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Are EMF Waves Harmful?

EMF waves are harmful. The frequency and wavelength determines the amount of harm from high to low frequency. 

There is still much debate surrounding how harmful lower frequency waves are but studies have shown that long-term exposure to EMF waves can be harmful. 

Some of the potential health effects associated with EMF exposure include cancer, reproductive issues, and neurological problems.

Make sure you have read our articles on What is EMF? – EMF Explained and What Does EMF Radiation Mean? to have a full understanding of EMFs as we discuss EMF waves and how harmful EMF radiation is. 

Further Reading:

EMF Radiation

Accelerating charged particles produce changing electric and magnetic fields. 

This interplay between fields creates energy in the form of electromagnetic waves that move through free space. 

This released energy emission is radiation. 

When radiation moves through the air it travels in waves. Higher frequency waves emit a lot energy and have a shorter wavelength. 

Lower frequency waves are longer and emit low energy. All these waves are placed on a spectrum – the electromagnetic spectrum. 

They are ordered from low to high energy waves. 

Ionizing Vs. Non-Ionizing Radiation

The high energy waves are ionizing waves, which are the most powerful. Gamma rays, nuclear energy, x-rays and even some UV rays are ionizing. 

These can instantly cause damage to the body by shattering electrons and shattering the molecules in our bodies. 

Graphic of the electromagnetic spectrum from non-ionizing radiation to ionizing radiation listed from left to right

Non-ionizing radiation is weaker but it can still alter cells on a biological level after a long period of exposure. 

These waves include infrared, microwaves, radio waves (RF) and extremely low frequency waves (ELF). Sources of RF and ELF radiation include cell phones, Wifi, Bluetooth and even appliances like hairdryers. 

Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) Radiation and Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation

ELF radiation comes from currents flowing in an electronic device. It is the lowest frequency of radiation but all devices emit it. Anything that gets power from an outlet or a battery. 

Since most sources are used briefly and from a safe distance they aren’t as damaging in the long run. 

Smart devices like cell phones, smart watches, laptops, tablets and wireless Bluetooth headphones emit both ELF and RF radiation. 

RF radiation is emitted when the smart device connects to Wifi, uses the cellular network, 5G, uses Bluetooth, etc. 

RF radiation travels. Bluetooth signals travel up to 30 feet. 

Wifi travels up to hundreds of feet. 

Cell phone signals travel several miles. 

The closer you are to the source of radiation the more you are receiving. 

Direct skin contact like against your head or body are the most harmful because of the short distance. 

Short distance in addition to the long amount of time with these devices are what makes us most vulnerable to them. 

The health effects from even low levels of EMF exposure can damage DNA strands, heat cells, change cell makeup, and disrupt entire processes in the body. This can lead to reproductive effects, genotoxic effects like DNA fragmentation, fertility problems, glioma brain cancer, cellular stress, cognitive effects, behavior and sleep effects, blood brain barrier effects, among others. 

What is the most harmful electromagnetic wave?

The most harmful electromagnetic wave is gamma rays.

They are very high energy waves that can penetrate through matter. 

Does the sun emit EMF?

Yes, the sun emits EMF radiation. 

The sun emits a variety of EMF radiation, including ultraviolet radiation, infrared radiation, and visible light.

What happens when a person is exposed to electromagnetic waves?

There is no question about the harmful effects of EMFs above a certain point. We know gamma rays damage cells and DNA. This is the ionizing radiation part of the electromagnetic spectrum. (3)

Where the question lies is in the low-mid frequency part of the electromagnetic spectrum, the non-ionizing radiation exposure. 

The biological effects of the increasing levels of artificial sources of EMFs is where the research, and this website, are focused.

Ionizing VS Non-Ionizing EMFs Explained

There are two categories of EMFs:

1. Higher frequency – the ionizing radiation part of the electromagnetic spectrum. 

This damages cells and DNA directly. Examples are x-rays and gamma rays.

2. Low-mid frequency – the non-ionizing radiation part of the electromagnetic spectrum. 

This includes:

  1. Extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF) radiation – major sources are household electronics, nearby power lines and high voltage transmission lines.
  2. Radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF) radiation – major sources include Wifi, cell phones, and Bluetooth
  3. Microwave radiation 
  4. Infrared radiation (IR) – absorbed by the skin and eyes as heat. Sources of IR radiation include furnaces and heat lamps
  5. Visible light radiation 

As RF radiation in the form of Wifi, cellular networks (including 5G), and Bluetooth have become increasingly prominent over the last 20-30 years, the scientific community is trying to keep up. 

Scientific Literature

As the EMF exposure frequency and duration have increased as technology advances, many researchers, scientists, and doctors have explored the possibility of harmful health effects. 

Behavior, Memory and Learning

The behavior of a person and their ability to learn is based on the neural integration of memory, which is a complex system linking the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system. 

This system can be easily affected by things like toxic exposures during fetal development and childhood, nutritional deficiencies, and hormonal imbalance. 

We know that chemical toxins like pesticides can be harmful to pregnant women and children, and that ionizing radiation can have adverse effects on development. 

Now there is new research linking non-ionizing radiofrequency (RF) radiation from wireless devices to neurological harm, both prenatally and postnatally. 

This means that using devices like Wifi, cell phones, tablets, and laptops can potentially damage nerve cells in the hippocampus and other areas of the brain. (3)

A 2021 study published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health concluded:

Our results suggest that higher brain exposure to RF-EMF is related to lower non-verbal intelligence…we cannot discard that our results are due to chance finding or reverse causality. Longitudinal studies on RF-EMF brain exposure and cognitive function are needed.” (4)

In an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics in 2020, the conclusion was:

This study found an association between increased screen-based media use, compared with the AAP guidelines, and lower microstructural integrity of brain white matter tracts supporting language and emergent literacy skills in prekindergarten children. The findings suggest further study is needed, particularly during the rapid early stages of brain development.” (5)

There are many available studies on this topic but the final I will highlight is this one from Bioelectromagnetics in 2019. 

This study specifically called out the increased exposure to a broad spectrum of radiofrequency (RF) fields from many sources, like mobile phones, Bluetooth and Wifi. 

The scientists are trying to fill the gap of research that exists on the low levels of consistent exposure to RF radiation from early prenatal development to young children and the effects on early-life exposure on behavior: emotional, communication and motor skills. 

Of course they can’t expose prenatal and postnatal children to increased levels of RF radiation so this study used mice. 

They summarize the findings as:

“prenatal and early‐life exposure of male mice to pulsed 1,846 MHz RF fields simulating LTE downlink signals at a whole‐body averaged SAR of 0.5 or 1 W/kg resulted in consistent and long‐lasting changes in drinking and eating behavior, as well as locomotor and rest behaviors” (6)

If you want to read one article on the potential behavioral effects of RF radiation on children, this is the article I would recommend. 

Nervous System Effects

The brain and nervous system are very sensitive to microwave radio frequency radiation. 

This can cause a lot of problems including damage to parts of the brain that are important for learning and memory, changes in mood, and problems with nerve cell protection. (3)

It is generally thought that children and young adults (up to age 26) are most vulnerable to RF radiation as their brains are most rapidly developing at this age. 

A review of recent studies:

In a 2021 study, a cross-section of pre-adolescents ages 9-11 and adolescents ages 17-18 found data that suggested higher brain exposure to RF EMF is related to lower non-verbal intelligence. (7)

A study in the Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy in 2020 used rats to study the effects of 900 MHz (Wifi) of radiation on four different groups: a control group and three exposure groups at different amounts of duration at the 900 MHz frequency. 

They found altered neurotransmission in brain cells, cellular degeneration in the radiation-exposed group’s hippocampus and a reduction in working memory. (8)

A 2019 article published in Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine found:

“900-, 1800-, and 2100-MHz RFR emitted from mobile phones may cause oxidative damage, induce increase in lipid peroxidation, and increase oxidative DNA damage formation in the frontal lobe…” (9)

Reproductive Health Effects

Men generally carry cell phones in their pockets.

The question of the effects of RF radiation on sperm has become a concern.

To help answer these questions several studies have examined the potential effects of non-ionizing radiation on male reproductive health.

A 2018 study was trying to test just this. The authors commented that it is known there are many factors that affect male fertility including high heat, pesticides, ionizing radiation, etc. 

With the prevalence of Wifi and cell phones, they wanted to find out if non-ionizing RF radiation could be having an impact as well. 

They concluded:

“RF-EMF may induce oxidative stress with an increased level of reactive oxygen species, which may lead to infertility. This has been concluded based on available evidences from in vitro and in vivo studies suggesting that RF-EMF exposure negatively affects sperm quality.” (10)

A 2017 study came to similar conclusions after a 38 year look across multiple countries and continents:

“This comprehensive meta-regression analysis reports a significant decline in sperm counts (as measured by SC and TSC) between 1973 and 2011, driven by a 50–60% decline among men unselected by fertility from North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.” (11)

Possible Carcinogen

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), part of the World Health Organization works to find causes of cancer.

In 2011 they classified RF EMF radiation as a Group 2B Possible Human Carcinogen (13). Many researchers, scientists and doctors who work in the field of electromagnetic radiation are pushing the IARC to upgrade the risk to a Group 1 Known Carcinogen.
Swedish oncologist and professor Lennart Hardell and scientist in the Department of Oncology at Örebro University Hospital Michael Carlberg published a paper in the International Journal of Oncology. 

They state the IARC should classify RF radiation as Group 1 in their conclusion:

“​​There is clear evidence that RF radiation causes cancer/tumor at multiple sites, primarily in the brain (glioma) and head (acoustic neuroma). There is also evidence of an increased risk of developing other tumor types. The results are similar in both the NTP studies (19,20) and the Ramazzini Institute findings (34). Based on the IARC preamble to the monographs, RF radiation should be classified as Group 1: The agent is carcinogenic to humans.” (12)

Similarly a group of epidemiologists supported the conclusion that the IARC should upgrade the risk to Group 1. (14)

On the topic of 5G the European Parliament published a review of the health impact of 5G (15). The author, Belpoggi, PhD, International Academy of Toxicologic Pathology Fellow (IATPF), reviewed 1,861 studies on cancer (950 human and 911 rodent) and 7,886 studies on reproduction.

In the report she states:

“The literature contains no adequate studies that would rule out the risk that tumours and adverse effects on reproduction and development may occur upon exposure to 5G MMW, or to exclude the possibility of some synergistic interactions between 5G and other frequencies that are already being used. This makes the introduction of 5G fraught with uncertainty concerning both health issues and forecasting and or monitoring the actual exposure of the population: these gaps in knowledge justify the call for a moratorium on MMW of 5G, pending completion of adequate research.” (15)

Biological Mechanisms

DNA and RNA are important molecules that carry our individual genetic codes from one generation to the next. 

These fragile chains of nucleic acids not only direct our inheritance, they also direct fetal development, metabolism, protein synthesis, immune system functioning, nervous system functioning and cancer protection. 

DNA and RNA can be damaged by exposure to things like ionizing radiation from X-Rays, nuclear power plants and atomic bombs. 

The question is if (and how much) non-ionizing radiation from RF EMF sources like cell phones, Wifi, and Bluetooth can alter DNA and RNA by various mechanisms including creation of reactive oxygen species (ROS), similar to other toxins exposures like pesticides and heavy metals.

Several studies have attempted to answer this question. 

The National Toxicology tested two common RF frequencies on rodents in a 2 year assay. They found a significant increase in DNA damage in the frontal cortex of male mice (both modulations), leukocytes of female mice (CDMA only), and hippocampus of male rats (CDMA only). (16)

VERUM – Foundation for Behaviour and Environment – based in Munich conducted a 4 year study to parse through the data and try to determine the effects of ELF and RF EMFs on DNA. They concluded that:

“For both ELF-EMF and RF-EMF, the results of the whole genome cDNA micro-array and proteomic analyses indicated that EMF may activate several groups of genes that play a role in cell division, cell proliferation, and cell differentiation.” (17)

Several studies have found DNA damage (19) (20) specifically from radiofrequency radiation, like that from cell phones and wifi. 

What frequency is harmful to humans?

Gamma rays are harmful to humans and they have frequencies greater than about 10^19 cycles per second, or hertz (Hz). 

X-rays are also harmful to humans and they have frequencies ranging from about 10^16 to 10^20 hertz (Hz). 

Ultraviolet waves can be harmful to humans and they have frequencies ranging about 10^15 to 10^17 Hz. 

All lower frequencies can be harmful to humans and they have frequencies below 10^15 Hz.

What part of living cell is usually most damaged by electromagnetic radiation?

There is no definitive answer to this question as different types of electromagnetic radiation can damage different parts of cells. 

However, some studies have shown that ultraviolet radiation can be particularly harmful to DNA.

Which electromagnetic waves are harmful to humans?

Higher frequency electromagnetic waves are harmful to humans and many studies suggest low frequency electromagnetic waves may also be harmful to humans. 


  1. University of Tennessee Knoxville – The Production of EM waves
  2. World Health Organization – Radiation: Electromagnetic Fields
  3. Occupational Safety and Health Administration – Ionizing Radiation
  4. Physicians for Safe Technology – Behavior, Memory and Learning:
  5. Cabré-Riera et al. Association between estimated whole-brain radiofrequency electromagnetic fields dose and cognitive function in preadolescents and adolescents. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2021 Jan;231:113659. doi: 10.1016/j.ijheh.2020.113659. Epub 2020 Nov 19. PMID: 33221634.
  6. Hutton JS, Dudley J, Horowitz-Kraus T, DeWitt T, Holland SK. Associations Between Screen-Based Media Use and Brain White Matter Integrity in Preschool-Aged Children. JAMA Pediatr. 2020;174(1)
  7. Broom KA, Findlay R, Addison DS, Goiceanu C, Sienkiewicz Z. Early-Life Exposure to Pulsed LTE Radiofrequency Fields Causes Persistent Changes in Activity and Behavior in C57BL/6 J Mice. Bioelectromagnetics. 2019;40(7):498-511. doi:10.1002/bem.22217
  8. Cabré-Riera et al. Association between estimated whole-brain radiofrequency electromagnetic fields dose and cognitive function in preadolescents and adolescents. Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2021 Jan;231:113659. 
  9. Sharma S, Shukla S. Effect of electromagnetic radiation on redox status, acetylcholine esterase activity and cellular damage contributing to the diminution of the brain working memory in rats. Journal of Chemical Neuroanatomy. 2020 Jul;106:101784
  10. Alkis ME, Bilgin HM, Akpolat V, Dasdag S, Yegin K, Yavas MC, Akdag MZ. Effect of 900-, 1800-, and 2100-MHz radiofrequency radiation on DNA and oxidative stress in brain. Electromagn Biol Med. 2019;38(1):32-47. 
  11. Kesari KK, Agarwal A, Henkel R. Radiations and male fertility. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2018 Dec 9;16(1):118.
  12. Hagai Levine, Niels Jørgensen, Anderson Martino-Andrade, Jaime Mendiola, Dan Weksler-Derri, Irina Mindlis, Rachel Pinotti, Shanna H Swan, Temporal trends in sperm count: a systematic review and meta-regression analysis, Human Reproduction Update, Volume 23, Issue 6, November-December 2017, Pages 646–659
  13. Spandidos Publications styleHardell L and Hardell L: Comments on the US National Toxicology Program technical reports on toxicology and carcinogenesis study in rats exposed to whole-body radiofrequency radiation at 900 MHz and in mice exposed to whole-body radiofrequency radiation at 1,900 MHz. Int J Oncol 54: 111-127, 2019
  14. World Health Organization – IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer). Non-ionizing Radiation, Part 1: Static and Extremely Low-frequency (ELF) Electric and Magnetic Fields
  15. Miller AB, Morgan LL, Udasin I, Davis DL. Cancer epidemiology update, following the 2011 IARC evaluation of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (Monograph 102). Environ Res. 2018 Nov;167:673-683
  16. Health impact of 5G – EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) PE 690.012 – July 2021. Link to PDF
  17. Smith-Roe SL, Wyde ME, Stout MD, Winters JW, Hobbs CA, Shepard KG, Green AS, Kissling GE, Shockley KR, Tice RR, Bucher JR, Witt KL. Evaluation of the genotoxicity of cell phone radiofrequency radiation in male and female rats and mice following subchronic exposure. Environ Mol Mutagen. 2020 Feb;61(2):276-290.
  18. VERUM Foundation Risk Evaluation of Potential Environmental Hazards from Low Energy Electromagnetic – Field Exposure Using Sensitive in vitro Methods – Contract number: QLK4-CT-1999-01574
  19. Al-Serori H, Ferk F, Kundi M, Bileck A, Gerner C, Mišík M, Nersesyan A, Waldherr M, Murbach M, Lah TT, Herold-Mende C, Collins AR, Knasmüller S. Mobile phone specific electromagnetic fields induce transient DNA damage and nucleotide excision repair in serum-deprived human glioblastoma cells. PLoS One. 2018 Apr 12;13(4):e0193677.
  20. Al-Serori H, Ferk F, Kundi M, Bileck A, Gerner C, Mišík M, Nersesyan A, Waldherr M, Murbach M, Lah TT, Herold-Mende C, Collins AR, Knasmüller S. Mobile phone specific electromagnetic fields induce transient DNA damage and nucleotide excision repair in serum-deprived human glioblastoma cells. PLoS One. 2018 Apr 12;13(4):e0193677. 
  21. Zothansiama, Zosangzuali M, Lalramdinpuii M, Jagetia GC. Impact of radiofrequency radiation on DNA damage and antioxidants in peripheral blood lymphocytes of humans residing in the vicinity of mobile phone base stations. Electromagn Biol Med. 2017;36(3):295-305.