Much of the following information is from the BioInitiative Report (see full report), which was a long-term collaboration by fourteen international scientists across the physical, biological, engineering and environmental sciences as well as public health and public policy experts. Another dozen outside reviewers have looked at and refined the report.
The BioInitiative Report documents bioeffects, adverse health effects and public health conclusions about impacts of non-ionizing radiation (electromagnetic fields including extremely-low frequency ELF-EMF and radiofrequency/microwave or RF-EMF fields).
You cannot see it, taste it or smell it, but it is one of the most pervasive environmental exposures in industrialized countries today. Electromagnetic radiation (EMR) or electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are the terms that broadly describe exposures created by the vast array of wired and wireless technologies that have altered the landscape of our lives in countless beneficial ways. However, these technologies were designed to maximize energy efficiency and convenience; not
with biological effects on people in mind.
Human beings are bioelectrical systems. Our hearts and brains are regulated by internal bioelectrical signals. Environmental exposures to artificial EMFs can interact with fundamental biological processes in the human body, including DNA reproduction.
In some cases, this can cause discomfort and disease. Since World War II, the background level of EMF from electrical sources has risen exponentially, most recently by the soaring popularity of wireless technologies such as cell phones, cordless phones, WI-FI and WI-MAX networks.
Several decades of international scientific research confirm that EMFs are biologically active in animals and in humans, which could have major public health consequences.
In today’s world, everyone is exposed to two types of EMFs:
(1) Extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF) from electrical and electronic
appliances, power lines and electrical wiring in walls.
(2) Radiofrequency radiation (RF) from wireless devices such as cell phones and cordless
phones, WI-FI, "smart meters", alarm systems, baby monitors, cellular antennas and towers,
and broadcast transmission towers.
Dirty Electricity – What is known by some as dirty electricity is also known by the following descriptions: high frequency voltage transients, electrical noise and electromagnetic interference (EMI). This electrical noise comes in a range of frequencies (much of it in the 50 to 100 kHz range) from ELF to the lower end of the RF portion of the EMF spectrum. It’s a high-powered EMF that is constantly emitted by electrical wiring and electrical devices on contaminated circuits. This energy flows along wiring and also radiates RF radiation several feet into a room - even when the electricity and electrical devices are not turned on. Furthermore, electrical noise or interference emitted from devices in one room can flow via wiring to other rooms; even from other homes or buildings in the neighborhood.
Sources of Dirty Electricity and how to reduce exposure
Some of the major sources of "dirty electricity" are dimmer switches, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs and computer power adapters. The first thing to do to reduce dirty electricity is to replace dimmer switches with normal on/off switches and replace CFL light bulbs with LED bulbs. These actions may not totally eliminate the electrical noise, but they will reduce the levels.
Graham Stetzer meters (available on our meters page) are helpful in identifying electrical outlets where high levels of dirty electricity are present.
Dirty electricity filters available on some other sites are controversial. There are cases where installation of filters have apparently alleviated health issues. However, some argue that while dirty electricity filters may reduce high frequency voltage transients at existing frequencies, they result in additional voltage transients at higher frequencies.
Our recommendation is to start with replacing dimmer switches and CFL bulbs and if you happen to have a computer near your bed, unplug it at bedtime. Measuring outlets with a Graham Stetzer meter will tell you where the worst spots are in your home or office.
All the above EMFs are types of non-ionizing radiation, which means that they do not have sufficient energy to break off electrons from their orbits around atoms and ionize (charge) the atoms, as do x-rays, CT scans, and other forms of ionizing radiation.
The fact that this radiation is non-ionizing, resulted in the false
and scientifically outdated assumption that it is not harmful.
Today’s public exposure limits for telecommunications are based on the presumption that heating
of tissue (for RF) (or induced electric currents in the body (for ELF)) are the only concerns when
living organisms are exposed to RF (or ELF).
For many new devices operating with wireless technologies,
the devices are exempt from any regulatory standards!
In the past, scientists and engineers developed exposure standards for electromagnetic radiation based on what we now believe are faulty assumptions that the right way to measure how much non-ionizing energy humans can tolerate (how much exposure) without harm is to measure only the heating of tissue (RF) or induced currents in the body (ELF).
In the last few decades, it has been established beyond any reasonable doubt that bioeffects and some adverse health effects occur at far lower levels of RF and ELF exposure where no heating (or induced currents) occurs at all. Some effects are shown to occur at several hundred thousand times below the existing public safety limits where heating is an impossibility.
The existing standards have been proven to be inadequate to control against harm from low-intensity, chronic exposures, based on any reasonable, independent assessment of the scientific literature. It means that an entirely new basis (a biological basis) for new exposure standards is needed.
New standards need to take into account what we have learned about the effects of ELF and RF (all non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation) and to design new limits based on biologically demonstrated effects that are important to proper biological function in living organisms. It is vital to do so because the explosion of new sources has created unprecedented levels of artificial electromagnetic fields that now cover all but remote areas of the habitable space on earth.
Don't wait for a government agency to protect you from EMFs. Unfortunately, due to a variety of reasons,
it will probably be a long time before new standards are inacted; most likely too late to benefit most of us.
SUMMARY OF THE SCIENCE
Evidence for Cancer
There is little doubt that exposure to ELF is a cause of childhood leukemia.
The evidence that power lines and other sources (electrical wiring in walls, appliances) of ELF are consistently associated with higher rates of childhood leukemia has resulted in the International Agency for Cancer Research (an arm of the World Health Organization) to classify ELF as a Possible Human Carcinogen (in the Group 2B carcinogen list). Leukemia is the most common type of cancer in children.
The exposure levels for increased risk are quite low – just above background or ambient levels and much lower than current exposure limits. The existing ICNIRP limit is 1000 milligauss (mG) (904 mG in the US) for ELF. Leukemia risks for young boys are reported in one study to double at only 1.4 mG and above.
Increased risk for childhood leukemia starts at levels almost
one thousand times below the safety standard!
Several recent studies provide even stronger evidence that ELF is a risk factor
for childhood leukemia and cancers later in life. There is also some evidence that other childhood cancers may be related to ELF exposure but not enough studies have been done.
Brain Tumors and Acoustic Neuromas
Radio frequency radiation from cell phone and cordless phone exposure has been linked in more than one dozen studies to increased risk for brain tumors and/or acoustic neuromas (a tumor in the brain on a nerve related to our hearing).
The following information relies on the combined results of many brain tumor/cell
phone studies taken together (a meta-analysis of studies).
For people who have used a cell phone for 10 years or longer predominantly on one side of the head, there is a 200% increased risk of a brain tumor!
For people who have used a cell phone for 10 years or longer (when the cell phone
is used on both sides of the head) there is a 20% increase risk.
For acoustic neuromas, with cell phone
use at ten years and longer (when the cell phone is used mainly
on one side of the head), there is a 240% increased risk!
The risk of brain tumor (high-grade malignant glioma)
from use of a cordless phone (when used mostly
on only one side of the head) is 470% higher!
The risk from cordless phone use is 220% higher
(when used on both sides of the head).
When the cordless phone is mainly used on one side of the head,
the increased risk of acoustic neuroma is three-fold higher (310%)!
There is rather strong evidence from multiple areas of scientific investigation that ELF is related to breast cancer. Over the last two decades there have been numerous epidemiological studies (studies of human illness) on breast cancer in both men and women, although this relationship remains controversial among scientists. Not all, but many of these studies report that ELF exposures are related to increased risk of breast cancer. It makes sense to take preventative actions.
These studies taken together indicate that ELF is a likely risk factor for breast cancer, and that
ELF levels of importance are no higher than many people are exposed to at home and at work.
Evidence for Changes in the Nervous System and Brain Function
Exposure to electromagnetic fields has been studied in connection with Alzheimer’s disease, motor neuron disease and Parkinson’s disease. These diseases all involve the death of specific neurons and may be classified as neurodegenerative diseases.
There is evidence that high levels of amyloid beta are a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and exposure to ELF can increase this substance in the brain. There is considerable evidence that melatonin can protect the brain against damage leading to Alzheimer’s disease, and also strong evidence that exposure to ELF can reduce melatonin levels.
Evidence for a relationship between exposure and the neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s
and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), is strong and relatively consistent (see Chapter 12).
Laboratory studies show that the nervous system of both humans and animals is sensitive to ELF and RF. Measurable changes in brain function and behavior occur at levels associated with new technologies including cell phone use.
Exposing humans to cell phone radiation can change brainwave activity at levels as low as 0.1 watt per kilogram SAR (W/Kg) in comparison to the US allowable level of 1.6 W/Kg and the International Commission for Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) allowable level of 2.0 W/Kg.
It can affect memory, learning and normal brainwave activity.
Changes in the way in which the brain and nervous system react depend
very much on the specific exposures. Most studies only look at short-term effects, so the long-term consequences of exposures are not known.
People who are chronically exposed to low-level wireless antenna emissions
report one or more of the following symptoms:
problems sleeping (insomnia), fatigue, headache, dizziness, grogginess,
lack of concentration, memory problems, ringing in the ears (tinnitus),
problems with balance and orientation, and difficulty in multi-tasking.
In children, exposures to cell phone radiation have resulted in changes in brain oscillatory activity during some memory tasks. Although scientific studies as yet have not been able to confirm a cause-and-effect relationship; these complaints are widespread and the cause of significant public concern in some countries where wireless technologies are fairly mature and widely distributed (Sweden, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Greece, Israel).
For example, the roll-out of the new 3rd Generation wireless phones (and related community-wide antenna RF emissions in the Netherlands) caused almost immediate public complaints of illness.
The consequence of prolonged exposures to children, whose nervous systems continue to
develop until late adolescence, is unknown at this time. This could have serious implications
to adult health and functioning in society if years of exposure of the young to both ELF and RF
result in diminished capacity for thinking, judgment, memory, learning, and control over behavior.
The effects of long-term exposure to wireless technologies including emissions from cell phones and other personal devices, and from whole-body exposure to RF transmissions from cell towers and antennas is simply not known yet with certainty.
However, the body of evidence at hand suggests that bioeffects and health impacts can and do occur at exquisitely low exposure levels: levels that can be thousands of times below public safety limits.
The evidence reasonably points to the potential for serious public health consequences (and economic costs), which will be of global concern with the widespread public use of, and exposure to such emissions. Even a small increase in disease incidence or functional loss of cognition related to new wireless exposures would have a large public health, societal and economic consequences.
Epidemiological studies can report harm to health only after decades of exposure,
and where large effects can be seen across “average” populations; so these early warnings of
possible harm should be taken seriously now by decision-makers.
Effects on Genes (DNA)
Cancer risk is related to DNA damage, which alters the genetic blueprint for growth and development. If DNA is damaged (the genes are damaged) there is a risk that these damaged cells will not die. Instead they will continue to reproduce themselves with damaged DNA, and this is one necessary pre-condition for cancer. Reduced DNA repair may also be an important part of this story. When the rate of damage to DNA exceeds the rate at which DNA can be repaired, there is the possibility of retaining mutations and initiating cancer. Studies on how ELF and RF may affect genes and DNA is important, because of the possible link to cancer.
The European research program (REFLEX) documented many changes in normal biological functioning in tests on DNA. The significance of these results is that such effects are directly related to the question of whether human health risks might occur, when these changes in genes and DNA happen. This large research effort produced information on EMFs effects from morethan a dozen different researchers. Some of the key findings included:
“Gene mutations, cell proliferation and apoptosis are caused by or result in altered gene
and protein expression profiles. The convergence of these events is required for the
development of all chronic diseases.”
“Genotoxic effects and a modified expression of numerous genes and proteins after EMF
exposure could be demonstrated with great certainty.”
“RF-EMF produced genotoxic effects in fibroblasts, HL-60 cells, granulosa cells of rats
and neural progenitor cells derived from mouse embryonic stem cells.”
“Cells responded to RF exposure between SAR levels of 0.3 and 2 W/Kg with a significant
increase in single- and double-strand DNA breaks and in micronuclei frequency.”
“In HL-60 cells an increase in intracellular generation of free radicals accompanying
RF-EMF exposure could clearly be demonstrated.”
“The induced DNA damage was not based on thermal effects and arouses consideration
about the environmental safety limits for ELF-EMF exposure.”
“The effects were clearly more pronounced in cells from older donors, which could point
to an age-related decrease of DNA repair efficiency of ELF-EMF induced DNA strand breaks.”
These are just some of the cancer issues to discuss. It may be reasonable now to make
the assumption that all cancers, and other disease endpoints might be related to, or worsened by exposures to EMFs (both ELF and RF).
If one or more cancers are related, why would not all cancer risks be at issue? It can no longer be
said that the current state of knowledge rules out or precludes risks to human health. The
enormous societal costs and impacts on human suffering by not dealing proactively with this
issue require substantive public health policy actions; and actions of governmental agencies
charged with the protection of public health to act on the basis of the evidence at hand.
Effects on the Immune System
The immune system is another defense we have against invading organisms (viruses, bacteria, and other foreign molecules). It protects us against illness, infectious diseases, and tumor cells. There are many different kinds of immune cells; each type of cell has a particular purpose, and is launched to defend the body against different kinds of exposures that the body determines might be harmful.
There is substantial evidence that ELF and RF can cause inflammatory
reactions, allergy reactions and change normal immune function at levels allowed
by current public safety standards.
The body’s immune defense system senses danger from ELF and RF exposures, and targets an immune defense against these fields, much like the body’s reaction in producing stress proteins. These are additional indicators that very low intensity ELF and RF exposures are a) recognized by cells and b) can cause reactions as if the exposure is harmful. Chronic exposure to factors that increase allergic and inflammatory responses on a continuing basis are likely to be harmful to health. Chronic inflammatory responses can lead to cellular, tissue and organ damage over time.
Many chronic diseases are thought to be related to chronic problems with immune system function.
The release of inflammatory substances, such as histamine, are well-known to cause skin reactions, swelling, allergic hypersensitivity and other conditions that are normally associated with some kind of defense mechanism. The human immune system is part of a general defense barrier that protects against harmful exposures from the surrounding environment. When the immune system is aggravated by some kind of attack, there are many kinds of immune cells that can respond.
Anything that triggers an immune response should be carefully evaluated, since chronic stimulation
of the immune system may over time impair the system’s ability to respond in the normal fashion.
This is just a brief summary of the scientific evidence.
Don't wait for someone else to protect you and your family from EMFs.