Does Using Wi-Fi Have an Impact on Health?

In the 1990s, there was a growing concern – one which is still very much alive today – that using cell phones could provoke health issues due to the radio waves that they transmit. Lately, I’ve been getting comments on articles about Wi-Fi regarding the effects that using radio waves from routers could have on someone’s health. Considering the volume of messages, it’s safe to assume that this is a concern we should address in order to give these comments the reply that they deserve.

For a long time after we discovered the uses of Uranium, we’ve considered it a benign substance. It wasn’t until we discovered several cases of cancer among people working with radioactive materials that we have found a link between the two. Fast forward into the late 20th and early 21st century, and our concerns are a bit broader. Almost anything that emits some sort of radiation is scrutinized. The sun, your microwave oven, your cell phones, and even your Wi-Fi access point all emit some level of radiation.

So, is it true? Is radiation dangerous no matter the source?

wifihealth-radioactive

There are two types of radiation we might come across: Ionizing and non-ionizing. To explain it simply, ionizing radiation is the kind of radiation that poisons you horribly. It’s able to ionize the atoms in your body and break their bonds. This is what you see in unstable isotopes like Uranium 235. If you must wear a hazmat suit just to be around it, it’s emitting ionizing radiation. There are some forms of ionizing radiation, though, that don’t present an unambiguously excessive amount of danger, such as X-rays. While they may kill you after a decent amount of exposure, the quick flash of an X-ray while you’re at the doctor to get your bones checked won’t necessarily do anything to you that constitutes as “harmful” even if you took one every single day for a year.

The other type of radiation – non-ionizing – emits electromagnetic (EM) waves at varying wavelengths, but not enough to reach the danger level of gamma or ultraviolet rays. Everything from your computer to your Wi-Fi router emits this type of radiation. Your light bulbs, the satellite floating invisibly over your head, and all of the radio stations within range are not excluded from this spectrum. The low amount of power behind these waves and their large wavelength make them harmless to living things. Their wavelength isn’t small enough to rupture your atoms or powerful enough to emit enormous amounts of radiant heat (or, in the case of microwave ovens, an electrical arc).

wifihealth-radiation

If you’re not afraid of listening to the radio or turning on the lights at home, you shouldn’t be afraid of your Wi-Fi router or your cell phone. They all emit the same stuff, just with different properties. Despite this, don’t discount the things you should really be careful with. Microwave ovens, for example, emit EM radiation just like Wi-Fi access points do, but the waves have more punch in them (between 700 and 1000 watts of “punch”). Still, they’re shielded enough that you can stand in front of one while it’s operating as long as the door is closed.

Hopefully, this has alleviated any concern you’ve had about using Wi-Fi (even with high-power antennas). Continue to enjoy your wireless Internet without any worries!

If you feel any further concerns, please be sure to leave them in a comment below.

19 comments

  1. What I fear most are the fear mongers that have no formal education making lude claims that something is bad without so much as a stitch of evidence or proof. It is not the technology that we need to fear, it is the people in fear of everything that will ultimately destroy us all if we start listening to them.

    • Fear is a natural reaction to something people do not fully understand. Granted, the ones doing the real harm are those in a position of authority who are profiting from the fear of others (i.e. those who sell “wi-fi shields” that “protect” others from radiation). It’s inevitable to have people guided by fear in an era where so many things are changing at such a rapid pace.

  2. Hi,
    it is true that non ionizing radiation is far less dangerous than ionizing radiation it is not to say that it is absolutely safe.
    chemistry is a statistical science. meaning that above a threshold of energy level a reaction will most definately happen. this is not to say the reaction will not happen below the threshold it will only happen very slowly. example? if we leave a bucket of water out in the sun it will all evaporate in the course of time even if th water is not heated to its boiling point.
    so non ionizing radiation can cause damage, and ofcourse the more there is of it around chances are greater for tissue damage.
    Daniel Cohen
    Chemical engineer

    • In the current context, non-ionizing radiation from Wi-Fi isn’t harmful, though. The wave pattern and signal distribution works much like how a walkie talkie does.

      Yes, non-ionizing radiation at extreme levels (and even at moderate levels) can cause long-term harm to the body, and this was one of the things that drove concerns regarding the use of cellular phones. Studies over the years have demonstrated that cell phone radiation does not meet the threshold for permanent cellular damage in the long run, although I am unsure whether their methodology includes excessive use scenarios (more than 4-5 hours a day of conversation).

      Thanks for adding this. It is helpful to understand that not all non-ionizing radiation can be inoffensive. There are plenty of examples of it that can kill you.

  3. seems logical that the low power of Wi-Fi would not be harmful, if used as intended. I would not put my hand in a running microwave, I would not swallow a working WI-Fi antenna. I see no problem being in the same room as my router.

  4. I lost a good friend to cancer from his cell phone. You could make out the shape of his cell phone by the irritated red skin on the side of his face. However you need to realize that this was many years ago when cell phones first came out and he also basically “lived” on his phone for business. I know that phones are safer today. Our sensitivity to RF varies from person-to-person as well as our sensitivity to getting cancer.

  5. Any such article these days, considering marketing and desire for high page views, without giving the source (preferably a credible name) of information is pure noise.

    • Among the tens of studies I have read through on this subject, a few pop out because of their methodology and the fact that they are peer-reviewed. I have read studies that show negative effects and no effect from using Wi-Fi, although the former were discredited because of an inability to show demonstrably reproducible results.

      Three studies stand out above the rest as being the most comprehensive, two of them performed on rats, which are animals much more sensitive and have shorter lifespans, which give us a better picture of how the long-term effects will look like on humans, only amplified slightly.

      The first study is published in 2007 for Health Physics Journal in Volume 92, Issue 3. Pages 280-289 are the ones concerning this particular study. DOI: 10.1097/01.HP.0000248117.74843.34.

      The next study showed no adverse effects on in-utero and early life development. DOI: 10.1002/bem.21699. Published January 6, 2012. Abstract can be found here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bem.21699/abstract;jsessionid=817BE117C4407B683645A7BBE03DD9D7.f03t01?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

      The next study showed no adverse effects in the long term, analyzing pre- and post-natal development of fetuses as well as adults, even when exposing the subjects to 4W/kg. DOI: 10.1002/bdrb.20346, February 6, 2012. Abstract can be found here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/bdrb.20346/abstract?deniedAccessCustomisedMessage=&userIsAuthenticated=false

      Trust me when I say that Wi-Fi doesn’t need marketing. However, health scare organizations need lots of pushing and funding from lobby groups to ignore the empirical evidence against their proposals.

  6. Now every office homes have WIFI and people are directly expos 24*7 of it. It’s a kind of Radiation. So I am very much sure it harm full to every living things.

  7. Yes, ionizing radiation is what will kill you in LARGES DOSES (acute exposure) .
    Getting a bit engineer-geeky on you…. Uranium 235 itself will not kill you.
    Brand new fuel for a nuclear power plant quiet safe, is handled in street clothes and cotton gloves. The cotton gloves are to protect the fuel… From human greasy fingers!

    Primary uranium decay mode is via Alpha particle( Helium nucleus expelled form the nucleus) that alpha is highly charged , no penetrating power and easily stopped by any thing… paper, air, skin… Etc. no harm to humans… Unless you can not resiste the non-existent “urge” to ingest uranium.

    What the author mean is ionizing radiation from uranium fission products (the left overs of nuclear fission stuck inside that fuel assembly) and the hazmat suit protect from the dried “dust”of the minor leaks. Suits help keep the dust from be “tracked outside “the containment building.

    Electro-magnetic radiation is all around us, just like ionizing type. And any low dose will have micros pic effect on one of your indivaul cell. But that cell will most likely repair itself or croak two weeks earlier “than scheduled”…. like you sunbath too much. The skin Redness is a massive “rebuilding project”….. Sorry, couple cells will rebuild incorrectly and go to the “Dark Side” and might give you skin cancer someday… But wrinkles and age spots, for sure.

    Recommend for those worrying about WiFi, cellphone and power line EM radiation, stop immunizing you children and meet me in Alaska with the other survivalists, I’ll catchup with you after I single handle-handed ly defeat Obama-Care and get on Medicare!

    How does safety conscience citizen write those worysome emails to save the world without getting cancer?

    Be safe!

  8. Dont forget “everything is ok in moderation” ….WRONG. I hate it when I go to the dentist and refuse the obligatory xrays. (I know its just the Dr. office making $ over the inflated insurance rates) And my teeth havent changed since my last visit last year….to them and to everyone in this thread I say the following : There is no acceptable amount of “OK” radiation!!!!! Radiation is bad , I dont care how small a dose is. Since there is no such thing as HEALTHY RADIATION….AMIRIGHT? Before I get flamed, yes I have a cell phone (3 in fact) and I have a wifi router etc….I just limit any other exposure whenever possible , as much as possible because cumulatively it all is adding up for a lifetime…..

    • We use radiation to produce certain chemicals we need in our bodies, believe it or not. UV radiation, for example, is important for the production of Vitamin E.

      Also, your computer, your light bulbs, candles, and any other source of light emits radiation at least a few times more powerful than what your router emits. Your exposure to light over a lifetime is more intense than getting an X-ray every half a year. The difference is that light doesn’t ionize. The same is true for Wi-Fi radios and cell phones. Even if you turned both off, you’d still be exposed since you live around a cellular tower, at least 10 FM/AM radio stations that broadcast to your area, and your neighbors’ routers.

  9. First of all, Bensonrt, natural uranium and other elements in this area of the periodic table do primarily decay by alpha particle emission (with an occasional spontaneous fission), but they also emit gamma rays at the same time. Gamma rays are considerably more dangerous than alpha particles. unless the alpha emitter is inside your body. In tissue, alpha particles do intense damage. So ingested uranium can be extremely harmful. (More on alpha particles later in these comments.) As for electromagnetic radiation, the higher in ‘frequency’ it is, the higher the energy the wave/photon contains. Thus light is the highest energy nonionizing radiation, and then heat (which can exist as electromagnetic radiation), and then various forms of ‘radio waves’, also called RF energy. (BTW, I am high power RF systems engineer, sometimes also called a ‘broadcast engineer’. I am routinely exposed to much higher levels of RF energy than most readers here (and there are safety limits), and I have no known effects from it after 25+ years in the field.) We know what effect light and heat have on us, so radio waves of comparable intensity should have similar or less effects. This is what research has found: If RF is causing cancer, it is a weaker cause than anything else that has been measured. It hovers at the threshold of detectability. In the meantime, there is a strong correlation between finding radon gas in your home and cancer. In fact, radon is a much stronger cancer inducer than cigarette smoke (partly because it decays into polonium once inside your body, releasing an alpha particle, and in turn, polonium decay releases another alpha particle). Handheld cell phone emit at maximum 3/10 of a watt of RF energy. Police and amateur radio walkie talkies can emit 5 watts of RF power, more than 10 times as much, and there have been few reports of harm from those devices. All this said, there have been a couple of interesting studies that show immense harm being caused by RF energy. But their results have never been successfully duplicated. So, while it is possible some people are super-sensitive to RF energy, the vast majority of us are not, and we are hundreds of times more likely to die from being distracted while taking on a cell phone, than from cancer from a cell phone.

    • Yep. Radon is actually a large culprit in pulmonary cancer. We attack cigarettes, and despite the fact that people are smoking less, the rate of cancer is growing.

  10. This whole article is utter nonsense, seriously guys you should not write about issues you clearly don’t know anything about and that are far beyond your comfort zone, cuz you making a joke of this whole website.

  11. Here is some purely anecdotal evidence from my own experience.
    I generally started having trouble sleeping around the same time I hooked up my first WiFi router.
    To test it (completely unscientifically, but interesting non the less), I would call friend A each morning and report on how and when I slept or not. Next, friend B would also call friend A each morning to report on whether or not and when he remotely turned my WiFi on or off.
    Results were about a ninety percent correlation.
    Doesn’t prove anything really. Heck, my sister won ten grand in a lottery once. I just found it interesting.
    PS. I still keep my WiFi on at night.
    PPS. I still have sleeping issues.
    Just my experience. You mileage may vary.

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