chat icon


How Does RF Affect Humans?

How Does RF Affect Humans?

RF radiation can have many harmful health effects, such as headaches, severe burns, and even cancer. To learn how to stay safe and follow proper safety prodecures, see our online Radiofrequency (RF) awareness course.

  • Restrictions are needed to ensure the safe use of RF energy.
  • If the body absorbs a large amount of RF radiation, it can produce heat, burns, and damage bodily tissue.
  • Major RF field sources are cell phones, wireless networks, and radio transmission towers.

Is Radiofrequency Dangerous? 

The potential dangers of radiofrequency (RF) and microwave (MW) radiation have generated a lot of discussion and worry in recent years. Many nations are conducting extensive studies on this subject. The sun and thunderstorm activity are the two primary natural low-frequency electromagnetic field (EMF) generators. However man-made fields with far higher frequencies have changed these natural electromagnetic fields. But first let’s define radiofrequency and then get into its effects on the human body. 

Radiofrequency is a kind of energy measured in terms of “frequency,” or wavelengths per second. According to their frequency on the “electromagnetic spectrum,” all forms of energy—from the sound waves your iPhone emits to sunshine, heat from your body, and gamma rays—are categorized.

Many of the typical energy types we use every day are included in radiofrequency (RF), including WiFi signals, radio and TV waves, and microwave ovens. On the lower end of the radiofrequency spectrum, around 450 kilohertz is the approximate frequency of the RF radiation employed for dermatology, such as in skin tightening.

RF radiation can cause a wide range of adverse health effects, from headaches to serious burns and potentially cancer. While the consequences may differ from person to person, the factors are dependent on a number of circumstances. 

What are Some Sources of Radiofrequency (RF) Field Exposure?

Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields with a frequency range of 100 kHz to 300 GHz are frequently produced by modern technologies. Mobile phones, cordless phones, local wireless networks, and radio transmission towers are major sources of RF fields. Radar systems, microwave ovens, and medical scanners all use them as well.

A source’s radio frequency field strength can be easily determined. This information is helpful in establishing whether or not safety standards are being met. However, little is known about how individuals are exposed to radio frequency fields, information that is essential for research on the impacts to personal health. Better technologies, such as dosimeters, which people carry to track their exposure to electromagnetic energy over time, could expand our understanding.

Different frequency bands are used by radio wave sources. As one moves away, the electromagnetic field’s strength gradually decreases. A device that generates radio signals close to the body may cause a person to absorb more RF energy over time compared to a powerful source that is farther away. The common sources utilized in close quarters include:

  • Cell phones
  • Cordless phones
  • Local wireless networks
  • Anti-theft devices

Radio towers and cell phone base stations are examples of long-range sources. Worldwide, more than 2 billion people use cell phones. The amount of energy that the body can absorb from using a mobile phone has been established at acceptable levels by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and European Union.

How Often Do You Come in Contact with Radiofrequency Radiation?

Commercial radio and television broadcasts as well as telecommunications infrastructure are the main sources of RF fields that are detected in the environment, such as cell phone base stations. There is often less RF exposure from telecommunications equipment than from radio or TV transmission. Microwave ovens, mobile phones, cordless phones, wireless computer networks, smart meters, burglar alarms, and remote controls are a few examples of RF sources in the house. The background RF field level from home appliances is often low and on the order of a few tens of W/m2.

When employees in the broadcasting, transportation, and communications sectors are working close to RF transmitting antennas and radar systems, they may be exposed to rather high levels of RF fields. Workers may be exposed to high levels of RF fields during some industrial procedures that use them to heat materials.

Although we may be exposed to RF from a variety of sources, close proximity to a particular source will typically dominate the exposure because RF exposure decreases rapidly with distance. Measurement studies have demonstrated that environmental exposure to RF radiation from a variety of sources is extremely low, frequently much lower than the permissible limit for safety.

RF radiation can be generated from both natural and artificial sources. Natural resources consist of:

  • The sun
  • Outer space
  • The sky, including lightning
  • The earth itself emits mostly infrared radiation, with very little radio frequency (RF) radiation.

RF radiation sources created by humans include:

  • Distributing audio and video signals
  • Transmitting signals from satellite phones, 2-way radios, cordless phones, and cell phone towers
  • Smart meters, bluetooth gadgets, and radar Wi-Fi
  • Several medical techniques, including radiofrequency ablation (using heat to destroy tumors)
  • Using specific equipment, “welding” components of polyvinyl chloride (PVC)
  • Scanners using millimeter waves (a type of full body scanner used for security screening)

Some people’s jobs may expose them to RF in a significant way. This covers those who use or maintain radar equipment as well as those who maintain telecom signal-broadcasting antenna towers. Some healthcare workers and persons who use RF-emitting equipment, such as plastic sealers, specific types of welding equipment, and induction heaters, may also be more exposed to RF radiation than others.

The majority of people are constantly exposed to lower doses of RF radiation from the signals that surround us. They are sent by Wi-Fi, bluetooth, cell phones and cell phone towers, radio and television broadcasts, and other technologies.

RF & MW Energy 

RF and MW energy can produce thermal effects that can result in blindness and sterility at sufficiently high power concentrations. Non-thermal impacts have been shown to affect the immune system, the circadian cycles of the human body, and the type of electrical and chemical impulses sent across the cell membrane. However, no study has convincingly demonstrated that low-level RF/MW radiation has a negative impact on an individual’s safety and health.

RF energy exposure has biological impacts. The term thermal impact is used to describe biological effects that come from heating tissue with RF radiation. Because RF energy can heat biological tissue quickly, exposure to very high amounts of RF radiation can be harmful.

This is how microwave ovens work while cooking food. High RF exposure levels have the potential to heat biological tissue and raise body temperature. The body’s inability to handle or remove the extra heat that might be created by high RF exposure in humans could result in tissue damage. The testicles and the eyes are two bodily regions that are particularly vulnerable to RF heating because of the relative lack of available blood flow to distribute the additional heat burden.

According to recent studies, the average level of RF energy in the environment that the general population encounters on a daily basis is often far lower than what is required to cause substantial heating and an increase in body temperature. There are circumstances, particularly in areas close to strong RF sources, where the advised limits for RF energy exposure for people might be surpassed. In certain situations, restriction measures or mitigating steps are required to ensure the safe use of RF energy.

Health Effects

Complex physical agents like electromagnetic fields are being studied for possible health effects. The biophysical methods through which these RF fields may impact biological systems are particularly debatable. Reviews of general health effects look at potential neurological, reproductive, and carcinogenic implications. Radar traffic devices, wireless communications with cellular phones, radio broadcasting, and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have all been linked to adverse health impacts.

RF Radiation Effects 

As stated previously, from headaches, to serious burns, and even potential cancer, RF radiation can have a variety of negative health effects. These effects vary from person to person and rely on a variety of variables. What doesn’t harm one person may be crippling to another who experienced the same degree and timing of exposure.

Targeted & Non-Targeted Effects 

There are two main groups that divide the different effects of radiation: targeted effects (TEs) and non-targeted effects (NTEs). NTEs can develop even in the absence of radiation exposure. Rather, they often don’t appear until after prolonged indirect exposure. They have a crucial role in low-energy radiation.

The source of RF radiation is omnipresent. Any direction can produce RF radiation. Both targeted and non-targeted impacts may result from an antenna’s transmitted waves. This would be a direct result of RF radiation when the waves strike you or cause a metal surface to become heated. Indirect impacts of RF radiation may result from the waves’ reflection off of another surface.

Thermal Effects 

The majority of the body’s reactions to RF radiation are thermal, or heat-related. Body tissues become heated by RF radiation, raising body temperature and damaging cells. Blindness, sterility, burns, and tissue damage might result from this, particularly of the eyes and testes.

Non-Thermal Effects 

Despite the fact that most effects of RF radiation are thermal, there are other ways that radiation can affect the human body. These effects are still being studied and investigated as the breadth of their reach is still largely unknown. What we do know is that your immune system, circadian rhythm, and electrical and chemical impulses in your cells might all be impacted by the non-thermal effects.

What Level of Radiation Exposure is Acceptable by OSHA?

Radiofrequency and microwave radiation concerns are not covered by any specific OSHA guidelines. However, they do state that companies must give employees adequate personnel monitoring equipment who work in an area where they are exposed to 25% of the applicable value of RF/MW radiation. 

Employees under the age of 18 who are exposed to 5% of the applicable value must also be given personal monitoring equipment. The OSHA whole-body radiation dosage limit is 1 ¼ rems each calendar quarter. In cases when the radon level is 4 pCi/L or greater, the EPA suggests cleanup. However, radiation levels under 4 pCi/L are risky and can be decreased.

How Does RF Radiation Affect Your Safety?  

Today, we are largely reliant on technology. Cell phones and other wireless devices are used worldwide, whether for personal or professional purposes. This means exposure to radio-frequency radiation (RFR) is commonplace, even in public areas.

The most recent research on the health hazards associated with RFR exposure falls within the non-ionizing frequency range. While we are primarily concerned with the impact of RFR on human health, we have to note that there is evidence that it can also have physiological consequences and impacts on bees, plants, and trees.

We know that there are many viewpoints on the negative effects of RFR exposure from cell phones and other wireless transmitting devices (WTDs), such as  Wi-Fi. However, as an employer, the safety of you and your team should always take precedence.  

You should be able to recognize and assist workers who are experiencing radiation symptoms. Quick action on your part might save them from permanent injuries and harm. Be sure to remove an employee from the exposure area if you think they are experiencing radiation symptoms. If at all possible, take them somewhere cool. If they have any RF burns, hold the affected region under running water, use a cool compress, or immerse it in cool (not cold) water.

Although it is best to treat the worker with cool compress or something similar, a majority of RF radiation effects are internal. The degree of severity will need to be determined by a medical specialist. Early intervention will reduce long-lasting negative impacts. The proper documentation must be filled out, such as an accident report. This is done to assure the safety of other employees and avoid future exposure. 

We don’t completely understand the consequences of exposure since experts don’t fully understand all the potentially negative impacts of RF radiation. Do all you can in your power to avoid overexposure by taking the necessary safety measures and being aware of the nearby RF field.

The Dangers of RFR Exposure

For a long time, the public and health professionals have been concerned about radiation exposure. Human exposure to RFR technology has significantly increased over time, starting with radar during World War II. RFR was classified as a possible human carcinogen – a carcinogen is a material, organism, or agent that has the potential to cause cancer – in 2011 after the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) examined the existing research. Since the IARC evaluation, a wide spectrum of negative health impacts linked to RFR have been identified.

Additionally, chromosomal DNA damage and considerably higher incidences of schwannomas and malignant gliomas have been seen in investigations in mice exposed to levels of RFR that imitate lifetime human exposures. The consequences of RFR exposure on children’s developing brains are particularly concerning. Research has shown that men who carry their phones in their pants pockets may also have lower sperm counts, reduced sperm motility and morphology, including mitochondrial DNA damage, according to experimental and observational research. Given the current state of knowledge, it is appropriate to be informed that using a mobile phone close to the body is detrimental and to promote actions to limit all RFR exposures.

Harmful Exposure to RF Radiation

As stated previously, the average level of RF exposure encountered daily by the general population is far lower than what is required to cause substantial heating and an increase in body temperature. However, there may be circumstances, particularly in work areas close to powerful RF sources, that surpass the advised limits for RF energy exposure. To guarantee the safe usage of RF energy restricting measures or mitigating actions may be required.

Is It Possible to Avoid or Limit RF Radiation Exposure?

Radio frequency (RF) doses at or below current US safety standards, according to scientific research, do not cause health concerns. Reducing an individual’s RF exposure from cell phones has no proven health effect. Nonetheless, some individuals are still concerned about RF energy, and there are several easy steps that may be taken to limit an individual’s RF exposure from cell phones.

When you use a wireless product to communicate with someone, it emits the most RF energy. The more energy you absorb, the closer the device is to you.

Steps to Reduce RF Exposure
  • Cut back on your screen time 
  • Put extra space between your head and the phone, use speakerphone, headphones, or earbuds
  • Avoid making calls when the signal is weak – weak signals cause cell phones to increase RF transmission power
  • Texting may be preferable compared to calling

Certain cell phone accessory manufacturers may make claims that their products shield the user from emissions or shield them from health issues brought on by radio frequency radiation. Given the strength of the scientific data demonstrating that cell phones are safe for usage, the FDA does not regulate such goods and views these assertions as false.

Radiofrequency & Cancer

Radiofrequency radiation is at the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. It belongs to the non-ionizing radiation class. Non-ionizing radiation lacks the energy to expel an atom’s electrons. RF radiation has a higher energy than extremely low-frequency (ELF) radiation but a lower energy than several other non-ionizing radiation types, such as infrared and visible light.

RF radiation can generate heat if it is absorbed by the body in great amounts and can cause burns and damage to body tissue. Although RF radiation is not believed to harm cells’ DNA in the same way as ionizing radiation does, there has been worry that in some situations, some non-ionizing radiation types may nonetheless have additional effects on cells that could ultimately cause cancer.

After the 2011 IARC examination into the subject, several researchers looked at the potential connection between RF exposure and cancer. The findings so far are inconclusive. While certain studies have hinted at a potential connection between exposure and the development of tumors in animals exposed under particular circumstances, the findings have not been independently verified. Many more investigations have been unsuccessful in establishing a connection to cancer or any associated ailment.

Health Effects

In labs all around the world, research into the potential biological effects of RF radiation is still ongoing. There are several peer-reviewed scientific articles on this subject as due to prior study. The American government has supported studies into how RF radiation affects humans. This is likely due to the military’s interest in RF technology like radar and other high-powered radio transmitters for everyday activities.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), two U.S. civilian government agencies in charge of health and safety, have also financed and carried out research in this field. Other U.S. federal health and safety organizations, like the National Institutes of Health and the National Toxicology Program, have started RF bioeffects research.

The International EMF Project, launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 1996, is tasked with reviewing the information, identifying knowledge gaps about these effects, recommending future research, and working toward a global resolution of health issues related to the use of RF technology. Most of the information about this project, as well as details on RF biological impacts and research, is on the WHO’s website.

The FDA, EPA, and other public health and safety federal agencies have collaborated with the WHO to monitor advances and identify research needs relating to RF biological impacts.

Can Local and State Governments Set Limits for RF Exposure? 

Some local and state governments in the United States have passed laws and policies governing how much RF energy people are exposed to. To control human exposure to RF emissions from specific transmitting devices, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 included rules relating to federal jurisdiction. 

Section 704 of the Act specifies that, “No State or local government or instrumentality thereof may regulate the placement, construction, and modification of personal wireless service facilities on the basis of the environmental effects of radio frequency emissions to the extent that such facilities comply with the Commission’s regulations concerning such emissions.”

How Do You Block RF Signals?

The most effective technique to interfere with radio waves is to totally enclose the transmitter or receiver in a highly conductive metal container. RF shielding, also known as electromagnetic shielding, filters radio waves and other electromagnetic radiation. The shielding can lessen electrostatic, electromagnetic, and radio wave coupling. A Faraday cage is a conductive container that is used to suppress electrostatic fields.

The decrease is greatly influenced by the materials utilized, their thickness, the shielded volume’s size, and the frequency of the fields of interest. The frequencies that are inhibited from entering or leaving the Faraday cage depend on the material thickness. For low frequencies like 10 kHz, a soft steel layer of 6 mm is required to provide an 80 dB reduction, yet copper foil with a thickness of 0.03 mm may conceal a frequency of 30 MHz.

Is Radiofrequency Treatment Harmful?

Every day, low-level human-made RF from WiFi, cell phones, TVs, and other devices is present in our environment. As we have already discussed, radiofrequency has been extensively investigated for its effects on human health due to its wide range of applications. Along with coffee, power lines, and body powder, RF radiation is listed by the World Health Organization as “possibly carcinogenic to humans,” according to the FDA. 

Despite the fact that certain people are routinely exposed to greater levels of RF due to their work, there is no solid evidence that RF exposure raises the risk of cancer in humans. As said before, the Federal Communications Commission and the American Cancer Society have published in-depth reports on the potential effects of radiofrequency radiation. The results have not been independently repeated. Many other investigations have been unsuccessful in establishing a connection to cancer or any associated illness.

As discussed in an earlier section,the biggest concern of RF exposure is the possibility for thermal burns in those exposed to large doses, such as those who work near radar equipment without the required safety precautions.

When are RF Energy Levels UnSafe?  

Governments and other organizations have issued exposure guidelines for radiofrequency radiation. For the general population, different safe exposure thresholds are advised by contemporary standards. Since 1985, the FCC has created and used reputable safety rules for assessing RF exposure. The EPA, FDA, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), and OSHA are a few of the federal health and safety organizations that have been consistently monitoring and looking into RF exposure-related problems.

The National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ recommendations are the basis for the FCC’s rules for human exposure to RF electromagnetic fields (IEEE). Scientists and engineers designed the exposure guidelines and the IEEE standard following thorough research on RF health impacts. The exposure recommendations provide safety and are based on thresholds for recognized negative effects. The EPA, FDA, OSHA, and NIOSH were all contacted by the FCC before creating the current RF exposure rules, and they all gave their approval.

Exposure recommendations created by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) are used by many nations in Europe . With a few exceptions, the ICNIRP safety norms are largely like those of the NCRP and IEEE. The ICNIRP advises different exposure thresholds for exposure that occurs locally from devices like cell phones as well as exposure that occurs in the lower and upper frequency bands. Creating a framework for global RF safety standards coordination is one of the major objectives of the WHO EMF Project.

The maximum permissible exposure (MPE) values for electric and magnetic field strength and power density are based on the same threshold level across all organizations. A specific absorption rate (SAR) value of 4 watts per kilogram (4 W/kg) for the entire body is considered the threshold level.

The limits for maximum allowed exposure from the NCRP, IEEE, and ICNIRP varies. This is a result of the discovery that human whole-body RF energy absorption changes with RF signal frequency. The frequency band between 30 and 300 MHz has the strictest limitations on whole-body exposure since this is where the human body absorbs the most RF energy. Different exposure limits are put in place for devices that expose only a portion of the body, such as mobile phones. However these limits are based on the same underlying threshold level. ‘

For transmitters using frequencies between 100 kHz and 100 GHz, the FCC’s exposure restrictions are defined by SAR, electromagnetic field intensity, and power density. The restrictions differ based on the sources such as whether a cell phone or a broadcast transmitting antenna.

FCC Guidelines: RF Exposure

Devices, transmitters, and facilities that produce RF radiation must be authorized and licensed by the FCC. All U.S. transmitting services, except for those officially run by the federal government, are subject to its jurisdiction. All federal agencies are expected to adopt processes to make environmental concerns an essential component of an agency’s decision-making process under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). 

As a result, the environmental effect of transmitters and facilities must be considered. Human exposure to RF radiation from transmitters must be taken into account in such environmental evaluations. As a consequence of an investigation and as mandated by the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the FCC updated its recommendations for RF exposure in 1996.

An application must be submitted to the FCC for any construction, modification, or renewal of a transmitting facility, on those facilities that have a high potential for producing significant RF exposure to humans. This includes facilities such as radio and television broadcast stations, satellite-earth stations, experimental radio stations, and certain cellular, PCS, and paging facilities. All are required to undergo routine evaluation for alignment with RF exposure guidelines. 

Failure to comply with the FCC’s RF exposure limitations during the application process may result in the creation of a formal Environmental Assessment, probable Environmental Impact Statement, and an application rejection. The FCC’s rules and regulations provide information on the agency’s stances on RF exposure and exclusion.

Are Cell Phones Still Safe? 

Recently there have been many studies conducted, looking at whether or not there is any harm in cellphone uses. This is a result of recent media attention, rumors, and worries around reports of potential health consequences caused by RF emissions from cell phones. There is currently no scientific proof that using a wireless phone may cause cancer or any of the other health problems, such as migraines, vertigo, or memory loss.

However, research is still being conducted, and government organizations like the FDA continue to keep an eye on the findings of the most recent studies on the subject. Additionally, as was already mentioned, the WHO has set up an ongoing initiative to keep track of this study and offer suggestions about the security of mobile phones.

The FDA has said that while it cannot completely rule out danger, if one does exist, it is probably small. While there is no evidence to suggest that cell phones are harmful, people who are concerned can take preventative measures. Measures such as:

  • Limiting conversations on hand-held cell phones
  • Using hands-free phones more often
  • Allow for a greater separation distance between the user and the radiating antenna.

A report detailing the findings of the Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) examination into safety issues with mobile phones was produced. The report came to the conclusion that further study is required to determine if using a mobile phone is totally safe for the user.

The Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), the metric describing the rate at which RF energy is absorbed by the body, is used by the FCC to set limitations for human exposure to RF emissions from mobile phones. Before the FCC approves the marketing of a phone in the US, alignment with the safe limit for mobile phone users is required.

This limit is a SAR of 1.6 watts per kilogram (1.6 W/kg), averaged across one gram of tissue. The ICNIRP recommendations, provide somewhat less stringent limits, such as 2 W/kg averaged across 10 grams of tissue. Since most phone usage does not occur at most power, testing of hand-held phones is often conducted under circumstances of maximum power use.

How Much RF Radiation is Emitted by Cell Phone and Radio Towers?

Cell phone base stations and radio towers are usually permanently placed RF transmitters. Base stations, for example, are an essential component of mobile communication networks that are required to establish the link between the mobile telephone and the rest of the network. Base stations have become common in most countries, ensuring connectivity across significant portions of the respective countries.

The safety limit for general population exposure at 900 MHz, a significant frequency for mobile communication, is 4.5 W/m2. When compared to analogue TV systems, the exposure range is comparable. However, because digital systems require more transmitters than earlier analogue systems, slightly higher average exposure levels are to be predicted. Digital audio broadcasting systems are already in use in various countries. Other sources significant for the general population in association with field exposure include civil and military radar systems, private mobile radio systems, and emerging technology.

What Medical Applications do Radio Waves Have?

The RF range of electromagnetic fields is used in many medicinal applications. Therapeutic applications such as soft tissue healing equipment, hyperthermia for cancer treatment, or diathermy expose the patient much above the advised limit. These include burning cells or heating tissue to kill cancer cells. To prevent therapists or other medical staff from exceeding the exposure limit values for occupational exposure, exposure must be regulated.

As long as there is a benefit to the patient, diagnostic applications like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are permitted to go beyond the standard exposure limits. Usual frequencies are those that are permitted for commercial, academic, and therapeutic purposes. Also to static and variable fields, MRI systems for medical diagnostics also use RF fields. Most MRI equipment operates at 63 MHz.