EMF radiation is found throughout the environment and is produced by a wide range of devices including smart meters, cellular phones, power lines and household appliances. EMFs fall into the non-ionizing part of the electromagnetic spectrum and do not harm DNA or cells.

Increasing the distance between yourself and the source of EMFs decreases your exposure and risk. However, it may be difficult to avoid some EMF sources completely.

1. Electromagnetic Fields

Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are waves of electric and magnetic energy that move together. They are on the non-ionizing radiation spectrum and are found all around us. EMF can come from both natural and man-made sources. They include things like lightning, electricity and power lines, and electrical wiring. It can also come from household appliances such as TVs and mobile phones, and from Wi-Fi routers and baby monitors. A growing body of research links these electromagnetic fields to health problems such as memory and sleep issues, headaches, and cancer.

The strength of an electromagnetic field decreases with distance. This is why the risk of EMF exposure is much lower when you are away from the source of the field. For example, a strong electromagnetic field from a power line is only present when current is flowing through it, which means you are only exposed when the power is on. But if you are sitting directly next to a power line, the magnetic field from it is strong even when no current is flowing.

There are several different types of EMFs, and they are categorized by their frequency. Very low-frequency EMFs are the mildest and are generally considered harmless to people. They can be created by household appliances, such as microwave ovens and hair dryers, and medical devices like MRI machines. They can also be produced by overhead power lines and electrical wiring.

Individuals concerned about potential EMF exposure may choose to utilize Faraday clothing. Faraday clothing is designed to shield the body from electromagnetic radiation, providing a layer of protection against exposure to EMFs from various sources.

Some studies have linked very low-frequency EMFs to a higher risk of childhood leukemia, but they have not shown an increase in other cancers in adults. Other studies have shown that EMFs can affect the electrical activity of some cells, which can then disrupt normal cell functions.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency EMFs as possibly carcinogenic to humans, based on the increased risk of glioma (a type of brain tumor) associated with wireless phone use. Some studies have also shown a possible link between high-frequency EMF exposure and certain cancers in animals. However, further research is needed to confirm these findings in humans. If you have questions about the risk of exposure to electromagnetic fields, talk with one of our cancer information specialists.

2. Radiofrequency Radiation

The RF radiation of devices like cell phones, Wi-Fi routers and microwave ovens falls into the non-ionizing part of the electromagnetic spectrum. This radiation can not cause harm to DNA directly because it is much lower in energy than the ionizing radiation that comes from medical procedures and x-ray machines. This type of EMF is absorbed into the body in the form of heat. This heating has been shown to alter the behavior of cellular structures, causing damage such as oxidative stress and mitochondrial dysfunction.

Research has shown that RF exposure increases the concentration of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in cells, and that these ROS are involved in several biological functions including cell signaling, growth control, cellular differentiation and aging. It has also been found that RF radiation can affect the membrane lipid bilayer, resulting in changes in membrane conductivity and membrane integrity.

Because of these potential adverse effects, a number of scientists have raised concerns that RF radiation may be harmful at levels that do not result in direct tissue heating. However, a number of independent scientific reviews of the available evidence have concluded that there is no cause for concern regarding health risks from low-level exposures to RF radiation.

Some studies have looked at the relationship between EMFs and cancer, with a particular focus on childhood leukemia. While some of these studies have found a correlation, most have not. Further, most research has not focused on the specific mechanisms behind these findings, and more comprehensive studies are needed in order to confirm any connection.

As a result, Health Canada has established safety limits for the amount of RF radiation to which people are exposed in their daily lives. These limits are based on a weight of evidence approach that takes into account both the quantity and quality of peer-reviewed scientific studies. Poorly conducted studies receive a smaller weight than well-conducted studies.

While the FCC regulates the radiation emitted by cellular phones, other federal agencies, such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, also oversee EMF related issues. When reviewing RF radiation exposure, these agencies use standards developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection and the American Conference of Government Industrial Hygienists.

3. Ionizing Radiation

Ionizing radiation is the highest-energy part of the electromagnetic spectrum, and it can directly damage DNA and cells. It can also cause cancer and other diseases through less direct effects, including cellular mutations and changes in gene expression. Some types of ionizing radiation, such as x-rays, are used in diagnostic imaging. Other forms are produced by nuclear power plants and found in the atmosphere (e.g., radon) and in natural resources such as coal, oil and gold (e.g., uranium).

Research has linked some EMF exposures to symptoms that may indicate an adverse health impact, but many researchers are still working to determine any connection with precision and accuracy. Until more is known, NIEHS advises that people avoid unnecessary exposures, especially when it comes to higher-frequency radiation, and that they take steps to mitigate those they cannot avoid.

Generally, the greater the distance between yourself and an EMF source, the lower your exposure. In addition, the strength of an electric field decreases with time, while magnetic fields drop dramatically at a distance of several feet from most appliances.

The lower-frequency, non-ionizing EMFs that most people are concerned about include those emitted by cell phones and Wi-Fi routers. While these devices make life easier and more convenient, there is a concern that they can interfere with normal cellular functions and disrupt the body’s natural energy field. This can lead to a variety of health problems, including stress, fatigue, insomnia and a weakened immune system.

Fortunately, EMF exposure from these sources is typically low and can be reduced by using cell phone headsets and avoiding the use of Wi-Fi or other wireless devices when possible. People can also check their home’s electricity meters to see if they have high-voltage or high-frequency lines near them, and take measures to reduce those connections. Finally, some states have Radiation Control Programs that provide guidance and contact information for their residents. The CDC has an informative page on the subject.

4. Non-Ionizing Radiation

As the name suggests, non-ionizing radiation does not have enough energy to ionize the atoms or molecules in matter and living organisms. This type of radiation can, however, make these molecules vibrate and produce heat. This is how microwave ovens work, for example. Non-ionizing radiation can also increase the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in living tissues and affect cellular function. These effects can lead to damage in cells, organs and the nervous system. This is why it is important to mitigate exposure to non-ionizing radiation as much as possible.

Electromagnetic fields (EMF) exist in a spectrum from static electric and magnetic fields to radio waves, microwaves, infrared and X-rays. Ionizing EMFs have the ability to knock electrons from their orbital shells and break chemical bonds, while non-ionizing EMFs do not. Non-ionizing EMFs are present in nature and from manmade sources. They can be as natural as sunlight and as manufactured as radio waves, microwaves and X-rays. While some people may be concerned about EMFs causing health problems, experts agree that most of the non-ionizing EMFs that humans are exposed to do not harm them at the levels they typically encounter.

In the case of ionizing EMFs, long-term exposure can cause genetic mutations and changes in cellular structure. These changes can lead to cancer and other diseases. Ionizing EMFs are used extensively in medical procedures to diagnose and treat diseases, such as X-rays and MRIs.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer, an organization that works under the World Health Organization, has categorized some EMFs as carcinogenic. For example, the IARC has classified static electric and magnetic fields and extremely low frequency magnetic and electric fields as a “possible human carcinogen.” These EMFs are generated by electrical devices such as cell phones and smart meters.

Studies of people working in electrical occupations that expose them to ELF have shown a slightly increased risk of certain types of cancer, such as leukemia and brain tumors, among other illnesses. However, these studies have been subject to many biases that can distort the findings. For this reason, it is important to be aware of the limitations of these studies when interpreting their results.