A customer emailed me a question, and it’s one I get asked a lot. This customer emailed asking “what are safe levels of EMF radiation?” (Which is also a way of asking ‘what levels of electromagnetic radiation are dangerous?’) And I wanted to share my answer here, because I think many of you will find it to be a helpful way to frame and consider the risks of EMF exposure.
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When Someone Asks What Levels of EMF Radiation Are Safe, This is How I Reply
“I’ll tell you how my father would have answered that,” I started my reply to Jim.
If you asked him what levels of EMF radiation are safe, “he’d say: ‘the only safe level is none.’“
Now, on its own, that can be an unsatisfying answer. And maybe you even think it’s a bit simplistic and dismissive.
But please stick with me here. Because I think the full answer is quite instructive and can help illuminate the issue of EMF for those of you concerned about your exposures.
So, if you want to really know the answer, it helps to understand a few things. Like why we can’t put a simple numeric value on what’s ‘safe’ in terms of EMF radiation. And why safety standards that work from such values don’t actually guarantee your safety.
So let’s take a bit of a deeper look and hopefully help you learn what you need to know about EMF safe levels.
In The Beginning…
To start, it’s important to understand that ALL life on earth evolved over millions of years with a certain level of natural EMF radiation. An incredibly low level, actually.
In fact, the EMF that existed on earth prior to the 19th century came from the earth’s own magnetic field, cosmic sources (our sun and distant stars), and the occasional lightning bolt. That was it. And those were safe levels of EMF radiation.
(Although, as we all know, they aren’t completely safe. If you are exposed to too much sunlight, for example, you can get a sun burn. And too much damage from sunlight, such as sun burns, can lead to melanoma.)
Then Came the Lightbulb
But then came the light bulb. And then came the electrical grid to power it. Both of these are sources of human-made EMF radiation.
Suddenly, humans were generating significant amounts of EMF and sending it around the country (eventually, the world) and directly into people’s homes.
This was the first time in human history — actually, in the history of the planet — that human-made EMF became something we were exposed to on a regular or daily basis.
And of course, the light bulb and the power grid were just the start. Once the grid was in place, inventors and entrepreneurs kept finding new ways to make use of it. Like refrigerators and vacuum cleaners and coffee makers.
Each new appliance became another source of EMF exposures in our daily lives.
Eventually, people learned that this same force — electromagnetism — could be used for wireless communication, like radio, RADAR, television, cell phones and eventually WiFi.
So in a very short space of time– in a span of just over 150 years– humans began to be exposed to unprecedented levels of electromagnetic radiation on a daily– now constant– basis.
By some estimates, background EMF radiation in cities today is over 1 trillion times greater (that’s 1,000,000,000,000) than those found in nature.
These EMF Radiation Levels Are Not Natural and Not Safe
The significant thing here is that these new levels of electromagnetic radiation we’re exposed to are not natural.
For almost all of human history, we evolved to exist without exposure to human-made EMF. And all of a sudden – bam.
Today, we blanket the planet in a sea of electromagnetic radiation that did not exist for all of earth’s history until relatively recently.
So the reality is, our bodies aren’t equipped to deal with this level of radiation exposure. We can’t simply evolve new protective or reparative mechanisms in the same short timeframe that these EMF sources have been created.
We are told by regulators and utility companies and wireless companies that these levels are “safe”. But that’s simply not true.
“Bioeffects are clearly established and occur at very low levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency radiation. Bioeffects can occur in the first few minutes at levels associated with cell and cordless phone use… At least five new cell tower studies are reporting bioeffects in the range of 0.003 to 0.05 μW/cm2.”The Bioinitiative Report
That’s a REALLY low level of exposure of EMF that can lead to negative health outcomes.
It turns out that our bodies are very sensitive to these forces and react to incredibly low levels of EMF radiation — far, far, far lower than any safety standard considers. (And babies are even more vulnerable to health risks from EMF radiation.)
That doesn’t mean a low exposure will lead to cancer, or some other awful disease. But just because an exposure doesn’t manifest as cancer or some other significant disease does not mean that nothing has happened or no damage has occurred.
The reality is that our bodies reacting to even very low EMF exposures. And our bodies are constantly exposed to EMF radiation, so these reactions are being constantly triggered.
Now, The Good News!
Fortunately, our bodies are incredibly resilient machines. And our bodies are designed to cope with a fair amount of damage.
Oftentimes, when a part of our bodies gets a bit damaged, our body knows how to repair it, and it does just that.
Think of it like when you cut your skin. When we get a cut, our body knows how to clot the blood, create a scab over the wound, and then actually build new skin! (That’s actually pretty amazing stuff!)
Similarly, with certain types of damage to your DNA, for example, the body sees the DNA has been damaged, and repairs it! (Again, super amazing stuff.)
So even though a certain exposure to a certain amount of EMF did lead to damage, your body recognized that, and worked to heal it.
But There Are Limits
But there are limits to how much damage our bodies can repair. Sometimes the wounds are bigger than we can handle.
Again, think of a cut. Sometimes the cut is too big, and the body can’t repair it perfectly — that’s when we scar. Or sometimes the body isn’t powerful enough to repair the injury alone, and we have to be rushed to the hospital to get help.
And as we grow older, and accumulate more damage to our systems and our cells, our bodies get a little weaker, less resilient, and less able to repair damage.
So, over time, even little bits of damage can add up to some more significant damage. And that’s why dad would say ‘the only safe level is none.’
Because that’s the level our bodies coped to exist with. Every additional dose — even small ones — can lead to damage, and that damage adds up over time.
Some Groups Are More At Risk
As I’ve said above, there are limits to what our bodies can repair. Something else to consider is that those limits are different for different people, meaning some groups are more at risk.
BERENIS, the Swiss expert group on electromagnetic fields and non-ionising radiation, issued a special newsletter in January 2021 addressing the issue of oxidative stress caused by electromagnetic fields.
The government-appointed group identified and summarized a decade’s worth of relevant studies and concluded that exposure to even a low dose of non-ionizing EMF may cause “severe health effects” in young people, the elderly, and those with immune deficiencies.
Concludes the report:
“Pre-existing conditions, such as immune deficiencies or diseases (diabetes, neurodegenerative diseases), compromise the body’s defence mechanisms, including antioxidative protection, and it is therefore possible that individuals with these conditions experience more severe health effects. In addition, the studies show that very young and elderly individuals can react less efficiently to oxidative stress induced by EMF…”
The report points out that the majority of the studies provided evidence of increased oxidative stress caused by radiofrequency EMF or extremely low frequency EMF (also known as ELF) – including studies where exposure was in the range of regulatory limits.
Charts: International EMF Safe Levels & Safety Standards
So, how does all this relate to legal limits for EMF radiation emissions?
Each country establishes its own limits for EMF radiation emissions. However, the majority of countries base them on the standards set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), which is part of the World Health Organization.
In this chart, we see the ICNIRP guidelines recommending limits on exposure:
|European power frequency||Mobile phone base station frequency||Microwave oven frequency|
|Frequency||50 Hz||50 Hz||900 MHz||1.8 GHz||2.45 GHz|
|Electric field (V/m)||Magnetic field (µT)||Power density (W/m2)||Power density (W/m2)||Power density (W/m2)|
|Public exposure limits||5 000||100||4.5||9||10|
|Occupational exposure limits||10 000||500||22.5||45|
And in this chart we see the RF exposure safety limits for several countries, as of 2017:
field (V/m) 1800 MHz
(W/m2) 900 MHz
(W/m2) 1800 MHz
absorption rate (SAR) (W/kg) Whole body
absorption rate (SAR) (W/kg) Head and trunk
absorption rate (SAR) (W/kg) Limbs
|Iran (Islamic Republic of)||41.25||58.34||4.5||9||-||-||-|
|Republic of Korea||41.25||58.34||4.5||9||0.08||2||4|
Now, there are a few problems with these limits. And even if the EMF levels in your environment are below these levels, it doesn’t mean they’re not dangerous.
Building Biology Institute – Recommended EMF Exposure Levels
Precisely because international safety standards are so vastly inadequate, the Building Biology Institute has generated recommendations to help people understand what are “safer” levels of exposure. And I include them here for your reference.
|Units||No Concern||Slight Concern||Severe Concern||Extreme Concern|
|Low Frequency Electric (ELF-Electric)||V/m||< 0.3||0.3 - 1.5||1.5 - 10||> 10|
|Low Frequency Magnetic (ELF-magnetic)||mG||< 0.2||0.2 - 1||1 - 5||> 5|
|Radio Frequency||μW/m2||< 0.1||0.1 - 10||10 - 1000||> 1000|
As you will note, the Building Biology recommendations are quite different from those of international safety standards bodies. Why is that? Because the Building Biology Institute recognizes several factors of EMF exposure on health that are ignored by regulations.
Let’s dive into those in a bit more detail.
The Thermal Effect
First and foremost, all of these standards are based on the so-called ‘thermal effect’. Regulators assume that if the EMF levels are insufficient to burn you, they are safe.
But that’s just not what the growing body of EMF science tells us, as we see in the BioInitiative Report recommendations (cited above).
In other words, EMF safety limits are not designed to protect you from the negative health effects of EMF exposure that have been documented across hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies spanning more than half a century!
But wait, there’s more.
These limits are all based on a single source of EMF. For example, these limits regulate how much EMF you can be exposed to from your microwave, and they limit how much EMF you can be exposed to from your cell phone.
But they don’t limit how much electromagnetic radiation you can be exposed to from a microwave and a cell phone at the same time!
This is what I call the fundamental flaw in EMF safety standards. They do not account for exposures from multiple devices, when in reality, we are all exposed to EMF radiation from multiple– sometimes dozens or hundreds of– sources concurrently.
But wait, there’s even more.
EMF exposure regulations also completely fail to consider cumulative exposures, or your exposure over the course of your lifetime.
Someone who spends 12 hours a day speaking on their phone is going to be exposed to a lot more EMF radiation than someone who spends 15 minutes a day on their phone– even if they use the exact same cell phone model.
And that effect will be compounded over the course of a lifetime.
But the regulations completely ignore this fact. The same regulations that govern cell phones used for only a few minutes a day, govern cell phones that are used 10 or 12 hours a day.
But wait, there’s still more!
Outdated Science + Outdated Technology = Outdated Safety Standards
The standards in use right now are massively outdated. In the United States, for example, the cell phone emissions standards were adopted in the 1990s, based on research from the 1980s, and haven’t changed since.
And I hardly need to point out how much technology has evolved in the last 30 years!
In other words, these safety standards are not based on modern technology, and they are not based on anything close to how we use modern EMF-emitting technology in the real-world.
So the safety standards created by governments and international agencies like ICNIRP are seriously flawed, and are vastly insufficient to protect your health. This is why they are several orders of magnitude above what the BioInitiative Report recommends.
So when we ask the question, “How much EMF is safe?” turning to industry safety standards for answers is not helpful at all.
The Only Safe Levels Of EMF Radiation Are…
So the bottom line is that the only truly safe level of EMF is none. Zero exposure is the only way to avoid all risk.
Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting we should all cut technology out of our lives and move to the most remote depths of the wilderness. And this is not meant to be frightening.
Think of it like driving. In truth, the only ‘safe’ amount of driving is none.
Driving incurs risk. Each time we drive, we increase our risk a little bit. Over the course of our lives, we’ll likely be in a few accidents. Sometimes, they’ll be bad. Sometimes, unfortunately, they’ll be fatal.
Regardless, most of us drive anyway, because we’re able to evaluate the risk, and balance the benefit we receive from driving against that risk. And we take certain precautions — like wearing seat-belts, and observing the speed limit, and not driving drunk — to help reduce that risk.
That’s the best way to think about EMF exposure as well.
Just because we accept the risk, doesn’t mean it’s safe.
We know there’s a risk. And if we want the reward, we need to accept that risk.
But at the same time, there are things we can do to lessen it. Precautions we can take to reduce our EMF exposure – and thus, our health risk.
For example, to make a huge reduction in your exposure to EMF radiation, you can:
- Turn off your wifi router at night.
- Stop carrying your cell phone in your pocket.
- Stop sleeping with your phone.
These are just three examples of why we say the best EMF protection is free.
Reducing your use of EMF-emitting technology – and maximizing your distance from that technology when it is in use – are the two best ways to reduce your exposure to EMF radiation, and live healthier.
But there are more options, as well. For instance, here at SYB, we make some of the best EMF protection products in the world. For instance, we have products to make it safer to carry your phone and safer to use your laptop. We also make apparel to protect babies from the harmful effects of EMF radiation.
We may not be able to cut down our EMF exposure to a completely safe level. But there’s plenty we can do to make technology safer to use and enjoy.
So if you’re concerned about your exposure to EMF, get started right now!