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Is exposure to electromagnetic fields harmful to our health?

There has been considerable controversy over the past few years about whether or not exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) is harmful to our health. Given the conflicting studies, we are not likely to have a definitive answer any time soon, particularly until studies on the effect of long-term, low-level EMFs have been completed. However, the current bottom line on EMFs according to the World Health Organization (WHO) is that they have not been shown to cause an increase in adverse health effects. The WHO adds, “However, some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research.” 

Electromagnetic fields have existed since the earth was first formed. The earth’s own magnetic field, which is what makes a compass needle point north, and the electromagnetic radiation we receive every day from the sun were the only sources of EMFs for billions of years. But ever since Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, the public has been increasingly exposed to ever rising levels of EMFs, and the expansion in modern technology has led to a bombardment of EMFs everywhere you turn. Not only do EMFs come from high voltage power lines, but also from cell phone towers, cell phones, WiFi networks, and even the toaster in your kitchen. There is virtually nowhere on the planet (at least in inhabited areas) that does not have some form of artificially-created EMFs in its atmosphere.

The WHO began a large-scale research project in 1996 in response to the growing concern the public was expressing in regard to the possible health effects of EMFs. This multidisciplinary endeavor combines research from key national and international scientific institutions and agencies. The WHO notes, “In the area of biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years. Despite the feeling of some people that more research needs to be done, scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals.”

The studies that were examined regarding the effects of EMFs included in vitro (test tube), in vivo (animal studies) and epidemiological studies. In vitro studies did not find any association between low-level EMFs (the type we are commonly exposed to every day) and DNA damage. The studies that did show a possible association were found to be flawed. However, the WHO notes that some epidemiological studies suggested a minor association between childhood leukemia and low-level EMFs in the home and many cases of leukemia have been found in children who live in homes that are close to high voltage power lines. The WHO then goes on to say that there is not necessarily a cause-and-effect relationship demonstrated here, and that the leukemia may be due to other unknown factors. They state, “In part, this conclusion has been reached because animal and laboratory studies fail to demonstrate any reproducible effects that are consistent with the hypothesis that fields cause or promote cancer. Large-scale studies are currently underway in several countries and may help resolve these issues.”

If you feel your home may be subject to excessive amounts of EMFs, you may want to invest in or rent a gauss meter, which is a hand-held device that can measure the strength of EMFs that exist around your home. Test possible EMF sources both when the item is turned on and when it is turned off.

Whereas being exposed to one or two low-frequency EMF-emitting devices on a regular basis may not cause adverse health issues, there is no telling if being exposed to many of them over a period of many years may in fact affect our health in some way. Much research remains to be done. If you are particularly concerned, there are some things you can do to keep your exposure to EMFs to a minimum. Simple examples include keeping mobile phones and other electronic devices at least 6 feet away from you while you sleep and unplugging household appliances when they are not in use (since they emit EMFs if they are plugged in whether or not you’re actually using them).


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