Electro-Magnetic Fields (EMF) are mostly invisible with the notable exception of visible light. Why should you care about EMF?
Put very simply, electric activity causes vibrations resulting in energy waves, known as electromagnetic radiation (EMR). And depending on their strength, they can cause harm to living organisms, like our bodies. The bad news is, we’re around them daily, when we use our mobiles, the microwave or watch TV.
Extreme cases of radiation sickness, caused by dangerously high levels of electromagnetic radiation, range from dramatic nuclear fallouts, over frequent exposure to x-rays, to enjoying the UV lights of a sun-bed for too long, resulting in symptoms like feeling unwell, burns, and coma. All of these examples are largely avoidable for the average person, as we’re all aware that it isn’t a good idea to jump into a nuclear reactor, or spend the day tanning in a sun bed.
We know that higher exposures can cause malignant cancer over time. But what about lower exposures to electromagnetic radiation, which could be still detrimental to our health over time?
More worrying and relevant to most of us, are the longer-term health effects of low level EMF exposure, we at first don’t notice, or fully accept as a health risk. Low frequency (LF) or extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields, are much more common. We can find these in many places such as power lines, the cables supplying our electrical appliances, computer screens and the almost anything run by electricity.
So why worry about EMFs?
Despite decades of research into the effects of electromagnetic radiation in our urban environments, the research still has a long way to go. There is proof that exposure at some levels is harmful, however the effects of low-level exposure have not been isolated. Given what we know about radiation, it stands to reason that even low level exposure would cause some damage, however low frequency EMF is so ubiquitous in modern society it is difficult to determine how much healthier we would be without the exposure.
Until certainty arrives it seems wise to take the attitude of preventing potential damage instead of assuming damage doesn’t exist.
One could compare our urban EMF daily exposure to riding a bike without a helmet: It’s only dangerous if we fall, yet because we can’t be sure we wear a helmet. Airbags in cars, no need, unless there is an accident. Lying in the sun can be healthy, but too long and we get burnt, putting ourselves at risk of skin cancer, and so the invention of sunscreen!
Types of EMF and how they relate to you
As mentioned above, there are many types of EMF. At the beginning of the spectrum we will find the very low, and low, frequency EMFs. Due to these EMFs operating at low frequencies ranges, they don’t cause any heating effect to what they come in contact with, so our skin would stay cool for example. Although the waves are longer and they are able to induce electric current.
Low end of the spectrum
On the lowest of the spectrum are your wall plugs. Household power is made up of electric currents oscillating at around 50 Hz (50 wave cycles per second). So, every time you are near a wall plug, you are essentially bathing in 50 Hz ripples of EMR. Don’t worry though, because these waves have insignificant interaction with most things.
Next up on the electromagnetic spectrum, sit Radio frequencies (RF). A radio broadcasting tower is nothing more than a big metal rod in which electric charge vibrates, causing it to emit radio waves. A radio antenna on a car (also a big metal road) is able to capture the electric field component of radio waves and turn that into an audio signal. We’re talking frequencies ranging from 1 kHz to 100 MHz.
So, RF radiation is lower in energy, than the microwave, which in turn is lower than infrared, and visible light but has more energy than ELF radiation, and with that produces more heat within the body, if we get bombarded with high quantities. With our insatiable need for new gadgets, radio frequencies are growing around us, generally operating in the MHz (mega-hertz) and some low GHz ranges, and with that offer thermal heating radiation.
Devices that emit radio frequencies include anything that broadcasts via antennae, radio, TV, mobile phones, Wi-Fi signals.
The microwave operates in the GHz (giga-hertz) zone, since it needs the higher frequencies to generate enough power to cook our food. General wisdom prescribes that due to shorter waves, taking a few steps away from them, whilst they are operating, does the trick to staying safe. Some satellites, and other communication signals, also fall into this category. Talking about distance, the wavelength of 50 Hz — the frequency of our power socket — is up to 6,000 kilometres, versus our microwave, which has a wavelength of only 3 centimetres. Or take the power of an x-ray. The wavelength is around 0.01 to 10 nanometres, for a sense of scale a carbon atom has a diameter around .03 nanometers.
What about infrared light? Infrared light comes from heating lamps, some types of lasers, the natural sun’s UV rays, as well as artificial UV light, think tanning-beds! The frequency of infrared light moves up from GHz to THz (terahertz) frequencies. In the medical field infrared comes in handy to treat tissue disturbances, and we know that around 20 minutes of daily exposure to sunlight is good for us, fostering Vitamin D production. That said, we all know that lying for too long in the sun can burn and create changes in our cells, greatly increasing our risk of developing skin cancer.
There is a fine line between the highest frequency of sunlight and UV rays, and the lowest frequency of UV light, as it is where we change to more destructive radiation. They kind of blend into each other. So even some of the sun’s short wavelength UV rays have enough power to destroy DNA, as they can break chemical bonds leading to photochemical reactions. So, whilst UV light is known to cause cancerous changes, immunity issues, and well ageing, the infrared portion of sun radiation can also cause major damage.
At this stage, we know that UV and IR light can affect our more sensitive eyes as well, creating chemical changes, which again if applied in the right doses can solve all sorts of things, which have gone wrong.
What low level EMFs can do to your body
Lower level EMFs won’t kill you instantly, instead it’s like most things, a case of too much and it could cause damage over time. It’s all based on the field’s strength and length of exposure. High field strength can cause damage in just a short amount of time, whereas lower field strengths will take longer to cause the same level of damage.
EMFs cause currents in our bodies
In the case of lower frequencies, we are electrical beings, we use bio-chemical exchanges to create energy to transmit signals via our nervous system, to the various parts of our bodies to do whatever is required. Even low EMFs cause currents in our bodies, depending on the strength of the magnetic field, triggering our system to react. Doctors use this to get a reaction from our nerves and muscles when performing routine tests.
EMFs create heat
As we move up the frequency line, we start producing more heat, and get to the RFs. Radio frequency radiation can be absorbed through the body, whilst the higher frequency of microwaves generally only absorbs at skin level.
In terms of the positive, heat can be soothing to muscle spasms and non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation is helpful in the medical world, from pulsers, shockwave machines to lasers. They all have the power to affect tissue, circulation and speed up healing. Yet, if their use in time, frequency and strength isn’t controlled, they could create non-intended and harmful side-effects.
Ongoing debate surrounds whether the heat of non-ionizing radiation presents long term risks to humans. Many agree that as long as we stay in the range of the developed guidelines, we won’t encounter any health issues. But, not all is known about the field’s effects, and how they work just yet.
EMF sensitivity is a growing concern
Numerous reports from EMF sensitive people point to a general feeling of unease attributable to their urban environment, including anxiety, headaches, nausea and fatigue, and even eye irritation. Cancer is another one, scientists aren’t 100 percent sure about.
Difficulties in ruling out the risks
As quoted by the WHO, Barnabas Kunsch from the Austrian Research Centre Seibersdorf put it this way: "The absence of evidence of detrimental effects does not seem to suffice in modern society. The evidence of their absence is demanded more and more instead.”
The WHO concedes that expert committees have come to the conclusion that there was no convincing evidence for an adverse health effect of electromagnetic fields, but wondered at the same time whether science was just trying to cop out and posed the question.
Why should research continue if scientists have already shown that there is no effect?
It came up with a logical answer, highlighting that human health studies were good at identifying the connection between cause and effect of larger matters, such as smoking and cancer, but when it came to distinguishing smaller effects, from zero effects, science often fails, due to lack of consistent data. As electromagnetic fields tend to be either a carcinogen or may have a strong effect on a small group only, the certainty science demands is simply lacking.
Equally, although the International Commission On Non-ionizing Radiation Protection deems 5G safe under current guidelines, it is keeping an open mind as to new research: “ICNIRP closely follows the RF EMF related scientific research and any new outcomes relevant to health will inform the evolution of the guidelines.”
Standards and guidelines to stay safely below the upper limits established by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), are useful. But because no one is sure if they are indeed safe – preventative measures seem prudent.
Measuring your EMF exposure
We can use a low frequency EMF meter to measure our daily exposure to EMF, and a Tesla meter to measure magnetic fields. Another unit commonly used is Gauss, a means of measuring a magnetic field, there are Gauss meters out there as well, and they come with their corresponding guidelines, you can find here.
Should you encounter a static magnetic field, they have zero hertz, and most of those have no effect on the human body, such as the earth geomagnetic field hovering around 30 to 70 µT, or household magnets, coming in tenth of milliteslas.
MRI equipment though will affect us, with strengths of 1.5 to 10T. At this strength biological functions could be compromised as the magnetic field exerts power over electrically charged particles. The result could be a reduction in blood cell velocity, as well as other chemical reactions. However, it is said that fields of 2 to 3 T would just cause vertigo and nausea, and up to 8T no adverse health effects, other than impairing normal functioning temporality. Yet, the ICNIRP guidelines call for an exposure limit of 400 mT (millitesla) for the general public, and 0.5 mT should ferromagnetic material i.e. pacemakers be involved.
Most household appliances’ magnetic field strength is up to 100 times lower at a distance of 30 cm than the given guideline limit of 100 µT at 50 Hz (83 µT at 60 Hz) for the general public.
Most electric appliances in our home operate at low hertz frequencies. Whilst the magnetic field close to some appliances can be stronger than the 100 µT prescribed, stepping away a few feet usually puts one back in the safe range. An important note is that magnetic fields penetrate most things, or are simply not shielded, but diminish with distance, so the easiest way to protect yourself is to get away from them.
How to guard against EMF
But what if we can’t distance ourselves from electronics, or feel we should protect ourselves? There are a few easy steps you can follow to understand your urban EMF exposure and minimize its potential impact on your health.
Purchase an EMF meter
If you’re curious about your day to day exposure to EMFs you can always purchase an EMF meter. An EMF meter will help you to understand places and activities where you are the most exposed, allowing you to make an informed decision on the next step!
Make conscious changes in your daily habits
Some of the EMFs you’re exposed to can be managed and lowered by adjusting some of your habits and devices. If you’re used to carrying your mobile phone in your pocket, you could instead place it in your bag so that it doesn’t have prolonged contact with your body. Instead of talking with your mobile phone next to your ear, you could wear headphones. Your exposure to the EMFs emitted by your home Wi-Fi could also be reduced simply by turning off the router at night when you’re not using it!
Move to the countryside!
For most of us this isn’t an option as we need to live close to our workplace and enjoy many of the other benefits that come with city-life. Since there aren’t so many people, homes or businesses outside of urban areas, naturally your EMF exposure will also be lower. There are some areas that are classified as EMF free zones that have emerged as illnesses and malaise believed to be associated with EMFs become more common.
Look into your options for shielding*
For mobile phones, smart meters, Wi-Fi routers, laptops, and other gadgets, protection cases shielding against EMF radiation have been developed. Bags and gloves, and mosquito net-like coverings for beds, have also emerged. How well they shield, one would have to measure, most have been developed to reduce, rather than eliminate exposure 100 percent. This website has some handy tips and explanations on EMF and some common methods for shielding to reduce exposure.
*Shielding is a common term to describe the action of redirecting magnetic radiation/waves away from the body.
Some materials known to be great natural shields of electromagnetic radiation are copper, silver, aluminum mesh and other metals. At Inner Mettle, we’ve created Inner Mettle Active using copper.
Inner Mettle Active, Urban Shielding Activewear
Our urban shielding activewear collection is manufactured using bio-based polyamide fabric from Italy and coated with our innovative copper shielding technology. The shield is 100 times thinner than human hair and can protect you from EMF frequencies of up to 30 GHz. Inner Mettle Active will be available for sale soon in our online store.
If you would like to learn more about EMF and its effects, head over to Inner Mettle’s research page.