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Are the waves emitted by iPads harmful to health

May 13, 2019

The waves emitted by the devices that we use on an everyday basis (telephone, radio, walkie talkies, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth …) belong to radio waves.

After several months of research and investigation conducted with teams of specialists, we can finally share this article touching on a very sensitive subject: electromagnetic waves, in particular, waves emitted by iPads.

The main goal is to answer your legitimate questions regarding the effects of waves in the case of musicians rehearsing on iPads. If you are looking for a scientific and in-depth description of the waves (not just radio waves) and their characteristics, we invite you to read our article.

Electromagnetic waves emitted by everyday electronic devices (phones, radios, walkie-talkies, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth…) belong to the category of radiofrequency waves, or radio waves. If you are looking for a detailed, scientific explanation of electromagnetic waves and their characteristics, please refer to our recently published article. Radio waves are named as such because they answer to two main criteria (see graph below):

  • They oscillate less than 300,000 times per second.
  • Their wavelength exceeds 1mm.

Comparatively, radio waves are less powerful than other types of electromagnetic waves (infrared, X rays, ultraviolet…) yet have a longer range.

Falling under the category of “radio waves” are waves of varying power and length: for example, induction cooktops and microwaves that have no effect at a distance of more than 50 cm. Conversely, a radio antenna might have a range of dozens of kilometers even though it emits and receives low frequency signals.

Therefore, in order to understand the effect these everyday, low-frequency electronic devices have on our lives, we must first understand and measure the radiofrequency radiation they emit.

The following graph compares the energy generated by everyday domestic appliances.

The strength of ambient electromagnetic radiation is measured in volts per meter. Exposure guidelines relating to radiofrequency radiation set by the World Health Organization (WHO) lie between 28 and 61 V/m.

Important : The distance between an individual and an electronic device is key to measuring radiation exposure. Therefore, simply adding up the individual measurements ​​of each device will not suffice to determine total exposure: an expert opinion is required. For example, the man pictured on the right of the diagram absorbs almost no electromagnetic radiation emitted by the various devices in the room.

The graph above demonstrates that the level of exposure to radio waves, if any, remains well below the standards prescribed by the WHO. Moreover, there has been a marked increase in surrounding sources of exposure over the second half of the 20th century, which means that radiation exposure predates the arrival of smartphones. Radio, induction cooktops, low energy light bulbs, security gates… all these devices have been emitting radio waves for the past several decades.

Newzik being a digital solution used at home or by orchestras on an iPad, our research focuses on two main points:

  • We shall start by looking at the bigger picture and focus on the proven effects of radiofrequency waves on our organisms.
  • We shall then zoom in on connected devices, particularly iPads/Smartphones/laptops, with the aim of discovering whether their radiation emissions require a certain degree of prevention.

1) Many legitimate questions were asked, yet no proven effects were found

Although exposure to electromagnetic waves has drastically increased since the 20th century…

There is no need to look very far to understand why, in our modern societies, electromagnetic waves are cause for debate. Indeed, the proliferation of connected devices in our immediate environment has led to an undisputed increase in our exposure to radiofrequency radiation. Although the amount of waves emitted by our devices naturally depends on our usage (a device that is switched off or in flight mode will emit virtually no waves), ambient exposure to radio waves has undoubtedly increased – for everyone.

The French website cartoradio.fr allows national users to compare ambient exposure in a densely populate area to that of a more isolate area, generally measured in volts per meter.

Exposure to radio waves in the middle of the avenue des Champs Élysées reaches 3.93 volts per meter, whereas that of the town center of Angerville (a town with a population of 4,000, 70 km away from Paris) is measured at 0.16 volts per meter. Reassuringly though, both of these measurements are far lower than the exposure guidelines set by the WHO, which lie between 28 and 61 volts per meter, depending on configurations.

…No notorious effects have been observed to date.

We have studied many articles, whether official or scientific, which document the effects of this increase in radiation exposure. Ultimately, we found that many studies had researched this topic without being able to prove any harmful effects resulting from exposure to electromagnetic waves.

During our investigation we came across a few websites with very alarmist tones, which depicted electromagnetic waves as the root of all evil. However, none of these articles backed up their claims with data and instead focused on how to reduce radiation risk (which is not relevant to our current study).

We have chosen to base this study on in-depth research by the IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer, which is part of the WHO) dating from 2013:

“The main sources of human exposure to radiofrequency radiation are surrounding sources for workers, and transmitters operating in close proximity to the body, such as hand-held devices, for the rest of the population.”

“We have not observed any stable and documented increase in cancer rates since mobile phones were popularized.”

“A few smaller studies based on premature controls were revealed to be uninformative.”

We can therefore summarize this chapter in two main points:

  • The level of radiation exposure has greatly increased over the course of the past few years.
  • However, this increase in exposure has not had any discernable effects to date, despite the numerous studies that have tried to measure its impact.

2) Tabets, computers and other devices based on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technology are not the main sources of radiation exposure.

Very strict regulations govern radiofrequency radiation.

As evidenced by this article published by the Federal Communication Bureau and from the WHO website, radiofrequency radiation is an extensively regulated phenomenon despite the absence of proven harmful effects. The idiom “you never know” is particularly relevant here, as exposure guidelines are set at one-fiftieth of the point from which short-term effects start being felt (i.e. a slight increase in body temperature).

After looking at guideline limits for ambient exposure to radio waves, let’s explore exposure guidelines related to localized exposure (i.e. when waves are directed towards a specific part of the body). This is the topic that most concerns Newzik, and in which category connected devices are included.

One key concept is necessary to understand the exposure guidelines set by the WHO: the SAR, or specific absorption rate, which measures the greatest level of radiofrequency exposure from any specific device. An assistive device will not be able to emit stronger radiofrequency radiation than the level indicated by its SAR. SAR is measured in watts per kilogram.

According to the WHO, the SAR of a device emitting radiofrequency radiation cannot exceed 2 watts per kilogram.

Every single company that equips us with connected devices complies with these preventive exposure guidelines. Further information on Apple’s radiofrequency exposure levels can be found here. According to this website, the SAR of a recent iPad set at its highest transmission level across all configurations (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, cellular…) will never exceed 0.99 watts per kilogram, or half the SAR limit set by the WHO. More importantly, the maximum radiation emitted by an iPad is 100 times lower than the level at which an initial effect on our organism (a local 1° Celsius increase in local tissue temperature) becomes apparent.

These WHO recommendations are in line with the latest European directive of 26 June 2013, on safety and health in the workplace. Here is a brief summary of the directive:

  • Faced with the absence of any harmful long-term effects, the European Union has chosen not to take a position on legislation that Member States should adopt. It has, however, set out regulations relating to specific environmental exposures that should not be exceeded in the workplace.
  • The following short-term effects were identified (listed in the order in which they appear): Thermal effects (increase in local tissue temperature), sensory effects (vertigo, retinal phosphenes, etc.) and effects on the nervous system, which can affect cerebral or muscular capacity

It is important to note that these effects are not common to all types of radiofrequency waves: to exposure parameters (measured in volts per meter) are added frequency parameters. Since a picture is worth a thousand words, you are invited to study the graph below.

Given the difficulty of precisely measuring exposure in the workplace, the European Union set a limit that can be easily measured: the action levels of an electric field (ALE). If this limit is exceeded, the European Commission recommends expert intervention in order to accurately measure exposure levels.

The graph above shows the different action levels for radio waves. There are different levels of stringency for low frequency waves: low and high AL.

What this means for Newzik

Are you planning on using iPads with a 120 musician-strong orchestra and have started asking yourself whether such a set-up (120 iPads in a single hall) meets WHO standards?

To answer that question, it is important to remember that one of the key factors when measuring exposure is distance. Distance plays a major role in measuring radiation exposure, and exposure from iPads that are not in direct contact with the human body is very low. Therefore, the only way to exceed exposure limits would be to lie down in a swimming pool filled with 100 iPads set at their highest transmission levels!

The main sources of powerful radiofrequency radiation are not those that we might expect.

If you are still worried about exposure, it is important to note that Wi-Fi routers and Bluetooth devices are not the main transmitters of radio waves. Above-mentioned devices, such as induction cooktops or microwave ovens, emit a greater number of radio waves than a tablet connected to a Wi-Fi or 4G network.

The graph above helpfully illustrates various orders of magnitude related to radio waves. It compares radiofrequency radiation (in volts per meter, at equal distance) of cell tower antennas, smartphones, home phones, Wi-Fi routers and Bluetooth devices. Importantly, the size of a transmitter in no way affects signal power.

Strangely, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth technologies are at the center of the exposure debate despite emitting only very few radiofrequency waves. Bluetooth in particular emits ridiculously low levels of radiation. This technology is relatively similar to Wi-Fi and was created for the following uses:

  • Shorter distances (~10m for Bluetooth, ~30m for Wi-Fi)
  • Transferring smaller amounts of data
  • Fewer users: Bluetooth generally links two devices, whereas Wi-Fi supports a large number of simultaneous users

Exposure linked to this technology is therefore much weaker than that of any of the above-mentioned domestic appliances.

To Conclude

Although our exposure to devices emitting radiofrequency waves has increased over the course of the last few years, radiation exposure remains far below the conservative guidelines set by the WHO. Moreover, and contrary to popular belief, the invention of Wi-Fi and other similar technologies did not increase our exposure levels: the most noticeable increase occurred in the 1990s with the advent of the first mobile phones, without any noticeable adverse effects to date. As for iPads, there is no need to be alarmed given the remote use of the device in the context of a Newzik-led project: the level of radio wave exposure from the iPad is negligible when handled in such a way.

Feel free not to take our word for it and check for yourself by requesting an evaluation of your local radiation exposure. Here you will find a starting point to do so.

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Aurélia Azoulay-Guetta