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The effects of electromagnetic fields on human health Report

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Updated: Jun 13th, 2019


Abbreviated as EMF or EM field, an electromagnetic field can be described as a physical field mainly generated when electrically charged objects are moved. It usually affects the behavior of all charged particles within the neighborhood of the field. In general, electromagnetic field exists indefinitely in space and denotes scientific electromagnetic interaction, which is among nature’s fundamental forces. Others include strong and weak interaction and gravitational interaction.

This field can therefore be considered as a combination of magnetic and electric fields, produced by currents and stationary charges respectively (Joe 1). These are described as the major sources of any electromagnetic field. It is important to note that electromagnetic fields have found an array of applications that have continued to be beneficial to mankind.

Nevertheless, these electromagnetic fields have a wide range of effects on human health. This report gives an analysis of these effects and how human beings respond. Other segments synthesized include but not limited to types of electromagnetic fields, sources, solutions and recommendations.

Types of electromagnetic fields

Classification of electromagnetic fields is based on the wavelength, giving a unique type of radiation for a given emission. Despite the fact that this approach of classification has been proved to be effective and accurate, neighboring electromagnetic energies overlap. In some cases, classification of electromagnetic fields is based on sources of radiation, say when differentiating X-rays from gamma rays. The following segments describe different types of electromagnetic fields, commonly encountered through their significant applications.

Radio frequency

Appropriate antennas make use of radio waves as described under the resonance principle, with an approximate wavelength range of between one millimeter and several hundreds of meters. Radio waves are common in data transmission through modulation. Common devices which use these waves include but not limited to television, wireless networking, amateur radio and mobile phones (Joe 1). The usage of this type of radiations is always government-regulated through allocation of frequencies.


This type of waves is short and able to make use of tubular metal waveguides, which have a realistic diameter. Microwave energy is principally produced by magnetron and klystron tubes coupled with solid diodes like IMPATT and Gunn equipment (Hinwood 123). Additionally, the waves can only be absorbed by particles that have a dipole moment while in their liquid state. They are applied in thermal heating, in Wi-Fi and in volumetric heating.

Infrared Radiation

Infrared spectrum occurs within a range of 300 GHz to 400 THz and can be broadly divided into three sections, namely, Far, Mid, and Near-infrared. Far-infrared ranges between 300 GHz to 30THz, with its lower part sometimes referred to as microwaves. It is absorbed by rotational modes in gaseous state, by phonons in solid state and by movement of molecules in the liquid phase.

On the other hand, mid-infrared occurs within a frequency of 30 to 120 THz (Hinwood 123). It is believed that heated objects effectively radiate in this region as it is absorbed by vibrations of molecules when they are at equilibrium positions. The region is sometimes referred to as fingerprint region. Lastly, the near-infrared spectrum falls within 120 and 400 THz. It exhibits physical processes that are identical to those observed under visible light.

Visible radiation

This includes the range in which most stars like the sun emit their radiations. Additionally, the human eye is highly sensitive to this region. Visible light is principally absorbed and released by elections moving from one energy shell to another. It therefore follows that the light seen by human eyes represents a very minute portion of the electromagnetic field (Hinwood 124).

Ultraviolet radiation

The wavelength of this radiation falls below violet but higher than X-rays. Abbreviated as UV, these radiations have the ability to break chemical bonds, causing some molecules to be more reactive or alter their physical properties. UV radiations cause sunburns, which occur when skin cells are affected by rays.

This has been found to be a major cause of skin cancer in most parts of the world. Besides these, UV may affect DNA molecules resulting into irreparable mutation problems. The sun is known to be a major source of UV rays, posing a threat to humanity as the risk of desertification heightens. However, these rays are usually absorbed by the ozone layer, which is threatened by depletion due to emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.


These rays also have the ionizing potential and interact with matter as a result of the Compton Effect. They are classified as either hard or soft X-rays. Because of their ability to pass through a range of materials, X-rays are commonly used to see through other objects. This has led to X-rays being adopted for radiography, a process that allows scanning of organs to facilitate diagnostic processes in medicine. They are also used in astronomy and high-energy physics (Attix 124).

Gamma radiations

These rays were discovered in 1900 by Paul Villard. Since their discovery, they have been widely applied in physics, medicine and general science. They are the strongest and most energetic radiations known to human beings. They can be produced from radioactive isotopes. Other applications include irradiation, and cancer imaging using PET scans (Attix 124).

Through Compton scattering, the wavelength of these rays can be determined. As mentioned before, most electromagnetic fields exhibit overlap of energies. As a result, there are no distinct boundaries for various bands of magnetic radiations. Consequently, some radiations carry a mixture of properties.

Sources of electromagnetic radiations

There are two major sources of electromagnetic fields known in history. These are natural sources and human made sources. The main natural source of electromagnetic sources is the sun, the largest star that has a lot of significance to human life. As mentioned above, Ultraviolet rays are emitted by the sun and have harmful effect on human health; they cause sunburns that lead to skin cancer and destruction of skin cells (Hinwood 121).

UV rays are usually absorbed by the ozone layer prevent their full impact from reaching the earth. However, due to the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, there has been continuous depletion of the ozone, allowing these rays to hit the earth directly, a condition that exposes the earth to desertification and high prevalence of skin diseases.

Apart from the sun as the main source of electromagnetic fields, human made sources have also become significant and of importance in the world. Under this category, electricity is believed to be the commonest source of electromagnetic fields. Being a major source of power around the world, this implies that human beings are prone to exposure of rays produced by electricity (Sources of Electromagnetic Radiation 1).

These rays are mainly produced when electricity is transmitted through cables and machines. Importantly, electricity continues to produce electromagnetic fields even after it has been delivered to users. In other words, electricity emits radiations from generation to distribution through transmission.

In its usage, people in offices, institutions, homes, factories and other structures are vulnerable to getting in contact with radiations produced by electricity (Hinwood 122). Beyond, electricity, almost every electrical appliance and equipment emit radiations that interact with the user or operator.

In the understanding of electromagnetic fields, it is important to note that there are several generators of radiations at workplaces. These mainly include electric appliances and electronic devices like computers, printers, fax machines, fluorescent lights, scanners, copy machines, motors, telephone switching systems and other countless electrical devices.

In most homes around the world, electromagnetic generators include electric blankets, television, electric water bed heaters, cell phones, clothes washers, blenders, coffee makers, microwave ovens, stereo systems and refrigerators among others (Hinwood 121). Notably, electromagnetic radiations are not only produced when appliances use electricity, but it is the nature of these appliances like television, radio and other communication gadgets to emit radiations.

Aside from electricity and electric appliances, several transportation methods are also a source of electromagnetic radiations. These methods are magnetic trains, automobiles, subway systems, airplanes and trucks.

It is worth noting that in the presence of two or more sources of electromagnetic fields at the same location, there is a likelihood of overlapping fields to be produced. This means that office and metropolitan homes are usually saturated with an array of electromagnetic fields from different sources within their vicinity (Sources of Electromagnetic Radiation 1).

Effects electromagnetic radiations

Although most electromagnetic fields have limitless applications in life, say in medicine, physics and astronomy among other disciplines, research has found out that there are countless effects caused by these radiations on human body and in general daily living. These effects can be classified into several categories like electrical hazards, fire hazards, biological effects and other long-term effects (Upton 65).

Electrical and fire hazards

The use of electricity exposes users to high risk levels associated with strong radiations that have the potential of releasing an electric shock to human beings or even animals. Electrical shocks have varying impact depending on the strength of the electric current flowing. Nevertheless, strong shocks are fatal and can cause death of human beings through electrocution. Overloading of these radiations can also lead to the destruction of electrical equipment if control measures are not taken.

Another effect of electromagnetic radiations is explosions. This is common in cases where strong radiations are being used coupled with faulty transmission or connection errors. Electrical explosions are dangerous and the intensity of an explosion equally depends on the source of radiations and the nature of interruptions. These explosions lead to loss of lives and destruction of property (Blake and Henry 370).

Fire hazards are also a common effect of electromagnetic radiations. This mainly occurs when induced voltage is higher than the breakdown voltage within a particular region. In extreme cases, sparks are common, resulting into fire accidents. This is a major cause of forest fires and other electricity-related fire accidents. Major adverse effects of such cases include loss of life and destruction of property (Sources of Electromagnetic Radiation 2).

Biological hazards

Exposure to electromagnetic radiations results into short and long-term biological effects. As a result, people are likely to experience the impact of radiations variedly depending on the type of radiation and degree of exposure. Although short term effects of electromagnetic fields in human beings are common, it is important to note some of the symptoms exhibited by victims may not be recognized easily. As such, many cases of electromagnetic exposure go unnoticed among many people around the world.

What are some of these short-term effects? They include physical changes on the human body, which could easily be associated with lack of certain nutrients in the body. Common effects include: hair loss, headaches, stress, nausea, chest pain, sunburns and hyperthermia among others. Importantly, some of these may turn into long-term effects like skin cancer resulting from simple sunburns (Upton 65).

Long term effects

One of the major long term effects of electromagnetic fields in human beings is brain tumors. Most cell phones used today emit radiations that cause excitation of some brain parts whereas others are inhibited. The brain’s cortex is the most vulnerable part as it is adjacent to the outside of the ear where phones are placed during communication (Blake and Henry 370). Apart from formation of tumors, exposure to radiations causes general damage of the brain.

Cell phone frequencies also lead to aggressive growth of cells among Leukemia patients. This is common in both children and adults, although the impact depends on the level of exposure. Additionally, these fields result into high cases of miscarriage among pregnant women.

Electric appliances known to emit such rays include food mixers, hairdryers and vacuum cleaners commonly used domestically. Another permanent impact of electromagnetic fields is the irreparable damage of the DNA. This results into birth defects and neurodegenerative diseases. As mentioned earlier, skin cancer is common due to sunburns caused by high exposure to UV radiations (Upton 65).

Recommendation and conclusion

As noted above, almost all electromagnetic fields have negative effects on human being. It is therefore important to consider ways of mitigating the effects of these rays or limiting human exposure. Government solutions include proper power lines and cell phone towers location to avoid disconnections and erroneous faults. The government should further educate the public on potential impact of EMF’s. Personal mitigation efforts include minimizing phone usage and determination of EMF’s levels at home so as to take necessary measures.

Works Cited

Attix, Frank. Introduction to radiological physics and radiation dosimetry. Munich: Wiley-VCH, 1986. Print.

Blake, Levitt, and Henry Lai. “Biological effects from exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell tower base stations and other antenna arrays.” Environmental Reviews, 18.1 (2010): 369-395.

Hinwood, Barry. A textbook of science for the health professions. United Kingdom: Nelson Thornes, 1992. Print.

Joe, Hall. “The Negative Effects of Electromagnetic Fields.” Consumer Health 20.9 (1997): 1. Print.

Sources of Electromagnetic Radiation. “What are Electromagnetic Fields?” Apple Mobile, 2011. Web.

Upton, Arthur. Health effects of exposure to low levels of ionizing radiation: BEIR V. New York: National Academies, 1990. Print.

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