Electromagnetic Radiation (EMF) Basics – Why Care?

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Child using a cell phoneEverywhere you look, there are computers, laptops, cell phones, tablets and WiFi networks. They are in our homes, schools, workplaces, cafés, and public areas. The list goes on and on. And, they are only growing in popularity.

As of January 2015:

  • 91% of internet users own a PC/Laptop
  • 80% of internet users own a smartphone
  • 47% of internet users own a tablet computer

Electronic devices are not only growing in popularity, they are growing in usage. According to a Nielsen survey, the average American spends 11+ hours a day with electronic media. A huge percentage of life time is spent watching TV or listening to the radio. With the average amount of sleep a normal person must have around 7.5-9 hours, we spend approximately 67% of our waking hours wired.

Infographic: Americans Use Electronic Media 11+ Hours A Day | Statista

Despite the amount of time they spend using them, the average person knows surprisingly little about electronic devices, how they work, or if there are any potential downsides to their use. By virtue of the way they work, all electronic devices emit forms of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMFs). With people using these devices close to their bodies on a regular basis, many people are becoming concerned what constant exposure to EMFs

The fact is, EMF radiation can have a profound impact on the human body. Some types of radiation can adversely influence the biology of the cells, modifying their behavior. Radiation known as “thermal radiation” has the ability of heating up our cells. And finally, our bodies use electricity within to properly function and external signals from electronic devices can interrupt or confuse living tissue. That’s why it is important to educate yourself about electronic device emissions with up-to-date information and make informed decision on how we use these devices that surround us every day.

Scientists are conducting long-term studies to improve our knowledge, but one thing is becoming clearer. EMF radiation can be a potential risk to our well being. In fact, the World Health Organization established an International Electromagnetic Fields Project in 1996 to assess the scientific evidence for possible adverse health effects from EMFs and this work continues to this day.

Ionizing Radiation vs. Non-Ionizing Radiation

Radiation is a form of energy transmission. When energy moves, it may travel as a particle or a wave. Because scientists like charts, all radiation can be characterized by the Electromagnetic Radiation Spectrum, a chart which depicts all types of energy movement as a wave. Generally speaking, there are two broad categories of Electromagnetic Radiation (EMF). “Non-ionizing radiation” and “ionizing radiation.”

Electromagnetic Radiation Spectrum
From left to right, you have lower energy to higher energy waves.The lower energy is denoted by a less wavy line.The higher energy is denoted by a more wavy line. Ionizing radiation is typically associated with DNA damage.However, more evidence is coming to light that indicates non-ionizing radiation emitted from electronic devices may also impact human health.

Electromagnetic Radiation can carry low or high energy. If the radiation has low wavelength, it has high energy. If it has high wavelength, it has low energy. This is because energy and wavelength have an inverse relationship.

Ionizing radiation is the stuff that is considered high energy. It is known to cause DNA damage, as even a short burst of high energy radiation can permanently damage a cell. An extreme example of ionizing radiation would be that of an atomic bomb.

Non-ionizing radiation is low energy and some argue that it is safe because for that reason. However, health concerns such as cell damage, are not immediately seen with non-ionizing radiation exposure, but are still very much a health danger.

Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon was carved over centuries by a river flowing through rock.

A growing body of scientists believe that exposure to non-ionizing radiation over prolonged periods, such as years, may cause serious health issues and current scientific studies are substantiating their concerns. As an analogy, anyone who has ever seen the Grand Canyon can tell you, exposure to a small force (in this case, a river) over a long period of time can cause great changes.

A overwhelming amount of studies have been conducted on Electromagnetic Radiation which show there can be many risks to our health. Nonetheless, because many electronic devices we use everyday like laptops, tablets cell phones were only recently invented, long-term exposure studies have not been completed. Scientific studies can take up to 20 years or more to establish definitive conclusions. While research is still ongoing, we fill our lives with more and more electronic devices. Wake up and you see your alarm clock. Go to work and you pass traffic lights while driving your hybrid car. You sit at your desk, answer your phone, turn on your computer, and all the while bask in the soft glow of Electromagnetic Radiation exposure. For years, this goes on. What happens in the end?

Read on: EMF Health Risks