Wireless electronic devices and health
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In response to public concern, the WHO established the International EMF Project in 1996 to assess the scientific evidence of possible health effects of EMF in the frequency range from 0 to 300 GHz. They have stated that although extensive research has been conducted into possible health effects of exposure to many parts of the frequency spectrum, all reviews conducted so far have indicated that, as long as exposures are below the limits recommended in the ICNIRP (1998) EMF guidelines, which cover the full frequency range from 0–300 GHz, such exposures do not produce any known adverse health effect. Of course, by the very definition of such limits, stronger or more frequent exposures to EMF can be unhealthy, and in fact serve as the basis for electromagnetic weaponry.
International guidelines on exposure levels to microwave frequency EMFs such as ICNIRP limit the power levels of wireless devices and it is uncommon for wireless devices to exceed the guidelines. These guidelines only take into account thermal effects, as nonthermal effects have not been conclusively demonstrated. The official stance of the British Health Protection Agency is that “[T]here is no consistent evidence to date that WiFi and WLANs adversely affect the health of the general population”, but also that “...it is a sensible precautionary approach...to keep the situation under ongoing review...”.
In 2011, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization, classified wireless radiation as Group 2B – possibly carcinogenic. That means that there "could be some risk" of carcinogenicity, so additional research into the long-term, heavy use of wireless devices needs to be conducted.
Exposure difference to mobile phones
Users of wireless devices are typically exposed for much longer periods than for mobile phones and the strength of wireless devices is not significantly less. Whereas a UMTS mobile phone can range from 21 dBm (125 mW) for Power Class 4 to 33 dBm (2W) for Power class 1, a wireless router can range from a typical 15 dBm (30 mW) strength to 27 dBm (500 mW) on the high end.
However, wireless routers are typically located significantly farther away from users' heads than a mobile phone the user is handling, resulting in far less exposure overall. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) says that if a person spends one year in a location with a Wi-Fi hotspot, they will receive the same dose of radio waves as if they had made a 20-minute call on a mobile phone.
The HPA also says that due to the mobile phone's adaptive power ability, a DECT cordless phone's radiation could actually exceed the radiation of a mobile phone. The HPA explains that while the DECT cordless phone's radiation has an average output power of 10 mW, it is actually in the form of 100 bursts per second of 250 mW, a strength comparable to some mobile phones.
Most wireless LAN equipment is designed to work within predefined standards. Wireless access points are also often close to humans, but the drop off in power over distance is fast, following the inverse-square law. However, wireless laptops are typically used close to humans. WiFi has been anecdotally linked to electromagnetic hypersensitivity, e.g., in Toronto, Canada schoolchildren as well as staff workers of France National Library. It should however be noted that to this day, research into electromagnetic hypersensitivity found no systematic evidence supporting claims made by sufferers.
The HPA's position is that “...radio frequency (RF) exposures from WiFi are likely to be lower than those from mobile phones.” It also saw “...no reason why schools and others should not use WiFi equipment.” In October 2007, the HPA launched a new “systematic” study into the effects of WiFi networks on behalf of the UK government, in order to calm fears that had appeared in the media in a recent period up to that time". Dr Michael Clark, of the HPA, says published research on mobile phones and masts does not add up to an indictment of WiFi.
Radio frequency in the microwave and radio spectrum is used in a number of practical devices for professional and home use, such as:
- DECT and other cordless phones operating at a wide range of frequencies
- Remote control devices for opening gates, etc.
- Portable two-way radio communication devices, such as walkie-talkies, etc.
- Wireless security (alarm) systems
- Wireless security video cameras
- Radio links between buildings for data communication
- Baby monitors
- Smart meters for electric energy
- Bluetooth and other personal area network devices - e.g., wireless headphones, smart watches.
- Implantable medical devices - pacemakers, implanted defibrillators
In addition, electrical and electronic devices of all kinds emit EM fields around their working circuits, generated by oscillating currents. Humans are in daily contact with computers, video display monitors, TV screens, microwave ovens, fluorescent lamps, electric motors of several kinds (such as washing machines, kitchen appliances [like electric can openers, blenders, and mixers], water pumps, etc.) and many others. A study of bedroom exposure in 2009 showed the highest ELF-EF from bedside lights and the highest ELF-MF from transformer devices, while the highest RF-ELF came from DECT cordless phones and outside cellphone base stations; all exposures were well below International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guideline levels.
The highest typical daily exposure, according to a study of 2009, came from cellphone base stations, cellphones and DECT cordless phones, with the highest exposure locations in trains, airports and buses. The typical background power of electromagnetic fields in the home can vary from zero to 5 milliwatts per meter squared. Long-time effects of these electromagnetic fields on human and animal health are still unknown.
Some implanted medical devices use radio frequency communication - both to report status, and to allow changing device behavior. Emissions from wireless electronic devices can interfere with the functioning of these devices, thereby adversely affecting the health of the user. Users of such implanted devices are usually cautioned to avoid close exposure to other wireless devices.
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