Electromagnetic pollution, or electrosmog, is a type of environmental pollution caused by electromagnetic radiation generated by various man-made sources. With the advent of new technologies and the increasing use of electrical and electronic devices, the level of electromagnetic pollution has been increasing alarmingly in recent decades, so much so that it has become a public health problem in many urban areas.
But what exactly is electromagnetic pollution, and what are its causes? In this article, we will look in detail at the origins and effects of this invisible but potentially harmful form of pollution.
What is electromagnetic pollution?
Electromagnetic pollution is caused by nonionizing radiation generated by electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields at radio frequencies between 1 Hz and 300 GHz. This type of radiation, while not energetic enough to ionize atoms and break molecular bonds as ionizing radiation does, can still interact with biological tissues and induce electrical currents that harm the body.
Environmental electromagnetic fields arise from multiple sources, both natural and man-made. Natural sources include the Earth’s magnetic field, atmospheric electrical discharges, and cosmic radiation.
Electromagnetic pollution, on the other hand, is mainly caused by anthropogenic, i.e., man-made, sources, such as:
- Telecommunication devices: cell phones, cordless phones, radio antennas, repeaters, mobile phone base stations.
- Wireless devices: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, baby monitors, cordless phones.
- High, medium and low voltage power lines.
- Commonly used electrical and electronic appliances: televisions, microwave ovens, vacuum cleaners, blenders, and hair dryers.
- Radar installations.
- Radio and television stations.
- Industrial furnaces, welding machines, magnetic inductors.
- RFID radio frequency identification technologies.
- Metal detectors.
- Energy-efficient lamps.
- ATMs and contactless credit card readers.
The intensity of electromagnetic fields generated by these sources depends on factors such as distance from the original and emission power. The closer you get to the source and the greater its power, the more intense the electromagnetic field received.
Causes of electromagnetic pollution
Electromagnetic pollution is a relatively recent phenomenon that has exploded in recent decades with the rapid spread of new wireless technologies and the exponential increase in environmental radio frequencies.
The main causes of the increase in electrosmog include:
- Massive spread of mobile telephony and wireless connections, with the installation of millions of antennas and repeaters worldwide. Today there are more than 5 billion active cellular users.
- Extensive use of wireless devices such as cell phones, tablets, Bluetooth headsets, Wi-Fi networks and data transmission systems. Today, each person owns an average of 3-4 wireless devices.
- Development of telecommunication networks, with the transition from 2G to 3G, 4G and 5G, which use higher frequencies and result in an increase in ambient radio frequencies.
- Diffusion of new smart technologies in the home, such as electric meters, home appliances, cameras, home automation systems, and smart lighting, which communicate wirelessly.
- Increased electromagnetic fields generated by power lines, transformers, and power stations to meet growing energy needs.
- Poor regulation of electromagnetic emissions and overly permissive limits for the installation of repeaters and antennas in urban areas.
- Increased household exposure due to the spread of wireless devices even among children and adolescents.
- Lack of adequate information on proper rules for using cell phones and wireless devices.
Chronic exposure to environmental EMFs can have adverse health effects, especially at high levels. Established biological effects include:
- Thermal effects: tissue heating (particularly in the head and trunk) due to absorption of electromagnetic radiation.
- Neurological alterations: headaches, insomnia, fatigue, memory and concentration deficits, depression, anxiety.
- Endocrine alterations: impact on the endocrine system and damage to male fertility.
- Cellular and oxidative stress: increased free radicals, resulting in cellular damage.
- Carcinogenic effects: the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possible human carcinogens based on several studies that have found an increased risk of cancers (mainly auditory nerve neurinomas and brain tumours).
Other suspected effects, not yet fully confirmed, are cardiovascular disorders, reduced female fertility, miscarriages, DNA damage, and increased incidence of childhood leukaemias and lymphomas.
However, health effects depend on various factors, such as frequency, intensity and duration of exposure. Children, who are most vulnerable, and pregnant women are the groups most at risk. To reduce the impact of electromagnetic pollution, it is essential to apply the precautionary principle, minimizing population exposure as much as possible.
Solutions and Prevention
To limit the risks from electromagnetic pollution, experts recommend some prevention and protection measures:
- Use cell phones only when essential, preferring texting to calls. Do not keep the cell phone in contact with the body.
- Limit the use of wireless devices especially in children. Give preference to wired connections.
- Screen classrooms and bedrooms of young children.
- Install anti-radiation devices for cell phones.
- Maintain a safe distance from cell towers, antennas and high-voltage pylons.
- Measure electromagnetic field levels in the home and work environments to identify possible sources of pollution.
- Use natural remedies with protective action, such as ginseng, ginkgo biloba, B vitamins.
- Install honeycomb filtering systems or special window films to shield external radiation.
- Judicious choice of household appliances, preferring those with low electromagnetic emissions.
- Insulation of electrical systems to attenuate magnetic fields in the home.
- More stringent regulation by government agencies to limit electrosmog, especially in schools and sensitive places.
- Progressive replacement of wireless technologies with wired alternatives or less harmful DLAN systems.
- Public awareness raising so that everyone is aware of the risks of electrosmog and how to minimize them.
Electromagnetic pollution is an emerging problem that needs more attention from health authorities and a precautionary approach to protect public health. Small every day cautions, together with stricter regulation of wireless technologies, can go a long way toward reducing the impact of this insidious but pervasive form of environmental pollution.