Since the World Health Organization classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (a.k.a. RFs or EMFs) -- the non-ionizing radiation that electronic devices emit through their antennas at low levels -- as a possible carcinogen in May 2011, it again raises the question that's been bantered about since cellphones came into existence: Are wireless electronic devices a health hazard?
The short answer is no, if they're used safely, says Devra Davis, PhD, MPH, formerly with the National Academy of Sciences, who is president and founder of the Environmental Health Trust and the Website saferphonezone.com. And safely is the operative word for you and your family.
Non-ionizing radiation from RF/EMFs, which is transmitted from cellphones and other wireless devices, is a form of energy that travels at the speed of light. Unlike ionizing radiation (think X-rays), non-ionizing radiation is weak. It doesn't have enough power to remove electrons from atoms or molecules when it passes through. Evidence is mounting that the body can absorb RF/EMF energy, though, and that it can affect human DNA over time, hence the WHO classification. "It's analogous to getting sun exposure over the years," says Davis. Young children are particularly at risk to RF/EMF radiation exposure because they have thinner skulls, which are less protective. Davis is not only concerned about cancer but development. "The size of a baby's brain doubles in the first year of life. It's a time of great vulnerability," she says.
A recent study in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health bears this out. It compared prenatal and postnatal exposure to cellphone use in 28,745 7-year-olds and found that children who weren't exposed to cellphones had fewer behavior problems compared to children who had both prenatal and postnatal exposure, replicating the results of a previous study.
Here's another concern: Every wireless device sold in the U.S. must meet FCC limits for RF/EMF energy exposure (1.6 watts per kilogram). But products aren't evaluated for safety in the way we necessarily use them. "Laptops, for example, are tested to be used 20 cm away from an adult body," Davis says, not literally on your lap.
To minimize RF/EMF energy exposure, Davis suggests limiting the time you use wireless products and creating distance between yourself and the device. The same goes for everyone in your family who uses wireless products. Here's how:
For more information about RF energy exposure, visit www.fcc.gov/oet/rfsafety.