Electromagnetic radiation and health

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At sufficiently high flux levels, various bands of electromagnetic radiation have been found to cause deleterious health effects in people. Electromagnetic radiation can be classified into two types: ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation, based on the capability of a single photon with more than 10  eV energy to ionize oxygen or break chemical bonds. [1] Extreme ultraviolet and higher frequencies, such as X-rays or gamma rays are ionizing, and these pose their own special hazards: see radiation and radiation poisoning . The last quarter of the twentieth century saw a dramatic increase in the number of devices emitting non-ionizing radiation in all segments of society, which resulted in an elevation of health concerns by researchers and clinicians, and an associated interest in government regulation for safety purposes. In the United States, this has resulted in legislation such as the Radiation Control for Health and Safety Act of 1968 and the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 . [2] By far the most common health hazard of radiation is sunburn, which causes over one million new skin cancers annually in United States. [3]

Flux measure of the flow of something through a surface, in some cases per surface area

Flux describes any effect that appears to pass or travel through a surface or substance. A flux is either a concept based in physics or used with applied mathematics. Both concepts have mathematical rigor, enabling comparison of the underlying mathematics when the terminology is unclear. For transport phenomena, flux is a vector quantity, describing the magnitude and direction of the flow of a substance or property. In electromagnetism, flux is a scalar quantity, defined as the surface integral of the component of a vector field perpendicular to the surface at each point.

Electromagnetic radiation form of energy emitted and absorbed by charged particles, which exhibits wave-like behavior as it travels through space

In physics, electromagnetic radiation refers to the waves of the electromagnetic field, propagating (radiating) through space, carrying electromagnetic radiant energy. It includes radio waves, microwaves, infrared, (visible) light, ultraviolet, X-rays, and gamma rays.

Ionizing radiation radiation that carries enough energy to liberate electrons from atoms or molecules

Ionizing radiation is radiation that carries enough energy to detach electrons from atoms or molecules, thereby ionizing them. Ionizing radiation is made up of energetic subatomic particles, ions or atoms moving at high speeds, and electromagnetic waves on the high-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum.

Contents

Hazards

Extrinsic

Sufficiently strong electromagnetic radiation (EMR) can cause electric currents in conductive materials that is strong enough to create sparks (electrical arcs) when an induced voltage exceeds the breakdown voltage of the surrounding medium (e.g. air at 3.0 MV/m). [4] These can deliver an electric shock to persons or animals. For example, the radio emissions from transmission lines have occasionally caused shocks to construction workers from nearby equipment, causing OSHA to establish standards for proper handling. [5]

Breakdown voltage

The breakdown voltage of an insulator is the minimum voltage that causes a portion of an insulator to become electrically conductive.

Transmission line specialized cable or other structure designed to carry alternating current of radio frequency

In radio-frequency engineering, a transmission line is a specialized cable or other structure designed to conduct alternating current of radio frequency, that is, currents with a frequency high enough that their wave nature must be taken into account. Transmission lines are used for purposes such as connecting radio transmitters and receivers with their antennas, distributing cable television signals, trunklines routing calls between telephone switching centres, computer network connections and high speed computer data buses.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is an agency of the United States Department of Labor. Congress established the agency under the Occupational Safety and Health Act, which President Richard M. Nixon signed into law on December 29, 1970. OSHA's mission is to "assure safe and healthy working conditions for working men and women by setting and enforcing standards and by providing training, outreach, education and assistance". The agency is also charged with enforcing a variety of whistleblower statutes and regulations. OSHA is currently headed by Acting Assistant Secretary of Labor Loren Sweatt. OSHA's workplace safety inspections have been shown to reduce injury rates and injury costs without adverse effects to employment, sales, credit ratings, or firm survival.

EMR-induced sparks can ignite nearby flammable materials or gases, which can be especially hazardous in the vicinity of explosives or pyrotechnics. This risk is commonly referred to as Hazards of Electromagnetic Radiation to Ordnance (HERO) by the United States Navy (USN). United States Military Standard 464A (MIL-STD-464A) mandates assessment of HERO in a system, but USN document OD 30393 provides design principles and practices for controlling electromagnetic hazards to ordnance. [6] The risk related to fueling is known as Hazards of Electromagnetic Radiation to Fuel (HERF). NAVSEA OP 3565 Vol. 1 could be used to evaluate HERF, which states a maximum power density of 0.09 W/m² for frequencies under 225 MHz (i.e. 4.2 meters for a 40 W emitter). [6]

Pyrotechnics science of self-contained, self-sustained exothermic chemical reactions

Pyrotechnics is the science of using materials capable of undergoing self-contained and self-sustained exothermic chemical reactions for the production of heat, light, gas, smoke and/or sound. Its etymology stems from the Greek words pyro ("fire") and tekhnikos. Pyrotechnics include not only the manufacture of fireworks but items such as safety matches, oxygen candles, explosive bolts and fasteners, components of the automotive airbag and gas pressure blasting in mining, quarrying and demolition.

United States Navy Naval warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Navy (USN) is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. It is the largest and most capable navy in the world and it has been estimated that in terms of tonnage of its active battle fleet alone, it is larger than the next 13 navies combined, which includes 11 U.S. allies or partner nations. with the highest combined battle fleet tonnage and the world's largest aircraft carrier fleet, with eleven in service, and two new carriers under construction. With 319,421 personnel on active duty and 99,616 in the Ready Reserve, the Navy is the third largest of the service branches. It has 282 deployable combat vessels and more than 3,700 operational aircraft as of March 2018, making it the second largest and second most powerful air force in the world.

A United States defense standard, often called a military standard, "MIL-STD", "MIL-SPEC", or (informally) "MilSpecs", is used to help achieve standardization objectives by the U.S. Department of Defense.

Intrinsic

Dielectric heating from electromagnetic fields can create a biological hazard. For example, touching or standing around an antenna while a high-power transmitter is in operation can cause severe burns. These are exactly the kind of burns that would be caused inside a microwave oven. [7] The dialectric heating effect varies with the power and the frequency of the electromagnetic energy, as well as the distance to the source. The eyes and testes are particularly susceptible to radio frequency heating due to the paucity of blood flow in these areas that could otherwise dissipate the heat buildup. [8]

Dielectric heating

Dielectric heating, also known as electronic heating, radio frequency heating, and high-frequency heating, is the process in which a radio frequency (RF) alternating electric field, or radio wave or microwave electromagnetic radiation heats a dielectric material. At higher frequencies, this heating is caused by molecular dipole rotation within the dielectric.

Transmitter Electronic device that emits radio waves

In electronics and telecommunications, a transmitter or radio transmitter is an electronic device which produces radio waves with an antenna. The transmitter itself generates a radio frequency alternating current, which is applied to the antenna. When excited by this alternating current, the antenna radiates radio waves.

Microwave oven kitchen appliance

A microwave oven is an electric oven that heats and cooks food by exposing it to electromagnetic radiation in the microwave frequency range. This induces polar molecules in the food to rotate and produce thermal energy in a process known as dielectric heating. Microwave ovens heat foods quickly and efficiently because excitation is fairly uniform in the outer 25–38 mm(1–1.5 inches) of a homogeneous, high water content food item; food is more evenly heated throughout than typically occurs in other cooking techniques.

Radio frequency (RF) energy at power density levels of 1-10 mW/cm2 or higher can cause measurable heating of tissues. Typical RF energy levels encountered by the general public are well below the level needed to cause significant heating, but certain workplace environments near high power RF sources may exceed safe exposure limits. [8] A measure of the heating effect is the specific absorption rate or SAR, which has units of watts per kilogram (W/kg). The IEEE [9] and many national governments have established safety limits for exposure to various frequencies of electromagnetic energy based on SAR, mainly based on ICNIRP Guidelines, [10] which guard against thermal damage.

Specific absorption rate (SAR) is a measure of the rate at which energy is absorbed by the human body when exposed to a radio frequency (RF) electromagnetic field. It can also refer to absorption of other forms of energy by tissue, including ultrasound. It is defined as the power absorbed per mass of tissue and has units of watts per kilogram (W/kg).

Low-level exposure

The World Health Organization began a research effort in 1996 to study the health effects from the ever-increasing exposure of people to a diverse range of EMR sources. After 30 years of extensive study, science has yet to confirm a health risk from exposure to low-level fields. However, there remain gaps in the understanding of the biological effects, and more research needs to be performed. Studies are being run to examine cells and determine if EM exposure can cause detrimental effects. Animal studies are being used to look for effects impacting more complex physiologies that are similar to humans. Epidemiological studies look for statistical correlations between EM exposure in the field and specific health effects. As of 2019, much of the current work is focused on the study of EM fields in relation to cancer. [11]

There are publications which support the existence of complex biological and neurological effects of weaker non-thermal electromagnetic fields (see Bioelectromagnetics), including weak ELF electromagnetic fields [12] [13] and modulated RF and microwave fields. [14] [15] Fundamental mechanisms of the interaction between biological material and electromagnetic fields at non-thermal levels are not fully understood. [16]

EMR effects on the human body by frequency

Warning sign next to a transmitter with high field strengths For Your Own Health (13942406865) (2).jpg
Warning sign next to a transmitter with high field strengths

While the most acute exposures to harmful levels of electromagnetic radiation are immediately realized as burns, the health effects due to chronic or occupational exposure may not manifest effects for months or years. [17] [18] [3] [19]

Extremely-low frequency

High-power, extremely-low-frequency RF with electric field levels in the low kV/m range are known to induce perceivable currents within the human body that create an annoying tingling sensation. These currents will typically flow to ground through a body contact surface such as the feet, or arc to ground where the body is well insulated. [20]

Shortwave

Shortwave (1.6 to 30 MHz) diathermy can be used as a therapeutic technique for its analgesic effect and deep muscle relaxation, but has largely been replaced by ultrasound. Temperatures in muscles can increase by 4–6 °C, and subcutaneous fat by 15 °C. The FCC has restricted the frequencies allowed for medical treatment, and most machines in the US use 27.12 MHz. [21] Shortwave diathermy can be applied in either continuous or pulsed mode. The latter came to prominence because the continuous mode produced too much heating too rapidly, making patients uncomfortable. The technique only heats tissues that are good electrical conductors, such as blood vessels and muscle. Adipose tissue (fat) receives little heating by induction fields because an electrical current is not actually going through the tissues. [22]

Studies have been performed on the use of shortwave radiation for cancer therapy and promoting wound healing, with some success. However, at a sufficiently high energy level, shortwave energy can be harmful to human health, potentially causing damage to biological tissues. [23] The FCC limits for maximum permissible workplace exposure to shortwave radio frequency energy in the range of 3–30 MHz has a plane-wave equivalent power density of (900/f2) mW/cm2 where f is the frequency in MHz, and 100 mW/cm2 from 0.3–3.0 MHz. For uncontrolled exposure to the general public, the limit is 180/f2 between 1.34–30 MHz. [8]

Radio frequency fields

This designation of mobile phone signals as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" by the World Health Organization (WHO) (e.g. its IARC, see below) has often been misinterpreted as indicating that of some measure of risk has been observed  however the designation indicates only that the possibility could not be conclusively ruled out using the available data. [24]

In 2011, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified mobile phone radiation as Group 2B "possibly carcinogenic" (rather than Group 2A "probably carcinogenic" nor the "is carcinogenic" Group 1). That means that there "could be some risk" of carcinogenicity, so additional research into the long-term, heavy use of mobile phones needs to be conducted. [25] The WHO concluded in 2014 that "A large number of studies have been performed over the last two decades to assess whether mobile phones pose a potential health risk. To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use." [26] [27]

Since 1962, the microwave auditory effect or tinnitus has been shown from radio frequency exposure at levels below significant heating. [28] Studies during the 1960s in Europe and Russia claimed to show effects on humans, especially the nervous system, from low energy RF radiation; the studies were disputed at the time. [29] [30] :427–30

Millimeter waves

Recent technology advances in the developments of millimeter wave scanners for airport security and WiGig for personal area networks have opened the 60 GHz and above microwave band to SAR exposure regulations. Previously, microwave applications in these bands were for point-to-point satellite communication with minimal human exposure. Radiation levels in the millimeter wavelength represent the high microwave band or close to Infrared wavelengths. [31] [ relevant? ]

Infrared

Infrared wavelengths longer than 750 nm can produce changes in the lens of the eye. Glassblower's cataract is an example of a heat injury that damages the anterior lens capsule among unprotected glass and iron workers. Cataract-like changes can occur in workers who observe glowing masses of glass or iron without protective eyewear for prolonged periods over many years. [17]

Another important factor is the distance between the worker and the source of radiation. In the case of arc welding, infrared radiation decreases rapidly as a function of distance, so that farther than three feet away from where welding takes place, it does not pose an ocular hazard anymore but, ultraviolet radiation still does. This is why welders wear tinted glasses and surrounding workers only have to wear clear ones that filter UV.[ citation needed ]

Visible light

Photic retinopathy is damage to the macular area of the eye's retina that results from prolonged exposure to sunlight, particularly with dialated pupils. This can happen, for example, while observing a solar eclipse without suitable eye protection. The Sun's radiation creates a photochemical reaction that can result in visual dazzling and a scotoma. The initial lesions and edema will disappear after several weeks, but may leave behind a permanent reduction in visual acuity. [32]

Moderate and high-power lasers are potentially hazardous because they can burn the retina of the eye, or even the skin. To control the risk of injury, various specifications for example ANSI Z136 in the US, EN 60825-1/A2 in Europe, and IEC 60825 internationally define "classes" of lasers depending on their power and wavelength. [33] [34] Regulations prescribe required safety measures, such as labeling lasers with specific warnings, and wearing laser safety goggles during operation (see laser safety).

As with its infrared and ultraviolet radiation dangers, welding creates an intense brightness in the visible light spectrum, which may cause temporary flash blindness. Some sources state that there is no minimum safe distance for exposure to these radiation emissions without adequate eye protection. [35]

Ultraviolet

Sunlight includes sufficient ultraviolet power to cause sunburn within hours of exposure, and the burn severity increases with the duration of exposure. This effect is a response of the skin called erythema, which is caused by a sufficient strong dose of UV-B. The Sun's UV output is divided into UV-A and UV-B: solar UV-A flux is 100 times that of UV-B, but the erythema response is 1,000 times higher for UV-B. This exposure can increase at higher altitudes and when reflected by snow, ice, or sand. The UV-B flux is 2–4 times greater during the middle 4–6 hours of the day, and is not significantly absorbed by cloud cover or up to a meter of water. [36]

Ultraviolet light, specifically UV-B, has been shown to cause cataracts and there is some evidence that sunglasses worn at an early age can slow its development in later life. [18] Most UV light from the sun is filtered out by the atmosphere and consequently airline pilots often have high rates of cataracts because of the increased levels of UV radiation in the upper atmosphere. [37] It is hypothesized that depletion of the ozone layer and a consequent increase in levels of UV light on the ground may increase future rates of cataracts. [38] Note that the lens filters UV light, so once that is removed via surgery, one may be able to see UV light. [39]

Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun can lead to melanoma and other skin malignancies. [3] Clear evidence establishes ultraviolet radiation, especially the non-ionizing medium wave UVB, as the cause of most non-melanoma skin cancers, which are the most common forms of cancer in the world. [3] UV rays can also cause wrinkles, liver spots, moles, and freckles. In addition to sunlight, other sources include tanning beds, and bright desk lights. Damage is cumulative over one's lifetime, so that permanent effects may not be evident for some time after exposure. [19]

Ultraviolet radiation of wavelengths shorter than 300 nm (actinic rays) can damage the corneal epithelium. This is most commonly the result of exposure to the sun at high altitude, and in areas where shorter wavelengths are readily reflected from bright surfaces, such as snow, water, and sand. UV generated by a welding arc can similarly cause damage to the cornea, known as "arc eye" or welding flash burn, a form of photokeratitis. [40]

Fluorescent light bulbs and tubes internally produce ultraviolet light. Normally this is converted to visible light by the phosphor film inside a protective coating. When the film is cracked by mishandling or faulty manufacturing then UV may escape at levels that could cause sunburn or even skin cancer. [41] [42]

See also

Related Research Articles

Electromagnetic field physical field produced by electrically charged objects

An electromagnetic field is a physical field produced by electrically charged objects. It affects the behavior of charged objects in the vicinity of the field. The electromagnetic field extends indefinitely throughout space and describes the electromagnetic interaction. It is one of the four fundamental forces of nature.

The electromagnetic spectrum is the range of frequencies of electromagnetic radiation and their respective wavelengths and photon energies.

Radiation waves or particles propagating through space or through a medium, carrying energy

In physics, radiation is the emission or transmission of energy in the form of waves or particles through space or through a material medium. This includes:

Ultraviolet Electromagnetic radiation with a wavelength shorter than that of visible light, but longer than X-rays

Ultraviolet (UV) designates a band of the electromagnetic spectrum with wavelength from 10 nm to 400 nm, shorter than that of visible light but longer than X-rays. UV radiation is present in sunlight, and contributes about 10% of the total light output of the Sun. It is also produced by electric arcs and specialized lights, such as mercury-vapor lamps, tanning lamps, and black lights. Although long-wavelength ultraviolet is not considered an ionizing radiation because its photons lack the energy to ionize atoms, it can cause chemical reactions and causes many substances to glow or fluoresce. Consequently, the chemical and biological effects of UV are greater than simple heating effects, and many practical applications of UV radiation derive from its interactions with organic molecules.

Radio wave type of electromagnetic radiation

Radio waves are a type of electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum longer than infrared light. Radio waves have frequencies as high as 300 gigahertz (GHz) to as low as 30 hertz (Hz). At 300 GHz, the corresponding wavelength is 1 mm, and at 30 Hz is 10,000 km. Like all other electromagnetic waves, radio waves travel at the speed of light. They are generated by electric charges undergoing acceleration, such as time varying electric currents. Naturally occurring radio waves are emitted by lightning and astronomical objects.

Radiation protection, also known as radiological protection, is defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as "The protection of people from harmful effects of exposure to ionizing radiation, and the means for achieving this". The IAEA also states "The accepted understanding of the term radiation protection is restricted to protection of people. Suggestions to extend the definition to include the protection of non-human species or the protection of the environment are controversial". Exposure can be from a radiation source external to the human body or due to the bodily intake of a radioactive material.

Laser safety

Laser safety is the safe design, use and implementation of lasers to minimize the risk of laser accidents, especially those involving eye injuries. Since even relatively small amounts of laser light can lead to permanent eye injuries, the sale and usage of lasers is typically subject to government regulations.

Mobile phone radiation and health

The effect of mobile phone radiation on human health is a subject of interest and study worldwide, as a result of the enormous increase in mobile phone usage throughout the world. As of 2015, there were 7.4 billion subscriptions worldwide, though the actual number of users is lower as many users own more than one mobile phone. Mobile phones use electromagnetic radiation in the microwave range. Other digital wireless systems, such as data communication networks, produce similar radiation.

Wireless electronic devices and health

The World Health Organization (WHO) has researched electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and their alleged effects on health, concluding that such exposures within recommended limits do not produce any known adverse health effect.

Bioelectromagnetics, also known as bioelectromagnetism, is the study of the interaction between electromagnetic fields and biological entities. Areas of study include electrical or electromagnetic fields produced by living cells, tissues or organisms, including bioluminescent bacteria; for example, the cell membrane potential and the electric currents that flow in nerves and muscles, as a result of action potentials. Others include animal navigation utilizing the geomagnetic field; the effects of man-made sources of electromagnetic fields like mobile phones; and developing new therapies to treat various conditions. The term can also refer to the ability of living cells, tissues, and organisms to produce electrical fields and the response of cells to electromagnetic fields.

Extreme ultraviolet ultraviolet light with a wavelength of 10–121nm

Extreme ultraviolet radiation or high-energy ultraviolet radiation is electromagnetic radiation in the part of the electromagnetic spectrum spanning wavelengths from 124 nm down to 10 nm, and therefore having photons with energies from 10 eV up to 124 eV. EUV is naturally generated by the solar corona and artificially by plasma and synchrotron light sources. Since UVC extends to 100 nm, there is some overlap in the terms.

Radiobiology is a field of clinical and basic medical sciences that involves the study of the action of ionizing radiation on living things, especially health effects of radiation. Ionizing radiation is generally harmful and potentially lethal to living things but can have health benefits in radiation therapy for the treatment of cancer and thyrotoxicosis. Its most common impact is the induction of cancer with a latent period of years or decades after exposure. High doses can cause visually dramatic radiation burns, and/or rapid fatality through acute radiation syndrome. Controlled doses are used for medical imaging and radiotherapy.

Microwave burn

Microwave burns are burn injuries caused by thermal effects of microwave radiation absorbed in a living organism. In comparison with radiation burns caused by ionizing radiation, where the dominant mechanism of tissue damage is internal cell damage caused by free radicals, the primary damage mechanism of microwave radiation is by heat.

Non-ionizing radiation electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy per quantum to ionize atoms or molecules

Non-ionizingradiation refers to any type of electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy per quantum to ionize atoms or molecules—that is, to completely remove an electron from an atom or molecule. Instead of producing charged ions when passing through matter, non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation has sufficient energy only for excitation, the movement of an electron to a higher energy state. Ionizing radiation which has a higher frequency and shorter wavelength than nonionizing radiation, has many uses but can be a health hazard; exposure to it can cause burns, radiation sickness, cancer, and genetic damage. Using ionizing radiation requires elaborate radiological protection measures which in general are not required with nonionizing radiation.

Up to 10% of invasive cancers are related to radiation exposure, including both ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation. Additionally, the vast majority of non-invasive cancers are non-melanoma skin cancers caused by non-ionizing ultraviolet radiation. Ultraviolet's position on the electromagnetic spectrum is on the boundary between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radio frequency radiation from mobile phones, electric power transmission, and other similar sources have been described as a possible carcinogen by the World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer, but the link remains unproven.

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Further reading