With so much conflicting evidence out there regarding radiation and its impact on our health, what should or shouldn’t we be concerned about? This topic has received an increasing amount of attention recently from scientists, politicians, and the media. Today, all we can say with certainty is that we are not completely certain what the health risks are or whether wireless technologies are completely safe, leaving many parents confused.
Radiation is simply traveling energy, sometimes referred to as EMFs. Radiation exists naturally, though we are exposed to much higher levels from man-made sources. The x-rays you receive at the hospital are on one end of the radiation spectrum and are known as ionizing radiation, these can be dangerous even in small doses. The radiation that comes from cell phones, Wi-Fi, and other electronic devices is lower-energy non-ionizing radiation, which is what we are focusing on in this article.
The body of evidence about health risks from non-ionizing radiation is very mixed and often conflicting. Today, there is little doubt that biological impacts are possible from cell phone radiation. For example, the National Institute of Health has observed changes in the way brain cells metabolize while under the influence of cell phone radiation. Also, in 2016, the National Toxicology Program under the U.S. National Institute of Health published preliminary results from its $25 million animal study, showing that exposure to cell phone radiation at durations similar to human usage leads to a slightly increased risk of malignant gliomas in the brain and schwannomas of the heart in male rats. “Given the widespread global usage of mobile communications among users of all ages, even a very small increase in the incidence of disease resulting from exposure to [radio-frequency radiation] could have broad implications for public health,” according to the report.
While we do not fully understand what that means for the human body, there has been a growing body of research on the subject, especially during pregnancy and early childhood. A 2010 Danish study found links to behavioral issues, such as ADHD, from exposure during pregnancy and a 2012 Yale study linked developmental issues to exposure in pregnant mice. Other studies have raised concerns about fertility, miscarriages, autism and cancer. A 2008 study from the Cleveland Clinic found that men who use cell phones 2-4 hours a day have 20-40% lower sperm count, and the sperm they do have are slower and die sooner.
At the same time, there have also been other studies that have looked at cancer rates or other biological indicators and found no negative correlation with this type of radiation exposure.
Many institutions have assessed the body of scientific evidence on health risks from radiation, and while the conclusions are varied, even the most skeptical acknowledge the uncertainty – that we don’t know enough yet and more research is needed. In 2011, the World Health Organization classified cell phone radiation in the same “carcinogenic hazard” category as lead and chloroform. The FCC, after the urging of the American Academy of Pediatrics, is currently undergoing a review of their safety standards for cell phone radiation, which were established nearly 20 years ago based on a military model of a 200lb, 6ft tall adult male (we now know that a child’s brain absorbs 2-10x the radiation from the same exposure as an adult).
The general consensus seems to be that there is not cause for immediate alarm, but there is enough uncertainty and early indicators that we should be taking precautions. The proliferation of wireless technology has been exponential, so we only have a short history of exposure at the levels we live with today.
Modern technology has undeniable benefits and our electronics can be great tools to help us through pregnancy. It would be an over-reaction (and nearly impossible) to eliminate these things from our daily lives.
The alternative? Understand the potential risks and take precautions when possible. Find a balance between convenience and caution. You may want to take special care if you are having trouble conceiving, have had previous miscarriages, or have a history of cancer in your family. Otherwise, there are many small changes in daily habits that can significantly reduce radiation exposure and its potential impacts during your pregnancy.
Aileen Chen has been a long-time advocate of health issues surrounding EMF radiation. The mother of two girls, Aileen focuses on health implications of EMFs for young children and during pregnancy. Regularly speaking on the topic and organizing awareness campaigns, she strives to educate about the state of the science, putting potential risks in context and emphasizing the need to balance these risks with the realities of modern-day life. Aileen is the co-founder and CEO of Belly Armor, a source for information and tools to help expecting women and families understand and protect against the risks of everyday radiation.