www.thelancet.com/planetary-health Vol 2 December 2018
Planetary electromagnetic pollution: it is time to assess its
As the Planetary Health Alliance moves forward after a
productive second annual meeting, a discussion on the
rapid global proliferation of artiﬁcial electromagnetic
ﬁelds would now be apt. The most notable is the
blanket of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation,
largely microwave radiation generated for wireless
communication and surveillance technologies, as
mounting scientiﬁc evidence suggests that prolonged
exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation
has serious biological and health eﬀects. However,
public exposure regulations in most countries con-
tinue to be based on the guidelines of the International
Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection1 and
Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers,2 which
were established in the 1990s on the belief that only
acute thermal eﬀects are hazardous. Prevention of tissue
heating by radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation is
now proven to be ineﬀective in preventing biochemical
and physiological interference. For example, acute
non-thermal exposure has been shown to alter human
brain metabolism by NIH scientists,3 electrical activity
in the brain,4 and systemic immune responses.5 Chronic
exposure has been associated with increased oxidative
stress and DNA damage6,7 and cancer risk.8 Laboratory
studies, including large rodent studies by the US National
Toxicology Program9 and Ramazzini Institute of Italy,10
conﬁrm these biological and health eﬀects in vivo. As we
address the threats to human health from the changing
environmental conditions due to human activity,11
the increasing exposure to artiﬁcial electromagnetic
radiation needs to be included in this discussion.
Due to the exponential increase in the use of wireless
personal communication devices (eg, mobile or cordless
phones and WiFi or Bluetooth-enabled devices) and
the infrastructure facilitating them, levels of exposure
to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation around
the 1 GHz frequency band, which is mostly used for
modern wireless communications, have increased from
extremely low natural levels by about 10¹⁸ times (ﬁgure).
Radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation is also used
for radar, security scanners, smart meters, and medical
equipment (MRI, diathermy, and radiofrequency
ablation). It is plausibly the most rapidly increasing
anthropogenic environmental exposure since the mid-
20th century, and levels will surge considerably again,
as technologies like the Internet of Things and 5G add
millions more radiofrequency transmitters around us.
Unprecedented human exposure to radiofrequency
electromagnetic radiation from conception until death
has been occurring in the past two decades. Evidence
of its eﬀects on the CNS, including altered neuro-
development14 and increased risk of some neuro-
degenerative diseases,15 is a major concern considering
the steady increase in their incidence. Evidence exists
for an association between neuro develop mental or
Figure: Typical maximum daily exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation from man-made and
natural power ﬂux densities in comparison with International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation
Protection safety guidelines1
Anthropogenic radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation levels are illustrated for diﬀerent periods in the
evolution of wireless communication technologies. These exposure levels are frequently experienced daily by
people using various wireless devices. The levels are instantaneous and not time-averaged over 6 minutes as
speciﬁed by International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection for thermal reasons. Figure modiﬁed
from Philips and Lamburn12 with permission. Natural levels of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation were
based on the NASA review report CR-166661.13
Power ﬂux density (W/m
FM VHF radio
Mobile phones, WiFi, etc
300 GHz end of ICNIRP radiofrequency guidance
ICNIRP (occupational peak)
ICNIRP (public peak)
www.thelancet.com/planetary-health Vol 2 December 2018
behavioural disorders in children and exposure to
wireless devices,14 and experimental evidence, such as
the Yale ﬁnding, shows that prenatal exposure could
cause structural and functional changes in the brain
associated with ADHD-like behaviour.16 These ﬁndings
deserve urgent attention.
At the Oceania Radiofrequency Scientiﬁc Advisory
Association, an independent scientiﬁc organisation,
volunteering scientists have constructed the world’s
largest categorised online data base of peer-reviewed
studies on radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation
and other man-made electromagnetic ﬁelds of lower
frequencies. A recent evaluation of 2266 studies
(including in-vitro and in-vivo studies in human,
animal, and plant experimental systems and population
studies) found that most studies (n=1546, 68∙2%)
have demonstrated signiﬁcant biological or health
eﬀects associated with exposure to anthropogenic
electromagnetic ﬁelds. We have published our
preliminary data on radiofrequency electromagnetic
radiation, which shows that 89% (216 of 242) of
experimental studies that investigated oxidative stress
endpoints showed signiﬁcant eﬀects.7 This weight of
scientiﬁc evidence refutes the prominent claim that
the deployment of wireless technologies poses no
health risks at the currently permitted non-thermal
radiofrequency exposure levels. Instead, the evidence
supports the International EMF Scientist Appeal by
244 scientists from 41 countries who have published on
the subject in peer-reviewed literature and collectively
petitioned the WHO and the UN for immediate
measures to reduce public exposure to artiﬁcial
electromagnetic ﬁelds and radiation.
Evidence also exists of the eﬀects of radiofrequency
electromagnetic radiation on ﬂora and fauna. For
example, the reported global reduction in bees and
other insects is plausibly linked to the increased
radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation in the
environment.17 Honeybees are among the species
that use magnetoreception, which is sensitive to
anthropogenic electromagnetic ﬁelds, for navigation.
Man-made electromagnetic ﬁelds range from
extremely low frequency (associated with electricity
supplies and electrical appliances) to low, medium,
high, and extremely high frequency (mostly associated
with wireless communication). The potential eﬀects
of these anthropogenic electromagnetic ﬁelds on
natural electromagnetic ﬁelds, such as the Schumann
Resonance that controls the weather and climate,
have not been properly studied. Similarly, we do not
adequately understand the eﬀects of anthropogenic
radio frequency electromagnetic radiation on other
natural and man-made atmospheric components
or the ionosphere. It has been widely claimed that
radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation, being non-
ionising radiation, does not possess enough photon
energy to cause DNA damage. This has now been
proven wrong experimentally.18,19 Radiofrequency
electromagnetic radiation causes DNA damage
apparently through oxidative stress,7 similar to near-UV
radiation, which was also long thought to be harmless.
At a time when environmental health scientists
tackle serious global issues such as climate change and
chemical toxicants in public health, there is an urgent
need to address so-called electrosmog. A genuine
evidence-based approach to the risk assessment and
regulation of anthropogenic electromagnetic ﬁelds
will help the health of us all, as well as that of our
planetary home. Some government health authorities
have recently taken steps to reduce public exposure to
radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation by regulating
use of wireless devices by children and recommending
preferential use of wired communication devices in
general, but this ought to be a coordinated international
*Priyanka Bandara, David O Carpenter
Oceania Radiofrequency Scientiﬁc Advisory Association,
Scarborough, QLD 4020, Australia (PB); and Institute for Health
and the Environment, University at Albany, Rensselaer, NY, USA
We declare no competing interests. We thank Alasdair Philips for assistance with
the ﬁgure and Victor Leach and Steve Weller for assistance with the ORSAA
Database, which has enabled our overview of the scientiﬁc evidence in this area
Copyright © The Author(s). Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an Open Access
article under the CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 license.
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For the Oceania Radiofrequency
Scientific Advisory Association
For the International EMF
Scientist Appeal see www.
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