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Redwood Bark

Redwood Bark

Redwood Bark

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Is going “smart” really that smart?

An exploration of the hidden health effects of electromagnetic frequencies

A ringing sensation swarmed my ears – I was dizzy and lightheaded, expecting this unfamiliar feeling to subside. As days, weeks and eventually months passed, I grew more hopeless. I craved a quiet moment in my brain, but each day as I entered my home, the ringing ensued.

Looking back, the catalyst for these terrible symptoms may have been electromagnetic radiation from devices in my new environment. I had moved homes just a few weeks before and Xfinity workers were constantly handling and boosting our Wi-Fi routers. Not only that, but I had unknowingly been sleeping closer to my electronic devices in a new bedroom layout. 

Illustration by Ava Stephens

Technological devices, especially cell phones, are unknowingly carried within dangerous proximities to our bodies. Whether resting in your back pocket throughout the day or by your head as you sleep, the constant radio frequencies given off by these electronics could be detrimental to your brain’s health. The exponential amount of microwave radiation given off by an array of home devices also impacts our bodies’ electrical pathways.

There are two main types of electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) found in modern technology, both forms of invisible energy that emit radiation. Non-ionizing EMFs contain lower levels of radiation that are not harmful to humans, while ionizing radiation, which is found most commonly in gamma and x-rays, contains medium to high levels of radiation that can cause DNA or cellular damage.

The dangers of EMFs are a widely contested phenomenon. While the International Organization for Research on Cancer has declared that they can possibly cause cancer in humans, regulations set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforce maximum absorption rates, which work to limit energy absorbed into human tissues. Despite the uncertainty around potential health effects of EMFs, English teacher, Dr. Fiona Allan, worries that radiation from modern devices could be a silent killer. 

“[The dangers of EMF radiation] were something that I was aware of right from the beginning and I tried hard to not have my phone on me. I used to always keep it on airplane mode, but [when I had] small children, the tide of society kind of took over,” said Allan. “I remember getting headaches from having the phone at the beginning, before it became such a common place. I won’t ever put it near my head.”

New devices typically come with a user manual containing instructions and possible hazards. Cellphone users rarely read these guidelines, but their contents explain how speakerphone usage is preferable to pressing your phone to your head, as it helps “reduce exposure to RF energy.” However, health effects are never explicitly mentioned in these manuals, despite the California Department of Health’s belief that “although the science is still evolving, some laboratory experiments and human health studies have suggested the possibility that typical long-term cell phone use could be linked to brain cancer and tumors of the acoustic nerve, lower sperm counts and effects on learning and memory.”

While EMFs have been linked to several types of cancer and other health effects, the most danger lies in fertility. In recent years, infertility and miscarriage rates have been on the rise, with nine percent of men and 11 percent of women worldwide being infertile, according to the National Institute of Child Health and Development. EMFs not only impact female fertility, but are more harmful towards men regarding reproduction. 

Dr. Ranjith Ramasamy, a professor and urologist at the University of Miami, studied the effects of iPhones connected to Wi-Fi on sperm health when exposed for two hours. The study concluded that “men who used their phones less frequently displayed higher semen volume, sperm count, motility, viability and normal structure.”

Female fertility similarly experiences disruptions in the reproductive process. In a study conducted by Kaiser Permanente with 915 women participating, scientists measured the effects of frequency radiation on individuals throughout the course of their pregnancy. Kaiser Permanente’s research team discovered that “miscarriage occurred in 10.4 percent of the women with the lowest measured exposure level of magnetic field non-ionizing radiation on a typical day and in 24.2 percent of the women with the higher measured exposure level, a nearly three times higher relative risk.” Everyone is put at risk by EMF radiation, male and female alike.

Although many students are unaware of these potential hazards, senior Ian Rothbart tries to avoid EMFs and has practiced limiting his exposure for many years.

“I feel better without too many electronics in my room, because I feel like they affect my sleep patterns and the depth of my sleep. I’ve never slept with my phone in my room and I don’t ever plan on it,” Rothbart said. 

Rothbart is not alone in this habit, as senior Tatum McPeek also makes an effort to keep her devices out of reach and on airplane mode.

“I don’t like the idea that radiation from my phone could affect my brain. I’ve read a lot about it and keep hearing new information, so I want to stay cautious,” McPeek said.

However, McPeek and Rothbart are the exceptions. According to the Sept. Bark survey, 77 percent of students sleep with their phone within five feet of them and 85 percent of students do not turn their devices on airplane mode before they go to bed.

With so many possible sources of harm and potential repercussions, certain measures must be taken to protect from these dangers. Firstly, ensuring your sleeping space is free from close EMF contact is essential; be sure to move your phone away from your body, especially away from your brain and turn on airplane mode to deactivate transmission signals. Opt for speakerphone or wired headphone usage, as both are proven to be much safer than Bluetooth devices or close contact radiation.

No one should suffer the consequences like I did months ago; technology shouldn’t cause cognitive distress. Stay aware from the potential risks around you, keep yourself updated on EMF news and turn airplane mode on.

More to Discover
About the Contributors
Sydney Johnson
Sydney Johnson, Games Editor
Sydney Johnson is a senior at Redwood High School and is the games editor for the Redwood Bark. She enjoys spending time with friends and going to the beach.
Mayson Weingart
Mayson Weingart, Review Editor
Mayson Weingart is a senior at Redwood High School and is a review editor for the Bark. She enjoys playing volleyball, spending time with friends and watching sports.