Today it’s pretty unavoidable: we all use technology in most parts of our lives. But do we think about the impact it could have on our physical health and are we conscious of ways this impact can be reduced?
In 2011 the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed what many had been saying for years, when they classified electromagnetic fields (EMFs) emitted from mobile phones and wireless devices as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’. Thirty-one scientists from the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) considered the potential health issues related to exposure to radiofrequency EMFs and came to this conclusion.
What are the health risks?
If we experience occasional or short-term exposure to EMFs it is unlikely to cause health issues. Of more concern is regular and/or extended exposure to these fields. One study the IARC group considered showed that heavy mobile phone use increased the risk of brain tumours by 40%.1 Sitting within a high electromagnetic field while you work, where you often sit in a favourite chair or where you sleep for hours at a time can all impact on your health. Lengthy exposure can wear down the immune system and have a detrimental impact on our bodies.
A number of health issues have been reported in a range of scientific literature as being associated with EMF exposure. They include (but are not limited to) infertility, miscarriages, childhood leukaemia, some cancers and tumours, and neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s. Children are thought to be at greater risk because of the way EMFs affect their developing cells, which can be more sensitive to exposure.2
As far back as 1971 the US Navy was producing reports outlining the health impacts of exposure to EMFs (see reports released by the Naval Medical Research Institute in Maryland). However, the long-term effects of a lifetime of exposure aren’t yet widely known. Humans are pretty adaptable, although exposure to EMFs is thought to have a cumulative effect, which is the key to most health concerns, and is most worrying for younger generations3 growing up in homes and a world saturated with EMFs created by wireless technology and telecommunications.
So are today’s governments responding to these concerns? Are they taking the reported risks seriously?
What action has been taken around the world?
A number of countries around the world have acknowledged the dangers of technopathic stress and are taking action.
- In 2015 France passed a law banning wi-fi in preschools, requiring wi-fi be turned off in primary schools except when needed, and stating that ads for mobile phones must recommend phones be held away from the head.4
- In Germany citizens are actively encouraged to use wired networks (the German Federal Ministry for Radiation Protection and the Bavarian State Ministry of Education and Cultural Affairs both recommend wired over wireless networks be used). The City of Frankfurt refuses to use wireless computer networks, stating that they will not be used in schools there until it is proven they do no harm.5
- Russia’s National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection has released repeated warnings about the dangers of EMF exposure and recommends wi-fi not be used in schools. Shortly before the WHO’s classification, they released a report outlining results from fifty years of important Russian research into EMF radiation. In it they state: ‘urgent measures must be taken because of the inability of children to recognize the harm from the mobile phone use and that a mobile phone itself can be considered as an uncontrolled source of harmful exposure’.6
- In Austria the Public Health Department of the Salzburg Region advises that wi-fi networks and wireless telecommunications should not be used in kindergartens or schools (view their letter to schools here). Safety guidelines addressing the use of mobile phones has also been released by the Austrian Medical Society, in which they recommend usage be limited and that children under sixteen years of age avoid mobile phones altogether (view their guidelines here).
- In 2015 the Israeli Ministry of Health banned wi-fi in kindergartens and published a safety report outlining actions that needed to be taken, including a new government website, TNUDA, to educate the public about the safe use of technology.
The governments of countries such as the UK, Canada, Switzerland, India, Finland, Italy, Spain and Belgium have released recommendations to reduce exposure, as have the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and European Environmental Agency.
Stopping short of acknowledging the health effects of exposure to EMFs, the Australian Government states ‘the possibility of a small risk cannot be ruled out’ and has issued guidelines to reduce exposure from mobile phones and other wireless devices (access them here).
What are some common sources of EMFs?
According to the WHO’s 2011 classification, the EMFs we should be most concerned about are those used in wireless technologies and telecommunications. Some common sources of these include:
- mobile phones and phone towers (microwave frequencies emitted from these travel through most walls and are of widespread concern)
- cordless landline phones (use the same frequency as mobile phones and emit radiowaves continuously, even when not being used)
- smart meters (regularly emit radiofrequencies using mobile phone technology)
- baby monitors (use the same frequency as mobile phones and are usually placed very close to sleeping babies)
- wireless technology (uses a pulsed microwave radiation like mobile phones, but it is done continuously, whether it’s in use or not)
- power lines and pylons (emit large magnetic fields that have been reported to be linked to high rates of leukaemia in children and adults, among other disturbances)
- electrical wiring and lighting (strong fields can be created by AC wiring used in Australian homes, as the currents flow back and forth, expanding magnetic fields in a way DC fields do not; big fields are also created by ‘dirty electricity’, when wiring acts as a receiver, picking up errant fields and other interference)
- appliances (all household appliances that are plugged into building wiring will produce an EMF).
How can exposure be reduced?
There are some easy ways to reduce your exposure to these potentially health-threatening radiofrequencies.
Without doubt, distance is the cheapest, easiest and most sensible and effective way to reduce exposure. The IARC scientists recommended lessening exposure by using hands-free or text messaging rather than holding a mobile phone next to the head. You can also try to keep phone conversations short. However, distance is important with all sources of EMFs, not just mobile phones. Fields decrease dramatically with distance, so even moving just 1-metre away can be very effective. Working appliances such as fridges, dishwashers and televisions all produce EMFs, so keeping your distance while they are on is recommended.
A large portion of our lives are spent in bed, and when we sleep our bodies should have the chance to rest, grow and heal. Because of this, where we sleep is of paramount importance. Absolutely ensure your bed is not against a wall that has a smart meter or switchboard on the other side of it. You do not want to be sleeping in the fields these devices emit all day and night. For this reason, electric blankets should also be avoided (or at least unplugged before you get into bed – not just turned off), as the fields they create are so close to your body.
Ideally, unplug lamps, clocks or anything near your bed before sleeping. Rather than having an alarm clock next to the bed, move it to the other side of the room – or replace it with a battery-operated one or a phone in flight mode (but also keep that away from your bed while you sleep).
Have internet hardwired in the home and avoid using wi-fi altogether. But if this can’t be done, at least turn off your wi-fi when it’s not being used and when you sleep. This can lessen the load on your body, and enable you to get into a deeper, more restful sleep.
Putting phones and tablets into flight mode whenever possible will also help reduce exposure.
Go old school and throw away your microwave – or at very least use it less and stand well away from it when it’s on. As well as affecting the molecular structure of your food, microwaves put out large fields, usually of about 1.8 metres. (An interesting test to see how ‘leaky’ your microwave is, is to place a mobile phone inside it and call the phone. If the seal is effective in shielding from dangerous radiofrequencies the phone shouldn’t ring. If it does ring, you know your microwave seals aren’t working effectively and frequencies are making it in and out.)
More expensive methods of shielding can also be put in place, as well as demand switches used in fuse boxes. More on shielding in Australia can be found here: EMF Shielding Australia and EMR Shielding Solutions.
Interested in learning more?
Join us for our Earth Reading workshop in September for an introduction to technopathic stress that covers the hazards and some solutions.
Learn more about all of our workshop offerings here. No previous experience or knowledge is required.
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