“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” -Marie Curie (1867-1934)
By Mike Dostrow
They are everywhere, in almost everything and vary in intensity from undetectable to deadly. Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are as ubiquitous as the air we breathe. We are bombarded by EMF in every aspect of our lives. From our electric toothbrush to our televisions, computers and, of course, the thing next to our head for a large chunk of any given day: the indispensable cell phone.
Despite the widespread exposure to EMF, a paucity of evidence regarding their effects on our health exists. The reason for this is multifaceted, but it essentially comes down to two main issues.
First, as EMF exposure is a relatively new concern, long-term studies linking exposure to adverse health effects cannot be conclusive because of the lack of time, which we need to make accurate conclusions.
The Framingham study linking heart disease to smoking, cholesterol and other cardiovascular risk factors took 40 years to reach statistically significant conclusions. Now there is no doubt about the link between cardiovascular risk factors and heart disease. Therefore, more time is needed to establish any long-term health effects from exposure to EMFs.
Second, and all conspiracy theories aside, I believe that the multi-trillion dollar cell phone industry would prefer that we not be privy to the possible health effects of their extremely profitable technologies.
Keep in mind that physics was never my forte. Borrowing from the immortal Dr. McCoy of “Star Trek” fame, “Damn it, Jim, I’m a doctor not a physicist.” An electromagnetic field arises from the interaction of electric and magnetic fields. An electric field is produced by voltage. As voltage increases the electric field gets stronger … and more dangerous. A magnetic field is the result of the flow of current through wires and all electric and electronic devices. The more voltage and current, the stronger the electromagnetic field; so, a cell phone or computer has a weaker electromagnetic field than a microwave or, even worse, cell towers, power lines and transformers.
Although EMFs are present in many modern conveniences, the two components of EMF act on the body differently. Electric fields are easily shielded and generally speaking, barriers such as walls or the plastic covering of a power cord protect us from them. Magnetic fields, however, easily penetrate barriers and the body. Thus they pose a greater threat to us and are studied more extensively in relation to health and disease.
The effect of magnetism on the body is utilized frequently in modern medicine. When we use MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to see inside the body, it creates a shift or motion of every electron in every atom in every cell of the tissue that’s being imaged. So we cannot deny that magnetism has a profound effect on the body. Usually, the benefit of an MRI outweighs any negligible risk. But what about the devices we constantly depend upon, which emit lower amounts of EMF? Is the length of exposure to low frequency EMF proportional to the amount of risk?
As mentioned previously, the lack of sound scientific research on this subject or its lack of availability makes it difficult to make an informed choice. Yet just because the evidence doesn’t exist or is unavailable doesn’t mean you should ignore that cell phone heating up your head.
To cite a historic example, in the middle part of the last century, many Americans smoked cigarettes and, despite the lack or cover-up of scientific evidence, still knew it wasn’t good for their health. Presently, the danger of smoking is common knowledge. Perhaps, like smoking, the danger of EMF will eventually be proven. For now, however, it might be sensible to limit our exposure to EMF as much as possible. Plastic bubble, anyone?
The vast majority of scientific data on EMF and health concentrates on exposure to high voltage EMF, typically emanating from power lines and transformers, and childhood cancers, primarily leukemia, lymphoma and malignancies of the brain. Children who lived in close proximity to power lines and transformers appear to have a higher incidence of these cancers. A handful of studies demonstrated a strong association. Others did not.
In 2002, the World Health Organization (WHO) concluded that, “There are no substantive health issues related to EMF electric fields at levels generally encountered by members of the public.” Another “authority,” the International Agency for Research on Cancer” (IARC), stated that EMFs are “possibly carcinogenic to humans.”
Still other studies demonstrate a weak or negligible association between EMF and maladies such as depression, suicide, immune disorders or neurological problems, just to name a few.
I believe more sound scientific research needs to be done and that the results may cause more concern about EMFs and their effects on health in the future. In the meantime, turn off that cell phone, step away from the computer and TV, and just get outside. After all we do live in paradise, so go seize the day and from EMF stay away.