Are you afraid of EMFs?

Does your smart meter make your nose bleed?

Are you terrified of your microwave?

Have you installed am anti-brain cancer thingy on your cell phone?

Welcome to the world of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and their alleged harmful effects.

For the last ten years or so, people have been worrying about EMFs, along with the increase in the use of electronics.  And even though scientific data obtained so far is reassuring about the effects of EMFs on human health, a lot of people are still scared.

It took almost a year to create this comic. After all, the topic is mind-blowingly complex and, as a pharmacist, I am not at all qualified to speculate about it. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to work with two awesome collaborators from the very beginning:

Jérôme Poulin (Ph. D) is a physicist and researcher in optical physics. His Ph.D thesis was about cold atom guidance in a hollow-core photonic cristal fibre using a blue detuned hollow laser beam (Olivier’s note: I have no idea what that means… I think it’s about building the next Death Star or something). He was also part of the Electro-Urban Brigade, a team of scientists who measured the daily exposure to electromagnetic fields of citizens in the province of Quebec, Canada.

Michel Trottier-McDonald (Ph.D) is a physicist and data scientist. He namely worked on the ATLAS experiment at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the CERN in order to find the Higgs Boson (Olivier’s note: yeah, that big thing).

None of us are experts on the effects of EMFs on health and we don’t pretend otherwise. Fortunately, scientific knowledge on the matter is advanced enough for us to relay conclusive evidence to you.

The 5 key messages of the comic go as follows:

  • Certain types of electromagnetic radiation can break the molecules of the body, others cannot;
  • Until proven otherwise, mobile/radio/Wi-Fi fields do not pose a threat to human health;
  • Every day, we are exposed electromagnetic radiation that is hundreds, if not thousands of times below the international standards deemed safe;
  • Symptoms experienced by people who identify as “electrosensitive” do not appear to be caused by electromagnetic fields;
  • So-called experts and companies that pretend otherwise may not be trustworthy, or even qualified to discuss EMFs.

But hey, you should to read the comic before disagreeing…

So cover your head with aluminium foil, make holes for your eyes, turn off your router & 4G and read this right away!

P.S. As always, scientific references for this comic are listed in the first comment.

Translated by Patricia Rainville; edits and proofreading by Robyn Penney.

 

Title

 

Ionizing and non-ionizing radiation

Daily exposure to ionizing radiation

 

 

 

Visible light is the strongest type of non-ionizing radiation

No effects of non-ionizing radiation on human health have been found

 

 

 

Daily exposure to EMFs and international standards

Smart electric meters emit as much EMFs as a TV remote

What about increasing the international standards of EMF exposure

 

 

 

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity

An example of trial to assess whether electrosensitivity is caused by EMFs

Wi-Fi allergies and suicides

 

 

 

So-called EMF experts

The carcinogenic potential of EMFs

Anti-EMF devices and clothing

 

 

 

Conclusion 1

Conclusion 2

 

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21 responses to “Are you afraid of EMFs?

  1. References and interesting links:

    – Really cool chart by XLCD about EMF exposure, including the radioactive banana.
    https://xkcd.com/radiation/

    – Can X-ray scans cause cancer? It’s not that clear. http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2016-02/luhs-npt020316.php

    – Heat increase inside a human head while using a cell phone.
    http://www.academicjournals.org/article/article1380635276_Faruque%20et%20al.pdf

    – No association between power lines and cancer. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23337237

    – Results of the Interphone trial, conducted by the WHO. No increased risk of tumors associated with the use of cell phones.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20483835

    – Analysis of the Interphone trial in Nature. http://www.nature.com/news/2010/100517/full/news.2010.246.html

    – Cell phones and cancer according to the National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/radiation/cell-phones-fact-sheet

    – The “geeky physicists” were part of the Electro-Urban Brigade. http://www.polymtl.ca/carrefour-actualite/en/news/polytechnique-montreal-launches-electro-urban-brigade

    – Data collected by the Electro-Urban Brigade (in French only; requires a subscription). http://www.protegez-vous.ca/maison-et-environnement/ondes-radiofrequences.html

    – Nearly half of all U.S. electricity customers have smart meters.
    https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=34012

    – Here is the type of smart electric meter being deployed in Canada right now.
    http://meters.hydroquebec.com/

    – Here is an example of a trial with solid methodology to assess whether or not electromagnetic hypersensitivity is caused by EMFs.
    http://www.badscience.net/wp-content/uploads/2007/07/eltitietal_ehp_revised.pdf

    – Meta-analysis of 31 trials about electrosensitivity, including 725 participants. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15784787

    – Wi-Fi allergies and suicides.
    https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/electromagnetic-hypersensitivity-and-wifi-allergies-bogus-diagnoses-with-tragic-real-world-consequences/

    – Critical appraisal of the BioInitiative Report.
    http://www.emfandhealth.com/Criticism%20Bio-Intitiative.html

    – Another critical appraisal of the BioInitiative Report. https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/picking-cherries-in-science-the-bio-initiative-report/

    – The Health Council of the Netherlands concluded that “the BioInitiative report is not an objective and balanced reflection of the current state of scientific knowledge”. This conclusion was also shared by many governmental agencies worldwide. https://www.gezondheidsraad.nl/sites/default/files/200817E_0.pdf

    – Discussion on Reddit where readers point out the flaws in a study from a McGill University researcher about the health effects of non-ionizing radiation. https://www.reddit.com/r/science/comments/2aul2e/science_ama_series_im_paul_h%C3%A9roux_a_professor_of/

    – The World Health Organization classifies EMFs as possibly carcinogenic to humans. http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs193/en/

    – Critical analysis of this classification by the WHO.
    https://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/are-cell-phones-a-possible-carcinogen-an-update-on-the-iarc-report/

    – Coffee is a Group 2B possible carcinogen according to the WHO. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol51/mono51.pdf

    – Aloe is a Group 2B possible carcinogen according to the WHO.: http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol108/mono108-01.pdf

    – Beet juice is a Group 2B possible carcinogen according to the WHO. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol94/mono94-6.pdf

    – Cocoamide DEA is a Group 2B possible carcinogen according to the WHO. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol101/mono101-005.pdf

    – About anti-EMF clothing and devices.
    http://www.emfandhealth.com/EHS%20Scams.html

    – About the need for a Faraday Cage to protect oneself from EMFs. http://video.mit.edu/watch/faradays-cage-3625/

  2. In general i agree, but what about the non-thermal effects of EMF, e.g. the Frohlich hipotesis? There are a lot of interesting experiments done by Pirogova and Vojisavljevic,
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17575949
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/qua.560020505/abstract

    • Hey Lukas!

      Thanks for the links, I had never heard of this before. There’s a Wikipedia page that summarizes some of it: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bioelectrodynamics

      Hypotheses are welcome of course, and there’s actually a lot of those regarding potential health hazards of EMFs. One example is the research done at McGill University, which was subsequently taken apart by others in the field (cited in my references).

      As I mention in item #2, just because no mechanism for harmful effects of EMFs has been found so far doesn’t mean we won’t find one in the future (see the part about the Nobel prize).

      As for the Frohlich hypothesis itself, I can’t comment as this is way out of my field of expertise.

      Thanks again!

      Olivier

  3. Mhairi Galloway

    Just wanted to say that I
    had the supreme pleasure of stumbling upon your website. Love your work! A big fan in Denmark 🙂

    • Denmark, AWESOME! Can I say that I’m a huge fan of your country, having been there several times?
      Thanks for the nice words Mhairi!
      Olivier

  4. Nicolas Pineault

    Dear Olivier,

    A few interesting links that might shatter your article’s conclusions:

    – The mechanisms of non-thermal effects from non-ionizing radiation are proven. Dr. Martin Pall’s presentation on Breakspear Medical: youtube.com/watch?v=0RIskTMLV40

    – 90% of cell phones go over the safety limits by up to 10-fold when held on the body. The Phonegate scandal in France which also pertains to all cell phones worldwide: ehtrust.org/cell-phone-radiation-scandal-french-government-data-indicates-cell-phones-exposeconsumers-radiation-levels-higher-manufacturers-claim/

    – Most of the EMF researchers on the 2011 IARC committee argue that based on the exact same criteria, the classification should be raised to 2A or 1 — Hardell, Melnick, Leszczynski, and many more. The more time goes by, the worst the portrait looks.

    – Since 2009, a total of six meta-analyses looking at a total of 201 studies have each concluded that cell phone radiation is linked with a dramatic reduction in sperm count, motility and morphology. See http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412014001354, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21799142, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2776019/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3752730/, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24700791 and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27601711

    – The Telecom industry finances studies that have a bias stronger than Big Tobacco

    I could go on, and on and on.

    “Evidence-based” debunkers have it completely wrong on this one, unfortunately.

    That’s why France, India, Israel, Cyprus, and so many other governments are choosing to opt for the Precautionary Principle — taking action and preventatively reducing exposure in their population BEFORE we know for sure what harm is being caused.

    In particular, more sensitive populations like the elderly, pregnant women, and children need to be protected. Placing cell phone towers the way we do it in North America on rooftops of hospitals, near playgrounds and schools, near nurseries is irresponsible at this point and decision makers are blinded by industry propaganda.

    Nick

    • Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m always interested when someone announces that they “might shatter” a scientific consensus (i.e. because the conclusion of my comic reflects that) with “a few interesting links”. So let’s look at your links:

      “Dr. Martin Pall’s presentation on Breakspear Medical”

      First of all, as you know, Youtube videos are not considered evidence.

      Second, this is an appeal to authority; why should I rely on this specific person’s claims? What I want to know, is what the complete body of evidence says when analyzed by experts on the topic.

      I’ve looked up Dr. Pall. He has published only two papers on the topic, and both are literature reviews in low-grade journals. One focuses on plants. Also, I notice that he deals chiefly with a number of topics that again are not aligned with a scientific viewpoint of medicine, including chronic fatigue syndrome and chemical hypersensitivity syndrome. These are only quick observations, but at this point he does not appear to be expert in the field by any stretch of the imagination.

      “90% of cell phones go over the safety limits by up to 10-fold when held on the body”

      I do not know if this statement is accurate or not; it may be. The reason why these limits are not strictly enforced is because non-ionizing radiation does not appear to be a cause for concern on human health.

      Another example that comes to mind is microwave ovens. Most “spill” microwaves outside of the device itself. But the hypothetical margin of safety is so wide that there’s no reason to believe it’s a problem.

      “Most of the EMF researchers on the 2011 IARC committee argue that based on the exact same criteria, the classification should be raised to 2A or 1 — Hardell, Melnick, Leszczynski”

      Again, appeals to authority. Why should I rely on these specific persons’ claims?

      But the main problem here is that the IARC classification is a complete mess. It is based on hazard, not risk. Here’s a great explanation of the two: “the drain cleaner under your sink is a hazard, but it only becomes a risk if you drink it or get it on your hands”. The consequence is that hundreds of substances, such as EMF, are listed as “possibly carcinogenic” in the IARC (hazard), even though in real-life the risk is extremely low or non-existent. Only a single pre-clinical trial may trigger their “hazardous” assessment. So unfortunately, the IARC classification is of little help in real-life situations. Recent examples of badly-classified-as-carcinogenic substances include coffee and the pesticide glyphosate.

      “Since 2009, a total of six meta-analyses…”

      Let’s look at each of the 6 publications that you cited:

      – 3 are literature reviews, so not trials, even less meta-analyses;

      – One is a so-called meta-analysis published in F1000Research, a pay-to-publish periodical with a dubious peer-review process. It only addresses preclinical findings;

      – One is a “systemic review” (sic; they managed to misspell “systematic” in the title of the paper…) and meta-analysis that includes human, animal and in vitro data (two-thirds of the data is preclinical, actually). This is highly unusual, to say the least; I can’t even imagine how they could have enough statistical power to call it a meta-analysis. But here’s the weirdest part: from the 18 potential papers identified, they eliminated only 6, stating that they “did not contain useful data” (!). Even papers judged of bad quality were included. In short, this is not a systematic review; this is an extremely unusual meta-analysis disguised as a systematic review.

      – The last one (Adams et al.) is the only one that appears worthy of consideration here. It’s a systematic review and meta-analysis. Their conclusion is legit: “The potential role of mobile phone exposure on sperm quality needs to be clarified”. However, they still lack a mechanism; otherwise, we can’t imply a causal relationship between cell phone exposure and sperm count.

      “The Telecom industry finances studies that have a bias stronger than Big Tobacco”

      Possible, but not evidence of anything.

      “That’s why France, India, Israel, Cyprus, and so many other governments are choosing to…”

      More appeals to authority, combined with a appeal to popularity. Governments are not scientific authorities.

      “In particular, more sensitive populations like the elderly, pregnant women, and children need to be protected”

      “More sensitive” based on what? As explained in the comic, EMF sensitivity is a self-reported condition, but not one that can be observed in controlled trials.

      —————————–

      Now let’s be transparent for a moment here, Nick. You and I know each other. We’ve talked via email last year. We’ve even met once. I know what you do. I’ve told you before what I think of your projects and e-books involving food and EMF, both of which are in contradiction with current scientific knowledge. Your content is based on testimonials, cherry-picking of data and fear-based marketing.

      Some may be tempted to state that your lack of a any kind of scientific background is the problem here. And as a matter of fact, I would advise against citing papers they you can’t properly assess critically by yourself. But then again, it’s not my main issue; as an example, even though I have a scientific background, I do not pretend to understand the intricacies of EMF and health. However, I can relay the scientific consensus, which I have done in this comic, with the help of two physicists.

      The real issue in your comment, in my opinion, is a lack of critical thinking, shown namely by the numerous logical fallacies that you rely on. As I’ve pointed out to you before, the worst offender in your case seems to be the illusion of knowledge.

      Olivier

  5. Nicolas Pineault

    Olivier, my last reply was definitely sub-par — I had a bad day. Thanks for letting me your thoughts, and let give be a bit more balanced and rational answer here.

    The main issue when it comes to recognizing the effects (or lack of effects) of electromagnetic fields is the fact that our current standards are based on heating effects, and acute exposures.

    The “non-thermal” effects of non-ionizing radiation is what I’m interested in, and the body of science showing that these effects indeed exist is at this point, depending on who you listen to:

    – Non-existent: some players in the industry
    – No sufficient: WHO, and most regulatory agencies
    – Overwhelming: some governments or governmental health agencies, independent scientists, and certain doctors who are studying electro-sensitivity as a physical ailment (not a psychological one). One of the most important ones is Dr. Belpomme from France, who has been doing tremendous work identifying reliable biomarkers in people who might suffer from EHS and/or MCS: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26613326

    Each one of these 3 groups is looking at the same body of evidence. The same “scientific consensus”, and the same studies.

    What I’m stressing is that in the face of doubt, of scientific uncertainty, we should as a society follow the Precautionary Principle, BEFORE we definitely know for sure that EMFs are dangerous (or not), and BEFORE the mechanisms are clearly established (or found to be non-existent).

    Some examples of being cautious is:
    – Requiring cell phone manufacturers to test their phones on the body, without any separation. It’s true that 2017 French tests found that 90% of phones go over the limit. The data is available to the public. Look at phonegatealert.org/en/check-if-your-mobile-phone-presents-a-risk-to-your-health (health effects have been found in several studies — mostly rat studies which are usually the gold standard for carcinogenicity along with epidemiology — at these SAR levels)
    – Not installing cell phone towers right next to living areas, and figuring out the best placement to reduce exposure
    – Elucidating the mechanisms of non-thermal effects, if there are any. Unfortunately industry will likely not finance studies which might eventually show that their technologies are unsafe.
    – Again, if there are non-thermal effects, turning off wireless devices when not in use — such as in children’s classrooms.

    No, governments are not scientific authorities. They hire scientists who advise them about what we should do upon review of what you consider “Scientific Consensus”, and some governments choose to opt for caution, and reduce our exposure instead of increasing it.

    I think that’s smart, but only the future will tell if their actions were needless, or if they prevented a possible next tobacco, or asbestos.

    Wireless technologies have been rolled out to the entire population based on the assumption that non-thermal effects do not exist.

    If these assumptions are true, then the roll-out of 5G is a marvellous idea, and I’ll sleep with my phone under my pillow.

    If these assumptions are false, and non-thermal effects happen to be important, then the consequences might be disastrous.

    My message? Take precautions, and instead of merely looking at where the scientific consensus currently is — also look at where it’s going.

    There’s no harm in turning off your wifi at night, reducing cell phone use, and doing other precautionary steps to reduce exposure.

    • That’s OK, you’re entitled to having a bad day. Unfortunately here, it’s more of the same:

      – more appeals to authority (ex. Belpomme, whose work is mostly self-published and not peer-reviewed, and who uses fear-based tactics too: http://www.bodyofevidence.ca/blog/apocalyptic-pseudoscience-university-stage);

      – argument from ignorance (the precautionary principle, which I have discussed at length in the comic);

      – bad analogies (ex. tobacco, asbestos, which are among the very few known carcinogens, so not the same thing at all);

      – several false premisses (ex. your suggestion of turning off wireless devices in childrens’ classrooms);

      – strawman fallacy (ex. “non-existent” vs “no sufficient evidence”… actually real experts do not claim that these effects are “non-existent”, but hey, nice try);

      – more cherry picking (ex. “health effects have been found in several studies — mostly rat studies”);

      – appeals to consequences and fear (ex. “consequences might be disastrous”);

      – ambiguity fallacy (ex. “look at where [the consensus is going”… what does that even mean?);

      – terrible references (ex. PhoneGateAlert)

      And I would add “argumentum ad nauseam”, because at this point the reader is supposed to assume that you are right based on the sheer number of arguments you can bring up. And as you said in your previous comment, you could “go on and on and on”.

      Again, I’m not qualified to discuss EMF in details, i.e. beyond what is said in the comic. I you believe that you do, well… good for you. But maybe you should think again about that.

      Olivier

  6. Hello Oliver. Nice comic! It is certainly reassuring. I just have a couple of remaining concerns.

    – What is your opinion regarding the NTP report of the rat study that was peer reviewed last Nov 2018?
    – In relation to giving “coffee” and other seemingly harmless substances as part of the Group 2B carcinogens, I find it a biased to mention those as points of reference because these are not fair: They are the most possibly innocuous that you could find in this list. If I was to be an alarmist, I could have also given as points of reference “fuel oils” and “lead”, which are also in the same list. I suggest a non biasing explanation we can make is the introduction paragraph for the “List of IARC Group 2B carcinogens” in the Wikipedia page.
    – I saw you quoting Geoffrey Kabat in a previous comment. He belongs to the ACSH, a kind of fake-third-party group funded by the industry (Check its criticism in Wikipedia or Sourcewatch). These people’s job is to argue against fears that particularly could harm specific industries. For instance, Kabat worked in 2003 in a Philipp Morris funded study that downplayed the effects of second hand smoke. I bring this up just to point out that unfortunately the debate is politicized, so as you well mention, we should be careful choosing the “authorities” we listen to.
    Happy to hear your thoughts and specially interested in your opinion about the NTP report.
    Best,
    A

    • Thanks for your comment!

      NTP report: the results were made available to the public before peer review. Others have analysed them, here’s a good article on that :
      https://sciencebasedmedicine.org/cell-phones-and-cancer-random-chance-in-clinical-trials/
      Basically, it appears that random noise/chance can explain the results.

      Coffee: my point was precisely to show that the list includes innocuous substances. Many other harmless substances are included, but coffee is something we know. Otherwise, I am not sure how it is inappropriate to use this example.

      Geoffrey Kabat: in the quote, he explains the difference between “hazard” and “risk”. You’ll understand that him being part of any organization, good or bad, makes no difference in whether, as a biostatistician, he can explain a basic mathematical concept.
      That being said, I do not personally use ACSH as a source of information.

      Olivier

      • Thanks for your answer and clarifications, Olivier. One more question. I’ve read some interpretations of the NTP study as actually reassuring: a possible link was found with a couple of very specific kinds of rare cancers (but also possibly the result of noise)… implying a bunch of -largely not discussed- negative links with many other cancers which are more common. So we could interpret it as “Maybe there is a link here, but also there are so many non links that tells us much about the safety of these RFs.” In your medical experience, is this interpretation valid, or it’s being biased towards denying problems?

        Also in relation to Kabat, you’re absolutely right, and also I fell into an ad-hominem fallacy so I take back my criticism, his points should be analyzed fairly too.

        • This is far from my field of expertise, so I wouldn’t make my own interpretation of it.

          I’m not sure if introducing the NTP results as “reassuring” is appropriate. But as a matter of fact, some have pointed out that because the incidence of schwannomas has not drastically increased in the general population (which would be expected if the NTP results were true / not due to random chance), it strengthens the idea that it’s a statistical artifact.

          I may be wrong, but the take-home messages from my point of view are:

          1) there’s still no mechanism of action to support alleged health effects of non-ionizing radiation;
          2) pre-clinical and clinical trials have been so far negative or inconclusive.

          Thanks again for these great comments!

          Olivier

  7. Spot on with this article No but seriously man give your head a shake this is patheticly written and you seem to have a massive bias for emfs being perfectly safe. If this is satire I’m sorry for my comment but man if this is real I’m sorry for whatever pain you must have inside to become this way, it’s not a challenge of who’s smarter. Id love some legitimate information that conflicts all the proof for harm but nothing you wrote cited anything of value and I refuse to play games but I’m just telling you it’s not to late to be a decent person, money is not eveyrhing and it won’t fix your empty soul

    • thepharmafist

      Hey Alex!

      Sorry if this comic and its content did not convince you. It was created with the aim of providing the most accurate and up-to-date scientific information on the topic of EMF and health. It is definitely not satire.

      Also, we do not pretend that EMFs are “perfectly safe”, but rather that there is neither conclusive evidence nor a plausible mechanism suggesting risk with regards to non-ionizing radiation.

      Take care,

      Olivier

  8. Wirral In It Together

    A truly “smart” meter would grow arms and legs, disconnect itself, jump off the wall, push open the little cupboard door, run out into the street and jump into the nearest skip.

    • Hey Paul!
      Sure, but then you’d have no electricity. Not so smart.
      Olivier

      P.S. Your personal blog says: “Smart meters. Just say no, for the sake of your family’s health”, so I assume that your comment here wasn’t sarcastic.

      • Wirral In It Together

        I am a former cable jointer and lighting design engineer, so I may in fact know that better than you Olivier. But what truly sets us apart is the fact I maintain a very keen sense of humour.

        On your second ‘point’, Joe Bloggs’ family’s (mental) health could very easily be an issue upon agreeing to a smart meter when he suddenly finds his bills rocketing through the roof or a rogue employee at his energy provider has tapped into the tracking data on his domestic usage feed, discovered he and his family are away on holiday since ‘x’ date, his house is empty and poor Joe finds he’s been burgled upon his return home.

        Who’s the smart fella here matey? LOLZ

        Of course, you will possibly “moderate away” intelligent comments such as these to save face and keep that bogus approval rating of yours riding high xx

        • Well, I never pretended to know anything on the topic, really, even stating that electromagnetic radiation is way outside my range of expertise. The comic is meant to explain the current scientific consensus, and was reviewed by two physicists who have worked in the field.
          Cheers,
          Olivier

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