Planetary electromagnetic pollution: it is time to assess its impact – The Lancet Planetary Health
As the Planetary Health Alliance moves forward after a productive second annual meeting, a discussion on the rapid global proliferation of artificial electromagnetic fields would now be apt. The most notable is the blanket of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation, largely microwave radiation generated for wireless communication and surveillance technologies, as mounting scientific evidence suggests that prolonged exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation has serious biological and health effects. However, public exposure regulations in most countries continue to be based on the guidelines of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection1 and Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers,2 which were established in the 1990s on the belief that only acute thermal effects are hazardous. Prevention of tissue heating by radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation is now proven to be ineffective in preventing biochemical and physiological interference. For example, acute non-thermal exposure has been shown to alter human brain metabolism by NIH scientists,3 electrical activity in the brain,4 and systemic immune responses.5 Chronic exposure has been associated with increased oxidative stress and DNA damage6, 7 and cancer risk.8 Laboratory studies, including large rodent studies by the US National Toxicology Program9 and Ramazzini Institute of Italy,10 confirm these biological and health effects in vivo. As we address the threats to human health from the changing environmental conditions due to human activity,11 the increasing exposure to artificial electromagnetic radiation needs to be included in this discussion.
Due to the exponential increase in the use of wireless personal communication devices (eg, mobile or cordless phones and WiFi or Bluetooth-enabled devices) and the infrastructure facilitating them, levels of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation around the 1 GHz frequency band, which is mostly used for modern wireless communications, have increased from extremely low natural levels by about 1018 times (figure). Radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation is also used for radar, security scanners, smart meters, and medical equipment (MRI, diathermy, and radiofrequency ablation). It is plausibly the most rapidly increasing anthropogenic environmental exposure since the mid-20th century, and levels will surge considerably again, as technologies like the Internet of Things and 5G add millions more radiofrequency transmitters around us.