This is the third in a series of posts where I explore various aspects of my indoor environment. You can read part 1 on air quality here and part 2 on water quality here.

Another aspect of my environment that I am interested in better understanding and mitigating is my exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) within my home. As its name implies, EMFs are a combination of electric and magnetic fields created by both natural and man-made sources (often referred to as non-native EMF or nnEMF) and comprise what’s known as the electromagnetic spectrum.

What is the Electromagnetic Spectrum?

Electromagnetic spectrum

The electromagnetic spectrum represents all of the possible frequencies of electromagnetic energy (including visible light), but most of the frequencies are invisible to us. It ranges from extremely long wavelengths (very low frequency exposures such as those from power lines), to low frequencies used for AM and FM radio to microwaves, to infrared, visible, and ultraviolet light, to extremely short wavelengths (x-rays and gamma rays) and includes both non-ionizing and ionizing radiation.

What are Sources of EMFs?

There are both natural and human-made sources of non-ionizing EMFs. Some examples include:

  • Extremely low frequency EMFs (ELF-EMFs): external power lines (overhead, underground), house wiring (and house wiring errors), transformers and electrical motors from appliances such as hair dryers, electric shavers, and electric blankets, current on pipes and cables
  • Radiofrequency (RF) radiation: cell phones, smart meters, portable wireless devices (tablets, laptop computers), wi-fi, and microwave ovens

Are EMFs Dangerous?

The majority of EMF safety guidelines around the world are based on the ICNIRP or IEEE recommendations (the ICNIRP guidelines are most stringent as they are international, and IEEE are American). The USA has no federal limits (a few states have set their own exposure limits, mainly related to power lines).

However, there is a growing body of evidence linking ongoing exposure to EMFs to negative effects on health. The BioInitiative Report contains a comprehensive collection of published research. Even the National Cancer Institute and the World Health Organization have sections of their websites devoted to EMFs and cancer.

  • Studies have shown EMF exposure above 2 mG will start to develop biological stress in humans
  • Evidence links prolonged exposure to levels between 2 and 12+ mG with cancer and possible immune system effects
  • Exposure to 12 mG suppresses the human hormone melatonin (critical for sleep, mood regulation, and overall health)

Measuring EMF Levels in My Home

To conduct my tests, I used two devices – a Trifield 100XE meter, which measures AC magnetic fields, AC electric fields, and radio (including microwaves) in all directions, and a Cornet ED78S meter, which also measures radio frequency and magnetic fields and has a digital display, but cannot measure LF electrical field radiation. I also purchased an inexpensive outlet circuit tester to check for house wiring errors (I found and fixed two improperly grounded outlets above my kitchen counter).

EMF Tri-field and electrosmog meters

I then created a diagram of my home, noting the location of power outlets, appliances, light fixtures, and windows, and began taking measurements. The average readings ranged between 3 mG and 6 mG – way too high, but there were even some localized areas that were much worse. I needed to figure out what was causing these elevated readings and figure out ways to lower them.

EMF home sources diagram

EMFs in my Kitchen

Kitchen appliances had the worst EMF readings, mainly due their internal electronics and motors. The microwave readings were off the chart, even from 10 feet away when running. All of my appliances also gave off a ton of EMF when they were off, again, due to their internal electronics but the microwave was still extremely high. So it was a bit disconcerting to realize that whenever I was cooking, my crotch was getting blasted with radiation from my stove while the microwave above it was blasting me in my head!

EMFs in the kitchen

EMFs in my Bedroom

According to guidelines, bedroom EMFs (especially in the area of your head) should remain under 1 mG while sleeping and never exceed 2-4 mG. When scanning my bedroom, there was a huge spike of EMF levels (over 6 mG) right by my head where I was sleeping! Looking behind my bed, there was a poorly shielded coaxial cable jack right behind where I slept, which was causing a huge spike in EMF. Simply unplugging the poorly shielded cable cut the radiation level down by almost half.

EMFs in the bedroom

EMF follows what’s known as an inverse-square law, which states that the magnitude of one’s exposure drops proportionally to the square of one’s distance from the source.

EMFs and inverse-square law

Moving my bed six inches away from my wall reduced the the EMF levels to well within safe range. Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest ones!

EMFs in my Living Room

When scanning around my living room I found an area with off-the-charts EMF right behind my sofa. But this would only show up on evenings and weekends. I could literally draw out a rectangular shape with the meter. I live in an apartment building, and it turned out that my neighbors had their TV (one of the old-school tube varieties) pressed up against the other side of the wall.

EMFs in the living room

Time to move my sofa!

EMF and RF from Devices and Wi-Fi

I then looked at my exposure to EMF from my laptop and RF from wi-fi routers. RF was well within “safe” levels unless I went right up to my router.

EMF and RF from laptop wifi and bluetooth

My laptop’s (MacBook Pro) EMF readings would shoot up if it wasn’t plugged in (since it is no longer grounded), and I could see spikes in RF radiation when the laptop or tablet was transmitting data. Highest levels of radiation came from directly above the keyboard as well as directly underneath. Levels were somewhat lower when the laptop was plugged in (since it becomes grounded).

My iPad Air 2 tablet gave off slightly less radiation, but there were still significant spikes. My cellphone (iPhone) was by far the worst device as it gives off 3 different types of radiation – cellular, wi-fi, and bluetooth.

Below are a few charts summarizing the measurements I collected from my MacBook Pro (15-inch, retina display, late 2013 model), iPad Air 2 (9.7-inch, retina display), and iPhone 5s. First, I took some measurements from directly in front of my MacBook Pro and iPad:

 MacBook Pro
(underneath, ungrounded)
MacBook Pro
(underneath, grounded)
MacBook Pro
(underneath, grounded
+DefenderPad)
TriMeter
Magnetic (LF)
100 mG (!!)
30 – 60 mG
0 mG
Electric
0 v/m
0 v/m
0 v/m
Radio/Microwave
0 – 0.1 mW/cm2
0 – 0.1 mW/cm2
0 mW/cm2
Cornet
Magnetic (LF30)
ERROR (> 10mG)
ERROR (> 10mG)
0.4 – 0.5 mG
Magnetic (LF600)
8 – 36 mG
9 – 32 mG
1 – 2 mG
Radio/Microwave
2.1 – 8.7 mW/m2
.02 – 7.7 mW/m2
.003 – 0.2 mW/m2

Lastly, I took measurements from the front and back of my iPhone while streaming video over wi-fi, then placed it inside a SafeSleeve, a protective case that claims it is “FCC certified lab-tested to block up to 99% of both types of potentially harmful EMR cell phone radiation (ELF and RF).” However, it only shields the front of the phone, and although it did block much of the radiation, the levels are still too high for my liking to recommend keeping it in your pocket or near your body for extended periods of time:

 iPhone 5S
(front of screen)
iPhone 5S
(front of screen
+ SafeSleeve case)
iPhone 5S
(back of phone)
TriMeter
Magnetic (LF)
7 – 10 mG
0.5 – 1 mG
6 – 10 mG (8 – 15 mG w/Bluetooth)
Electric
90-100 v/m
30 v/m
0 v/m
Radio/Microwave
0 mW/cm2
0 mW/cm2
0 mW/cm2
Cornet
Magnetic (LF30)
3.8 – ERROR (> 10mG)
1.0 – 1.5 mG
ERROR (> 10mG)
Magnetic (LF600)
3 – 8 mG
1 -2 mG
8 – 31 mG
Radio/Microwave
0.04 – .13 mW/m2
.008 – .6 mW/m2
.05 – 12.6 mW/m2

Reducing Exposure to EMF and RF

Below are some of the steps I’ve taken to reduce my levels of exposure to electromagnetic radiation:

  • Correct any electrical wiring errors in my home and make sure pipes/sprinklers are not carrying an electric current
  • Unplug any electrical cords or poorly shielded coaxial cables that might be producing electromagnetic fields
  • In living areas where there is a very high localized level of EMFs, consider rearranging furniture or moving away from walls
  • Replace light dimmers with standard light switches
  • Don’t stand next to my microwave — ever — and stay 10 feet away when it is running
  • Unplug a microwave when not in use — or better yet, get rid of it
  • Turn off wi-fi routers before bed
  • Always put my cellphone and tablet into airplane mode before going to bed and never place any electronics or nnEMF sources near my bed
  • Disable bluetooth on devices if not needed
  • Never carry my cellphone in my pocket or place directly on my body or head
  • Make calls using headphones
  • Replace headphones with ones that do not place speakers (and create EMFs) directly in the ear (I’ve been using these Aircom Airtube earphones)

I am also working on installing a “master switch” that can cut all non-essential power in my home overnight (or if possible, you can simply turn off all bedroom circuit breaker switches).

If you have a smart meter installed on your home, I highly recommend having it removed or purchasing a cover that will block some of the radiation from getting into your home.

Exposure to Outdoor EMFs and RFs

No matter what I did, I wasn’t able to get my ambient indoor EMF levels below the recommended guidelines everywhere in my home (especially near windows). So I started walking around my neighborhood (Brooklyn, New York, to be exact), and I was amazed to see how most of the time the outdoor EMF levels were consistently over 7 mG and would spike as I approached underground power lines, cellular antennas, and traffic lights.

Outdoor EMF and RF levels

Summary

Probably no surprise, but New York City is a dangerous place to live (and not because of crime!). We exist in a modern society and it’s impossible to completely eliminate external environmental issues. But by better understanding what’s going on around us, we can proactively take simple measures that will help to greatly minimize their effects.

Tools and Resources