Digital Life And Electromagnetic Hazards-Rudra Prasad Adhikari


December 31, 2020
In today’s modern world, even a minute is harder for us to sustain without using digital tools. We are surviving digitalized lifestyle. We are being hitched with the digital world from early morning to late in the nights. We cannot imagine our life without cellphones or computers along with a network for a while. Either that is wired or wireless, we are being surrounded by various networks including telephone, mobile, internet, TV, radio etc. Such networks work with electromagnetic (EM) signals. These signals are generated due to the influence of electric field and magnetic field. These signals hover around us when we are within the range of network whether we consume them or not.
Electromagnetic signals are not always useful; they are hazardous too. Since we are living comfortably due to the incorporation of digital technologies in our everyday life, we are ignoring such possible hazards due to EM signals around us either knowingly or unknowingly. To avoid possible harmfulness we have to contemplate about electromagnetic hazards while sticking within the network periphery. Electromagnetic hazards are the harmful effects caused during the propagation of electromagnetic waves either through conduction or through radiation. The propagation of waves through conduction is highly notable as it requires visible conduction medium such as cable. But the propagation of waves through radiation is less notable as it is invisibly exposed to the atmosphere. So the hazards due to the exposure of EM radiation in the environment should be taken as a serious issue.
EM radiation are of two types two types: ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation, based on the capability of a single photon with more than 10 eV energy to ionize oxygen or break chemical bonds.
Ionizing radiation also called high-level radiation, having shorter wavelength and higher frequency, is highly harmful. The ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun and gamma rays or X-rays from medical imaging machines including CT (Computerized Tomography) Scan, PET (Positron Emission Tomography) Scan, Bone Scan are such radiation posing their own special hazard.

Non-ionizing radiation also called low-level radiation, having longer wavelength and lower frequency, is mild and thought to be harmless to people. Devices emitting non-ionizing radiation are being increased to due extreme health concerns by the researchers and the clinicians. Appliances like microwave ovens, cellphones, Wi-Fi routers, Bluetooth devices, as well as power lines and MRIs (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) send out low-level radiation. However, study and research have shown that frequent and continuous long-hours exposure to the EM radiation will have several hazardous effects including our physical & mental health problems. The level of harms directly depends on level of frequency of the signal. Overlapping of the more EM signals due to nested networks may bring severe problems unknowingly. EM fields are prone to electric shocks during high voltage electric discharge at the time of lightening and thundering. Besides, the EM energy fields may cause various neurological and psychiatric problems in people and may lead to cancer like fatal disease.
According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), EM radiation are “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The IARC believes that some studies show a possible link between EM fields and cancer in people. It is believed that younger children are more vulnerable to EM radiation as their skin and skeleton are soft and sensitive as compared to the elder ones, and they might be suffered from disease like Leukemia.
Scientists had discovered that EM radiation can affect our body’s nervous system function and cause damage to cells. When we are staying in the EM fields for long hours symptoms like sleep disturbances, including insomnia, headache, depression & depressive moods, tiredness & fatigue, dysesthesia (a painful, often itchy sensation), lack of concentration etc. are observed. In addition, changes in memory, dizziness, irritability, loss of appetite, weight loss, restlessness & anxiety, nausea, skin burning & tingling, changes in an electroencephalogram (which measures electrical activity in the brain) are other symptoms that adds more risks to human health.
While talking about health hazards due to EM radiation, we have to keep in mind that low and medium frequency (<3MHz) signals as used by our cellphones are not that much harmful in comparison to the high frequency (>3MHz) signals as used by medical appliances (except MRIs) on hospitals and clinics. Similarly, we have to speculate that there is low frequency EM field near power lines and there is high frequency in UV radiation from sun. Then only we have to limit our exposure and usage accordingly.
Instead of worrying about EM hazards, we should simply be aware of them and reduce exposure. Instead of worrying about EM hazards, we should simply be aware of them and reduce exposure. We can leave our cellphone away while not in use. We can use speaker function or earbuds as far as possible. We should not carry our phone in our pocket or bra instead we can use our bags.
The increased interaction with digital screens may also results in Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), a condition that damages the eyesight and leads to vision-related problems, which is characterized by blurred vision, tired eyes, headaches, neck pain and dry eyes. So, we should suggest our children to play real games like chess, carremboard, ludo, badminton, tennis, football etc. instead of playing those virtually in cellphone or computer. In addition, if there is any obligation, it is better to use the devices without network connection or with wired network such as desktop computers in place of devices with wireless connection i.e. cellphones for doing offline works and maintain appropriate distance with the screen as far as possible.
We should also be aware about highly influenced EM zones such as mining industries, nuclear power generating stations, electronic and telecom equipment manufacturing industries, telecom towers etc. and we should limit our visits over there. We should handle radioactive equipment with special care & attention.
Apart from electronic device users, designers and manufacturers should also have utmost care about EM hazards and their mitigating measures. As an example, the cellphone manufacturer should retain specified Specific Absorption Rate (SAR); a measure of the rate of RF (radiofrequency) energy absorption by the body from the source being measured. The electronic products’ suppliers or the service providers should also apprise their consumers about the possible EM hazards during the use of their appliances or services.
Next, wise distribution of frequency bandwidth should be made. In the name of advancing technology such as 5G likely using high frequency bandwidth; possible EM hazards should not be ignored. Strict laws and regulations regarding frequency bandwidth should be enforced. There should be clear cut legal provisions about licensed and unlicensed bandwidth as well.
To conclude considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak radiofrequency signals from telecom and wireless networks cause adverse health effects. However, we should always reckon about electromagnetic hazards and remain cautious so as to maintain healthy digital life.
(Writer Adhikari is an Electronics & Communication Engineer)