With my work as a Building Biologist, I often get a range of enquiries from people about different things. One of the biggest areas of questioning is about reducing exposure to electro-magnetic radiation (EMR). The most asked question is, “How can I use my laptop or device safely?”
There are three types of EMR exposure associated with laptops and devices: AC electric fields, AC magnetic fields and high frequency electromagnetic radiation.
Let’s cover a bit of the scientific background so it makes more sense.
AC Electric Fields – ELF
The electric fields emitted from many household appliances fall into the category of Extra Low Frequency (ELF). Electric fields are created where there electricity under pressure – which means that any wiring connected to a power source, can emit an electric field.
Further, a buildings’ wiring can have an electric field even when there are no appliances plugged in.
Electric fields are also proportional to voltage and they decrease with distance from the source. Therefore, keeping away from appliances that are plugged in can reduce exposure.
Common sources include power lines, household wiring, lighting, mobile phone chargers, hair dryers, hair straighteners, irons, kettles, electric blankets, electric ovens, electric hot water systems, electric slab heating, and so on.
ELF electric fields have been associated with Electrical Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS), also known as Electrical Sensitivity (ES). This condition can manifest with some or all of these and other symptoms: skin symptoms (a feeling of itchiness or biting, redness, a burning sensation), eye symptoms (redness, dryness, pain), poor concentration, and dizziness. Some other health effects that have been associated with ELF electric fields include sleep disturbances, fatigue, headache, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), and a constant feeling of a cold or flu about to start but not eventuating.
AC Magnetic Fields – ELF
Although magnetic fields exist in nature, such as when the field of the earth causes the compass needle to point to north, it is with man-made magnetic fields that we are mostly concerned.
Magnetic fields are created when an appliance is switched on. That is, it directly relates to a current being drawn. It is for this reason that I always recommend people to unplug cords from power points when they are not in use.
Magnetic fields arise from the motion of the electrical charge (WHO, 2012) and this is especially the case in alternating current (AC) as the electricity changes direction frequently.
Common sources of ELF magnetic fields include power lines, household wiring, electric blankets, ovens, fridges, waterbeds, lighting, alarm clocks, mobile phone chargers, electric heating, electric hot water systems, and so on.
There is a large body of evidence that links ELF magnetic fields with biological changes. Possible health effects include a reduction in the immune system, abnormal foetal development, changes to cell growth and development, changes or interruptions to the brain and central nervous system (Professor Adey). Other linked or suspected health effects include breast cancer, miscarriage, depression and suicide.
High Frequency Electromagnetic Radiation – HF
On the electromagnetic spectrum, high frequency (HF) is between 3kHz and 300GHz. At this level, as the two cannot be separated, we measure the combined electric and magnetic fields and refer to this as electromagnetic radiation.
There is an ever-increasing range of sources for high frequency electromagnetic radiation as our society moves towards wireless technology – “getting rid of unsightly wires” and adding many layers of convenience to our lifestyles.
Sources include mobile phone towers, DECT cordless telephones, satellite transmitters, mobile phones, tablets and i-pads, wireless games such as Wii and X-Box, many baby monitors, wireless computer accessories including printer, keyboard, and mouse, wireless internet connections, smart meters and so on.
Numerous health concerns have been linked with HF electromagnetic radiation. These include disturbed sleep, headaches, learning difficulties, concentration problems, fatigue, waking feeling unrefreshed, anxiety, depression, muscle and joint aches and pains, ringing in the ears, hearing loss, palpitations, and more. As well, there have been some links made to brain tumours, epilepsy, blood pressure, and lowered immunity.
3. Laptops and devices have a massive advantage over the desktop computer, in the eyes of a Building Biologist.
This advantage is that they can be used on battery. Anything that is plugged in uses AC power. AC stands for “alternating current.” Alternating current is where electricity passes back and forth through the wires. In contrast, a battery uses DC, or “direct current” – which only goes one way. In short, DC is safer than AC.
Unplug the charger and use your laptop or device on battery.
2. No matter what, I always recommend that you used wired connections – for Internet, mouse and keyboard.
This point is a bit of a 3-for-1 deal – I can’t just give you three tips!
Ultimately, this tip is about reducing your exposure to the high frequency end of the electromagnetic spectrum – the one that is about to move up to 4G and 5G!
Here’s the best things that you can do – get a keyboard and mouse that you can plug into your laptop. (Devices don’t have this option, so I would suggest using a stylus instead of your fingers.)
Using the wired keyboard and mouse means that you have a greater distance from your laptop, which is always a good thing. It also means that you are not relying on a wireless (high frequency connection).
Using a wired Internet connection is part of this solution. However, you will also need to turn off the Wi-Fi capabilities on your computer or it will constantly be searching for a connection (and thus defeating the purpose of using a wired connection) AND you will need to have a modem that does not have Wi-Fi capabilities.
Finding one can be a little tricky. I located some at my local office supply store. I got a modem that had no aerial and only worked via Ethernet connections. It only cost about $50.
So, swap your wireless bits and pieces for wired/cabled equivalents.
1. Despite its name, do not EVER use your laptop (or device) on your lap.
We have already discussed the health implications above, and I have pointed out that distance is the key. But, the other thing to think about is that by having it on your lap, it is close to your reproductive organs.
Science is only beginning to recognise and accept that there can be health effects beyond the thermal changes. As a bit of background information, when radar began to be used mid last century, the thermal effects of radiofrequencies were recognised as problematic for health. The thermal effects on the body have been used as the measuring stick for health effects, despite the fact that there are a vast array of health effects, some of which I have mentioned above, that have nothing to do with your tissues being warmed.
Therefore, never use your laptop or device when it is in contact with your body.
There you have it – 3 tips to help you use your laptop or device more safely.
I hope you have found this information helpful. Please feel free to get in touch with me if there is more you would like to hear about.
Available in store now – all for shielding/reducing your exposure to ELF AC Electric Fields: