Electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) are a hot topic in wellness circles, but how much do we really know about the effects of EMFs on our minds and bodies?
We wanted to learn more about EMFs generally, and learn whether our wi-fi, Internet of Things and cellphones are actually harming us. But we were especially curious as to how EMFs relate to LED lights: we use LEDs in our home and espouse the values of these super efficient lighting options across our network and in our lives. So we did some digging on this controversial topic. And what we found was… shockingly inconclusive.
Could we be Wrong about EMFs?
Before we dive too deeply, I want to first discuss my thoughts on this.
While concerns about EMFs can seem a bit irrational– the topic is considered a fringe concern, or one that is ‘just in your head’– I want to explain that I’m open to the idea that the medical and research community doesn’t always have all the answers. I’m also open to the idea that we are at the horizon of this research, and thus results are inconclusive, or worse, are being stifled by industry influence. I’m a healthy skeptic, just like Mark Gibbs of Network World. He asks, “Will we look back (sadly) in fifty or a hundred years and marvel at how Wi-Fi and cellphones were responsible for the biggest health crisis in human history?”
EMFs is a new topic, and I’m really curious to learn as much as I can about it, and I’m generally inclined to believe that yes, our natural systems are being disrupted by excess light, sound, and frequencies in ways we just cannot yet fully explain. With this in mind I dug into the research, and this is what I found.
What are the Problems with EMFs?
A recent article in CommonGround magazine examines the dangers of EMFs in the home, and how it can upset sleep patterns, brain functioning, inspire headaches, damage digestive health, and – at its most basic– really mess up our cellular functions (that is, body cells, not cell phones).
Author Jeromy Johnson of EMFAnalysis.com, wrote, “Items such as solar inverters, CFL and LED lighting, dimmer switches and smart meters will cause ‘dirty electricity’ by putting additional frequencies onto the wiring in your home.” Johnson suggests that while there are ways to reduce this type of ‘pollution’ he really recommends avoiding these (super energy efficient) technologies entirely. It seems that Johnson is truly suffering with this sensitivity, for which I am deeply sympathetic. And while some research (see more about that below) indicates that EMFs do emanate from wi-fi routers, smart meters and cellphones, his take on LED lights is pretty questionable.
In a comment on his site he writes: “The best bulb from a low-EMF point of view is the incandescent.” While he does link to the breakthrough technology at MIT that might help improve the efficiency of incandescents, it does seem strange that the most energy efficient forms of lighting– ones that require less electricity to be used around the home and thus require less coal power plants or fossil fuel energy to create– are somehow better.
It’s no secret that there are fossil fuel industry trolls out there looking to dissuade us from supporting efficiency measures, so it makes me wonder if this is somehow behind Johnson’s claims. In addition, in field testing with a Gauss Meter, Scott Cooney (of Hawaii-based green home service Pono Home) found zero EMFs emitting from any of the hundreds of LED bulbs his company installs for customers.
Research on EMFs and LED lights
As with information about EMFs generally, information about EMFs and LEDs is very scant.
Creating Healthy Homes suggests that the only reason LEDs could produce EMFs is with the creation of ‘dirty electricity,’ which some LEDs allegedly produce, depending on their configuration. They write that, “If an LED bulb has a switched mode power supply, it usually produces dirty electricity but not always. [The] problem with switched mode power supplies is that they reduce voltage and convert from AC to DC by squaring off the sine wave of 60 Hz AC electricity, thereby producing harmonics of dirty electricity as a side effect. These harmonics then radiate off circuits in your walls running throughout the house and from AC power cords that you plug into outlets.”
Another site, Electriclear, quotes from the Electromagnetic Fields by B. Blake Levitt that, “Light Emitting Diode (LED) bulbs are far cleaner [and] emit no EMFs.” But later on their page, they write that “LEDs are extremely low EMF; they do have a small transformer which reduces the voltage to the device, although electriCLEAR uses ‘line-voltage’ LEDs which have no transformer and are truly zero EMF.”
Another source I found about the LED-EMF connection was Natural News, which is not a site I use as a reference very often as they tend toward alarmist. They state that, “LEDs […] do not create EMF dirty electricity–” which is the opposite of what these other sources claim.
With the exception of Natural News, most of the information about the EMF-LED connection is that the ‘research’ comes from sites that are offering services related to such topics.
What does the Research say about EMFs Generally?
Most of the information available on the internet about EMFs and consequent illness is anecdotal and contradictory. There is some science behind the relationship between EMFs and health issues, but it’s pretty limited. Here’s what seems the most legit:
- A report showing that EMFs and other types of radiation are a serious concern for children was met with acceptance, as explained by Network World. Forbes has some commonsense guidelines for reducing exposure to radiation for children.
- Multiple studies link to EMF concerns as it relates to smart meters, although this too is often contradictory and inconclusive. As reported by the Huffington Post, “a 2011 report by the California Council on Science and Technology concludes, ‘Exposure levels from smart meters are well below the [FCC’s established standards] for such [health] effects,’ and ‘There is no evidence that additional standards are needed to protect the public from smart meters.’”
- The journal Nature explains in a 2015 article (in very dense scientific terms), that perhaps “man-made/polarized EMFs do trigger biological effects,” but they do not go so far as to make recommendations or state real-world examples of concerns.
- The National Institute of Environmental Health Science says: “At present, the weight of the current scientific evidence has not conclusively linked cell phone use with any adverse health problems, though scientists admit that more research is needed”
- The WHO states that while “The electromagnetic fields produced by mobile phones are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as possibly carcinogenic to humans [and] studies are ongoing to more fully assess potential long-term effects of mobile phone use.” However, “To date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use.” In fact, a 2010 study showed that overuse could be linked to cancer while less-than-average use could be protective, although this too was very contradictory (obviously) and inconclusive.
- Recently a huge study was completed by the National Toxicology Program finding that, in fact, cell phone radiation can be linked to certain types of brain cancers. However, even this prestigious research came under scrutiny due to some confounding factors. However, most researchers seem confident that this uptick in brain cancers (based on rat studies, poor little rats), could represent a big problem for the population.
- In a 2015 article, Mother Jones discusses a letter from 195 scientists from 39 countries calling, “the United Nations, the World Health Organization (WHO), and national governments to develop stricter controls on these and other products that create electromagnetic fields (EMF).” The letter states that peer-reviewed, published research has shown ‘serious concerns’ regarding the increased exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices, although Slate looks more closely at how this message should be interpreted, saying that there is possibly a connection, but it is too weak for conclusive evidence.
- The US Center for Disease Control (CDC) states that at this time there is no evidence to show that using a cell phone causes cancer, but they do offer tips to use your phone in a safer way.
And in Conclusion..?
As I wrote previously here on Green Living Ideas, there is not real evidence proving OR disproving that EMFs generally (or EMFs from LED lights) are really dangerous:
Conspiracy theories abound about the electrosmog that surrounds us, and the potential dangers to our health.
The National Institute of Health states that while there are still speculative concerns about the connection between EMFs and health issues, current research continues to point to a weak association between EMFs and purported ills. However, both the NIH and the World Health Organization concur that more research is needed as scientists have not yet conclusively determined that EMFs are NOT linked to various cancers and health problems.
NIH also reminds us that the strength of EMF radiation is strongest at the source, so to reduce exposure, keep electronics off of the body, and try to keep a distance between electrical appliances and outlets around the home.
One of the things I found most interesting was a study from the Journal of Psychosomatic Research that discovered that those dealing with ‘environmental intolerance’ around electromagnetic issues tended to have higher tendency towards behaviors such as obsessive/compulsive behavior, interpersonal hypersensitivity, hostility, phobic anxiety, and paranoid thoughts.
Does this mean that everyone feeling electrosensitivity is making it up? Not necessarily, but it also doesn’t mean that we need to chuck our smart meters, cell phones, and we probably shouldn’t trash our LED lights either. But it does mean that publications like CommonGround shouldn’t publish articles like Johnson’s as fact with little to no evidence backing it up. I think that there is some caution that needs to be taken into consideration when dealing with electricity of any type near our bodies, and that as always, more research is needed.