What is EMF? - L1

EMF is short for electromagnetic fields or sometimes known as electromagnetic radiation (EMR) or electromagnetic energy (EME).  Electromagnetic fields are present everywhere in our environment – the earth, sun and ionosphere are all natural sources of EMF.

Electric and magnetic fields are part of the spectrum of electromagnetic energy which extends from static electric and magnetic fields, mains power frequencies (50/60Hz) through radiofrequency, infrared, and visible light to X-rays.

Electromagnetic Spectrum -  This diagram shows the electromagnetic spectrum, ionising and non-ionising sections, and typical sources of electromagnetic fields. 

Electromagnetic fields are also created whenever an electrical appliance is connected to the mains supply, including many in daily use such as refrigerators, hairdryers and computers.

Many electrical appliances don’t just create EM fields – they rely on them to work. Television and radio, mobile and cordless phones, remote control handsets, baby monitors and the communication systems used by emergency services all communicate using Radio Frequency EM fields. So do wireless technologies such as WiFi, which is increasingly used by computer networks, to connect to the internet.

Note: The EMF Explained Series is specifically focused on the radio frequency part of the electromagnetic spectrum for mobile and wireless services.

More information...

What is EMF? - L2

What is EMF?
The electromagnetic spectrum
Sources of EM fields in everyday life
What is ionising radiation?
What is non-ionising radiation?
Safety of electromagnetic fields
Are radio waves safe?
Mobile Communications & Health Booklet

What is EMF?

EMF is short for electromagnetic fields or sometimes known as electromagnetic radiation (EMR) or electromagnetic energy (EME).  Electromagnetic fields are present everywhere in our environment – the earth, sun and ionosphere are all natural sources of EMF.


The Electromagnetic Spectrum

Sources of electromagnetic fields in everyday life

Electromagnetic fields exist everywhere in the environment including our home, school and work place.  Electromagnetic fields are generated either by natural or human-made sources.

Natural sources of electric and magnetic fields include

  • The Earth’s Magnetic Field          (this makes a compass point north)
  • Lightning                                  (lightning generates EMF)
  • Visible light                              (we can see using optical radiation)

Human-made sources of electromagnetic fields include

  • Electrical Appliances
    - vacuum cleaners
    - hair-dryers
    - refrigerators  
  •  Radio Communications Devices
    - AM / FM radio and television
    - emergency service radio (police, fire, ambulance)
    - air traffic control
    - cordless phones
    - remote controls
    - mobile phones
    - Wi-Fi modems


What is Ionising Radiation?

Some electromagnetic waves carry such large quantities of energy that they can ionise particles of matter and consequently break down the chemical bonds between molecules. X-rays used for both diagnostic and therapeutic purposes (radiotherapy), gamma-rays (emitted by radioactive materials) and cosmic radiation, all have this ability and are known as ionising radiation.


What is non-ionising radiation?

Electromagnetic fields which cannot break down molecular bonds are called non-ionising radiation.  Many artificial sources of electromagnetic fields, by which we are surrounded daily (including radio signals), are non-ionising. In other words, the quantity of energy they carry cannot break down chemical bonds within cells and tissues.


Safety of Electromagnetic fields.

Exposure to electromagnetic fields in everyday life is not new.  Humans have been exposed to natural EMF through out their lifetime.  Human made sources of electromagnetic fields have increased in the past century with the development of technology and radio communications.

Scientific research over many decades has enabled national and international health authorities to establish safety limits for exposure to electromagnetic fields.  Exposure limits vary depending on the type of EMF and incorporate large safety margins for added protection.


Are Radio Waves Safe?

Radio waves are part of the non-ionising electromagnetic spectrum.   Over 50 years of scientific research has already been conducted into the possible health effects from radio communication systems including mobile phones, base stations and other wireless services.

The data from this research has been analysed by many expert review groups. Weighing the whole body of evidence, there is no evidence to convince experts that exposure below the guidelines set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) carries any health risks, for adults or children.

In relation to EMF and health the World Health Organization (WHO) says,

"Extensive research has been conducted into possible health effects of exposure to many parts of the frequency spectrum including mobile phones and base stations. All reviews conducted so far have indicated that exposures below the limits recommended in the ICNIRP (1998) EMF guidelines, covering the full frequency range from 0-300 GHz, do not produce any known adverse health effect. However, there are gaps in knowledge still needing to be filled before better health risk assessments can be made."

WHO research summary http://www.who.int/peh-emf/research/en/

Download the Mobile Communications & Health Booklet from GSMA


Additional resources...


What is EMF? - L3

Additional Information on EMF

Health Authority & Educational Resources


Other Resources