Apple AirPods have been a success, thanks to its technology, design and of course the brand Apple. But, questions are now being raised, if the radiation from AirPods and other wireless headphones pose a health risk.
Radiation from AirPods – why it poses health risks
The health concerns have been raised by a group of 250 researchers and experts. These researchers and experts have signed a petition addressed to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations. The petition expresses “serious concern” about the potential risk posed by radiation from AirPods and other wireless products.
It must be noted that the petition does not explicitly name AirPods. Instead, it talks about wireless technologies and products that use such tech.
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But, one of the petitioners, Jerry Phillips, who is also a professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado, specifically pointed out Apple AirPods. Speaking to The Nuance, Phillips said: “My concern for AirPods is that their placement in the ear canal expose tissues in the head to relatively high levels of radio-frequency radiation.”
Like other wireless earbuds, AirPods use Bluetooth to connect with each other. The Bluetooth itself uses EMF to transfer data. Further, what makes radiation from AirPods and other wireless headphones riskier is because they sit very close to fragile tissue.
If such is the case, the risk from AirPods would only increase going forward as they become more popular. Apple sold about 28 million units last year, and the year before, the company sold 16 million units. The sales numbers are only going to increase as the company adds new features to the AirPods.
Lower levels of radiation – is it harmful?
Overall, the researchers raised concerns about the risks that non-ionizing radiation, including extremely low frequency fields (ELF), poses to humans. The ELF frequency includes electricity and radio frequency radiation (RFR) from Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cellular data. Basically, such radiation covers devices that humans are exposed to in daily life.
Electromagnetic field radiation has been declared a possible carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Similarly, several studies have linked WiFi to increased cancer risks. Even WHO has guidelines for the level of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) that devices can emit.
However, this new petition argues that even lower levels of EMF may be carcinogenic. The petition links brain cancers among other things to EMF radiation. The petition calls the UN to take the potential health issue from devices like AirPods on a global level.
Ongoing debate over risks from wireless devices
A point to note is that the health concerns raised by the researchers are not new. The same concerns have been raised previously about smartphone radiation. Much of the earlier research showed that the radiation emitted by smartphones is non-ionizing. This means that unlike the ionizing radiation from UV light or gamma rays, the amount of smartphone radiation is not harmful.
Also, the National Cancer Institute has not found any significant rise in brain tumors among humans over the past decade despite the rise of smartphones among the population.
However, the debate is still ongoing over the health concerns that radio-frequency radiation poses to humans considering the amount of radiation that an average individual is exposed to. In 2011, WHO did categorize smartphone radiation as “possibly carcinogenic,” but it also noted that “no adverse health effects” from smartphones had been established.
The most evident and well-established risk of radiowaves at high levels is that they can lead to heat and cause burns. Scientists, however, are still working on the effects of long-term exposure to lower-power radiowaves.
Additionally, a study last year found that smartphone radiation increases the risk of heart tumors. But, the study was conducted on rats by exposing them to a massive amount of radiation.
Even Phillips admitted that existing research fails to set any safe threshold for radio-frequency radiation.
It is a general consensus that more research is needed in the field to determine the exact risks associated with the radiation from AirPods and other wireless devices. But, the latest petition suggests that our current use of technologies is already at alarming levels and, thus, asks regulators to step in.
“The various agencies setting safety standards have failed to impose sufficient guidelines to protect the general public, particularly children who are more vulnerable to the effects of EMF,” the petition says. “By not taking action, the WHO is failing to fulfill its role as the preeminent international public health agency.”