Types of EMF exposure
There are two types of EMF exposure. Low-level radiation, also called non-ionizing radiation, is mild and thought to be harmless to people. Appliances like microwave ovens, cellphones, Wi-Fi routers, as well as power lines and MRIs, send out low-level radiation.
High-level radiation, called ionizing radiation, is the second type of radiation. It’s sent out in the form of ultraviolet rays from the sun and X-rays from medical imaging machines.
EMF exposure intensity decreases as you increase your distance from the object that’s sending out waves. Some common sources of EMFs, from low- to high-level radiation, include the following:
- microwave ovens
- house energy meters
- wireless (Wi-Fi) routers
- Bluetooth devices
- power lines
- ultraviolet light
For most people nowadays, their smartphone is within arm’s reach 24 hours a day. It’s in their pocket while they’re at work, it’s in their hand on the train ride home and it’s on their bedside table as they go to sleep. With this level of proximity and usage, many can’t quite shake the niggling feeling that they might be risking damage to themselves in the long run. While conclusive longitudinal research on the effects of cell phone radiation is still hard to come by, for those looking to hedge their bets, this infographic shows the phones that emit the most radiation when held to the ear while calling.
The German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (Bundesamt für Strahlenschutz) has a comprehensive database of smartphones – new and old – and the level of radiation they emit. Following the criteria set for this chart (see footnotes), the current smartphone creating the highest level of radiation is the Mi A1 from Chinese vendor Xiaomi. Another Xiaomi phone is in second place – the Mi Max 3. In fact, Chinese companies are represented heavily in this list, accounting for 7 of the top 15 handsets. Premium Apple phones such as the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 8 are also here to be seen, though, as are the latest Pixel handsets from Google.
While there is no universal guideline for a ‘safe’ level of phone radiation, the German certification for environmental friendliness ‘Der Blaue Engel’ (Blue Angel) only certifies phones which have a specific absorption rate of less than 0.60 watts per kilogram. All of the phones featured here come in at more than double this benchmark.
An organization called the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) maintains international guidelines for EMF exposure. These guidelines are based on the findings of many years of scientific research.
EMFs are measured in a unit called volts per meter (V/m). The higher the measurement, the stronger the EMF.
Most electrical appliances sold by reputable brands test their products to ensure EMFs fall within the ICNIRP’s guidelines. Public utilities and governments are responsible for managing EMFs related to power lines, cellphone towers, and other sources of EMF.
No known health effects are expected if your exposure to EMF falls below the levels in the following guidelines:
- natural electromagnetic fields (like those created by the sun): 200 V/m
- power mains (not close to power lines): 100 V/m
- power mains (close to power lines): 10,000 V/m
- electric trains and trams: 300 V/m
- TV and computer screens: 10 V/m
- TV and radio transmitters: 6 V/m
- mobile phone base stations: 6 V/m
- radars: 9 V/m
- microwave ovens: 14 V/m
You can check EMFs in your home with an EMF meter. These handheld devices can be purchased online. But be aware that most can’t measure EMFs of very high frequencies and their accuracy is generally low, so their efficacy is limited.
According to the ICNIRP, most people’s maximum exposure to EMF is very low in everyday life.
You will find more infographics at Statista
Research on harmfulness
There’s disagreement over EMF safety because there’s no strong research suggesting that EMFs harm human health.
According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), EMFs are “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The IARC believes that some studies show a possible link between EMFs and cancer in people.
One item most people use every day that sends out EMFs is the cellphone. Use of cellphones has increased significantly since they were introduced in the 1980s. Concerned about human health and cellphone use, researchers began what would become the largest studyTrusted Source to compare cancer cases in cellphone users and nonusers back in 2000.
The researchers followed cancer rates and cellphone use in more than 5,000 people in 13 countries around the world. They found a loose connection between the highest rate of exposure and glioma, a type of cancer that occurs in the brain and spinal cord.
The gliomas were more often found on the same side of the head that people used to speak on the phone. However, the researchers concluded that there was not a strong enough connection to determine that cellphone use caused cancer in the research subjects.
European scientists also uncovered an apparent link between EMF and leukemia in children. But they say that monitoring of EMF is lacking, so they’re not able to draw any certain conclusions from their work, and more research and better monitoring is needed.
A review of more than two dozen studies on low-frequency EMFs suggests these energy fields may cause various neurological and psychiatric problems in people. This studyTrusted Source found a link between EMF exposure and changes in human nerve function throughout the body, affecting things like sleep and mood.