Broadly peaking electromagnetic field (EMF) can be classified into two groups: ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiations are EMFs that have high frequency and short wavelength; it is capable of breaking chemical bonds between molecules. Examples of this class of EMF include gamma ray, cosmic ray, and X-ray; prolonged exposure to any of these EMFs can cause cancer (WHO, n.d.). Non-ionizing radiations are EMFs with low frequency but short wavelength; they do not carry enough energy to break chemical bonds, but they can exhibit thermal effect on body tissues. EMFs emitted by cells phone, WIFI internet, and radio are non-ionizing radiations with a frequency ranging from 10MHz to 300GHz, they are also collectively referred to as radiowave-frequency electromagnet fields (RFs) (WHO, n.d.).
Patients who are suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) can experience a wide range of symptoms upon exposure to RFs. These symptoms include: headache, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation, fatigue, lack of concentration and digestive disturbance (Baliatsas et. al., 2012). EHS has been well documented among epidemiological studies in European countries; its prevalence in Sweden, Switzerland and Austraia were reported to be 1.5%, 3.5% and 5% respectively (Kato, Y. & Johannsson, O., 2011). While the symptoms of EHS are not life-threating, it can be debilitating to the patient’s work performances when they are exposed to RFs at work. A study that was done among 75 EHS victims in Japan has reported that 53% of them has lost their work or experienced a decreased income due to the condition (Kato, Y. & Johannsson, O., 2011). There have also been research evidences suggesting that prolonged RFs exposure is positively correlated with cancer development: a study has demonstrated that heavy cell phone users (30 minutes/ day for 10 years) have a 40% increased risk of developing gliomas (IARC, 2011); pooled analysis of epidemiological studies have also consistently shown that residential exposure to RFs at a level above 0.3 to 0.4 µT is positively associated with leukemia among children (Schuz, J., 2011). ). Based on these research evidences, the World Health Organization has reclassified RF as a “class 2B carcinogen”, which placed it in the same carcinogenic class as lead and the infamous pesticide DDT (Havas, M. 2011).
Some European countries have taken action in response to the potential health effect of RFs. For example, Switzerland has replaced the wireless internet in schools with wired network internet to minimize the children and teachers’ exposure to RFs; in Germany the public health department has placed warning recommending their citizens to switch off the WLAN (WiFi) when they are not using the internet. (Harvas, M., 2010). The Sweden government has recognized electromagnetic hypersensitivity as a physical disability, and it has started to implement RF-safe working environment to protect their employees; in Austria, its medical association has published a clinical guideline for physicians to diagnose and treat electromagnetic hypersensitivity (Austrian Medical Association, 2012). A medical report published by the Canadian Human Rights Commission has recognized environmental sensitivities such as EHS as a debilitating health condition; it recommends employers to work with their employees who are suffering from EHS to develop a safe workplace together (Sears, M., 2007). Some schools in Canada have also taken actions to protect their students and staff; for example, the Pretty River Academy in Collingwood, Ontario has taken the precautionary measure to minimize the student’s exposure for EMF by replacing the WIFI internet with wired Ethernet in school (CTV, 2011). These actions taken by different institutions across countries have proven that EMF is a serious health concern that deserves special attention; safety measures should be taken to protect the vulnerable individuals.
Astrian Medical Association. (2012). Guideline of the Austrian Medical Association for the diagnosis and treatment of EMF-related health problems and illness (EMF syndrome)
Baliatsas, C., Van Kamp, I., Lebret, E., & Rubin, J. G. (2012). Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF): A systematic review of identifying criteria. BMC Public Health, , 643.
CTV Toronto. (2011). Ontario school cuts WiFi over safety concerns. Retrieved from: http://toronto.ctvnews.ca/ontario-school-cuts-wi-fi-over-safety-concerns-1.694129
Kato, Y., & Johansson, O. (2012). Reported functional impairments of electrohypersensitive japanese: A questionnaire survey. Pathophysiology, 19(2), 95-100.
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). (2011). Press release: IARC classifies radiofrequency electromagnetic field as possibly carcinogenic to human. World Health Organization.
Havas, M. (2010). Free fiber for Swiss schools- WiFi warnings. Retrieved from: http://www.magdahavas.com/free-internet-access-in-swiss-schools-no-wifi/
Havas, M. (2011). WHO’s new classification of RFR: what does this mean for Canada? Retrieved from: http://www.magdahavas.com/whos-new-classification-of-rfr-what-does-this-mean-for-canada/
Schüz, J. (2011). Exposure to extremely low-frequency magnetic fields and the risk of childhood cancer: Update of the epidemiological evidence. Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology, 107(3), 339-342.
Sears, M. (2007). The medical perspective on environmental sensitivities. Canadian human rights commission.
World Health Organization (WHO). (n.d.). Electromagnetic Field (EMF). Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/