FAQs about EMFs
FAQs about Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs)...
EMFs, Potential Health Effects, and How to Reduce EMFs...
Electromagnetic fields (EMFs) are a type of low-frequency electromagnetic radiation emitted from virtually everything electrical and electronic in our modern world — power lines, transformers, electrical panels, building wiring, computers, lights, clocks, appliances, televisions, hairdryers, cell phones, cordless phones, microwave ovens, Wi-Fi, wireless routers and other devices, TV/radio/cell towers, etc. In general, the term "EMF" is used to refer to the wide range electromagnetic frequencies slower than visible light, called "non-ionizing" radiation. (In contrast, the frequencies faster than visible light including x-rays and nuclear radiations, are much more dangerous and are called "ionizing" radiation.)
Electromagnetic interference (EMI) is a common problem in which electromagnetic fields (EMFs) interfere with the proper functioning of a complex electronic or computer system, or one of its components. These interference problems can range from an annoying jitter of the image on a TV or computer screen or disruptive static on a radio station, to very serious and costly problems with the loss of data, malfunction or complete shutdown of sensitive computer and electronic equipment. For example, there is great care taken in the assignment of frequencies and power outputs for radio and television stations, cell towers and various wireless devices to make sure that the EMF signal from one station or device does not overlap and interfere with the EMF signal from another device or station. This is very important for the proper operation of all electronics and wireless devices.
Today, over a thousand research studies have linked EMFs to important biological effects. But there is still great controversy about the seriousness of the health effects, and the conclusiveness of the research data. In the beginning, many scientists assumed that EMFs could not affect human health because EMFs cannot ionize molecules like x-rays and nuclear radiation, and the exposures are usually too low to cause significant heating of body tissue. However, similar to the way that EMFs can cause interference problems for sensitive electronics and computer system, the research is beginning to suggest that low-level EMFs can indeed influence and interfere with sensitive bio-electromagnetic processes within our cells, brains and bodies. For example, research suggests that our pineal gland can somehow sense the daily changes of the earth's natural magnetic field, and use this information to help regulate our wake/sleep cycle. Studies indicate that artificial magnetic fields can suppress the secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland at night, the main hormone that initiates our sleep cycle.
While there still is great controversy, studies suggest that EMFs may be linked to a variety of health problems including leukemia, lymphoma, brain and nervous system cancers, melanoma, breast cancer, miscarriage, birth defects, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, depression and suicide. Anecdotally, EMFs have been associated with symptoms such as nausea, headache, fatigue, anxiety, dizziness, mental confusion, memory loss, sleep disturbance, itchy or burning skin sensations, and skin rashes. Anecdotally, there are increasing numbers of people who report "hypersensitivity" to electromagnetic fields (EMFs), similar to the way that some individuals have become "hypersensitive" to chemicals, often as the result of over-exposure in the past.
The strongest evidence comes from a series of epidemiological studies that have reported increased childhood cancer risks in homes with higher EMFs from power lines. Scientists at the Washington State Department of Health reported that the modern rise of childhood leukemia (absent in primitive cultures) is closely linked to the original date of electrification of homes. A wide variety of occupational studies have linked EMFs to cancer in adult workers. In the laboratory, human cancer cells exposed to high EMFs grew significantly faster than unexposed cancer cells. Recently, independent studies from Europe have reported increased tumors and cancer risks linked to the use of cell phones and cordless phones. The cancer risk was highest when people started their use in childhood.
The research suggests that certain EMFs might affect the pineal gland's secretion of melatonin at night. Melatonin is one of our bodies' most potent natural cancer fighters, as well as the vital hormone that regulates our wake/sleep cycle. Lowered levels of melatonin have been linked with breast, ovarian, prostate and melanoma cancers, as well as with psychological disorders such as depression and suicide. We all know what happens if we do not sleep well — not only are we more tired and grumpy, but we're also much more likely to catch a cold or sickness because our immune function is low. So, rather than initiate any specific disease like leukemia, it seems that EMFs may simply cause long-term stress and interference with our sleep and immune functions — weakening the body’s natural ability to maintain health and fight a variety of illnesses.
For many people, the largest single source is from electrical wiring as well as lights, appliances and other electrical devices in the home. In particular, electrical wiring near the bedrooms can emit high EMFs all night long. Clocks and radios near the bed may also contribute. Exposures to EMFs from cordless phones, cell phones, wireless computer equipment, Wi-Fi, etc., are also increasing. Another common source is from power lines — both the high-voltage power lines on metal towers and the neighborhood distribution lines on wooden poles or buried underground. Computers, fluorescent lights and other equipment at work are another important source. And a strong EMF source that is usually overlooked is the automobile.
In our modern world, everyone is exposed to some level of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). But exposure levels will vary greatly depending on location. Unfortunately, without testing, it is very difficult to predict the actual EMF levels found in any particular home or office because the EMFs can be emitted from unexpected and unknown sources such as electrical wiring in nearby walls, stray electricity in metal water pipes, a neighbor's wireless computer, or a cordless phone when not in use. Therefore, we recommend that everyone measure the actual levels found in their home, school or office with proper test meters. You can hire a professional to do this, or purchase or rent the proper meters to do this yourself.
First, you can arrange beds, couches and chairs to stay as far away as possible from obvious EMF sources such as electrical panels, refrigerators, televisions, fluorescent lights, etc. Use a battery powered alarm clock instead of a plug-in type near your bed, and unplug electrical cords near beds, desks, couches and chairs. Limit your family’s use of cell phones and cordless phones as much as possible, especially for children. For your computer, use only wired components, nothing wireless if possible. Also avoid using Wi-Fi, or at least turn it off at night. And since EMFs can be emitted from so many unseen and unexpected sources, we strongly recommend that you measure with a test meter to determine what the actual exposure levels and sources are.
Yes, in most cases you can. Rather simple, do-it-yourself test meters are available for the average person. With the proper test meter, you can test your home, school, workplace or any other location for EMFs. You can test power lines, transformers, wiring, electric meter panels, computers, televisions, appliances, cell phones, cordless phones, etc. You can test where you sleep, and where your children play. And perhaps most important for the long term, you can pre-test potential new homes and apartments before you decide to buy or rent.
A professional test consultant can help assure that a thorough and accurate EMF survey has been performed. Also, some professionals may also have expertise in the reduction of EMFs — shielding refrigerators and electrical panels, troubleshooting EMFs from wiring, eliminating stray electrical currents in water pipes, etc. In northern California, we provide professional on-site testing and EMF consultations. For the rest of the US and Canada, we offer EMF consultations via the telephone to help you (1) choose the right kind of test meters, (2) measure the EMFs for your own situation, (3) review your measurements and how they compare to potential safety levels, and (4) explain what exactly you can do to reduce the levels.
Yes, there are three basic kinds of EMF. Magnetic fields are the EMF component most often linked to serious health effects in the scientific research literature (e.g., between power lines and childhood leukemia). They are emitted from power lines, building wiring, lights, appliances, and virtually everything that runs on regular electricity.
Electric fields make up the other half of the "electro"magnetic fields emitted from power lines, wiring, lights and appliances. They are also related to certain biological effects, and anecdotally, electric fields are often involved when people knowingly feel discomfort or “symptoms” from electrical sources.
Finally, Radio frequency or “RF” includes the higher frequency fields and microwaves emitted by cell towers and cell phones, cordless phones, TV/radio broadcast towers, Wi-Fi and other wireless computer devices, microwave ovens, and various electronics. (The electric and magnetic parts of RF fields are not separated, so you only need one meter to detect the RF field.)
Each of the three kinds of EMFs requires a different type of test meter. Magnetic fields are usually measured in units called milligauss (mG) with special instruments called "gaussmeters." Electric fields are detected by either measuring the volts (V) on a person's skin with a "body voltage tester" or the volts per meter (V/M) with a standard "electric field tester." RF/microwave fields require a special test meter that can detect a wide range of RF frequencies, especially the digital microwaves, in units of microwatts per centimeter squared (μW/cm²).
There is great controversy about what levels are safe, so you will have to make your own decision. For magnetic fields, the lowest level linked to childhood cancer in the power line studies is 2.0 milligauss (mG). The average in homes around the country is probably around 0.5 mG, with dense urban areas like San Francisco probably averaging closer to 1.0 mG. In our consulting work, we try to reduce long-term exposures to well below the levels linked with disease in the research studies, so we generally try to reduce magnetic field exposures to 0.5 mG or less.
Electric fields in homes are typically around 0.5 to 2.0 volts (V) using a body voltage meter. We usually use a cautionary level of 1.0 V for living areas, and 0.5 V for sleeping locations. Anecdotally, very sensitive individuals usually need to reduce electric fields below 0.1 V to feel relief of symptoms. RF/microwaves in the home vary greatly, usually depending on the use of cell phones, cordless phones, wireless and Wi-Fi. Average levels vary from 0.01 to 0.5 microwatts per centimeter squared (μW/cm²). We generally use a precautionary level of 0.1 μW/cm² as suggested by the Bioinitiative Report, and 0.001 or less for sensitive individuals.
No. A triple-axis meter allows you to simply hold the test meter in any orientation, and get a full, accurate three-dimensional reading. A single-axis meter requires you to move the meter around in all possible directions to find the highest field strength, or take three readings in orthogonal directions and do a math calculation. In practice, most people will get much more accurate readings with a triple-axis meter, because it is so easy to miss the strongest direction with a single-axis meter and underestimate the true field strength.
For magnetic fields, we usually recommend a gaussmeter that can detect both ELF and VLF frequency ranges. ELF includes the 60 Hz frequency from power lines, wiring, refrigerators, transformers, lights, appliances and everything that runs on regular electrical power. VLF includes higher frequencies in the range of 10,000 Hz and more that often come from televisions, computers, fluorescent lights, compact fluorescent bulbs, and other electronics. For RF/microwaves, it is also important to use a meter which can measure a wide range of frequencies. For example, the 5.8 GHz frequency of some cordless phones is not detected by many RF meters.
The all-purpose meter that we often recommend for general testing is the TriField 100XE. This meter is a special value because it is triple-axis and can it detect all three kinds of EMFs, all at a relatively low cost. However, while it does measure a very wide range of magnetic fields, it does not detect levels as low as we would recommend for the RF and electric fields. Therefore, when searching for a new home or apartment, we generally recommend that you test the magnetic fields with a more accurate gaussmeter like the Alpha UHS or Bell 4080. For more sensitive testing of the RF, especially digital microwaves from cell towers and wireless devices, we recommend the TES 92 or TES 593. And for individuals with serious health problems or hypersensitivity to EMFs, we recommend more accurate testing of the electric fields with a Body Voltage Meter. For more detailed information, please go to our meters page.
The TriField 100XE is very affordable and practical because it can detect all three kinds of EMFs within one instrument. It sells for only $130, and rents for $50 per week. (Most other guassmeters in this low price range will (1) detect only magnetic fields (not electric fields and RF), (2) detect only ELF frequencies (not VLF frequencies from computers, TVs and fluorescents), and/or (3) be a single-axis meter (difficult to get accurate measurements). In general, the more specialized meters with better sensitivity and accuracy will usually cost around $200 or more. Please refer to our meters page for more information..
Yes, you can save money by renting a test meter instead of buying. All the meters that we sell are available for rent through our "Seven-Day Rent-by-Mail" program. We ship via US mail, UPS or Federal Express to anywhere within the US or Canada. Your cost is the cost of the rental fee plus shipping fees in both directions. Note: Many people purchase the all-purpose TriField 100XE for general long-term use, and then rent the other specialty meters (for more accuracy or sensitivity) only if needed — e.g., when searching for a new home or apartment.
Once you measure the EMFs, the solution may be as simple as moving a bed or couch farther away from a strong EMF source (for example, away from an electrical meter or breaker panel on the other side of a bedroom wall). If the solution is not easy or obvious, then you may want to consult with an EMF professional — someone in your area who has technical experience in the reduction of EMFs — or you can contact our office to schedule an appointment for a professional consultation via telephone.
Yes, sometimes. Each kind of EMF requires different kinds of shield materials and installation procedures. Magnetic fields are shielded with special alloys such as MuMetal®. (Please note that magnetic shielding requires some professional guidance, because improper placement can actually increase the fields.) Electric fields are easier to shield, but again the shields must be properly installed, or they can also raise the exposures rather than lower them. Similarly, RF/microwaves can be shielded with special materials. We provide both the materials and the technical guidance needed to shield all types of EMFs. In some cases, electric fields and RF can be shielded with common materials that are readily available to save costs.
Yes, you usually can. In existing homes, high magnetic fields from electrical wiring are often caused by improper wiring connections. Fortunately, most of these wiring problems can be repaired without opening up any walls. The repairs are made by accessing and repairing the improper connections, which are usually located in accessible electrical boxes. Strong sources of magnetic fields — including the electrical meter panel, breaker panels, transformers, refrigerators, pump motors, appliances and other common sources — can usually be shielded with MuMetal® type alloys. And to reduce the EMFs during sleep, some people simply turn off the electrical circuits near the bedrooms at night.
Yes! Definitely. You can have your new wiring installed so that it is very, very low in the emission of both magnetic and electric fields! And if the proper design and material choices are made early, your "EMF-Free" or "Low-EMF" wiring system can be installed for minimal added cost when compared to other wiring systems. We provide professional wiring design consultations to answer your questions, and to guide you, your contractor and your architect through the proper steps for installing EMF-Free wiring for your new home or remodel project.
"EMF-Free" wiring uses (1) special materials to shield or cancel the electric and magnetic fields, (2) special methods to eliminate stray currents that often cause high magnetic fields, and (3) proper placement of equipment, to minimize all EMF exposures. Installation costs are similar to those of regular wiring, except that the shielded materials themselves will cost more. "Low-EMF" wiring saves money by using standard unshielded materials, while still incorporating the EMF reductions of steps (2) and (3) above. Installation costs are similar to regular wiring. (Nationwide, we provide consultations via telephone to assist you in the design and installation of special EMF-Free wiring for your new home or remodel project. In northern California, we provide licensed electrical contractor services to install the EMF-Free wiring. All methods and materials meet and exceed the current requirements of the National Electric Code.)
High voltage transmission lines (on the tall metal towers) can emit strong EMFs for several hundred feet. Neighborhood power lines (wooden poles) and buried electrical lines can also emit very high levels. It is important to measure the levels with a gaussmeter, because emissions vary greatly and are difficult to predict. While there may be modifications that the electric utility company can do to reduce the fields, in most cases the costs will be prohibitive for the average homeowner. In some cases, the installation of an electronic "magnetic field cancellation system" may be a cost-effective alternative.
In some cases, the magnetic field exposures from power lines can be reduced with special electronic equipment that measures the existing magnetic field and then produces an opposing field to "cancel out" the magnetic fields within a certain area. These systems are called "Active Magnetic Field Cancellation Systems," and they were initially used to reduce electromagnetic interference for electron microscopes and other sensitive instruments. Typical costs for the complete design and installation of such a system usually start at around $20,000. Unfortunately for most people, this price is often prohibitive. (Contact our office for more information.)
Computers emit a complex mixture of different types and frequencies of EMFs. One of the biggest and growing concerns now is the widespread use of Wi-Fi and wireless computer hardware. Many computer products are made with wireless installed, and sometimes, even if you think they are off, the hardware is still emitting. Use only hard-wired connections, and no wireless devices, to help reduce the exposure to RF fields. We recommend that you test with an RF meter to confirm that all components are indeed not emitting any RF wireless signals. Move all computer hardware, such as the CPU and printer, as far away from your body as possible. That jumble of electrical cords near your feet can be a strong EMF source. Move these farther away, and even better, they can be shielded and grounded. LCD flat screen monitors generally emit much lower EMF levels than the old CRT (big TV tube type) monitors. Finally, check to make sure that the electrical power outlet for your computer is properly grounded, or the electric fields will be greatly increased. (We provide telephone consultations, test meters and shielding materials to help you with all of this.)
Similar to computers, TVs also emit a complex mixture of EMFs. Probably the biggest concern is for children who play video games. Staying a minimum of eight feet away from the television will usually be enough to avoid the strongest fields. However, it may be wise to verify this with a gaussmeter. Since the typical gaussmeter will only measure in the "ELF" range of frequencies, we recommend that you test your TV with the Alpha UHS Meter or TriField 100XE Meter — which both have a very wide sensitivity range, including the higher frequency "VLF" magnetic fields emitted by televisions, computers and fluorescent lights.
Cell phones tend to cause the greatest exposures to RF/microwaves radiation for most people, and especially for the brain. The trick is, how to shield the user from the phone's EMF signal, but yet allow that same EMF signal to reach the nearest cell tower? Practically speaking, this is difficult, and many advertised products are not very helpful. The safest choice is to severely limit and reduce the time spent on cell phones, especially for children. Even if the long distance minutes are "free," consider that an increased risk of brain tumor is not. Here are your choices, in descending order of effectiveness: (1) Don't use it. (2) Keep it off, and only use it for emergencies and very short calls. (3) Use it only on a speaker phone, don't hold it, put it down on something and back away. (4) Preferably use an "air tube" (stethoscope) type of hands-free kit, because typical hands-free kits allow the radiation to conduct up the metal wire to the ear.
Some of the research studies from Europe are showing similar health risks, including brain cancer, from the use of cordless phones as well as cell phones. The RF/microwaves emitted from cordless telephones are similar to cell phones, except that the exposure levels are somewhat lower. However, the base cradles for many cordless phones emit an RF signal constantly, even when the phone is not in use! Similar to cell phones, the best alternative is to severely limit the use of cordless phones. Best is to unplug them and use only land-line hard-wired telephones when possible. If you do want to keep connected , by substituting. If you do use a cordless phone, it would be prudent to test with an RF meter to see if the base cradle is emitting all the time, or only when used. To reduce exposure, we recommend the same 4 steps given above for cell phones.
Today, with the growing profusion of cellular broadcast antennas — many of which are cleverly disguised or hidden from view — it may be wise to measure the EMFs with an RF test meter. The TES 92, TES 593 and Alpha RF are all good meters for detecting the RF/microwave fields from TV and radio towers, cellular antennas, Wi-Fi and other wireless systems. The TriField 100XE is a good all-purpose meter, but is not as sensitive as we would recommend for this kind of testing. Building materials will provide some shielding, so that levels inside a building are often 5 to 10 times lower than they are outside from these sources. These kinds of fields can be shielded, but this is a little tricky. A good time to add RF shielding is during construction, before the walls are covered up. Since many sources are unseen and unknown, it may be wise to pre-test a new home or apartment with a meter before buying or renting, if you are concerned about these exposures.
Electro-Sensitivity is a condition in which a person reports heightened sensitivity and/or serious health symptoms related to EMF exposures of one kind or another. This condition is typically verified when, by simply removing the EMF source (or removing the person from the source) the symptoms disappear, but reappear when the source is reintroduced. People with Electro-Sensitivity are often very troubled by the normal EMF levels found in a typical home or work environment. Thus, special measures are often needed to reduce the exposure levels further. (Also called Electrical Sensitivity, Electrical Hypersensitivity, Electromagnetic Sensitivity, and Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity.)
We recommend that you test your environment to see what the actual EMF levels are in your home, workplace, and especially where you sleep. In our experience, many individuals with Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity will need to reduce their long-term exposures to levels well below those found in the average home or office, to relieve their symptoms. Even when a person noticeably reacts to only certain electrical items (like a computer or cell phone or Wi-Fi), from our anecdotal experience we recommend reducing all EMFs as much as possible to reduce the total EMF "exposure load" on the body. Typically, this might involve turning off certain electrical circuits at night, or perhaps doing some shielding or rewiring with shielded materials if needed. In extreme cases, some people recover by relocating to a more remote location (often without electricity and cell phones) for a certain period of time.
Over a thousand studies have now reported biological effects related to EMFs, including effects on cells and hormones, suppression of immune function, and serious illnesses including several cancers. Scientists no longer argue whether or not EMFs can affect human health, that is generally accepted. But there is still great controversy about the extent and severity of these health effects at common exposure levels. Some believe that the overall impact on our health is relatively minimal when compared to other environmental issues like asbestos or pollutants in the air. Others argue that the studies are not yet consistent or conclusive enough to warrant action. For many years, experts such as Dr. Granger Morgan at Carnegie Mellon University have recommended a policy of "prudent avoidance" — reducing EMFs whenever possible without excessive cost or inconvenience. Most scientists agree that more research is needed.
There is growing support, especially in Europe, for applying the "precautionary principle" — that while the health risks to the general population are not conclusively proven, the risks are plausible enough to warrant protective action. In 2007, an international group of scientists, researchers and public health officials concluded that the existing scientific knowledge has grown strong enough to alert the public and urge governments to develop new safety limits. Their science based document, the BioInitiative Report, warned that existing safety limits for EMFs from power lines and wireless devices like cell phones are inadequate to protect public health, and recommended lower safety limits based on the available research.
In 1990, scientists with the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leaked a draft report that recommended EMFs be classified as a "possible human carcinogen" (similar to DDT and PCBs). The scientists were concerned that their findings were being held back from the public. Later, the EPA's final published report did not include the same strong wording as the draft, but it did state that the EMF cancer studies "...show a consistent pattern of response that suggests a causal link." To date, no official safety standards have been set by the EPA for exposure to low-frequency magnetic fields. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has set safety limits for public exposure to RF/microwave fields.
In recent years, a variety of national and international health organizations have reviewed the EMF issue. Some have concluded that the evidence for health effects is still not conclusive. Others have concluded that the scientific evidence is strong enough to demonstrate significant health effects. In 2001, scientists with the Washington State Department of Health reviewed historical data and reported that the sudden appearance of childhood leukemia in modern societies is closely linked to the original electrification of homes. In their 2002 summary report on EMFs, scientists with the California Department of Health Services reviewed the research and wrote "all three of the DHS scientists are inclined to believe that EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig's Disease, and miscarriage."
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