. Scientific findings are always evolving in light of new evidence. And the first sight of new evidence is often a random observation that is then studied in detail, to verify its true nature.

      To observe and study from a neutral, unbiased, non-dogmatic perspective, that is scientific. A scientist won't blatantly deny and use silly examples to do so, a scientist will be open to gaining new insights.

      While long term studies are underway -- hopefully in models that spare animals or humans harm --, we should follow the precautionary principle. The latter has got little to do with science, but everything with responsibility, compassion, and ethics. And that may well be what the WHO is doing, i.e. recognizing its responsibility.

      Finally, this may not be the most scientific article, but I think it's relatively balanced. And you should know that it was written from the perspective of a PhD and edited by a medical doctor.

  7. Theo Geisel
    January 11, 2014 at 3:16 am

    A pretty reasonable explication of the issues, but attribution of assertions to quality, expert sources (double-blind, scientific studies) would be appreciated.

    • Tina S
      January 11, 2014 at 10:01 am

      I would love to have the time and be paid to write a thorough feature article on the subject. Then I could really go into depth and dig out the studies, read them all, and come up with a piece that would satisfy the academics and detail lovers among our readers. Might write more in the future, if I have a chance to dig deeper during my free time. :)

  8. Jon G
    January 11, 2014 at 1:02 am

    If you feel that electromagnetic radiation from electronics is harmless, stand in front of an energised X-ray tube for an hour or two. Or disable the safety switches, and put your hand into the microwave at top power. Or set up your deckchair in front of a long-distance radar dish. For that matter, you might care to try staring into a laser. You can try it with your remaining working eye afterwards, if you want to double-check the result.

    [Declaration: do NOT do any of these things. Or if you must, don't let your legatees sue me for mentioning it.]

    • Jim
      January 11, 2014 at 4:43 am

      Did you even bother to read the article before typing? Visible light is electromagnetic radiation. Do you live in perpetual darkness? The fact is that there is still no reliable evidence that non-ionizing radiation can damage DNA or cause injury other than excessive heat (like sunburn). X-ray is ionizing and is known to be dangerous. Go live in a cave luddite.

    • Tina S
      January 11, 2014 at 10:07 am


      Nobody claimed all electromagnetic radiation was harmless. It's the kind and the doses that determines whether or not it's a threat; although the latter (doses of electromagnetic radiation considered harmless) is still disputable. My point of view, however, is that even an overdoses of harmless electromagnetic radiation (e.g. WiFi) is more than likely harmful. It needs to be studied.

      Electromagnetic radiation is a little like alcohol. It can be poisonous (too much, too young, too concentrated) and it can be quite healthy (e.g. red wine in small doses, disinfection).

    • Tina S
      January 11, 2014 at 10:19 am


      I think there is a small misunderstanding. While sunlight technically only contains non-ionizing radiation, it does contain a form of radiation that has enough energy to have ionizing effects on biological tissue. The visible light and infrared light portions of sunlight merely warm our skin; they don't lead to sunburn. UV light, however, does inflict damage on molecules.

      Sunburn actually is a sign of DNA damage! UV light damages DNA, affected skin cells die and need to be replaced, and that is seen as sunburn.

      On the other hand, we do need skin exposure to UV light for vitamin D production. Again, it's the doses that counts.

    • Jon G
      January 11, 2014 at 10:58 am

      Jim - you weren't paying attention in High School science lessons.

      Yes, visible light is part of the E-M spectrum - but if you think visible light is completely safe, aim an 80W blue laser into your left ear, and wait for the light to emerge from your right. It won't take long. Oh, and it'll be nuking DNA at the edge of the path. Non-coherent visible light can cause DNA disruption too: just pick a frequency that causes particular atomic bond types to resonate, and use enough of it, and you'll cause considerable damage without actually heating anything else beyond comfort levels. And a bright enough flash of white light will destroy the retina - not just at the fovea centralis, where the lens focuses it, but over the whole area. This isn't because of localised heating, it's because it made chemical changes in the retinal cells that render them permanently inoperative.

      My point is that all E-M radiation is dangerous...if there's enough of it. And we can generate just about all forms of E-M using electronics. (The clue's kinda in the name, don't you think?) As for your rather tragic /ad hominem/ attack - you're accusing a technology CEO, consultant and electronics designer of being a Luddite?

  9. Lynn
    January 10, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Turn off your WiFi in your home before you go to bed, sleep with your phone in another room and see how much better you sleep.

    I was totally convinced harm from EMF was crap dreamed up by some environmentalist. Then the Smart Meter was installed at my home. For about 6 months I went around with nose bleeds, a dull headache, excessive thirst and frequent urination. Living in a small town in rural Louisiana I has heard nothing of "smart meter" dangers. Finally after a google search of my symptoms I ran across an article on EMF and how it mimics high altitude sickness. I had the "smart meter" pulled and all the symptoms went away.
    My home is served with 3 phase electricity. That's a very large amount of power for the workings of the SMPS of the smart meter to power up and down, thus creating the "dirty electricity" that seems to cause harm.
    We cannot forget the Russians targeted our embassy with EMF, causing everyone who worked there to get cancer or other illness.
    The cumulative effects are what get us, and our children are much more vulnerable because of thinner skulls and more water (which EMF is drawn to) around their still growing brains.
    Please don't forget about that CFL light bulb in the lamp you sit next to. It gives off more radiation than your cell phone, if you have any type of arthritis avoid CFL bulbs.