You’ve probably heard about the scientific studies linking cell phones to a variety of tumors, including brain cancer. The World Health Organization has now classified cell phones as a “possible carcinogen.”*
What’s being largely overlooked: Electromagnetic radiation—from electrical appliances, such as hair dryers, microwave ovens and washing machines…as well as that from wireless signals for computers—also may contribute to cancer risk independent of cell-phone use.
What you need to know…
Every electrical appliance in your home emits electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) of energy. An appliance that is plugged in has an electric field even when it is turned off. The appliance produces a magnetic field when it is turned on and the electrical current is flowing. However, the EMFs from appliances are considered extremely low frequency (ELF), meaning that the radiation flows at very low levels.
Still, some studies show that regular exposure to even low levels of ELF electromagnetic radiation, such as 3 milligauss (mG), may increase the risk for leukemia in children—and possibly, to a lesser degree, in adults. Preliminary research has also linked this form of energy to Alzheimer’s disease and Lou Gehrig’s disease, but this association is still being debated.
Some experts maintain that the electromagnetic radiation from cell phones and electrical appliances is too weak to cause the types of cell damage that can lead to cancer. But evidence is emerging that even weak forms of energy may interfere with normal cell functions, perhaps contributing to the development of cancer and other diseases.
Appliances that use the most electrical current, such as handheld hair dryers, emit the highest levels of ELF radiation. But even small appliances, such as coffeemakers, produce some.
Important: ELF fields are strongest at the point where the electrical wires enter the device. The fields diminish to almost nothing within a foot or two. To test electromagnetic radiation around your appliances: Use a gauss meter—available online for about $150 to $500.
Important: ELF fields are directional—if you hold the meter to the right of a washing machine, for example, the reading might be zero, but it may be much higher a foot to the left. For accurate readings, test in different locations around the electrical appliance within a radius of a few feet.
Electrical wiring in the walls also can be an issue.
What I’ve found: In my son’s bedroom, most of the wiring that carries electricity to lights and electrical outlets is in one of the walls. When we tested with a gauss meter, the EMFs were highest near his bed, so we moved his bed to the other side of the room.
In general, electrical wiring in walls generates high ELF only when the current is flowing or there is a ground current created by faulty wiring. However, the ELF exposure from wiring adds to the total exposure from appliances.
To reduce exposure…
Don’t linger near appliances when they’re running. Even though the ELF levels are typically highest at the back of an appliance where the electrical cord plugs in, the magnetic field directly in front of a typical washing machine can reach 20 mG. You’ll be exposed to only normal background levels by moving a foot or two away.
Important: Even the best microwave ovens leak some of the radiation they use to heat the food, so stand at least four feet away from the front of the oven when it’s running. Microwave ovens also produce high levels of ELF electromagnetic radiation from the electricity used to power the oven, so there’s a double risk.
Towel-dry your hair. Hair dryers are among the most dangerous sources of magnetic fields because they use a lot of power and the motor/heater is held close to the head. Although using a low-fan and/or low-heat setting helps some, it’s better to avoid hair dryers altogether.
If towel-drying is not convenient, consider using a low-EMF hair dryer such as the Chi Ceramic Low EMF Ionic Hair Dryer available for about $100 online…or a low-EMF wall-mounted hair dryer for $89.95 from the EMF Safety Superstore, www.Lessemf.com.
Use the electric blanket before you get into bed. Electric blankets don’t draw a lot of electrical current, but they expose your entire body to ELF radiation for the entire night if you leave them on. If you want a warm bed, turn on the blanket half an hour before bedtime, then turn it off when you get into bed.
Get a new bedside clock. Old-style alarm clocks—analog clocks with lighted dials—produce surprisingly high levels of electromagnetic radiation. My advice: Get a digital bedside clock, which emits almost no ELF.
Throw out your cordless phones. Cordless phones emit electromagnetic radiation whether or not they are being used. That’s why I recommend replacing cordless phones with corded phones.
Most computers give off electromagnetic radiation. If you use a desktop model, position it toward the back of your desk. Most monitors, which produce lower levels of electromagnetic radiation than computers, have conductive screens to block the ELF exposure. But it’s still wise to position your monitor as far away from you as possible.
What I’ve found: I once measured the fields near my secretary’s desk. The reading was about 10 mG, which is extremely high. I realized that the high-powered electrical wiring used by the computer was behind the wall closest to her. We had to move her desk 10 feet to get out of range.
Also, virtually every modern computer (including laptops) is designed to receive wireless signals. If you have a wireless router, which connects to a cable and wirelessly “routes” this connection to one or more computers in your home, your exposure to electromagnetic radiation is constant.
To be safer…
Hardwire the computer to the modem. Use cables to connect computers to your modem rather than using a wireless signal, so you can forgo the router. If more than one person uses a computer at home, however, this approach may not be practical.
Turn off the router when it’s not in use. If you do use a router, turn it on only when you need the signal for using the Internet, streaming video to the TV, etc.
Disable Wi-Fi settings on your computer if you don’t use a router. Otherwise, the computer—or any device that operates wirelessly, such as some printers—will constantly emit electromagnetic radiation as it tries to find the nearest wireless source. Shut down your computer when it’s not in use to reduce ELF radiation in your home.
*A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries analyzed peer-reviewed studies before classifying radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from wireless cell phones as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” based on an increased risk for glioma, a type of brain cancer.
Source: David O. Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment and a professor of environmental health and toxicology at the University at Albany, New York. He is a member of the editorial board of Environmental Health Perspectives, published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and an editorial adviser for Cellular and Molecular Neurobiology.