Most parents would be concerned if their children had significant exposure to lead, chloroform, gasoline fumes, or the pesticide DDT. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IRIC), part of the United Nations’ World Health Organization (WHO), classifies these and more than 250 other agents as Class 2B Carcinogens. Another entry on that same list is radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF/EMF). The main sources of RF/EMF are radios, televisions, microwave ovens, cell phones, and Wi-Fi devices.
Uh-oh. Not another diatribe about the dangers of our modern communication systems? Obviously, these devices and the resulting fields are extremely (and increasingly) common in modern society. Even if we want to, we can’t eliminate our exposure, or our children’s, to RF/EMF. But, we may need to limit that exposure, when possible.
That was among the conclusions of a report published in the Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure entitled “Why children absorb more microwave radiation than adults: The consequences.” From an analysis of peer-reviewed studies, the authors argue that children and adolescents are at considerable risk from devices that radiate microwaves (and that adults are at a lower, but still significant, risk). The following points were made:
- Children absorb a greater amount of microwave radiation than adults.
- Fetuses are even more vulnerable than children. Therefore pregnant women should avoid exposing their fetus to microwave radiation.
- Adolescent girls and women should not place cellphones in their bras or in hijabs (headscarf).
- Cellphone manual warnings make clear an overexposure problem exists.
- Government warnings have been issued but most of the public are unaware of such warnings.
- Current exposure limits are inadequate and should be revised.
- Wireless devices are radio transmitters, not toys. Selling toys that use them should be monitored more closely, or possibly even banned.
Children and fetuses absorb more microwave radiation, according to the authors, because their bodies are relatively smaller, their skulls are thinner, and their brain tissue is more absorbent.
More generally, the studies cited in the paper found RF/EMF exposure is linked to cancers of the brain and salivary glands, ADHD, low sperm count, and, among girls who keep cell phones in their bra, breast cancer. They also noted that the average time between exposure to a carcinogen and a resultant tumor is three or more decades.
Hopefully, more longitudinal studies will be done to verify or contradict the findings so far. In the meantime, are the government’s current regulations adequate? The exposure levels they warn against haven’t seem to have been updated for more than 19 years.
In a Network World opinion article ominously titled “Is Wi-Fi killing us…slowly?” columnist Mark Gibbs makes the point that “… laws and warnings are all very well but it’s pretty much certain that all restrictions on products that use microwave technology will err on the safe side; that is, the side that’s safe for industry, not the side of what’s safe for society.” Gibbs then added this ominous closing question, “Will we look back (sadly) in fifty or a hundred years and marvel at how Wi-Fi and cellphones were responsible for the biggest health crisis in human history?”
But, short of that worst-case scenario, the topic certainly merits more scrutiny, and perhaps some common sense limits on what devices our children use, and for how long.
--Is Wi-Fi killing us...slowly?
What would it take to get you to not use Wi-Fi? I don’t mean simply not connecting to it; I mean not having Wi-Fi switched on. At all. And what about cellphones? I know that the issue of cellphone safety has come and gone and most authorities have dismissed the risks as negligible. But what if the risks to you are trivial, but not to your children? Would you stop using these devices? I ask because an academic paper has recently been published that concludes that electromagnetic radiation generated by humans is far more dangerous to children and babies than we think.
Now, human-generated EMR in the general environment was negligible at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, but by 1933 the problem of electromagnetic interference was becoming significant. In that year, the International Electrotechnical Commission in Paris “recommended the International Special Committee on Radio Interference (CISPR) be set up to deal with the emerging problem of EMI.” (Wikipedia)
Since then, despite much legislation and regulation, the general EMR background has increased significantly in the Western hemisphere and even more dramatically in suburban and urban areas, with radio and television being among the greatest contributors. That said, the general suburban and urban EMR levels are to the order of few tens of µW/m² which has been thought to be a harmless level of exposure.
For example, according to Kenneth R. Foster, Professor of Bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote:
In 2006 I conducted an industry-supported survey of RF field levels in urban and suburban areas in four countries—the United States, France, Germany, and Sweden (Foster 2007). The survey made 356 measurements of background RF signals at 55 sites: private residences, commercial spaces, health care and educational institutions, and other public spaces. Measurements were conducted in public spaces as close as practical to access points.
The results, which are detailed in "Radiofrequency Exposure From Wireless LANs" (Foster 2007), show that in all cases the measured Wi-Fi signal levels were very far below international safety limits, specifically, those of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers and the International Commission on Nonionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP 2002). These limits were designed to protect against all known hazards of RF energy. In nearly all cases, these signals were also considerably lower than those from other nearby sources of RF energy, including cellular telephone base stations.
The EMR we’re talking about for cellphones and Wi-Fi is in the microwave range between 300 MHz and 300 GHz (1m to 1mm) and the argument as to the lack of risk from exposure is based on the argument that:
“Microwaves do not contain sufficient energy to chemically change substances by ionization, and so are an example of non-ionizing radiation … It has not been shown conclusively that microwaves (or other non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation) have significant adverse biological effects at low levels. Some, but not all, studies suggest that long-term exposure may have a carcinogenic effect.” (Wikipedia)
Well, that last sentence is addressed by the paper, Why children absorb more microwave radiation than adults: The consequences, published in June this year. The authors, L. Lloyd Morgan, Santosh Kesari, and Devra Lee Davis summarize how they used computers simulation based on MRI scans of children to model microwave absorption and found:
Children absorb more MWR than adults because their brain tissues are more absorbent, their skulls are thinner and their relative size is smaller. MWR from wireless devices has been declared a possible human carcinogen. Children are at greater risk than adults when exposed to any carcinogen.
The problem is that the consequences of exposure are anything but immediate:
Because the average latency time between first exposure and diagnosis of a tumor can be decades, tumors induced in children may not be diagnosed until well into adulthood. The fetus is particularly vulnerable to MWR. MWR exposure can result in degeneration of the protective myelin sheath that surrounds brain neurons.
And, of course, the explosion of radio-controlled toys has an effect:
MWR-emitting toys are being sold for use by young infants and toddlers. Digital dementia has been reported in school age children. A case study has shown when cellphones are placed in teenage girls’ bras multiple primary breast cancer develop beneath where the phones are placed.
So, what are we going to do? Here’s some compelling evidence that MWR presents a real risk, yet we currently live in a society flooded with microwave radio signals and that situation is only going to become even more pronounced. The paper points out that:
MWR exposure limits have remained unchanged for 19 years. All manufacturers of smartphones have warnings which describe the minimum distance at which phone must be kept away from users in order to not exceed the present legal limits for exposure to MWR. The exposure limit for laptop computers and tablets is set when devices are tested 20 cm away from the body. Belgium, France, India and other technologically sophisticated governments are passing laws and/or issuing warnings about children's use of wireless devices.
Laws and warnings are all very well but it’s pretty much certain that all restrictions on products that use microwave technology will err on the safe side; that is, the side that’s safe for industry, not the side of what's safe for society.
Will we look back (sadly) in fifty or a hundred years and marvel at how Wi-Fi and cellphones were responsible for the biggest health crisis in human history?