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What is EMF? EMFs Explained

What Does EMF Stand For?

EMF stands for electromagnetic field (EMF).

What Are Electromagnetic Fields? 

All matter is made of particles. 

The flow of particles is called electric current.

The electric current travels in an electric circuit. 

Voltage is the pressure used to push the electron particles.

An electric field is produced by voltage.

The greater the voltage, the greater the field strength.

Voltage is measured in volts per meter (V/m).

Magnetic fields are produced by electric current.

The greater the current, the greater the magnetic field.

Magnetic fields are measured in microteslas (μt)

Electric field + magnetic field = electromagnetic fields (EMF)

Electric and Magnetic Field waves

Frequencies and Wavelengths

EMFs have different frequencies or wavelengths. 

Think of electromagnetic waves as regular waves (traveling at the speed of light). 

Frequency is a description of the number of waves, or cycles, per second. 

The wavelength is the distance between one wave and the next. 

The higher the frequency, the shorter the wavelength. 

An analogy to help understand how frequency and wavelength are intertwined:

Friend A is holding the one end of a 10 foot long jump rope stationary. Friend B walks back about 6 feet and holds the “free” end of the rope. Friend B moves the free end of rope up and down slowly creating a single big wave moving toward Friend A. If Friend B moves the free side up and down rapidly, the waves created are a series of small waves. Since the rope remains the same 10 foot length, the more waves generated (frequency) the smaller the distance between them (shorter wavelength). 

Natural and Artificial Sources of EMFs

Electromagnetic fields come from natural sources and artificial sources. 

Natural sources include the electric fields created by thunderstorms and the earth’s magnetic field, which you can observe by the polarity of a compass. 

Artificial sources of electromagnetic fields have increased significantly over the past century with the advancement of technology. They include Wifi, electric appliances, power lines, cell phones, smart meters, bluetooth devices, etc. 

EMF Sources and Exposure 

High Voltage Power Lines

Electricity is transmitted over long distances via high voltage power lines.

Step-down transformers are used at the local end to decrease the voltage to the 120 volts used in homes, businesses and schools.

Wiring in those homes, businesses and schools distribute electricity around the building and account for the background level of power frequency electric and magnetic fields.

The background field in buildings directly under high voltage power lines can be as high as several micro teslas (μt) but further away from the lines the background magnetic field densities are closer to 0.2 μt.

Electric fields under power lines can be as high as 10 kV/m.

Both electric and magnetic fields drop off at 50 to 100 meters from the power lines to levels found away from the power lines.

The strongest electric field in the environment is typically around the high voltage power lines.

The strongest magnetic fields in the environment are typically found closest to motors and electrical appliances. 

EMFs From Household Appliances

Magnetic fields are strongest in the home around electrical appliances and the motors that power them. 

However, household appliances are changing with the advancement of technology and include not only the motor to run them but now Wifi. 

The Internet of Things and Smart Home appliances are gaining popularity and you find appliances and devices in every room of the house connected to the internet.

So household appliances emit both magnetic and radiofrequency fields. 

Radiofrequency (RF) EMF 

Radiofrequency (RF) EMF includes radio waves and microwaves and is at the low end of the electromagnetic spectrum. 

It is a type of non-ionizing radiation, which means it does not have enough energy to remove electrons from an atom. 

RF EMF also has natural and artificial sources. Natural RF EMF comes from the sun and outer space.

Man made or artificial sources include Wifi, Bluetooth, radio and television signals, cell phones, cell towers, among others. 

As an example, cell phones work by sending and receiving signals from cell towers. These signals back and forth create RF EMFs.

The Electromagnetic Spectrum

The electromagnetic spectrum is the distribution of all types of electromagnetic radiation according to frequency and/or wavelength. 

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

Harmful Effects of EMFs

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. 

Final Thoughts on EMF Radiation

The research on the matter is ongoing. 

Some studies have found links between EMF radiation and certain health concerns, while other studies have not. 

More research is needed to determine the potential health risks of EMF radiation exposure.

In the meantime, there’s a sufficient amount of research to suggest EMF radiation particularly from cell phones, 5G, Wifi, and Bluetooth has enough health risks that we should take them seriously and consider this exposure in day-to-day life.

EMF Protection

EMF protection comes in many forms.

You should consider your level of exposure when deciding on the appropriate protection measures. 

For example, if you’re a heavy cell phone user, use a cell phone radiation case to block the ambient exposure. 

If you feel like you live or work in an area constantly exposed to Wifi and you are concerned about fertility, EMF protection underwear make sense. 

Here are some of the best EMF protection options from the top, most reputable brands that conduct independent studies:

EMF Radiation Protection: 

Cell Phone Cases (DefenderShield)

Laptop Shields (DefenderShield)

Tablet/iPad Shields (DefenderShield)

Airtube Headphones (DefenderShield)

Men’s Underwear (Lambs)

Women’s Underwear (Lambs)

Hats (Lambs)

Men’s T-Shirt (Lambs)

Women’s T-Shirt (Lambs)

Blanket/Lap cover (Lambs)

Wifi Router Guard (Amazon.com)

Smart Meter Shield (Amazon.com)

Faraday Fabric (Amazon.com)

References:

  1. World Health Organization – Radiation: Electromagnetic Fields
  2. Occupational Safety and Health Administration – Ionizing Radiation
  3. Physicians for Safe Technology – Behavior, Memory and Learning: https://mdsafetech.org/science/behavior/
  4. 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.
  5. 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)
  6. 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
  7. 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. 
  8. 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
  9. 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. 
  10. Kesari KK, Agarwal A, Henkel R. Radiations and male fertility. Reprod Biol Endocrinol. 2018 Dec 9;16(1):118.
  11. 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
  12. 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
  13. 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
  14. 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
  15. Health impact of 5G – EPRS | European Parliamentary Research Service Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA) PE 690.012 – July 2021. Link to PDF
  16. 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.
  17. 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
  18. 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.
  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. 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.
Nicole Moore picture

Nicole

Nicole Moore is the Founder and Managing Editor of EducateEMF. She has completed two certificates of completion on the topics of EMF Radiation and EMF Protection in your home. She extensively researches topics using peer-reviewed research, literature and journal articles.