Are Wireless Signals Dangerous to your Health?
As we found out in a previous article (What
are Wireless Signals), we have this electromagnetic radiation pumping
around the home. This electromagnetic radiation is in the form of Radio
Waves, and is coming from the wireless router and wireless adaptor.
The wireless signals are Radio Waves, and the Radio Waves are electromagnetic
radiation. What we want to find out is this: Are Wireless Signals dangerous
to your health?
There is a group in Britain called ElectroSensitivityUK, who are campaigning
for a greater awareness of electro-sensitivity. According to this group,
some people are hypersensitive to electromagnetic radiation. The group
has been campaigning for some time on the issue. Recently, people have
been contacting them claiming that wireless signals in the home are
causing them to fall ill. Symptoms include nausea, exhaustion, headaches,
sleepless, stomach upsets, tinnitus, short-term memory loss, and I forget
Respected author Kate Figes is one such sufferer. After installing
a spanking new wireless system in her home, Kate began to feel ill.
She felt sick, run-down, and experienced a sensation she describes as
like "being prodded all over your body by 1,000 fingers".
Getting rid of her wireless equipment cured her illness. Being the mother
of two children, she's naturally concerned about the dangers that these
wireless signals may pose.
Kate Figes is certainly not alone in her suffering. Many others have
reported feeling ill when around wireless equipment. Rod Read, of ElectroSensitivityUK,
thinks that between 1 and 3 percent of the population could be hypersensitive
to the electromagnetic radiation pumped out by things like wireless
signals and mobile phones.
The Scientific View
However, the scientific view on this, and the one adopted by governments
around the world, is that the Radio Waves emanating from the likes of
wireless routers and mobile phones are harmless. Wired magazine and
website quotes one such scientist (Ed Mantiply, of the FCC's radio frequency
"There is no conclusive evidence that electromagnetic fields hurt
health. We have a standard for exposure, which is essentially like a
speed limit --there's no guarantee that you're safe below it or unsafe
Mantiply goes on to say, "I believe a good number of people who
complain about these things have trauma or obsessive disorders."
Note that he doesn't say "everyone", but a "good number".
After all, if there's no guarantee that you're safe below the "exposure
standard" then you can't dismiss entirely those who claim to be
failing ill from the electromagnetic radiation received from wireless
One thing that does stand out, however, from Ed's quote is mention
of an "exposure standard". What is this? And who set's this
An Exposure Standard is how much of a phenomenon (like Radio Waves)
you can be exposed to before it is deemed unsafe. Safety guidelines,
in other words. The body who oversee these safety standards in the US
are the FCC (Federal Communications Commission).
The FCC listened to two august bodies: the NCRPM (National Council
on Radiation Protection and Measurements) and the IEEE (Institute of
Electrical and Electronics Engineers). These two organisations in turn
gathered evidence from scientists and engineers from a wide-range of
fields. They came up with something called the Specific Absorption Rate
SAR is a measure of how much Radio Frequency energy is absorbed by
living tissue. It is measured in Watts per Kilogram, or Milliwatts per
gram. So a value of 1.6 W/Kg for mobile phones means that your head
can receive up to this amount of Radio Frequency energy with the phone
in use. High levels of Radio Wave exposure causes tissue to heat up.
So the higher the level of SAR the more dangerous it is considered to
be. A value of 1.6 is considered safe for American heads, but European
heads are considered tougher (or denser), so a value of 2 Watts per
Kilogram was set. Any higher than about 4 Watts per Kilogram and brain
cells tend to bail out. Some people think that even 1.6 and 2 are too
For those in the UK, you may be delighted to know that there is no
legislation that deals with compliance to any Electromagnetic Frequency
guidelines. Though the Health and Safety Executive do acknowledge the
SAR values above, and some sort of slap-wrist policy is in the pipeline
for 2008. Or possibly not.
In the US, meanwhile, you can be reassured that there is a government
body responsible for protecting you from the harmful electromagnetic
effect of microwave ovens, television sets and computer monitors - it's
the Food and Drug Administration!
To see why this energy is being closely observed, you have to understand
the two types of radiation.
Ionising and Non-Ionising Radiation
Radiation is broken down into two categories: Ionising and non-ionising.
Ionising radiation is the kind that strips electrons from your body,
and is dangerous. Very. Non-ionising radiation doesn't strip away electrons,
and is considered sort of safe. Think of these terms as the difference
between an X-Ray machine and a toaster. The toaster can be harmful if
you stick you fingers in the grill while it's warming up your muffins;
the X-Ray machine, meanwhile, can be so harmful that the person operating
it has to hide behind protective shielding. So, X-Rays are ionising,
The wireless signals in your home, you'll be glad to hear, are a form
of non-ionising radiation - Radio Waves.
The Radio Waves emanating from your Wireless router and Wireless adaptor
are about 15 to 20 times lower than that from a mobile phone. However,
the SAR values for phones were derived from short bursts to the head.
Wireless signals are constant, so it is difficult to compare the two.
But the energy intensity is considered to be fairly low. Nevertheless,
I couldn't find any SAR values for wireless routers and adaptors, in
the same way that mobile phones usually include the SAR value somewhere.
The best I could come up with is reassurances from wireless manufacturers
that their devices "meet the safety guidelines".
After all this research, we're not that much the wiser, I'm afraid!
The jury still seems to be out on whether or not wireless signals are
a cause for concern.
A World Health Organisation report into the issue concluded:
" ... there is no convincing evidence that exposure to Radio Frequencies
shortens the life span of humans, induces or promotes cancer.
... further studies are needed to draw a more complete picture of health
risks, especially about possible cancer risk from exposure to low-levels
of RF exposure."
Unless you're one of the unlucky Hypersensitives, try not to worry
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