What is a High EMF Reading?

EMF – electromagnetic fields – are measurable using portable handheld devices such as the TriField TF2. Such devices are commonly used to test for EMF in industrial settings and workplaces, and for the diagnostic testing of electronics

More and more people are purchasing EMF meters to explore their own homes, measuring whether they’re subject to any particularly high EMF levels. If this is you, then you might be wondering; what is a high EMF reading anyway? If not, then understanding EMF is still very important, not to mention interesting! 

EMF, for those who don’t know, stands for electromagnetic frequencies. Such fields are ubiquitous and are emitted by virtually all forms of electronic devices. 

The term ‘EMF’ is actually broad and encapsulates any frequency on the electromagnetic spectrum, including visible light, microwaves, radio-frequencies, UV, infrared and ionising radiation like gamma rays. The frequencies emitted by electronic circuitry tend to sit in the radiofrequency and microwave area of the spectrum.

So, all electronic items do emit some form of radiation – that is a given. But, at which point do these emissions become harmful?

Firstly, let’s break down what happens when tissue is exposed to electromagnetic waves

How Radiation Affects the Body

Firstly, while the word ‘radiation’ conjures immediate negative connotations, this is certainly not a reality. Visible light is a form of radiation, for example. Light radiates the sun all the time, warming the earth and enabling us to see the world around us.

Radiation consists of electromagnetic waves which have the combined properties of electricity and magnetism. We can find radio waves at the lower end of the spectrum and gamma rays at the higher end of the spectrum. Radio waves have huge wavelengths, which is why the radio transmits over such great distances.

Electromagnet Spectrum
Electromagnet Spectrum

Satellites in space communicate with the earth via radio frequencies, as radio waves are so long that they travel easily through the atmosphere. Essentially, they are so big that they easily bypass human tissues, travelling straight through us. Even shorter radio waves have wavelengths similar to the size of a coin.

But, as we move up the electromagnetic spectrum, we find that waves get shorter and shorter. Before visible light but after radio waves, we can find both microwaves and radiofrequency waves (RFs).

Microwaves are familiar to most people – they’re the waves emitted by microwaves. RFs and microwaves are partly how phones and other devices communicate – they are all around us. There is a good chance that they’re passing through you right now.

At this point in the spectrum, the waves are much shorter than radiowaves – around 1m to 0.1mm or so. The graphic above compares microwaves to a needlepoint. Virtually all telecommunications devices use microwaves and radio frequencies, including mobile phones. Mobile phones emit radiation so long as they’re turned on and not in airplane mode. Bluetooth, NFC and other wireless technologies are also de-facto radiation. All of these technologies sit below visible light and infrared.

It’s also crucial to understand that these types of radiation are non-ionising, unlike x-rays, gamma rays and other ultra-short-wavelength radiation. These forms of radiation are extremely dangerous.

Scientific research was primarily focused on ionising radiation throughout the 1900s – it was largely assumed that non-ionising radiation was entirely safe. However, this is now known to not be the case.

Microwave Food – An Analogy for The Human Body

How does a microwave heat food? By literally shaking the molecules, causing tiny vibrations that generate energy as heat. When you put food in a microwave, these invisible waves can boil water in just a few minutes, or heat food in seconds.

Now, let’s be clear that this is NOT what is happening when you use an electronic device or have one near you – not unless the device is dangerous or malfunctioning. The microwaves emitted by electronic devices can cause minor heating, but most of the heat emitted by an electronic device is likely produced by batteries and other components. whilst various electronic devices do produce microwaves (including phones), they do not have the energy level to boil your tissue! Microwave ovens draw some 1000w of power, way, way more than your average mobile phone.

Previously, most scientists and researchers believed that the EMF emitted by consumer devices did not carry sufficient energy to affect our bodies at the cellular level, despite the fact that the waves themselves travel through us.

Now, it’s clear that EMF radiation emitted from consumer devices does affect our bodies at the cellular level. Namely, these tiny vibrations can alter how our cells function and change how they transport important molecules. The EMF Scientist Appeal was formed some years ago in response to the growing evidence that non-ionising radiation harms us, with an effort to tackle the risks imposed by EMF radiation and educate the public on safe mobile phone usage.

Proof That Phone Radiation Enters The Body

Bizarrely, some people still believe that phone radiation doesn’t even enter the body or that it can’t possibly affect our cells.

Phones are tested for specific absorption rate (SAR), which measures how much of their radiation is absorbed into dummy human tissue. Manufacturers are legally required to do this in most jurisdictions. This is proof alone that phone radiation obviously does penetrate the body, and is absorbed by our tissues. Moreover, Apple’s official guidance for some phones even suggests that their phones should be held at least 10mm from the body to ensure that radiation levels stay within reasonable bounds. This admits that mobile phone radiation, specifically RF energy as per Apple’s wording, IS absorbed into the body.

See the excerpt below from Apple’s own iPhone 12 legal disclaimers:

Carry your phone 10mm (1cm) from your body?!

Obviously, this is quite absurd and indicates that even phone manufacturers know that radiation is guaranteed to enter the body when people use their phones in an accepted way. This combined with numerous studies into EMFs and cell function show that:

  1. Radiation from consumer electronics DOES enter our bodily tissues
  2. Radiation from consumer electronics DOES affect our cell function

In light of this, more people are deciding to take proactive steps to lessen their exposure to EMF radiation, including from mobile phones. It’s a sensible precaution to take, even if you are sceptical. There are enough studies out there to convince even hardened sceptics, and enough backing from the scientific community to suggest that EMFs are far-removed for ‘tin foil hat’ theories.

EMF Readings

Here, we want to focus on EMF readings. If you’ve bought an EMF meter, then you might already be having fun measuring how much radiation surrounds you each day! But, the difficult thing is knowing what a high EMF reading actually is.

Firstly, it’s tough to define what a ‘high’ EMF reading is, and it depends on the reading in question.

There are 3 possible readings that you’ll find on your EMF meter:

  1. Magnetic fields
  2. Electric fields
  3. Radio frequencies

Discerning a ‘dangerous’ reading is tricky. Firstly, there is no formal benchmark for what a dangerous reading is, or at least, there’s no consensus – we will be exploring this topic. The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is one authority that has made some attempts to define safe limits for non-ionising radiation exposure.

In 2010, the ICNIRP recommended a residential magnetic field exposure limit of 2,000 milligauss (mG) and an occupational exposure limit of 10,000 mG.

Various scientific studies have investigated the correlation between specific-milligauss emissions and health issues, with massively varying conclusions. The Bioinitiative report released by a large cross-discipline team of scientists cites thousands of studies, updated every year, and strongly suggests that EMF of a much lower level than 2,000 mG can cause significant harm.

Namely, various types of cancer are skyrocketing in recent years, including rare brain and auditory tumours. Infertility rates are approaching record highs too, with mobile phones likely partly to blame.

The WHO has also now officially classified mobile phone radiation as a group 2B possible carcinogen.

You can read more about the effects of EMF on the WaveWall blog – and there are plenty of scientific sources to dig through.

1: High EMF Readings

Though it’s tough to unravel what is a high EMF reading, activists suggest that truly ‘safe’ limits are more like:

  • Magnetic Fields: under 1 mG (milliGauss)
  • Electric Fields: under 10 V/m (Volts per metre)
  • Radio Frequencies: under 1 mW/m²

A jump from 2,000 mG down to just 1 mG might seem shocking, and it’s true that this is likely an exaggeration. It’d probably be more accurate to say that 1 mG is sufficient to alter biological cell function on some level, which may lead to issues over long periods of exposure. The Bioinitiative report does also cite 1 mG as a safe level.

If you’ve been walking around your home with an EMF meter, you might find that mG readings of around 0.5 mG are common. Obviously, moving the meter closer to electronic items will vastly increase that reading.

This is why phones are a particular issue – they are kept much closer to the body than other electronic devices. Sure, you may keep your phone at arm’s length whilst you’re at home, but when you’re out and about, or actually using the phone, it’s likely pressed against your skin.

In fact, a huge percentage of people sleep with their phones nearby or even under their pillow – read this post for more on that.

2: High Electric Field Readings

Electric fields are measured in V/m (Volts per metre). Activists believe that 10 V/m (Volts per metre) should be considered high. Again, there is very little empirical information out there to really gauge what a high electric field reading is. Milligauss is the preferred measurement overall.

The German Building Biology standard does provide some clues. Their reports provide guidance for electromagnetic exposure in residential settings, citing the following figures:

  • < 1 V/m – No Concern
  • 1-5 V/m – Slight Concern
  • 5-50 V/m – Severe Concern
  • < 50 V/m – Extreme Concern

Again, these readings differ massively from the guidance supplied by most other authorities. Some sources even suggest that exposure of some 5,000 v/m is safe. This might apply to those living near or under high voltage power lines.

Whilst it is true that those electric fields rapidly dissipate as they travel through the air and solid objects, exposure is still consistently above 5 v/m. If you take a v/m reading from near an electronic device, you might find readings of some 500 v/m. This makes laptop shields an excellent investment, as that is when computers come in close contact with the body (and reproductive organs!).

If you find consistently high v/m readings in your own home, you can move those electronics further away from where you sit or sleep. Distance is key, as radiation dissipates quickly with distance.

3: High Radio Frequency Readings

Radio frequencies sit below microwaves in the electromagnetic spectrum but are more frequently emitted by cell phones, towers, wireless devices, etc. Microwaves are more damaging, but RFs are more consistent.

As above, activists commonly cite that under 1 mW/m² is safe for RF exposure. When you take this reading, you’ll need to look at the peak number on your device where applicable.

1 mW/m2 often pops up as the ‘safe’ reading because the Bioinitiative report also concludes that.

Note: In the following passage, .1 µW/cm2 (microWatt per square centimetre) is the same as 1 mW/m2. The only difference is the scale used. µ is also used interchangeably with m.

“At least five new cell tower studies are reporting bioeffects in the range of 0.003 to 0.05 μW/cm2 at lower levels than reported in 2007 (0.05 to 0.1 uW/cm2 was the range below which, in 2007, effects were not observed). Researchers report headaches, concentration difficulties and behavioral problems in children and adolescents; and sleep disturbances, headaches and concentration problems in adults. Public safety standards are 1,000 – 10,000 or more times higher than levels now commonly reported in mobile phone base station studies to cause bioeffects.” – Bioinitiative Report, updated in 2019.

Again, regulators seem to place figures for safe RF exposure much higher than 1 mW/m². The proposed ‘safe’ levels set by most organisations are around 1,000 to 10,000 times higher. In the US, guidelines range between 200 mW/cm2 to 1000 mW/cm2.

5,800 mW/m2 averaged over a 30-minute period (869 MHz) is another common ‘safe’ exposure limit. 5,800 mW/m2 is vastly greater than 1 mW/m2.

Safe EMF Readings

To summarise, if you want to be extra careful and conservative, then these are tentatively safe readings for residential exposure to EMFs, or radiation exposure at home:

  • Magnetic Fields: under 1 mG (milliGauss)
  • Electric Fields: under 10 V/m (Volts per metre)
  • Radio Frequencies: under 1 mW/m²

These figures are not arbitrary, but they’re not rock-solid either. There is a great deal of speculation involved in the world of non-ionising radiation exposure.

If you’re still not convinced that your phone can hurt you, you can find many articles in the blog, most of which cite true peer-reviewed academic sources.

The health issues associated with consumer radiation emitted by phones and electronic devices are far-ranging and include everything from sleep problems to cancer and infertility. You can also take a look at the Effects of EMF section of the site.

The Link to SAR – Specific Absorption Rate

Whilst anyone with an EMF meter will understand what some of these readings are already, others might only have heard of specific absorption rate (SAR).

SAR is pretty much the only measurement that manufacturers need to take to ensure regulatory compliance with non-ionising radiation laws and regulations. SAR, measured in watts/kg of tissue, measures the rate that radiation is absorbed into bodily tissues. In other words, phone manufacturers use SAR to measure whether or not your phone is emitting truly damaging levels of radiation.

The current regulatory limits for SAR are 2W/kg in Europe and 1.6W/kg in the USA. Again, these figures follow the same trends as above and are likely much-inflated. In other words, the ‘safe’ level of SAR exposure is probably much lower. Various activists and authorities suggest something between 0.2W/kg and 1.0W/kg.

Why is SAR Relevant?

If you want to read more about SAR, head to our blog post here. In a nutshell, SAR highlights the ongoing issue with smartphone regulation. The fact that Apple and other smartphone manufacturers say you have to use your phone at a distance of 10mm shows how truly ridiculous SAR is. Also, the experiments used to test SAR are flawed and heavily biased towards producing a lower-than-true reading.

In other, words, whilst the EMF readings you take in your house are important, do not forget about your phone. Phones are the number 1 issue when it comes to public radiation exposure. If you’re going to take action, which you should, then start with your phone.

Summary: What is a High EMF Reading?

As we can see, there is a major disparity between ‘safe’ EMF readings as per governments, manufacturers and regulators and ‘safe’ EMF readings as per scientific studies. It’s difficult to know what is a high EMF reading.

Even if the safe figures proposed by the Bioinitiative report and EMF activists seem conservative. The proposed ‘safe’ figures proposed by regulators, governments and manufacturers are way, way out of touch.

Conventional wisdom suggests that even when you adjust for inaccuracy, there is a major cause for concern here. The likelihood is that we’re exposing ourselves to harmful radiation on a near-daily basis.

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