Risks of Wifi Exposure During Prolonged Videoconferencing- What are the dangers of EMF exposure?

Apr 20, 2020

It is likely that during the COVID-19, you have been using videoconferencing way more than you used to as a way of staying in touch with your friends and family. I am no different. I have taken my psychotherapy groups online using Zoom. During the groups, some people have had connection problems. This led me to ask how many people were connecting using wifi and the response is about 90% positive. Most people are using wireless devices for hours a day unaware that this may be posing a health problem. I am writing this blog post to remind you that while wifi is very convenient, it may not be safe. If you own a copy of my manual Let Your Light Shine Through, I recommend reviewing the latter part of Session #6 to understand the impact of wireless technology on human cells and health. Here is a review and update.

Wifi Health Risks- what is the electromagnetic frequency (EMF)?

Electromagnetic frequency (EMF) is produced by anything that uses electricity (extremely low frequency - ELF), radio or microwaves (radio frequency - RF), visible and invisible light, X-rays and gamma rays. The cells of all living organisms rely on electrical currents to function. Therefore, it stands to reason that external electromagnetic fields have the capacity to disrupt cell function. All EMF fields (ELF, RF and MF) and the dirty electricity which results from various fields interacting with each other have been implicated in adverse effects on cells and animals.

 Learn more about Electromagnetic Fields and Cancer here

Because EMF is invisible, most people are unaware of its presence and assume it to be harmless. Most people use cell phones, wifi, cordless phones and satellites without concern. What if these daily exposures are damaging the body without our knowledge and contributing to the increase in chronic disease in society? There is growing evidence that this is the case.

“Bioinitiative” is a non-profit group of international scientists who read and summarize the world literature on the effects of electromagnetic radiation on living organisms. They wrote a comprehensive report in 2007. The report was updated in 2012 and a lay summary was published in 2014. More recent updates on several sections of the report are available on the Bioinitiative website. The 2012 report was generated from a review of over 1800 studies published between 2007 and 2012. It concludes that the EMF contributes to a wide range of adverse health effects.

How EMF Damages the Human Body

EMF damages cells through the creation of free radicals. These radicals cause oxidative and nitrosative damage to cell membranes, mitochondria and DNA. 93 of 100 studies show a connection between RF EMF (as in cell phones and wifi) and increased oxidation (Yakymenko et al., 2016). Too much oxidation prevents cells from repairing damage and adverse health effects such as neurodegeneration and cancer risk increase.

Key research findings of the 2012 Bioinitiative report related to the high-frequency EMF used in wifi include:

  • As little as a 2-hour exposure to a cell phone being held at arm’s length disrupts the blood-brain barrier. Regular exposure to a cell phone for 50 days results in damage to neurons. Damage occurs at radiation levels 1000X lower than currently allowed by legislation in most western countries.
  • Evidence is growing that cell phone use increases the risk of two types of brain tumours: acoustic neuroma and glioblastoma. The risk is higher the more often a phone is used and in the part of the brain closest to the phone.
  • Both low frequency (electricity) and high-frequency EMF (wifi and cell towers) damage DNA and decrease cells’ ability to repair the damage.
  • Our bodies and brains rely on all the cells and organs to act in synchrony. EMF disrupts the natural electrical and magnetic fields of cells. This leads to disrupted sleep, hormone function and metabolism.
  • Proximity to cell towers causes headaches, concentration difficulties and behavioral problems in children and adolescents and sleep disturbances, headaches and concentration problems in adults. These effects occur at 1000 – 10,000 times lower levels of EMF exposure than the legal limits in North America.

Some authoritative organizations are recognizing the risk of high-frequency EMF such as wifi. In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (affiliated with the World Health Organization) categorized wifi as a possible human carcinogen.

Other organizations are less concerned. For example, the website of the National Institutes of Health National Cancer Institute in the United States reports there is insufficient evidence to conclude that daily, low-level EMF exposure poses a health risk.

Safety standards in North America are based on a presumption that EMF is only a health hazard if it is strong enough to create heat or cause ionization. It is different in Europe. The European Environment Agency compares the risk posed by EMF to that of tobacco, asbestos and benzene exposure. Some governments in Europe are taking steps to protect their citizens. For example, in 2015 the French government banned use of wifi in nurseries for children under 3 and limit use for children under 11 years (Belyaev et al., 2016).

EMF Protection- How to Minimize Health Risks

To minimize health risks use wired devices whenever possible.

There is hope. You do not have to abandon convenience to stay safe. Tools are available which allow the convenience of moving around your house while maintaining fast, reliable hardwired internet access. Hardwired internet is very safe.

Say you want to use a laptop in various rooms in your house but only have one hardwired modem. The answer is to purchase 2 ethernet over powerline adapters. One adapter connects the modem to a nearby electrical wall socket. The other connects your device to a wall socket in the room you wish to be in. You are trading the slight inconvenience of plugging your adapter in each time you change rooms for the health benefits of avoiding EMF exposure. For more information on how ethernet over powerline adapters work and a review of the best adapters.

Photo A. White cord connects the modem in the basket to the white ethernet over the powerline adapter plugged into the wall.

Photo B. Black cord connects the white ethernet over a powerline adapter plugged into the wall to a laptop.

Tips for Decreasing EMF Risks from Tablet or Cell Phone

What about if you are using a tablet or cell phone? This technology is still in progress and it may not be possible to convert older devices. You can purchase an adapter to hardwire the internet capabilities of your mobile device. You can hardwire your iPhone and access facetime, iMessage, the internet and apps. Android phones are a bit behind. Phone calls and text messages from android phones are not available yet with hardwired ethernet. It is likely that full phone capabilities will be available using hardwired ethernet phone connectors within a year. Here is a video on how to disable your wifi and use your iPhone or iPad hardwired. Don’t forget to disable your wifi modem and the wifi on your device or you won’t achieve your goal of decreasing harmful EMF exposure.

If you are on wireless devices more than infrequently, consider the health risks and do what you can to minimize them.

1. For more information, go to pages 6-15 and 6-16 in manual Let Your Light Shine Through for some more tips. I recommend turning wifi and all devices off when not in use and during sleep.

2. Calgary-based building biologist Mitch Marchand has many useful resources on his webpage EMF aware including which websites are the most trustworthy sources of EMF science. This handout on how to decrease exposure to wireless devices is very practical. It goes without saying that wireless devices and wifi modems should be turned off when not being used and during sleep.

3. The website EMF empowerment is written by Bonnie Collins who began researching the health effects of EMF radiation in 2017 out of concern for the health and well-being of her family. Her site has frequent blog posts on the dangers of EMF and strategies to decrease risk of exposure.

To read more on the related topic of 5G, go to my blogpost on 5G technology. 5G is wifi on steroids.

Author: Eleanor (Ellie) Stein MD FRCP(C)
I am a psychiatrist recently retired from practice in Calgary and am an assistant clinical professor in the faculty of medicine at the University of Calgary. Since 2000, I have worked with over 1000 patients, all with ME/CFS, FM and ES. My passion for this field comes from my own struggle with these diseases, my desire to improve my health and then pass on what I learn. My goal is for every patient in Canada to have access to respectful, effective health care within the publicly funded system. 

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