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Is electromagnetic “pollution” real, and do we need to protect ourselves?

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When Ameer Rosic went to jail for the last time six years ago, the stars aligned. He’d been hustling since he dropped out of school as a teenager, was depressed, and had just met his soulmate before starting a six-month stint in maximum penitentiary for aggravated assault, so he spent his time behind bars searching for answers about the type of person he wanted to be and what he wanted to do with his life.

When he got out, Rosic was obsessed with health, and he began working with businesspeople and entrepreneurs on a holistic approach – concentrating on their diets, exercise, mindsets, the friends they surround themselves with, and so forth. But for some of his clients, optimal health still seemed just out of reach, and Rosic concluded that the reason was because of their ongoing exposure to electromagnetic radiation from their cell phones, laptops, nearby cell towers, and so forth. Some people, he concluded, are more sensitive to this exposure than others, and he decided to launch a clothing company to reduce a person’s exposure.

Riparo, which in November will launch an Indiegogo campaign for its EMF-blocking briefs to “protect your balls” from what some like to call EMF “pollution,” joins an already established market of apparel aimed at minimizing how much radiation penetrates our bodies. This includes every type of garment imaginable, from shirts and underwear to hats and pregnancy bellybands.

EMF maternity belt

The vast majority of scientists across many fields around the world say we don’t need to worry about what amounts to very small radiation exposure from our electronics. The World Health Organization, which launched an initiative to look into the topic in 1997 and has reviewed more than 25,000 studies, has concluded that “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.”

But considering long-term exposure is still being studied, is it better to invest in radiation-blocking clothing to “play it safe,” as Rosic says, or is this just a bunch of hocus pocus marketed to the most gullible among us?

The answer depends, of course, on whom you ask, but the key difference in views is whether exposure causes biological harm to our bodies even when the radiation is at levels too low to cause tissue heating.

Waves of mutilation?

First, a quick primer. People are exposed to varying levels of radiation every day, and have been since well before the invention of electricity. In fact the earth has a static electromagnetic field measured at 25-65 µT (this unit of measurement is called a microtesla; the tesla is used to measure the concentration of a magnetic field) from equator to poles, and none of us earthlings can avoid this exposure.

The type of exposure some worry about is two-fold: electric fields, which are created by differences in voltage, and magnetic fields, which are created when that electric current flows. So an electric field exists even in the absence of a current (i.e. a toaster that is plugged in but not on). A magnetic field will only be present when a current flows, and that amount can vary dramatically depending on power consumption (i.e. a lamp versus a mobile phone base station). One’s exposure depends on distance to that power source (i.e. a laptop on one’s nether regions versus a television set in a neighbor’s house.)

Once our bodies are exposed to radiation, it penetrates our tissue and scatters. At high enough levels, radiation heats our tissue. Many studies have investigated levels of exposure that are below those that cause tissue heating, and the research suggests that there is no discernible adverse health effects from this low level of exposure. There is also no evidence that exposure to electromagnetic fields causes “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” that some people report.

EMF in our bodies

In fact, the most common explanation for the symptoms some describe, such as headaches, anxiety, and insomnia, is that it is the stress people feel about EMF exposure that causes the ill effects. In one instance, a number of people claimed that a new cell tower in their neighborhood was adversely affecting their health — before it had even been turned on.

Nevertheless, because a person’s proximity to electromagnetic fields matters, there has been extensive investigation into the impact of cell phones, which many of us hold right against our skulls on a daily basis. (The ubiquity of cell phone use is certainly not in question; the number of mobile phone subscriptions is expected to exceed the world population this year.)

When powered on, the low-powered radiofrequency transmitters operate somewhere between 450 and 2700 MHz, with powers that peak between 0.1 and 2 watts. The radiofrequency exposure drops quickly with distance from the device, so someone holding it to their head has a higher exposure than someone texting with the phone a foot away.

In the short term, most of the energy from mobile phone exposure is absorbed by the skin, resulting in what WHO calls a “negligible” rise in temperature in organs such as the brain. In the long term, the jury is still out on whether cell phone use causes, say, tumors, because these effects won’t necessarily be seen for another decade or so. The first long-term studies are, however, starting to roll in. Interphone, the largest case-control study on the subject, found no increased risk of glioma or meningioma over the course of 10 years of cell phone use, and animal studies over multiple generations also find no increased risk of cancer due to long-term exposure.

“We ignore this at our peril”

That said, there are a few scientists, physicians and thinkers who remain skeptical about the so-called safety of EMF exposure, especially in the long term. Even the Interphone study concluded that “The possible effects of long?term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation.”

Former New York Times journalist B. Blake Levitt, who wrote “Electromagnetic Fields, A Consumer’s Guide to the Issues and How to Protect Ourselves,” has said:

[blockquote person=”” attribution=””]“It turns out that most living things are fantastically sensitive to vanishingly small EMF exposures. Living cells interpret such exposures as part of our normal cellular activities (think heartbeats, brainwaves, cell division itself, etc.). The problem is, man-made electromagnetic exposures aren’t ‘normal.’ They are artificial artifacts, with unusual intensities, signaling characteristics, pulsing patterns, and wave forms that don’t exist in nature. And they can misdirect cells in myriad ways. … We ignore this at our own peril.”[/blockquote]

Whichever way you lean, the folks behind products like Belly Armor and Riparo certainly hope that you play it safe and invest in their products to block or reduce EMF radiation where you can. (For a sense of the full spectrum of apparel on the market today, check out Electromagnetic “shielding,” as it is called, is typically achieved using metals like silver and copper.) For those who remain concerned about what exposure is doing to their health, these products could reduce not only one’s exposure but also one’s stress levels while results from long-term studies continue to trickle in.

Not everyone is happy with this approach, however, saying it amounts to putting on the proverbial tin hat. “All this strategy accomplishes is to reinforce faulty assumptions, and leave you equally vulnerable to a recurrence in the future,” writes Brian Dunning in his analysis of EMF hypersensitivity on “A better strategy is to understand the true cause of your stress, possibly through psychotherapy or possibly on your own, and either solve it or simply find a way to relax and blow off some steam.”

12 Responses to “Is electromagnetic “pollution” real, and do we need to protect ourselves?”

  1. JVanWinkle

    I am a retired electrical engineer and I can confirm that the current understanding of electromagnetic fields (EMF) would say the reports from folks who say that they have trouble with EMF fields makes no sense. Up until 2 or 3 months ago I would mentally roll my eyes when anyone would report EMF sensitivities. Not now. I won’t attempt to say there is accepted science to explain the cause of serious issues with extreme low levels of EMF on the body’s nervous system, but ‘heating’ is not the cause. I say this from personal experience – a complete surprise – and a large helping of humble pie. But as an engineer, experience is highly respected even when it runs counter to accepted science.

    More is to be learned and the current headlong push for WIFI, Bluetooth, cell phones, etc. are in for a rude shock, unfortunately, as they are real productivity enhancers. There will be science that will be explored, and it may be new and eyeopening. However, there is always good news to every significantly new understanding as doors are opened, and I don’t mean marketing operator scams and tricks. Until the trouble is actually understood, don’t let accepted science fuel hubris and compound the unheeded warnings from folks who suffer with these modern ubiquitous, and unfortunately nearly essential fields of modern life, now being known as ‘E-smog.’

  2. Jason Sodd

    Having read every study and article I could find on the issue of whether people should legitimately be concerned about exposure to EMF, I have concluded that we don’t know for sure yet. I have, however, noticed a striking correlation between who funded a particular study and that study’s conclusions. The majority of studies conducted in the U.S. were funded by participants in the electric industry (electric power generation, transmission, and sales), while a great many studies performed in Europe were truly independent studies funded by governmental agencies, universities and the like. Consequently, as one might expect, many of the U.S. studies conclude that EMF is nothing to worry about, while most of the European studies conclude that long-term exposure to EMF is linked to a wide variety of health issues and should be avoided. Take from that what you will, but I personally don’t trust “independent” studies funded by the very industry that would benefit from convincing people (and courts) that EMF doesn’t hurt people. That’s like trusting the tobacco industry to study whether smoking causes lung cancer.

  3. Dr. Don Nixdorf

    The research including clinical applications is very broad and easy to misswhen only looking for confirmation of harm. When trying to look for all research, or not omitting published information, there is empirical evidence on the absence of EMF associated with less chronic pain and wound healing. Pubmed search with keyword Farabloc or reading of research at provides ample evidence on the effects from the absence of EMF. When generating a byline of title it may be best to include disclaimer that not all evidence may have been considered. For disclosure I am associated with Farabloc and related research on EMF.

    Dr. Don Nixdorf

  4. Mina Haylee

    Some of these same fears have been exploited in the past, such as when electricity was being rolled out. Then like now people sought financial gain by spreading FUD. These “EM pollution” garments are the magic elixirs of our century.

  5. Howard Kalnitsky

    Do We Know Enough to Take Action?
    There is more evidence than we need.
    The last five years worth of new scientific studies tell us the situation is much worse than in 2007 and yet people around the world have so much more daily exposure than even five years ago. Exposures are linked to a variety of adverse health outcomes that may have significant public health consequences. When added across billions of people world-wide, no argument for the status quo can be persuasive now.
    In twenty-one technical chapters of this 2012 update, the contributing authors discuss the content and implications of about 1800 new studies. Overall, there is reinforced scientific evidence of risk where there is chronic exposure to low-intensity electromagnetic fields and to wireless technologies (radiofrequency radiation including microwave radiation).
    There is more evidence in 2012 that such exposures damage DNA, interfere with DNA repair, evidence of toxicity to the human genome (genes), more worrisome effects on the nervous system (neurology) and more and better studies on the effects of mobile phone base stations (wireless antenna facilities or cell towers) that report lower RFR levels over time can result in adverse health impacts. There has been a big increase in the number of studies looking at the effects of cell phones (on the belt, or in the pocket of men radiating only on standby mode) and from wireless laptops on impacts to sperm quality and motility; and sperm death (fertility and reproduction).
    In other new studies of the fetus, infant and young child, and child-in-school – there are a dozen or more new studies of importance.
    The 2007 BioInitiative Report was prepared by world- recognized experts in science and public health policy. Outside reviewers also contributed valuable content and perspective. It was concluded even in 2007 that existing public safety limits were inadequate to protect public health, and agreed that new, biologically- based public safety limits were needed five years ago. The public health cost of doing nothing was judged to be unacceptable in 2007. This did nothing to change the rules, nor roll back the technology tsunami of wireless-everywhere.
    The levels of exposure we face in 2012 are higher, and have crept into every day life, even for children. The levels at which undesirable effects on health and well-being are seen is much lower. The levels of concern at have dropped lower in 2012 by 10s to 100s of times. There is much greater involuntary exposure, and it is nearly unavoidable even for people who choose not to ‘go wireless’ (second-hand radiation effects). Safe forms of communication by land-line telephone are being phased out without general public knowledge or agreement. There is no informed consent for consumers (warning labels on cell phones, for example, have been defeated by telecom industry lobby groups). It is still difficult or impossible for a consumer to get reliable information on levels of exposure from wireless devices, It is simply beyond the reach of people to identify where excessively high levels of exposure occur in their communities, and it is very rare for a county or state health department to accommodate requests for information or provide measurements.
    Today the evidence is stronger than ever and it may be placing people at risk, but most people have no idea. There is little indication that cell phone users (whose numbers have risen from roughly 2 billion in 2006 to 6 billion users globally in 2012) are aware of the risks. In that time, whole-body exposures from other RFR sources like WI-FI, WI-MAX, smart grids using wireless utility meters, and vast commercial applications of wireless RFR (in commerce, transportation, in banking, in surveillance and monitoring, in medical imaging and ironically in health care record-keeping and learning environments for education – all these new applications of wireless over wired communications and data transmission add to the RFR saturation in cities. Wireless laptops and wireless internet in schools, and home offices and for homework mean even more chronic exposures to RFR, a designated IARC 2B Possible Human Carcinogen (May 31, 2011).
    The range of possible health effects that are adverse with chronic exposures has broadened. The most serious health endpoints that have been reported to be associated with extremely low frequency (ELF) and/or radiofrequency radiation (RFR) include childhood and adult leukemia, childhood and adult brain tumors, and increased risk of the neurodegenerative diseases, Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). Recent studies largely reinforce the potential risks to health (rather than reducing our concerns, or providing actual indications of safety). In addition, there are reports of increased risk of breast cancer in both men and women, genotoxic effects (DNA damage, chromatin condensation, micronucleation, impaired repair of DNA damage in human stem cells), pathological leakage of the blood–brain barrier, altered immune function including increased allergic and inflammatory responses, miscarriage and some cardiovascular effects. Insomnia (sleep disruption) is reported in studies of people living in very low-intensity RFR environments with WI-FI and cell tower-level exposures. Short-term effects on cognition, memory and learning, behavior, reaction time, attention and concentration, and altered brainwave activity (altered EEG) are also reported in the scientific literature. Biophysical mechanisms that may account for such effects can be found in various articles and reviews.
    We could do otherwise. Each wireless need had a wired solution in counterpart that has none of the health effects that wireless RFR does, with the exception of cell phone use for talking directly to someone. It is time to re-think the wireless tsunami and educate people about health, privacy and security risks. It is past time to develop new safety standards. It is necessary now to look to less harmful ways to communicate, move ourselves from place to place, shop, sleep, recreate, save energy, and educate our children in school. It is time to rethink our global commerce, energy, banking, transportation and communications infrastructures so we are all committed to sustaining healthy living spaces and conserve safe sanctuary for all species on earth.

  6. Howard Kalnitsky

    Why has the author of this article used the Interphone study as her benchmark for whether emf ‘s are safe or not? This particular study has been identified as being flawed, If she were interested in penning a more truthful article perhaps the Bioinitiative report from 2007, which was then updated again this year would have provided a more conclusive determination as to whether we have anything to worry about,

  7. Edgar Pearlstein

    For those of us who enjoy finding things to be afraid of, we have: fluoridation, GMO foods, food grown with man made fertilizer, vaccination of children, cell-phones, cell-phone tower radiation, proximity to electrical wiring, fluorescent lighting, amalgam tooth fillings, irradiated foods, aluminum cooking pots, lots of conspiracy theories.