What Are EMFs? (Electric & Magnetic Fields) Are They Safe?

Electromagnetic fields radiation waves

What Are EMFs? (Electric & Magnetic Fields) Are They Safe?

Key Points

  • The sun, electric powerlines, and electric appliances are all sources of EMFs.
  • There is concern that EMFs may possess gene-altering qualities.
  • High-frequency EMFs pose a health risk to humans while those in the mid to low-frequency category do not.

Few phenomena are as widespread or fundamental to human existence as EMR or electromagnetic radiation. It influences every aspect of our lives, from the visible light that illuminates our world to the radio waves. For example, radioactive gamma and X-rays changed cancer diagnosis and treatment. And in the age of wireless tech, our phones utilize microwave radiation to transmit information quickly.

Even though EMR is an unavoidable component of our cosmos, many are concerned about its potential adverse impacts. The main issue is the proliferation of personal communication gadgets, which can lead to electromagnetic hypersensitivity. This condition has a range of symptoms, such as chronic exhaustion, insomnia, aches, pains and even skin disorders.

Still, others are preoccupied with cancer risks associated with the widespread adoption of wireless technology. It is not uncommon to hear such stories, which are always unsettling. But should we be concerned?

EMFs and Their Safety Concerns

Since the Big Bang, the sun has been the source of electromagnetic fields and radiation.  By the turn of the twentieth century, most of the world had access to electricity and lighting fixtures. Scientists found that the power lines produce EMFs like the sun does naturally.

Not long after, scientists discovered that many modern electrical devices are also a source of EMFs. And eventually, equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment, such as X-ray and CT scanner imaging instruments, fell into the same EMF-emitting category. Approximately 90% of the global population now has access to and uses some form of electrical appliance. So, we are naturally exposed to a great deal of energy and electromagnetic fields (EMFs). If it is not scary, what is?

Types of EMFs to Determine their Safety

A major concern with EMFs is that if radiation can destroy cancer cells, how can it not raise the chance of producing genetic alterations when exposed to it for an extended period?

This is a fair question, but it must be weighed against the mind-boggling breadth of the electromagnetic spectrum.

High-Frequency EMFs

Also called the ionizing type of radiation, the scientific literature is unanimous that prolonged exposure can harm cells and DNA.

Medical devices produce low levels of this type of radiation, including X-ray imaging scanners and CT scans. UV radiation from the tanning beds and the sun is another potential source, as is gamma radiation from radioactive materials.

Low-to-Mid-Frequency EMFs

Generally, non-ionizing radiation poses no health risks to humans. Common sources of electromagnetic radiation include smartphones, microwave ovens, washing machines, hair dryers, and even power lines and magnetic resonance imaging machines.  

Interestingly, non-ionizing EMFs come from human-made as well as natural sources. A good example of a natural EMF is the earth’s magnetic field, whereas human-made EMFs can be further divided into two types.

  • Extremely Low-Frequency EMFs: Electrical wiring, power lines, and even common household equipment like hair dryers, electric shavers, and electric blankets can all contribute to this non-ionizing radiation field.
  • Radiofrequency Radiation: Smart meters, cell phones, tablets, and laptops all contribute to this area of non-ionizing radiation. Television and radio waves, satellite dishes, radar, and magnetic resonance imaging machines all contribute to this phenomenon.

Are EMFs Safe: The Never-Ending Debate!

There are so many myths and misconceptions when it comes to EMFs. It seems like a never-ending debate. But, the interesting thing is that if you have always been exposed to natural EMFs and your body produces electric currents, why is there an increasing concern about man-made EMFs?

Theoretically, all living things are electromagnetic, and every emotion and thought is a measured frequency. In addition, all living things generate their own little electrical currents as part of their normal biological operations, even when no external electric fields are present.

The heart and nerves use electrical impulses to communicate with one another. It is crucial to assess the effects of the biologically active EMFs on humans and other organisms down to the cellular level because, ultimately, EMF signals regulate human body systems.

A possible explanation for why man-made EMFs are often a cause for concern is that they are polarized EMFs and can have high biological activity, mainly because of their potential to generate constructive interference forces. Ultimately, this could power all polar/charged molecules around all living cells. When they move on parallel planes, they produce an electrostatic force on the cell membrane, resulting in possible disruption of the cells’ natural electrochemical balance.

Because of this phenomenon, concern about over-exposure to man-made EMFs and consequent health effects is growing.

 Exposure to EMFs in Daily Life

As mentioned already, we are surrounded by electromagnetic fields, and it is impossible to escape them. But, it is also true that exposure to it is not always a cause for concern. So many factors are at play here, including how long you expose yourself to these EMFs and how strong they are.

Danger Levels

When worried about EMF exposure, the best way is to learn how strong those waves are. For any device, you can learn about the EMFs they generate and then cross-check it with what is considered safe or is in a danger zone.

The International Commission regulates radiofrequency electromagnetic fields for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). Its recommendations are grounded in an analysis of the available scientific literature on RF-EMF exposure and its effects on human health, which spans some years.

To protect people from the potentially harmful effects of radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields with higher intensity, the WHO 2020 revised its international ICNIRP Guidelines (gigahertz).

As per the new guidelines, exposure to electric densities greater than 10 mA m-2 in the neck, head, and trunk can cause some unwanted effects. However, they set a population-wide limit of 2 mA m-2 because some people, especially youngsters and the elderly, may be especially vulnerable to electromagnetic fields.

In the U.S, there are no nationwide limits on exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF), but some individual states have enacted their own limits. In addition, several departments at the federal level are charged with limiting citizens’ exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) generated by modern technologies.

Do EMFs in Daily Life Fall into the Danger Zone?

To determine whether EMFs in daily life are truly dangerous, it is important to understand the difference between electric fields and magnetic fields.

Electric Fields vs. Magnetic Fields

The voltage generates electric fields, while the current generates magnetic ones. Electrical fields are quantified in units of V/m (volts per meter). Magnetic fields are quantified in microteslas (microteslas). The strength of electric and magnetic fields also varies with time and location.

When comparing electric fields between devices, it is important to keep in mind that the voltage being used by each one is different. Electric fields are stronger when the voltage provided to a device is higher. Even if there is no current, an electric field will still be present.

On the other hand, when an electric current flows, it generates a magnetic field, the intensity of which depends on the amount of current. Generally speaking, the greater the device’s use of electric current, the more powerful its magnetic field. Surprisingly, there is a great deal of variation in the magnetic field strength based on products.

  A device’s size and power may not affect how strong a magnetic field they produce. Furthermore, even among comparable products, the magnetic field strength may vary greatly. For instance, some hair dryers have a powerful field, while others emit hardly any EMF. It is all about how the thing is made.

EMFs – How Safe Different Devices and Equipment Are?

The distance from the device and the duration of exposure affect the amount of radiation you absorb, and you have to consider that when determining how safe everyday devices are.

Power Lines

If you have always been concerned about the EMFs of power lines, you are certainly not alone. After all, those high-voltage transmission lines produce the strongest electric fields we experience daily.

Most people do not know that transformers decrease this high voltage before entering your home or office. Additionally, your home’s walls offer some protection, which means the electric field is the strongest only beneath the power lines. And as mentioned already, your distance from the source of radiation matters as well. So, distance from high-voltage power lines will reduce the strength of the field around your property, making it harmless to a great extent.

TVs and Computer Screens

Due to the usage of LED, LCD, or plasma panels, modern-day TV sets produce minimal radiation.


Both computer monitors and television sets generate electric and magnetic fields at different frequencies to do their jobs. However, LCD screens, which use liquid crystal displays, do not generate much static electricity or magnetic force. It’s good to ensure your kids maintain a distance and watch from a couch several feet away from the TV set.

Modern Communication Devices

Talk about modern communications; the focus is always on mobile phones and Wi-Fi networks. But are these devices safe even though they produce EMFs? Technically, EMFs generated by your mobile phones are not always strong enough to cause serious issues. The thing is that not every mobile device is the same. There have been improvements in both the transmission and reception capabilities and the battery life from model to model. And this has significantly lowered the intensity of EMFs generated.

The same is true for Wi-Fi networks. Modern communications, including mobile phones and Wi-Fi, usually stay in the range of frequencies between 300 MHz and 300 GHz. In terms of the electromagnetic spectrum, these photons are relatively weak in energy and frequency. Even the lowest-energy visible light has approximately 1,430 times more energy than the most energetic microwave photon. This means that microwave radiation is unquestionably non-ionizing and incapable of causing direct DNA damage.

And to give you some more peace of mind, it is important to know that the FCC certifies wireless devices sold in the U.S. The FCC has established Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) restrictions for handheld wireless devices (such as tablets, cellphones, and other portables) operating at 6 GHz or less and intended for use near or against the human body. The limit is 1.6W/kg, and no portable device in the US exceeds this limit.

So, there is no need to worry, but if you are still concerned, you can even go to the FCC ID Search Database and check the SAR value of whatever device you are going to buy.

Microwave Oven

Photons from a typical home microwave oven have a frequency of about 2.45 GHz, which means that the electric field changes polarity 2.45 billion times per second, causing these polar molecules to collide with one another as they try to align with the field.

Microwaves are ideal for heating our mostly water-based food because the friction from the fast collisions is transferred to heat. This is sadly fraught with misunderstanding; several websites and blogs falsely claim that eating food heated in a microwave increases cancer risk. However, this is a flawed assumption, as microwaves do not emit any radioactive particles and do not “irradiate” food; instead, they use vibrational energy to heat it rapidly.

Electric Vehicles

tesla replacement battery cost

White tesla model x with falcon wing doors open charging at a supercharger station.

©Aleksei Potov/Shutterstock.com

These days, buyers can pick from a wide variety of hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric automobiles, such as Tesla, when shopping for an electric vehicle. They have become ubiquitous, whether you see them moving on roadways or resting on a charger in a parking garage.  While EVs are amazing, they have also raised certain concerns, mainly because they produce EMFs.

In 2010, only about 17,000 fully electric vehicles were on the roads worldwide. This figure hit 7.2 million in 2019. By 2040, according to an estimate by Bloomberg New Energy Finances, battery technology will advance to the point where more than half of all new automobiles worldwide will run on electricity. And with so many EVs ready to roll, shouldn’t you be worried about sustaining any damage on the cellular levels? Not really!

Tesla EVs indeed emit EMFs, but the current determines what kind of electromagnetic radiation the Tesla coil emits.  But, generally, electric vehicles only emit ELF magnetic fields, and this non-ionizing radiation is not damaging. Research shows that ELFs and magnetic fields are most at the vehicle’s floor and decrease dramatically further up. Even at the strongest point, the magnetic field recorded is less than 20% of the ICNIRP’s exposure recommendation.

Are You Safe Around All the EMFs in Your Home?

Considering the low intensity and EMF levels, it is probably safe to be around those devices.

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) says most people are exposed to extremely low levels of EMF daily. Most electromagnetic fields (EMF) in a home come from the wires that deliver electricity.

Short-term, high exposures also occur when you are near common household appliances that use electricity, such as microwaves, refrigerators, and washing machines. As you move away from these devices, the radiation from EMFs decreases dramatically.

An EMF meter can evaluate the strength of electromagnetic fields around your home. These portable gadgets are available for purchase on the web. However, be warned that most of them have low precision and cannot monitor EMFs of very high frequencies, limiting their usefulness. Also, remember that the strength of ELF fields varies depending on where you are. For instance, if you hold your meter just to the right of a clothes dryer, the reading may be o. On the other hand, shifting just one foot to the left could produce a greater reading.

Even if you are using a somewhat accurate meter, it is important to do safety checks in some rooms and locations throughout the home, particularly around the electrical equipment.

Further Reading:

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you lower your exposure to low-to mid-frequency EMFs?

The magnetic field strength weakens significantly when you move away from an appliance. It helps to keep a distance from electrical appliances, use the phone’s speaker, and unplug from electronics for a day.

How do you limit your exposure to high-frequency EMFs?

Because high-frequency EMFs have potential health risks,  limit your exposure to the sun and X-rays, and avoid tanning beds.

Can exposure to mobile phones cause cancer?

Cell phones are undoubtedly kept quite close to our heads, making protection from their heat a critical issue. The specific absorption rate (SAR) measures how much thermal energy a given area of tissue absorbs when subjected to an electromagnetic field.

To prevent thermal damage, the European Union limits exposure to electromagnetic fields to no more than 2 watts per kilogram, averaged over the 10-gram volume experiencing the greatest direct heating. And cell phones stay under that limit.

It is worth mentioning that SAR should not be used as a surrogate for cancer risk because dielectric heating merely raises tissue temperature and does not, in and of itself, disrupt DNA bonds. The World Health Organization has said that no adverse health consequences have been demonstrated by cell phone use; hence it is unlikely that mobile phone use raises the risk of cancer.

Is there unhealthy EMF exposure from electric vehicles?

Standing near an electric vehicle does not pose any danger from radiation. Experts warn that anyone with implanted devices like cardioverter-defibrillators should stay away from the electric vehicle’s battery pack or motor when used.

There is a greater risk of radiation exposure from other modes of transportation, including flying. According to the CDC, a single coast-to-coast flight can account for around 11% of an average American’s annual radiation exposure.

Do solar panels emit EMFs?

Solar panels may have some dangerous compounds, but those materials are confined within the panels themselves. Since their use is internal to the panel and most people do not come into direct touch with solar panels even when installed on the roof, the risk is low.

Moreover, solar panels produce weak electromagnetic fields when they generate and transmit electricity.   Extensive research shows that exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields poses no risk to human health.

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