The term “electromagnetic field” or “EMF” is commonly used to refer to all the electromagnetic radiation frequencies that are slower than visible light. Scientists call this “non-ionizing” radiation. In contrast, the frequencies that are faster than visible light, for example x-rays and nuclear radiation, are called “ionizing” radiation. The hazards of ionizing radiation are already well recognized, but the potential health effects from non-ionizing radiation — or EMFs — are just beginning to be understood at this time.
The FCC takes great care in their assignment of EMF frequencies and power outputs for TV and radio stations, cell towers and consumer wireless devices — to make sure that the EMF signals from one device do not interfere with the EMF signal or operation of another device. In other words, the FCC has set very strict “safety limits” to protect our various electronic devices from EMF interference, but ignores any possibility that EMF interference could similarly affect the most sensitive and sophisticated electronic devices on this planet — the human body, brain and nervous system.
Scientists are now in the process of discovering yet another way that EMFs can affect our health. Similar to the way that EMFs cause electromagnetic interference (EMI) problems for sensitive electronic and computer systems, a growing body of research suggests that low-level EMFs can also influence or interfere with sensitive “bio-electromagnetic” processes within our cells, brains and bodies. We are learning that the human body is in fact an amazing living “bio-electronic” machine, utilizing many sensitive electromagnetic processes for the proper functioning of our brain, nervous system, immune system and other organs.
For example, researchers have shown that our pineal gland can sense daily changes in the earth’s natural magnetic field, and use this information to help regulate our brain wave patterns and wake/sleep cycle. An example of electromagnetic interference (EMI) affecting human biology is found in the fact that artificial magnetic fields (like those from power lines) can suppress the secretion of melatonin from the pineal gland at night. This is important because melatonin is the main hormone which initiates our sleep cycle. It is also a strong antioxidant which fights cancer naturally within our bodies.
Cell tower locations are also increasing and becoming a significant source of exposure for more people. Another common EMF source is from power lines — both the high-voltage power lines on the tall metal towers and the typical neighborhood distribution lines on wooden poles or buried underground. Also in many neighborhoods, the buried pipes of the municipal water system can carry stray electricity, which can cause unusually high EMFs as well. Fluorescent lights, computers, wireless systems and other equipment are a major source of electromagnetic fields at work and in schools. Interestingly, a strong source of EMFs that is commonly overlooked is from automobiles — from both the standard gas engine models and the new hybrid electric vehicles.
For example, if you want to measure the magnetic fields from a power line, you could use gaussmeter such as the Alpha UHS. If you are concerned about a nearby cell tower, you could use an RF test meter such as the Acoustimeter, Acousticom or TES 593. And if you are concerned about the potential health effects from a variety of EMF sources, you would usually use several test meters to detect the various kinds of EMFs commonly found in homes and offices. (We offer a discounted package price for all 3 meters together that are needed to test all three kinds of EMFs, for both purchase or rental.)
In northern California, we provide professional on-site EMF testing, consultations, shielding and repairs. For all of the USA and Canada, we provide telephone consultations to help you (1) choose the right kind of test meters and take proper measurements yourself, (2) review your measurements and how they compare to the various safety levels, (3) explain what can be done to reduce the EMF levels in your particular case, and (4) guide your own electrician or contractor through the necessary steps to reduce the EMFs.
Electric fields make up the other half of the common electro-magnetic fields emitted from power lines, wiring, lights and appliances. They are also linked to many important biological effects, but have been studied less. Anecdotally, electric fields are often involved when people knowingly feel “symptoms” and discomfort from different electrical sources. Electric fields induce significant voltages onto the skin, which are easily sensed and measured.
Finally, Radio frequency or “RF” includes the higher frequency fields and microwaves emitted by cell towers and cell phones, TV and radio broadcast towers, cordless phones, Wi-Fi and other wireless computer components, microwave ovens, baby monitors, Smart Meters and various other electronic devices. (Note: The electric and magnetic parts of the RF fields are not separable, therefore you only need one meter to detect the RF field completely.)
For magnetic fields, the lowest level linked to cancer in any of the studies is 1.0 milligauss (mG). The average in homes across the country is probably around 0.5 mG in rural areas to 1.0 mG in urban areas like San Francisco and New York City. In our consulting work, we usually try to reduce long-term exposures to well below the levels linked with disease in any of the studies, so we generally try to reduce magnetic field exposures to 0.5 mG or less.
Electric fields are best measured with a special method called body voltage testing or skin voltage testing. In most homes, the typical levels will be around 0.5 to 2.0 AC volts (VAC) using a body voltage meter. For healthy individuals, we usually use a precautionary level of 1.0 volt for living areas, and 0.5 volt for bed locations. Anecdotally, sensitive individuals often need to reduce electric fields below 0.1 volt to feel a relief of symptoms.
Radio frequencies (RF) in the home can vary greatly depending on the use of wireless devices — wireless computers and tablets, wireless routers and Wi-Fi, cordless phones, cell phones, wireless stereo and TV equipment, baby monitors, etc. Average home exposures vary from 0.0001 to 0.5 microwatts per centimeter squared (μW/cm²). We generally use a precautionary level of 0.01 μW/cm² with healthy individuals, and 0.00o1 μW/cm² or less for sensitive persons.
For example, if you want to measure the magnetic fields from a power line, you need a gaussmeter such as the Alpha UHS. If you are concerned about a nearby cell tower, you need an RF test meter such as the Acoustimeter, Acousticom or TES 593. If you are knowingly sensitive to electric fields, you need a body voltage meter. If you are concerned about the potential health effects from a variety of EMF sources, you may need several test meters to detect all three types of EMFs — a gaussmeter for the magnetic fields, a body voltage meter for the electric fields, and an RF meter for the radio frequency fields. (We offer 3 meter combo packages for this purpose.)
For magnetic fields, we usually recommend a triple-axis gaussmeter that can detect both the ELF and VLF frequency ranges. The ELF range (extremely-low-frequency) includes the common 60 Hz magnetic fields from power lines, wiring, refrigerators, transformers, lights, appliances and everything that runs on regular electrical power. The VLF range (very-low-frequency) includes some of the additional higher frequencies that come from televisions, computers, fluorescent lights, compact fluorescent bulbs, and other electronic equipment. For this purpose, we usually recommend the Alpha UHS gaussmeter.
For testing RF/microwaves, it is helpful to use a triple-axis meter but not as critical as for the magnetic fields. Most important is that the RF meter can detect a very wide range of RF frequencies. An RF meter than can detect frequencies up to 6.0 GHz or more is recommended to detect the vast majority of the digital wireless devices used today — including the higher frequency cordless and Wi-Fi systems in many homes and offices. (The less expensive RF meters that can only detect frequencies up to 3.0 GHz or 3.5 GHz will unfortunately miss some of the important higher RF frequencies being increasingly used for wireless today.)
For example, most gaussmeters will detect only the ELF magnetic fields related to electrical power, but not the VLF frequencies emitted from fluorescent lights, computers, televisions and electronics. For this reason, we usually recommend the Alpha UHS gaussmeter because it is the lowest cost meter available that detects both ELF and VLF fields, and is accurate enough to trust its measurements. Less-expensive meters like the TriField and Cornets tend to have a lot of accuracy and dependability issues, and this we do not normally recommend them.
And a very unique service that we provide, is that we individually check and certify every test meter for proper operation and accuracy before we ship it out to you. This is both for rental meters and those for purchase. Note: This is only for USA orders (which are shipped from our office in California). To help save costs, we also offer special rental meters for use by our consulting clients.
For testing the radio frequencies, we recommend either the Acousticom, Acoustimeter or TES 593. For most people we recommend Acoustimeter, because it has a very helpful audio feature to help determine sources, as well as a peak hold function function. For those on a budget, the lowest cost RF meter available today that we believe has enough accuracy and dependability, is the Acousticom. And for certain purposes, such as measuring high RF exposure situations close to cell towers and FM radio stations, we might recommend the TES 593.
For people with serious health conditions and/or sensitivity to EMFs, we also recommend measurement of the electric fields with a Body Voltage Meter. You can purchase or rent a body voltage meter from us, or you can also make your own at less cost. Basically, the body voltage meter utilizes a standard digital volt meter and special set of test wires which can be purchased on line or at any Radio Shack or Home Depot type of store, and modified as needed. Instructions to make your own body voltage meter are included in our free instructions: How to Make a Body Voltage Meter.
If you want to measure the magnetic fields from a power line, you probably only need one meter — a gaussmeter such as the Alpha UHS. If you are only concerned about a nearby cell tower, you will only need one meter — an RF meter such as the Acoustimeter. If you are concerned about the possible health effects from all sources, we recommend that you measure all three types of EMFs (because all three types have been linked to health effects). You would need three test meters — one for the magnetic fields, one for the electric fields, and one for the RF fields.
If you are only concerned about a cell tower, you will need to rent one meter — an RF meter such as the Acoustimeter or TES 593. If you want to measure the magnetic fields from a power line, you probably need only one meter — a gaussmeter such as the Alpha UHS. However, if you are concerned about the possible health effects from EMFs in general, then we recommend that you measure all three types of EMFs, because all three types have been linked to important health effects. To measure all the EMFs you would need to rent three meters — one for the magnetic fields, one for the electric fields, and one for the RF fields. (We offer 3 meter rental packages for this purpose.)
We can help provide the technical guidance and materials needed to shield all three types of EMFs. Although the materials tend to be relatively costly, in some cases the electric fields and RF fields can be shielded with more inexpensive materials like aluminum foil or window screening. Actually in many cases, shielding is not really the best solution. Better reductions are often gained by simply getting more distance from the EMF source, turning off or eliminating the source, or fixing the wiring errors causing the high emissions.
For assistance, you can order our Low-EMF Wiring Instruction Guide for a small fee. All recommendations for methods and materials meet or exceed the current requirements of the National Electric Code. Michael can also provide the necessary consultations and specifications over the telephone to assist you with your own particular new home or remodel construction project.
One of the concerns is the increasing exposure to digital radio frequency (RF) fields from the use of Wi-Fi and wireless computer components. Today, many computer products come with wireless already installed, and in many cases the equipment will emit RF signals all the time — even when not being use, or when supposedly turned off. If possible, buy computer hardware without any wireless capability, and use hard-wired connections for everything — no wireless routers, printers, keyboards, mice, etc.
We recommend that you test with an RF meter to confirm that all components are truly not emitting any RF wireless signals. The jumble of cords near your feet can also be a strong EMF source, so move these as far away as possible. People at computers are often exposed to high electric fields, so testing with a body voltage meter can be helpful. If the electric fields are high, shielding can be added as needed and the computer properly grounded. In addition, move all computer hardware, such as the monitor, CPU and printer, as far away from your body as possible.
For all computers, it is very important to make sure that the electrical wall outlet is properly grounded, or the electric fields emitted from the computer and monitor may be unnecessarily strong. Monitors can cause high exposures, especially if they are not grounded. For laptops, a handy trick is to use a USB wired remote keyboard so that your hands are not positioned directly over the relatively high EMFs at the laptop’s own keyboard.
To reduce the electric fields from wiring, especially during sleep, some people can simply turn off certain electrical circuits at the breaker panel at night. A body voltage meter can be used to determine exactly which circuits would need to be turned off.
Perhaps the biggest concern is when children play video games at the television or computer. If the game uses any wireless components, the strongest EMF exposure will probably be the radio frequency (RF) fields from the wireless devices. The best option is to use only non-wireless game equipment. Warning: If the game equipment has any wireless capability at all, simply using a wired controller does not mean that the wireless is automatically turned off. In fact it will sometimes stay on, emitting RF needlessly. If you are unsure about this, test with an RF meter to see if the game equipment is emitting wireless RF, and how much.
Option #1. Don’t use the cell phone at all, or as little as possible. Keep it turned off. Use it only for emergencies or very short calls. Use a corded landline phone instead. If needed, install additional phone wires and jacks in your home to avoid using any wireless devices.
Option #2: Use the cell phone in “speaker phone” mode only. If possible, don’t even hold it in your hand. Put it down and back away so that your arm cannot conduct the EMF signal back up to your body. This small added distance greatly reduces your overall RF exposure.
Option #3: Use a hands-free kit. Unfortunately, some of the EMF will conduct up the wire of the hands-free kit to your ear. So the best choice is get a special type of hands-free kit that uses an “air tube” or “stethoscope” for the last few inches near your head instead of a metal wire.
Cordless phones have an added safety issue. The base station for most cordless phone systems will also emit a strong EMF signal — usually all the time, even when the phone is not in use. The best alternative is to remove the cordless phone system completely, and only use corded phones plugged directly into wall jacks. Some people make this switch by getting a good quality corded speaker phone for each room (with a long cord to add mobility). Another option is to move the base station farther away from people, especially from beds and sitting areas. You could also test with an RF meter to determine if your particular cordless system is emitting all the time or only when in use.
The best way to avoid the RF from cell towers and radio/TV towers is to live and work as far away from these sources as possible. Thus before buying or renting a new home or apartment, it may be wise to ask neighbors about nearby cell towers, and measure the EMFs onsite with an RF test meter. Several studies have reported increased cancer risks within approximately one quarter mile of cell towers, so a minimum safety distance of one fourth of a mile or more may be prudent.
These kinds of EMFs can be shielded, but it is a little tricky. A building’s structure will usually provide some passive shielding, so that the levels inside a building are often 5 to 10 times lower than they are outside (from this kind of outside source). A good time to install RF shielding is during construction, before the walls are closed up. Thick vegetation and trees can also provide some shielding effectiveness. Remember, since many RF sources are unseen or unknown, it may be wise to pre-test a new home or apartment with an RF meter before you buy or rent.
People with Electromagnetic Sensitivity are often very affected by the normal EMF levels found in a typical home or work environment today. Thus, special measures are often needed to reduce the exposure levels even further. For further information, see our page on electromagnetic sensitivity. This condition is also called Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS), Electro-Sensitivity, Electrical Sensitivity, and Electrical Hypersensitivity.
Even when a person seems to react only to a specific source — like a computer, wireless router, power line or cell phone — our anecdotal experience suggests that the best results occur when the person reduces all the EMFs as much as possible. This reduces the total EMF exposure “load” on the body, and appears to help the body become less sensitive to EMFs in general. Typically, this might involve turning off certain electrical circuits at night, or adding some shielding, or rewiring with shielded electrical materials. Most sensitive people need to make a “safe haven” location with very low levels in their home to retreat to. In extreme cases, some people recover by relocating to a remote location (often without electricity and cell phones) for a period of time.