Why are EMF Radiation Health Studies So Conflicting?



We are an increasingly technology driven society. Everywhere, electronic devices surround us. If the Terminator were real, we might think that Judgment Day is upon us. Skynet could really take over the world, the way we are wired. Our homes, schools, and workplaces house computers, laptops, and tablets and PDAs. Our libraries, hospitals, and academic centers operate because of machinery, such as wireless internet, modems, and WiFi. Probably, though, the chances of robots taking over the world are slim. Yet, there is a real danger that surrounds us. We know surprisingly little about the long-term effects of all the Radio Frequency (RF) Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) we are exposed to.

Presently, the study of excessive exposure to electromagnetic radiation is a source of great controversy. Review articles link EMF to everything from risk of cancer and male infertility to neurobehavioral abnormalities. So much of existing literature is contradictory. For instance: a study may conclude that women, who carried cellphones in their bras over the course of several years and developed breast cancer in the shape of their cellphones, must logically have gotten cancer from the EMF given off from their cellphones. However, the study may not be able to prove that in all cases EMF exposure will cause cancer. Not enough patients currently exist to study. Not enough research has been done on women with cellphones. Not all women carry cellphones in their bras, etc. This lack of guidance leaves the public confused.

A Big Debate

Cellphone Use Tied to Changes in Brain Activity (Source: NY Times).

As a result, the biological effects of exposure to RF EMFs is still a subject of intense debate. Sadly, health endpoints reported to be associated with RF EMFs are numerous. They include childhood leukemia, brain tumors, genotoxic effects, neurological effects and neurodegenerative diseases, immune system deregulation, allergic and inflammatory responses, infertility and some cardiovascular ailments. Many reports conclude with a reasonable suspicion that some kind of risk exists when one is exposed to RF EMFs. However, the studies cannot definitively conclude that RF-EMF is the sole root cause of any particular disease. Part that is due to the difficulty in controlling affecting parameters in a study. Without putting humans in a laboratory, it is impossible to exclude all possible exposures that could give the patients any particular outcome. Thus, one cannot ethically, definitively ‘prove’ a disease is caused by RF EMFs in humans in a short space of time. Only time and further studies can lead to overwhelming evidence to prove RF EMFs is the culprit.

Several review articles have been written to summarize the findings of research conducted across the globe to-date. One review article concludes that regular and long term use of microwave frequency devices, such as mobile phones and microwave ovens, even at the domestic level can have a negative effect on biological systems, especially the brain. Another article advocates for new public EMF safety limits for habitable spaces. Current guidelines for the US and European microwave exposure from mobile phones for the brain are 1.6 W/kg and 2 W/kg respectively. Yet, at these levels of exposure, mobile phones, used over the course of 10 years, are still implicated as a risk for brain tumors, suggesting new guidelines are needed. Surveys were conducted that concluded unpleasant neurological symptoms and sensations were experienced by long-term users of mobile phones. Adverse conditions included: headache, extreme irritation, an increase in carelessness, forgetfulness, a decrease in reflexes and hearing non-present clicking sounds in the ears. Case reports document peripheral neurological effects, including noxious sensations, in patients exposed to RF-EMF. In some cases, the damage was temporary but in others the effects were considered permanent. It was concluded that in some people RF-EMF can cause peripheral neurophysiological changes.

Common Sense

What level of RF EMFs is safe for you? The real controversy seems to lie in what level of RF EMF exposure is considered safe at all. Clearly, there is some correlation between RF EMF overexposure and adverse effects. Experts all agree that this area of research warrants much more study. Experts have drawn many partial conclusions, which is suggestive that at current levels of exposure, RF EMF can be deleterious. While you wait for research to catch up, isn’t it better to avoid what you can? Avoid holding your cellphone up to your head. Don’t enable WiFi and Bluetooth when you don’t need it. Don’t put your laptop on your lap for long periods of time. Be smart and play it safe.

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