Planetary Electromagnetic Pollution: It is Time to Assess its Impact

By Priyanka Bandara and David O Carpenter | Original Lancet here.

As the Planetary Health Alliance moves forward after a productive second annual meeting, a discussion on the rapid global proliferation of artificial electromagnetic fields would now be apt. The most notable is the blanket of radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation, largely microwave radiation generated for wireless communication and surveillance technologies, as mounting scientific evidence suggests that prolonged exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation has serious biological and health effects.

However, public exposure regulations in most countries continue to be based on the guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection1 and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.2 which were established in the 1990’s on the belief that only acute thermal effects are hazardous. Prevention of tissue heating by radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation is now proven to be ineffective in preventing biochemical and physiological interference. For example, acute non-thermal exposure has been shown to alter human brain metabolism by NIH scientists,3 electrical activity in the brain,4 and systemic immune responses.5

Chronic exposure has been associated with increased oxidative stress and DNA damage 6 7 and cancer risk.8 Laboratory studies, including large rodent studies by the US National Toxicology Program9 and Ramazzini Institute of Italy,10 confirm these biological and health effects in vivo. As we address the threats to human health from the changing environmental conditions due to human activity,11 the increasing exposure to artificial electromagnetic radiation needs to be included in this discussion.

Due to the exponential increase in the use of wireless personal communication devices (eg. mobile or cordless phones and Wi-Fi or Bluetooth-enabled devices) and the infrastructure facilitating them, levels of exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation around the 1 GHz frequency band, which is mostly used for modern wireless communications, have increased from extremely low natural levels by about 1018 times.

Radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation is also used for radar, security scanners, smart meters, and medical equipment (MRI, diathermy, and radio-frequency ablation). It is plausibly the most rapidly increasing anthropogenic environmental exposure since the mid-20th century, and levels will surge considerably again, as technologies like the Internet of Things and 5G add millions more radio-frequency transmitters around us.12 13

Unprecedented human exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation from conception until death has been occurring in the past two decades. Evidence of its effects on the CNS, including altered neurodevelopment14 and increased risk of some neurodegenerative diseases15 is a major concern considering the steady increase in their incidence. Evidence exists for an association between neurodevelopmental or behavioral disorders in children and exposure to wireless devices and experimental evidence, such as the Yale finding, shows that prenatal exposure could cause structural and functional changes in the brain associated with ADHD-like behaviour.16

These findings deserve urgent attention.

At the Oceania Radiofrequency Scientific Advisory Association, this weight of scientific evidence refutes the prominent claim** that the deployment of wireless technologies poses no health risks** at the currently permitted non-thermal radio-frequency exposure levels. Instead, the evidence supports the International EMF Scientist Appeal.

Evidence also exists of the effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation on flora and fauna. For example, the reported global reduction in bees and other insects is plausibly linked to the increased radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation in the environment.17 Honeybees are among the species that use magnetoreception, which is sensitive to anthropogenic electromagnetic fields, for navigation.

Man-made electromagnetic fields range from extremely low frequency (associated with electricity supplies and electrical appliances) to low, medium, high, and extremely high frequency (mostly associated with wireless communication). The potential effects of these anthropogenic electromagnetic fields on natural electromagnetic fields, such as the Schumann Resonance that controls the weather and climate, have not been properly studied. Similarly, we do not adequately understand the effects of anthropogenic radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation on other natural and man-made atmospheric components or the ionosphere. It has been widely claimed that radio-frequency electromagnetic radiation, being non-ionising radiation, does not possess enough photon energy to cause DNA damage.

This has now been proven wrong experimentally. 18 19

Radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation causes DNA damage apparently through oxidative stress similar to near-UV radiation, which was also long thought to be harmless. At a time when environmental health scientists tackle serious global issues such as climate change and chemical toxicants in public health, there is an urgent need to address so-called electrosmog. A genuine evidence-based approach to the risk assessment and regulation of anthropogenic electromagnetic fields will help the health of us all, as well as that of our planetary home. Some government health authorities have recently taken steps to reduce public exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation by regulating use of wireless devices by children and recommending preferential use of wired communication devices in general, but this ought to be a coordinated international effort.

We declare no competing interests. We thank Alasdair Philips for assistance with the figure and Victor Leach and Steve Weller for assistance with the ORSAA Database, which has enabled our overview of the scientific evidence in this area of research.


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