Electromagnetic Radiation: Is It Safe?
All life on Earth depends on electromagnetic radiation from the Sun and the Earth, which is vital for photosynthesis in plants or biosynthesis in zooplankton, the main link in the food chain in the ocean.
In addition to ionizing radiation, which is the matter of concern for the SNRIU in the framework of nuclear and radiation safety regulatory system, there is a wide range of radiation types, commonly known as “radiation”, which vary in wavelength, intensity and power of energy impact on the environment and biota.
The eyes of humans and some animals are adapted to perceive only a specific part of the spectrum of solar electromagnetic radiation: light, which consists of visible parts of a wide range of frequencies. Almost all of the fossil fuels used by modern society: gas, oil and coal, are accumulated forms of energy obtained from the sun in the form of electromagnetic radiation millions of years ago.
According to the British Encyclopedia, “electromagnetic radiation is the flow of energy at the universal speed of light through free space or through a material medium in the form of the electric and magnetic fields. In terms of the modern quantum theory, electromagnetic radiation is the flow of photons (also called light quanta) through space.
The Encyclopedia of Modern Ukraine defines electromagnetic radiation as “electromagnetic waves emitted by charged particles, atoms, molecules, antennas and other radiating systems”.
To understand what electromagnetic radiation is and how it originates, it is necessary to outline the meaning of the electromagnetic field (EMF). The textbook for students of higher educational institutions “Labor Protection Fundamentals” by I.V. Shudrenko, gives the following definition of the electromagnetic field: “it is a physical field that interacts with electrically charged bodies”.
Today, the properties of electromagnetic radiation are used in the Internet, radio and mobile communications, television, radar and radio navigation, medicine, as well as in the metallurgical, woodworking, textile, light and food industries.
Forms of electromagnetic radiation
There are 7 forms of electromagnetic radiation. What they have in common is that they are all generated by electric charges, and the difference between them depends on the environment in which and under what circumstances the charges can respond to the frequency of radiation.
In the range up to 1012 Hz of electromagnetic spectrum, the movement of free electric charges or electrons in the metal components of antennas and space causes the appearance of radio waves, radar waves and microwaves. At higher frequencies (from 1012 to 5070 Hz) of the infrared spectral region, moving charges are primarily characterized by the motion of atomic molecules in matter. Electromagnetic radiation from the spectral region of visible light to X-rays have frequencies that correspond to the charges inside the atoms. The values inside atomic nuclei correspond to gamma radiation.
All of the above affirms that ionizing radiation is part of a wider range of electromagnetic radiation on Earth, as some of the cosmic radiation is deflected or absorbed by the planet’s EMF and the atmosphere.
So, there are the following forms of electromagnetic radiation:
- radio waves;
- infrared radiation;
- visible radiation;
- ultraviolet radiation;
- gamma radiation.
In addition, electromagnetic radiation is divided into ionizing (X-ray and gamma radiation) and non-ionizing, which cannot ionize the substance because its EMF is not able to break the bonds in the molecules.
In this article, we will address in detail the forms of non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation that are most commonly encountered at work and at home, and their impact on the human body, because everyday life is difficult to imagine without mobile phones, radio and television, computers, etc. With development of the technology, the issue of electromagnetic pollution becomes really relevant. According to the “Encyclopedia of Modern Ukraine”, electromagnetic pollution is called “type of physical pollution that occurs due to changes in the electromagnetic properties of the environment caused by exceeding the level of the electromagnetic background”. In 1995, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially introduced the term “global electromagnetic pollution” and included it in the list of priority problems of the mankind, since every ten years its level increases by 10-15 times.
At present, in today’s world it is practically impossible to avoid contact with electromagnetic radiation. However, it’s worth pointing out that even within one house or apartment, the levels of electromagnetic pollution can vary and change over time. The actual field strength in a particular place depends on the number and types of sources, as well as the distance to the source. The intensity of the EMF from different devices may vary depending on the model. For example, different models of hair dryers from the same manufacturer may generate different EMF intensities. It should also be noted that some organs of the human body are more sensitive to electromagnetic radiation than others.
Radio waves are used to transmit radio, television and mobile signals. Depending on the wavelength, they are divided into long waves, medium waves, short waves.
All modern TV and mobile phone signal transmitters operate in the ultra-short range. They are significantly absorbed by the atmosphere, and therefore require presence of transponders operating within line of sight range.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer of the World Health Organization classifies radiofrequency EMFs as possibly carcinogenic to humans and refers them to Group 2B.
With the development and spread of Wi-Fi technology, the issue on possible harmful effects of this radiation on health has emerged. This technology allows connecting electronic devices to the network using radio waves or radio frequency electromagnetic energy, which virtually eliminates the need for network cables. It is worth pointing out, that the radiation produced by Wi-Fi devices belongs to the radio frequency. In accordance with the WHO research, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.
Wireless mobile and telecommunication technologies are becoming more common today, although they appeared in the 1980s, and now we are talking about introduction of the 5G communication generation in Ukraine.
According to the decision of the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine, the tender for issuing licenses for the use of 5G radio frequencies will be held in February 2022. Accordingly, 5G communication standard will also be available to Ukrainians very soon. Regarding the electromagnetic radiation associated with the spread of this technology, the Director General of the Ukrainian State Center of Radio Frequencies points out that implementation of 5G involves the use of radio frequencies up to 80 GHz, unlike earlier generations of mobile communications that used 700-2700 MHz. Basic permissible radiation standards are established to comply with health and safety regulations. Such a standard in the range of mobile communication is the energy flux density (ESD), which characterizes the amount of energy flowing per time unit through area unit, which can potentially affect the human body. The current standard in Ukraine is 10 μW/cm² (0.1 W/m2). For comparison: in the Scandinavian countries this standard is 100 μW/cm² (1 W/m2), in Canada: up to 1000 μW/cm² (10W/m2).
It is worth noting that one of the features of 5G networks is the ability to direct the beam for each user, and so that this beam does not intersect with another. This technology allows calculating user’s location, in particular, using reflected beams, for example, from the surface of buildings. In the same way, information is exchanged directly with the user, which reduces the impact of EMF on people and the environment.
According to Article 12, para. 2 of the Law of Ukraine “On Radio Frequency Resource of Ukraine”: “The body of state regulation in the use of radio frequency resource of Ukraine is the national commission for state regulation in the field of communication and information”. Article 16 states that the state self-supporting enterprise “Ukrainian State Center of Radio Frequencies” is responsible for the distribution of radio frequencies.
Electromagnetic radiation of your favorite gadgets
Mobile phones are currently the most common source of radio frequency EMF, but according to the World Health Organization, there are no data on health damage caused by mobile phone use.
The radiation of mobile phones is in the low frequency region of the electromagnetic spectrum. The 2019 Annual Public Health Survey “Brain and Salivary Tumors and Mobile Phone Use: Assessing the Evidence of Various Epidemiological Studies” states that second-, third- and fourth-generation phones (2G, 3G, 4G) emit radio frequencies in the range of 700-2700 MHz, and the fifth generation (5G) up to 80 GHz.
In April 2021, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority published the fifteenth annual report of the Scientific Council on Electromagnetic Fields, which summarized the results of scientific research on the EMF effects on the human body. The link between brain tumors and the use of mobile phones is consistent with previous research and indicates that radio waves from mobile phones are not dangerous.
However, it should be noted that the proven effects of mobile phones and smartwatches can affect pacemakers or other implanted medical devices, as they generate high-frequency magnetic fields. After the launch of the Apple iPhone 12, which has a powerful magnet for fast wireless charging MagSafe, a cardiologist at the Henry Ford Institute of Cardiology and Vascular, Gurdjit Singh, conducted a study in which the iPhone was brought closer to the chest of a patient with an implanted cardiodefibrillator. As a result of the approaching, the implanted device turned off, but when the phone was taken away, it started working normally again. The study was published in the journal HeartRhythm on January 4, 2021, after which Apple published a list of devices containing a magnet.
The US Food and Drug Administration has also tested some devices with high magnetic field strengths and confirmed the validity of the results of research. That is why it is recommended not to wear mobile phones and accessories directly above the implanted medical device, it is better to keep them at a distance of 6 inches (15.24 cm).
The Australian Agency for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety offers three ways to reduce the effects of radio frequency electromagnetic radiation:
The most effective way to reduce radiation is to increase the distance between the mobile phone and the person. You can do this with wired headphones and use the speakerphone mode during phone calls, preferring text messages to calls, and keeping your thumb between the phone and your ear to avoid direct contact.
You can reduce the exposure time by recording short voice messages, especially if you do not use the loudspeaker mode.
- Telephone signal strength
Usually the phone emits less radiation in places with a good signal than a weak one, so you should avoid using your phone in places with a weak signal (such as elevators or vehicles) and use it in places with a good signal.
X-rays… at home?
It should be pointed out that one of the types of electromagnetic radiation that can be encountered at home is X-ray. It is generated when electrons are sharply inhibited in a material medium or during the interaction of gamma radiation with materials. In older models of TVs with a cathode ray tube, many components operated at a voltage of several thousand volts, that is, they could emit X-rays coming from a television receiver or a cathode ray tube. However, the radiation from them was not able to harm a viewer.
According to the US Food and Drug Administration, scientists have not found specific health effects from prolonged exposure to low-frequency electromagnetic radiation. It is also important to emphasize that modern TVs with liquid crystal or plasma displays cannot emit X-rays, and therefore do not pose a radiation hazard.
Spectrum of solar radiation
Sunlight consists of infrared (thermal), visible, and ultraviolet rays. In the spectrum, infrared radiation is in the low frequency range, ultraviolet – in the high frequency, and visible to the human eye radiation is between them.
Infrared radiation is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum with a wavelength of 700 nm – 1,000 μm. We feel infrared radiation every day in the form of heat, because infrared waves are heat waves. Infrared radiation is divided into three bands:
- A (near infrared): 760 and 1400 nm
- B (middle infrared): 1400 and 3000 nm
- C (far infrared region): 3000 nm and 1 mm
Infrared radiation sources can be both natural, the sun, for example, and artificial. Artificial infrared radiation sources include all surfaces whose temperature is higher than the temperature of the exposed surface: heating devices and infrared lamps used at home, in infrared saunas and for medical purposes. In addition to thermal facilities, artificial sources also include infrared LEDs and lasers. LEDs are small, low-cost optoelectronic devices made of semiconductor materials such as gallium arsenide. Optical infrared lasers have been developed using carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.
Laser technology lies in amplifying the light beam by forced radiation. Lasers of one of the main types consist of a sealed tube containing a pair of mirrors and a laser medium that is excited by energy, resulting in appearance of visible light, ultraviolet or infrared radiation.
In everyday life, laser applications can be found in audio, video and computer equipment (e.g., CD, DVD, Blue Ray, HD) or other players and recorders for optical discs; printers, copiers, fax machines.
Infrared radiation: what is the danger?
Infrared radiation, penetrating the skin and eyeballs of a person, penetrates to different depths: from a few millimeters through type A infrared radiation to surface absorption through type C.
Pain receptors in the human body are able to respond to high temperatures and bright light, thus protecting people from the harmful effects of infrared radiation, which manifests itself through thermal tissue damage, significantly mediated by water molecules, and changes in protein structure. The eyes are most vulnerable to infrared radiation. The cornea, iris, lens and retina are very sensitive to thermal damage of various degrees. When the cornea absorbs infrared radiation, it is converted into heat and transmitted to the lens. Aggregation of lens proteins after repeated exposure to high temperatures can cause clouding of the lens and even cataracts, which are common in glassblowers, steelmakers and metalworkers.
Prolonged exposure to infrared radiation on the skin, even without burns, for example, after several years of exposure to open fire on the skin, can cause reddish-brown spots on the skin. However, according to the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, infrared radiation does not cause skin cancer.
Ultraviolet radiation is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum with a wavelength of 200-400 nm, which is about 5% of the flux of solar radiation. Natural sources of ultraviolet radiation are stars, nebulae, lightning, and the lights of St. Elmo.
Sources of artificial ultraviolet radiation are ultraviolet mercury, metal halide, hydrogen, xenon and other gas discharge lamps. In everyday life, ultraviolet lamps are used to polymerize decorative manicure, stimulate plant growth and more.
Microwave radiation in everyday life
Percy Spencer was the first to realize that electromagnetic waves could be used to heat and cook. During his study of electromagnetic waves in the 1940s, standing near a magnetron (a generator of oscillations of the microwave range), he noticed that the candy in his pocket had melted. And in 1945 the first microwave oven was invented. American engineer Wenniver Bush said: “Spencer earned the respect of every physicist in the country, not only for his ingenuity, but for what he has learned about physics by absorbing it through his skin”.
How does a microwave oven work? Microwaves in it are produced by an electronic tube – a magnetron, then repelled from the inner metal or ceramic coating of the oven, and then absorbed by food. Microwaves cause vibrations of water molecules in food, producing heat for cooking. That is why products with a high water content, such as fresh vegetables, are cooked faster in the microwave.
It should be noted that microwaves are generated in microwave ovens only when connected to the mains and cease to exist after the power is off and therefore do not remain in the food in any way. They also do not make food or the oven radioactive. There is evidence that the nutritional content of some food may change slightly more when cooked in a microwave oven than, say, when cooking on a gas-furnace or in a stove, but there is no evidence that food cooked in a microwave oven is harmful for health.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration informs that most injuries from microwave ovens are not related to radiation. These include heat burns from hot containers, overheated food or liquid explosions. However, there have been several cases of radiation damage due to unusual circumstances or improper maintenance and presence of holes or damage to door hinges, bolts or seals.
To ensure that the use of the microwave does not harm your health, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends
- to follow the user manual and safety measures provided by the manufacturer of a particular microwave oven model;
- to use special safe utensils designed for microwave ovens;
- not to switch on the microwave oven if the door is not firmly closed or damaged;
- to switch off the microwave oven if it continues to operate with the door open;
- not to stand directly in front of the switched on microwave oven (and do not allow children to do so);
- not to heat water or liquids in the microwave for longer than recommended in the manufacturer’s manual;
- not to switch on certain types of empty microwave ovens, therefore, user manuals for a particular microwave oven should be carefully read;
- always clean inside and outside the oven with mild detergents and without a wire sponge or other abrasive materials.
Electromagnetic hypersensitivity: is it a nowadays phenomenon?
According to the WHO, due to the growing number of different sources of EMF, people have reported health problems caused by EMF. This probable sensitivity is called “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”.
Symptoms associated with EMF include:
- dermatological (redness, tingling and burning sensation);
- neurasthenic and autonomic (fatigue, difficulty concentrating, dizziness, nausea, palpitations, digestive disorders).
It is assumed that the symptoms may be due to other environmental factors than EMF, such as flickering fluorescent lamps, glare and other vision problems from monitors, poor ergonomic design of computer workstations. Other factors that may play certain role are poor indoor air quality, stress at work or in the living environment.
Regulation of electromagnetic radiation in Ukraine
In 2006, the World Health Organization issued a “Model legislation for electromagnetic fields protection”, which recommends to nominate officials responsible for the specific use of certain electromagnetic radiation sources responsible for the regulation of electromagnetic radiation. In particular, the Minister of Health in medicine, the Minister of Communications in telecommunications and radio, the Minister of Trade and Industry for industrial sources of EMF, and so on.
Currently, the impact of electromagnetic radiation in Ukraine is regulated by the Law of Ukraine “On Ensuring the Sanitary and Epidemic Welfare of the Population”, adopted in 1994 by the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.
Article 14 of the Law of Ukraine “On Consumer Protection” states that “the consumer has the right to ensure that products under normal conditions of use, storage and transportation are safe for his life, health, environment and did cause damage to his property”. Legislation also regulates the labeling of consumer non-food products, which aims to protect the user from possible risks under the conditions of proper storage and use of this product.
The Ministry of Health of Ukraine approves radiation safety standards and permissible levels of exposure to other physical factors and the methodology of calculating the distribution of electromagnetic field levels.
According to Order No. 239 of the Ministry of Health “On Approval of State Sanitary Rules and Regulations”, electromagnetic radiation sources in settlements include radio, television and radar stations operating in the radio frequency band, as well as a network of electric power supply lines , which consists of high-voltage electric transmission lines and electrical substations. Substations may include switchgear, power converters, transformers, rectifiers and other devices and structures.
Sanitary rules and standards regulate the conditions of the use and placement of radiation sources in and around residential buildings, thus ensuring the protection of public health from the effects of electromagnetic fields arising in the environment.
Section 1, para. 1.6, sub-paras 1.6.4 and 1.6.5 of the “State Sanitary Rules and Standards for Protection of the Public from the Effects of Electromagnetic Radiation” state that “the owner of a radio engineering facility shall ensure compliance with the maximum permissible levels of electromagnetic fields. Measurements of electromagnetic field levels shall be carried out by economic entities certified for the right to conduct such activities. Confirmation of compliance with maximum permissible levels of electromagnetic fields shall be performed by enterprises, establishments, establishments certified by the central body of executive power for health care (the Ministry of Health of Ukraine)”.
The following shall be regulated at workplaces:
- electromagnetic radiation of the radio frequency range in accordance with GOST 12.1.006184 “Electromagnetic Fields of Radio Frequencies. Permissible Levels at Workplaces and Requirements for the Implementation of Control”, DSN 239196 “State Sanitary Rules and Standards for Protection of the Public from Electromagnetic Radiation” and DSanPiN 3.3.6.09612002 “State Sanitary Rules and Standards for the Use of Sources of Electromagnetic Fields”;
- infrared radiation in accordance with sanitary standards DSN 3.3.6.042199, GOST 12.4.123183;
- ultraviolet radiation in accordance with sanitary standards SN 4557188 (DNAOP 0.0313.17188).
According to the Order of the State Standard of Ukraine No. 121 of 25.05.1994, a technical committee for standardization “Standardization of Household Appliances and Equipment” was established. Standards developed by the committee regulate household safety, the level of electromagnetic radiation and noise pollution from household electrical machines and appliances, safety of hand-held power tools, water heating equipment, household electrical appliances, electric stoves, ovens, microwaves, ovens, furnaces; dishwashers, cleaning appliances, etc.
Electromagnetic radiation accompanies us throughout the lifespan, and moreover, we depend on it. In everyday life, we mainly deal with non-ionizing radiation, which does not harm health and, in particular, does not cause cancer, as confirmed by the World Health Organization, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, Australian Agency for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety, etc. However, people who use pacemakers or other implanted medical devices should be careful when using mobile phones and other gadgets and keep them at a distance of more than 15 cm. Eventually, in any case it would be reasonable to follow simple recommendations: read user manuals carefully before using any device, keep a certain distance to the device, reduce the duration of its use, and follow the safety rules of using devices for their intended purpose.
Uatom.org Editorial Board