What is Safe? The Difficulty in Setting Electromagnetic Radiation Standards

Towermast1Picking a safety standard for EMFs or EMR is not a easy task. It is fraught with difficulties and moving variables.  How do you determine a safe level when biological effects are still observed at extremely small EM signal strengths, far lower than would be acceptable for a useable telecommunications network?  To complicate matters, we are dealing with a large range of frequencies and strengths, and different combinations of frequencies, each perhaps with their own set of harmonics. We are then trying to assess a safe level by estimating the biological response of the human organism to these fields. What is meant by ‘safe’ anyway?

Biological systems, human or not, can respond in very non-linear ways by reacting strongly to very small stimuli and may react one way or the other depending on their state at the time, or depending on their initial conditions. This can depend on their recent history that brought them to their current disposition, which could bias their response. It can depend on many factors such as their state of health, nutritional fortitude, degree of toxic exposure, attitude of mind, etc.  Another example that helps describe this sensitivity to initial conditions  occurs when you have been inside in a darkish room for a while and then decide to go outside into the sunlight.  Immediately on going outside your eyes may begin to water, you will probably squint and reach for the sunglasses. However, if you have been outside for a while already, you may notice nothing particularly strained in your vision and not even think about needing sunglasses.

On top of this different frequencies have different propagation, penetration and scattering characteristics, and different materials interact in different ways depending on their own unique permeability and dielectric properties. Extremely low-frequency EM waves can be thousands of kilometers long whereas high-frequency microwaves are closer to centimeters in length. (Higher frequencies such as gamma rays have wavelengths that are subatomic, i.e., smaller than an atom).

Despite the fact that the response of living organisms can be quite varied, being based on many dynamically changing factors, makes the particular response of an individual difficult to predict.  However, investigating a sufficiently large number of individuals can reveal the distinct changes and effects due to electromagnetic radiation, which is useful in setting safety standards for the general public. This is particularly significant given that brain tumours may take more than a decade to manifest when subjected consistently to low level microwave radiation over the long term. Levels so low you’d probably think they could never do any damage.

Precautionary action would favour acknowledging there is in fact a potential risk to health, and then take an informed and intelligent decision to alter ones behaviour and habits accordingly to minimise exposure. The degree to which one chooses to adhere to these guidelines should be based on what they consider to be an adequate level of protection, and based on their own informed understanding as to what constitutes a ‘safe’ EMF exposure level.  This requires taking an active position as an individual – after all there are two different groups out there giving advice that differs by a factor of, not 2 or 3 times, or even a hundred or a thousand, but a million!.

From the evidence I’ve come across, I’ve decided to try and aim for the lower and more recent biologically-based recommendations (such as the Salzburg and Bioinitiative 2012 standards which recommend levels around 1 – 10 μW/m2), and adopt some good habits now to minimise exposure in my day-to-day activities.  This should make quite a difference over the long term, e.g., like routinely carrying my phone in a brief case or backpack rather than in my pants or shirt pocket, which places it much closer to my body.

The currently adopted standard from the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is thousands to millions of times greater (i.e., 9,000,000 μW/m2) than the limits indicated by more recent observations and scientific research based on the response of living biological entities rather than models based on radiation propagation through glycerine filled mannequins.  The reason for this large discrepancy in safety standards reflects two different schools of thought; one that is biologically based, the other that ignores informational electromagnetic signalling within the body.  It seems the main difference is that the ICNIRP guidelines tend to ignore the fact that living organisms are governed by electromagnetic pulsing fields, which can be disrupted by external artificial sources. The ICNIRP standard really only considers radiation levels that can cause tissue heating as a threshold dosage where difficulties might arise.  Unfortunately, this threshold is around 6 orders of magnitude above where biological effects are generally observed.  Or put another way, this is where living organisms normally respond to the same frequency of radiation but at much, much lower levels.

The ICNIRP guidelines were originally introduced to protect military personnel from short-term high level exposure of microwave radiation.   The guidelines clearly state that they only relate to acute and short exposures, and are obviously inadequate to address the real life situation where civilians are exposed to low-level long-term exposure.  Furthermore, they do not take into account pulsed technology that occurs with current digital broadcasting nor do these standards take into consideration frequencies other than microwaves. They also don’t take into account of the age or size of the individual.  (A child absorbs at least twice as much as an adult due to a thinner skull (easier to penetrate) and smaller diameter head (less distance to penetrate).

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