Why does wireless radiation affect us and are we being protected? Part 1

Why does wireless radiation affect us and are we being protected? Part 1

If there’s one thing we know about wireless (radiofrequency) radiation, it’s that not everybody is affected by a signal in the same way.

But why is that?

Professor Henry Lai, a research scientist from the University of Washington, has the answer. 

‘RFR [radiofrequency radiation] is a complex entity. Its biological effects depend on many of its physical properties,’ he and colleague Blake Levitt write in a paper published recently in the journal Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine.

While there are many factors that affect the way wireless radiation impacts our biology, the authors say there are a few keys ones that need to be considered.

The first of these is the intensity – or strength – of the signal. This is reported as a measure of Specific Absorption Rate (SAR), which is how much radiation is absorbed by a certain amount of living tissue over a given duration of time. In general, the higher the SAR value, the more intense the signal a person is exposed to.

The radiation limits of the International Commission of Nonionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are based on the idea that harmful biological effects can occur at a SAR of 4 Watts per kilo (W/kg), averaged over the entire body.

Lai and Levitt say that there are a number of key problems with this standards-setting approach.

  • The first is that it’s based on the results of just two sets of experiments, both from the 1980s (by De Lorge and Ezell, 1980, and De Lorge, 1984). These studies showed rats and monkeys stopped performing a task motivated by a food reward at a SAR of 4 W/kg with a rise in body temperature of 1 degree Celsius. Lai and Levitt say, ‘Is this SAR level still valid based on recent research? And more to the point – was it ever valid to begin with?’


  • Another problem is the way in which SARs are assessed. ‘SARS are almost impossible to accurately study in living systems and are therefore typically computer modelled or conducted on phantom models … but such simulations leave much to be desired regarding accuracy,’ they say.


  • A third problem is that SARs reported in laboratory studies may not always be reliable. This is because it’s hard to calculate SARs for moving objects, because ‘the pattern of absorption changes with the orientation of the object.’ So, a single laboratory animal in a small cage would absorb a different amount of radiation to the same animal in a huddle with others. It’s also difficult to calculate SARs for cells and organs of the body because different cells and organs absorb radiation differently.


  • Additionally, and importantly, research shows that a higher SAR/stronger signal doesn’t always mean more harmful effects on the body. In fact, the opposite has sometimes been shown to be the case. ‘Many EMF studies have found nonlinear effects, e.g., low dose/intensity EMF exposures have shown higher effects than higher dose,’ the authors say.

Lai and Levitt refer to a large number of studies (included in their paper) which show that an organism doesn’t have to be exposed to a strong signal for biological, possibly harmful, effects to occur. In fact, biological effects occurred at levels of exposure below 4 W/kg – in other words, at levels of exposure much lower than those allowed by international standards.

They say, ‘The studies encompass many different biological effects to myriad systems, including: apoptosis induction, adrenal gland activity, blood–brain barrier permeability, brain transmitter levels, calcium concentration in heart muscle, calcium efflux, calcium movement in cells, cell growth, cognitive functions, cellular damage in liver, decreased cell proliferation, embryonic development, endocrine changes, enclose activity, genetic effects, hippocampal neuronal damage, immunological functions, kidney development, memory functions, latency of muscular contraction, membrane chemistry, nerve cell damage, metabolic changes, neural electrical activity, oxidative stress, plant growth, prion level, protein changes, renal injury, serum testosterone concentration, heat-shock protein induction, testis morphology, testosterone synthesis, thymidine incorporation, and ultrastructural alteration in cell cytoplasm. In fact, there are not many physiological functions in humans, animals, or plants that are not affected by low-level RFR.’

What does that mean for the adequacy of the ICNIRP Guidelines (on which Australia’s standard is based) and the FCC standard?

‘Given the large body of work … the SAR at, or below, 4 W/kg as a safe threshold is insupportable,’ the authors say.

Lai H, Levitt BB. The roles of intensity, exposure duration, and modulation on the biological effects of radiofrequency radiation and exposure guidelines. Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine. 2022 Apr;41(2):230-255. DOI: 10.1080/15368378.2022.2065683. PMID: 35438055, 

We would like to thank Professor Henry Lai for his assistance with this article.

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