With growing public concern regarding exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF), many people wonder if there is such a thing as safe EMF levels. EMF radiation of course occurs naturally in the form of the sun’s rays, but with increasing exposure to electricity, cell phones, microwaves, and other technologies, some individuals may be concerned about how much is too much, and how much is safe. Certain international commissions have published guidelines for EMF exposure, but first, we will look at what EMFs are, and how they are measured.
What are EMFs?
EMFs are composed of two different types of invisible electromagnetic fields that are an essential aspect of electrical and solar power. The two types of EMFs include non-ionizing, lower-level radiation, and ionizing, high-level radiation which has the potential for cellular and DNA damage.
Lower-level radiation is created by everyday appliances such as microwave ovens or computers, and high-level radiation is generated by the sun and X-rays. It is the high-level radiation that is of most concern to health professionals and the public alike. However, continuous exposure to lower-level radiation can also be a danger.
How are EMFs Measured?
Since EMFs are a form of electrical and magnetic energy that depends on electrical frequency, EMFs are measured in three different ways: Volts per meter (V/m), hertz (Hz), and the milligauss (mG).
- Volts per Meter. Volts per meter (V/m). Volts per meter is a measurement of electric field strength. When an electrically charged particle moves in an electrical field the amount of energy (determined by the strength of the electrical field) changes by the number of volts for every unit of distance it travels. EMFs can be measured with an EMF meter, and these handheld devices can be purchased from a variety of online retailers. These devices range in price from under $50 to $200.
- Hertz. When thinking about EMF exposure, another consideration is the frequency of the electrical source. Frequency is the fluctuation of an electric current over time. The unit of measure of EMF frequency is called the hertz (Hz). A hertz is equal to one electrical cycle per second. Cell phones, microwaves, and Wi-Fi networks can generate 100 kilohertz (kHz) to 300 gigahertz (GHz).
- Milligauss. A milligauss is a density measure of a magnetic field. Whenever there is a flow of electricity, both electric and magnetic fields are created. Magnetic fields pass through many materials, and magnetic levels can vary in different areas of the same room or home. Gauss meters can be purchased online, and are handheld devices that can measure magnetic fields and microwaves.
So, just to review, EMFs are measured according to electrical strength (V/m), magnetic frequency (Hz), and magnetic density (mG). It’s a lot to digest, but this illustrates the multifaceted nature of EMFs.
What Are Safe Levels of EMF?
The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) has published guidelines for EMF exposure, as well as data related to safety levels. These guidelines are based on years of research and analysis, and the commission developed recommendations for safe levels of EMF exposure.
Safe Levels of Electrical Strength Exposure
According to the ICNIRP, exposure to EMFs is considered safe if EMF levels fall below the volts per meter levels in the following circumstances:
- Electric trains and trams (300 V/m).
- Natural electromagnetic fields, such as those created by the sun, (200 V/m).
- EMFs are generated by power mains but away from power lines (100 V/m).
- Microwave ovens (14 V/m).
- TVs and computer screens (10 V/m).
- Radars produce (9 V/m).
- TVs, cell towers, and radio transmitters (6 V/m).
As one can see from the table, some devices like microwaves or cell phones do not fall under the recommended volts per meter levels.
Safe Levels of Magnetic Frequency Exposure
A Canadian study found that the adverse health effects associated with radiofrequency field exposures relate to tissue heating and nerve stimulation. For this reason, the ICNIRP provides guidelines for limiting exposure to EMFs that generate radio frequencies (RFs) up to 300 GHz. So, we can assume from this that levels below 300 GHz are relatively safe. However, on August 1, 1996, NCRP recommended Maximum Permissible Exposure (MPE) limits for field strength and power density for the transmitters operating at frequencies of 300 kHz to 100 GHz.
Cell phones and microwave ovens are mainly in the range of 1-300 GHz, although continuous exposure can increase that effect. It is well known that frequency < 1 GHz can have a cumulation of charge on the body surface and disturbance of nerve and muscle responses. Incandescent light bulbs are way above 300 GHz and can have some effects like corneal burn, cataracts, and heating of body surface.
Safe Levels of Magnetic Density Exposure
As far as safe levels of exposure to magnetic fields, the ICNIRP guidelines recommend a residential magnetic field exposure limit of 0.5-2.5 mG and an occupational exposure limit of 10 mG. Most household devices are well above this range. For example, cell phones when placed close to the head generate 1.2-2 mG, a vacuum cleaner generates 230-1,300 mG, and a TV produces 4.8-100 mG.
Why is Some Research Deceiving?
Research undertaken by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has admitted that all forms of EMF radiation are carcinogenic (may cause cancer) and are potentially dangerous. The limits established don’t take into account the continuous exposure to the source, as it is now our way of life.
Some research studies conclude that your exposure may be reduced by increasing the distance from the source. Exposure from personal devices can also be reduced by limiting the time of use. The constant use of cell phones, tablets, and watches as part of our lifestyle is the most obvious incongruency here. We carry a source of EMFs for long periods, sometimes always, and even sleep next to it. The accumulation of EMF in the body may be exponential. And that’s what’s dangerous.
As far as safe levels of EMF exposure, it appears that many household appliances, cell phones, and computers are well below questionable levels. However, research is conflicted and inconclusive regarding EMF exposure and its health effects. While some of the studies cited above conclude that most items we use on a day-to-day basis are within safe levels, others state that adverse health effects may result from long-term exposure to high-level EMFs.
When pondering the question, what EMF levels are safe? The best answer is probably “none.” But in our technologically advanced world, zero exposure is highly unlikely and in many cases impractical. However, if you are concerned about EMF exposure and unsafe levels, you can take precautions such as turning off your cellphone when you’re not using it, keeping your computer in a different room, or employing the use of EMF protection clothing, jewelry, or other products that can help reduce your exposure to EMF levels.
If you are concerned about safe levels of EMF, the good news is that you can take precautions to limit your exposure.