Tag Archives: EMF safety levels

EMF Meter Phone Apps – Do They Work and/or Indicate Dangerous Conditions?

EMF Meter App for Android Phones and Tablets

EMF Meter App for Android Phones and Tablets (and similar ones for iPhones / iPads) with design based on the Trifield 100XE analog meter

I was recently contacted by a commercial client who was concerned about purchasing office space in McKinney due to a number of factors:

1) The close proximity of some imposing high voltage powerlines directly outside of his office

2) Recent inexplicable computer equipment failures in the office

3) That cute app that you can download onto Android (and probably your iPhone) that measures magnetic fields.

So does this app really work?

DC Magnetic Field Reading (not 60 Hz AC Powerline frequency)

DC Magnetic Field Reading (does NOT read 60 Hz AC Power Line frequencies)

Yes, but NOT in the manner that you think. It works as far as measuring the NATURAL DC magnetic field of the Earth which varies according to locale and the proximity of ferromagnetic building material. But DC means there is no frequency or fluctuation in the field; it is by definition 0 Hertz or 0 cycles per second as opposed to the North American power grid frequency of 60 Hertz.

What is the difference?

Quite a bit.

There is very little evidence that DC magnetic fields are harmful in any way (except higher intensity fields than Earth normal to those with certain biomedical implants such as pacemakers, ICDs, implantable defibrillators, etc.) and in fact there are patents on medical devices which use low level DC fields to speed the healing of broken bones.

But look at the overall reading above showing 834 milliGauss (mG) with the bar graph registering ominously in the red. And speaking of which, the “green – yellow – red” color coding scheme is something I object to in EMF / RF testing instrumentation as it is completely arbitrary from a technical standpoint and induces needless fear-mongering with regard to actual safety levels. It is done partly as a marketing feature to make it look cool, but also as an attempt to give some kind of intuitive user knowledge about the EMFs in the environment, but in fact instills false confidence and infers incorrect information.

While I can give a brief overview of bio-electromagnetics to my clients while consulting, diving into the details is an incredibly complex subject that even a B.S. in Electrical Engineering does not fully prepare you for. You also have to have biomedical knowledge of human and cell physiology (thus, my continuing education and credentials as a biomedical engineer) plus at least some understanding of disease epidemiology and probability / statistics which makes this a truly interdisciplinary field that few understand well.

While the Earth’s magnetic field is typically around 500 – 600 mG, this can be either concentrated or attenuated significantly when inside of the frame of a steel building. What can potentially scare people with this app is that they read about Swiss safety limits of 10 mG, 2.5 mG or even 1 mG and then they assume this reading means they are in some sort of danger. I can guarantee that this meter does not measure anything having to do with health or safety with respect to AC power lines.

The reason for having DC magnetometers built into a smart phone is so that it can relate relative positions of the phone (such as when you turn it on it’s side) with respect to the Earth’s magnetic field and respond accordingly.

It is a cool app to play with and I have it on my phone, but it is not something I would use for a professional EMF inspection, nor would I use it to advise a client on the health, safety or risk conditions of their environment.

Epidemiology of EMF: The Science of Cancer Risk and EMF / RF Safety Levels

Epidemiology, or the study of disease patterns as they relate to a particular health hazard or set of potentially harmful hazards as applied to a range of biological effects, is a complex field in it’s own right.

When studying the epidemiology of EMF & RF fields as they apply to the incidence of childhood leukemia, brain cancer, Alzheimer’s and other dread conditions, it becomes even more complicated and controversial for a variety of reasons.

As a part of my ongoing consulting research with regard to the health impact of power lines and EMF, I continue studying epidemiology, biology, medical geology, probability and statistics in conjunction with and in the context of my electrical / biomedical engineering education and considerable technical experience in order to structure and ask the relevant questions to this topic.

So why is it so difficult to get a straight answer about whether EMF or RF radiation is harmful? And why can no one agree upon a set of EMF safety levels?

1) EMF and RF does not come in one simple flavor or dose like a known chemical or ionizing carcinogen / hazardous material does. For instance, benzene is a scientifically acknowledged carcinogen whose effects have been well studied, documented and most of all REPRODUCIBLE. Benzene comes in only one form, one structural formula of C6H6 with an aromatic ring structure. The amount presented to a test subject is a simple measure of volume vs. the mass of the test subject.

Not so for EMF as it can present at a variety of frequencies, waveform shapes, amplitudes and time weighted exposure levels. It is easy to feed a lab rat 1 gram of benzene a day to see the effects. You can subject it to an ionizing UV light at a specific frequency for a given amount of time. But because of the constant electromagnetic fluctuations that a human is subjected to in suburban / urban activities throughout a daily routine, you do not have a firm control over the independent EMF variable like you would with benzene or UV light.

It is essentially inhumane and technically impractical to keep a single person, let alone a number of control subjects substantial enough to warrant a valid study on EMF effects in a completely homogeneous magnetic or RF field for the length of time required to see any possible effects.

2) Which leads to the next issue:

A “zero EMF exposure” control group with which to compare to an “exposed group” virtually does not exist in our culture. So how do you make a true comparison between groups as in a valid epidemiological study? As one famous epidemiologist once pointed out, if everyone smoked, then lung cancer would be considered a genetic disease, not an environmental one.

3) Time lag between exposure and actual disease manifestation. Even with some carcinogenic habits like tobacco smoking, years or even decades can elapse between the event and any serious health effects depending on what you smoke, how often and genetic predispositions.

How do you keep a person in a uniform 1, 5 or 10 milliGauss field for that length of time? The cost involved would be enormous and it would essentially be a prison. Then you have to look at diet, the quality of air and water, and the probable lack of exercise given the confined space this would dictate.

So a true epidemiological study in the strictest tradition is virtually out of the question.

4) Even if you do see some apparent effect, how do you know it is the EMF and now some other agent that is responsible? Correlation is not causation, so if there is a true link between the electromagnetic fields from power lines and cancer, it is important to identify and understand the actual metabolic pathways and mechanisms by which this operates.

What if areas of greater EMF exposure happen to correlate with higher urban density? (which tends to be true as a higher population density also means that more electricity / current is used which will tend to produce higher magnetic fields) But is it the magnetic fields that are responsible, or the stress, pollution and other factors that come with inner city living?

5) And let’s say there is a correlation between exposure to EMF and RF fields and some health effects; (which I suspect there is at least something to it) at what level and for how long is this necessary for it to even be apparent within your lifetime? How does it compare with other risk factors that you might be more susceptible to?

I am not here to minimize concerns, but I will point out that there are a lot of environmental factors to consider when it comes to health (radon gas or indoor air quality for instance) and you should prioritize them in order of which is most likely to affect you.

6) It is a politically charged subject.

If exposure to EMF is indeed a major health issue, then this opens utility and power companies up to litigation which is impractical for the normal functioning of our modernized society. For what it is worth, they will never admit if it is a problem or not and for understandable reasons. They are in the power generation business, and they already have a lot of policies, procedures and regulations regarding the safe production and distribution of electricity. Electricity is potentially dangerous to their employees and customers, so they already have plenty to worry about in terms of conducted power, let alone radiated fields. Also, their strength is in power engineering and infrastructure, not playing doctor, or being bio-electromagnetic experts.

And for those who say the power and utility companies try to hide the truth about the effects of EMF to protect their bottom line, I will point to the opposite side of the spectrum where there are individuals who make a living by scamming and scaring the crap out of people by inventing / exaggerating concerns, amplifying fear and then selling some solution or gadget which does nothing but drain your wallets. The reason I consider this dangerous is because the misdirection of attention and distorting risk has the potential to create tunnel vision, and leaves people open to being blindsided by the real and present dangers that already exist.

Also, there are some electropollution extremists that have such ridiculously stringent standards for protection from EMF levels that they would essentially insist on society living in the dark ages without the electrical and communications infrastructure that contributes in many ways to our comfort and safety. What about the importance of lighting, 911 access, air conditioning and modern research and medical facilities? Or is the very real and measurable mortality rate of populations who live in 3rd World conditions where infectious disease and lack of potable water cause widespread death, shortened lifespans and a high infant / child mortality rate more desirable?

A large part of the problem is the lack of understanding about how electricity and electromagnetism works along with incomplete knowledge about basic biological processes.

Even modern biophysics does not have all of the answers about DNA replication, protein synthesis, etc. so this is not a criticism, just the fact that most people do not or cannot invest the time necessary to learn about these subjects (and keep up with current research) in enough detail enough to make an informed opinion / decision.

But I do, and my education is forever continuous because I believe in the right of a client to be able to have access to enough information to make a decision they can live with comfortably. Also, I want to get to the truth myself as I find the subject matter fascinating, and it leads me along a valuable process of discovery.

I hope these postings help to dispel the mythologies and ignorance which pervades the subjects of how our environment can or could influence the function of the human body.

What people typically know about electricity is that it is everywhere, the effects of lighting and powering motors can be seen, and it is absolutely lethal or dangerous if you do contact a sufficient voltage / amperage to stop your heart or cause other bodily harm.

Everyone knows that you should not climb a transmission tower and touch a wire, so there is already a built in fear or at least respect for what a sufficient amount of electrical power can do to your body. This association I feel is responsible for why so many people have a primal response which varies from uneasy to negative when observing an imposing 238 kilo-Volt primary feeder with tall metal towers looming over their backyard.

EMF Safety Levels in Homes and Residences – A Commentary

I had a question recently after performing a survey where my prognosis was essentially: “There is no reason for excessive concern regarding EMF fields with respect to this property.”

This seemed like a sufficiently concise response, and yet I got a response back that was along the lines of this:

“You didn’t mention any range of values like highest and lowest safest values in your report. Can you please let us know the range.”

A very good question and this was my response:

The reason I did not put a range is because there is no such thing as a hard, rigid number as to what is safe or unsafe because there are so many factors involved.

If I told you that 3 milliGauss (mG) is the safe limit, that implies that 2.97 mG is perfectly fine and 3.04 mG is dangerous which would not be a true statement.

While I believe EMF fields have an effect on the human body, it is fairly weak in typical fields found in everyday life because the human body compensates for a variety of conditions in a  continuous process called homeostasis. Also by focusing too much on the magnetic fields you will have a tendency to overlook more established and dangerous conditions such as radon gas, poor indoor air quality, antibiotic resistant bacteria, mold, mosquito and tick borne viruses and diseases, etc.

EMF fields do not behave like chemicals which have fairly well established dosages and exposure levels set by government agencies and scientists such as LD50 (Lethal Dose 50 %) or STEL. (Short Term Exposure Level) There are variables such as frequency, peak levels, time of exposure and susceptibility of the individual which is based on genetics, immune system function and so on.

What I do is survey a property and compare it to other places that I measure and look more at orders of magnitude rather than a 1-2 milliGauss difference.

Do you know what the level of the fields are in the place you live in now?

Are you aware of what are typical and ordinary values of magnetic fields in other suburban (or urban) homes in the area?

Many homes I have surveyed in the certain urban areas have average interior values of 5 – 8 mG (due to increased power density and decreased utility easement distances) and there are a few homes where I have found 10 – 35 mG. Standing or driving beneath a high power line will have a value of anywhere from 2 – 290 mG so the difference between 1 mG in a home and 2 mG in a home is relatively small in the context and scale of how much fields can and do vary. In deciding what house to live in, you can spend a lot of time and effort trying to find a place that has a lower level like 0.3 mG – 0.5 mG (which is very close to as low as you can get without having electricity at all) but that does not really mean that the home is safer overall to live in for the reasons and risk factors I mentioned above.

There are some environmental factors where a slight change is very noticeable and important to comfort such as temperature – some people find 69 F to be comfortable, but others prefer 72 F. On a planet where temperatures range from below 0 degrees to over 100, that is very small (a few percent difference) but important.

EMF fields are not like that as at the 1 – 2 mG level for example, there is hardly any range left to decrease to 0.0 mG as you are already close to the bottom in what is known as ALARA. (As Low As Reasonably Achievable) Even though 2 mG is 100 % higher than 1 mG and may seem like a large increase, the health risk levels do not behave in a LINEAR fashion as you might find with known toxins. At the worst, it is better to view EMF levels on more of a logarithmic scale (powers of 10) rather than integer multiples.

But in respect to your request I will give you some ranges that in my opinion are fine for where people spend 90 % of their time or more, but I have to emphasize the most of the time part because I do not feel it is beneficial for people to be scared if for a fraction of the time (for instance, even 20 hours a week) the magnetic field exceeds these numbers. Also EMF meters do not always agree with each other because of design and frequency weighting.

Finally, the stress of worrying about EMF causes more damage on average than the EMF field itself as stress itself is a proven health hazard. If you are afraid, children pick up on those emotions and it definitely impacts them. It is good to be concerned and make informed decisions, but I caution people against letting fear overtake common sense and practicality.

And with that thought in mind, one of the unifying concepts I have observed in working with thousands of clients is if they are concerned enough to pay to have an EMF survey because they care that much about their family, they are already doing a lot of the right things to protect themselves and those they love.