Is it true that wireless headphones cause cancer? Sorted out

In the wake of AirPods Pro’s release, the sofa experts are again for theirs: they say that your wireless headphones are evil, they cause ear / bone / brain cancer, destroy the nervous system and hammer sound directly into the fragile skull.

These online horror stories have been around for a long time, backed up by the dominance of couch experts and a culture of believing in everything that random people write on the first forum.

And what do experts think about this? Is there any evidence of the harmful effects of wireless headphones on the human body? Let’s see.

Where did the “Bluetooth = cancer” connection come from?

It all started with a petition that 222 scientists from 41 countries submitted to the World Health Organization (WHO). This has generated a wave of news in the media with headlines like “ Wireless headphones cause cancer .”

Specialists studied the medical and biological effects of EMF on the human body. Scientists said: many publications in peer-reviewed scientific journals say that the electromagnetic field really affects living organisms .

It increases the risk of cancer and the level of cellular stress, increases the number of free radicals, the likelihood of genetic damage, structural and functional changes in the reproductive system. EMF reduces learning, causes memory deficits, neurological disorders and generally negatively affects human well-being. 

Yes, not only people suffer. Plants and animals are also at risk. We all die. 

In 1998, the International Commission for the Protection against Non-ionizing Radiation (ICNIRP) issued the “Guidelines for limiting the effects of time-varying electric, magnetic and electromagnetic fields (up to 300 GHz)”. Scientists said: this document is out of date . The technology is developing, it’s time to adopt new standards. 

In 2002, WHO adopted the Extremely Low Frequency Magnetic Fields (ELF MF) classification of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). In this document, EMF was indeed recognized as a carcinogen (a factor that can cause cancer). But at the same time, WHO continues to argue that there is insufficient evidence to justify the reduction of these quantitative exposure limits. 

What the scientists actually said (and how they were not understood)

Scientists called for protection from the non-ionizing effects of the electromagnetic field (EMF). But it was not just about the headphones. 

All devices that produce radio frequency radiation are in sight. And these are smartphones and cordless phones, base stations, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas, trackers and baby monitors, as well as power lines. In general, most technology that generates an electromagnetic field of extremely low frequency. 

The petitioners asked WHO to develop new guidelines for protection against EMF, to encourage precautionary measures, and to inform the public about the risks of exposure to the field, especially for children and pregnant women. And also to create “ white zones ” without electromagnetic radiation, to contribute to the development of safer technologies, to normally ground power lines, etc. 

The document does not mention wireless headphones . Only electromagnetic field. 

And the electromagnetic field is everywhere. Before throwing away the headphones, get rid of your smartphone, microwave, laptop, router, TV, radio … And also from power lines and cell towers. 

So what does AirPods and other wireless headphones have to do with it?

In 2016, Dr. Joel Moskowitz of the University of California at Berkeley said that wireless headphones can be a health hazard. It was he who in March 2019 ( three years later! ) Initiated the petition and collected 222 scientists from 41 countries of the world under it . 

The head of the Family and Community Health Center at the University’s School of Public Health warned that the emission of Bluetooth technology in AirPods (and other headphones) could potentially have negative consequences.

Moskowitz emphasized: low-intensity microwave radiation, similar to Bluetooth radiation, can open the blood-brain barrier . This is a layer of cells that block the penetration into the brain of pathogens and toxins in the body. Theoretically, this can lead to conditions such as autism, dementia, and brain cancer .

Headphones like AirPods are more dangerous in this regard because they are located closer to the brain. Although the level of radiation in them is low, it affects the brain, not protected by a dense bone.  

At the same time, the university publication cited Moskowitz:  

We cannot say with certainty that these devices are dangerous, but, based on studies conducted on similar types of radiation, there is good reason to believe that this will be problematic in the long term.

Yeah. Not “AirPods cause cancer,” but “ similar types of radiation ” in the long run . ” If we all die, then not now. 

Recall that Bluetooth uses radio waves in the frequency range 2.4–2.48 GHz for wireless transmission of signals between devices. Microwaves, Wi-Fi, cell phones and other devices can operate in the same wavelength range. 

How bad is everything? It is measured through SAR

Apple spokesman Alex Kirchner said: 

Apple products are always designed and tested to meet or exceed all safety requirements.

There is such a parameter – specific absorption coefficient (SAR). It shows how much radiation from the device is absorbed by the body.

If the SAR device is higher than the 1.60 W / kg prescribed for the standard for 1 g of tissue, it will not pass FCC (Federal Communications Commission) certification. For comparison: In Europe, gadgets with SARs up to 2 W / kg for 10 g of fabric are certified.

During certification, devices are tested at maximum power. The average values ​​when used will be lower. 

For first-generation AirPods, the SAR is 0.466 W / kg. This is almost four times lower than the standard limit in the United States. 

Moskowitz claims that the second generation AirPods has a higher SAR: 0.581 W / kg for the right earphone and 0.501 W / kg for the left. 

Scientists from Berkeley recalled: if you pressed iPhone 7 to your head or body, you would get a SAR of 1.58 W / kg.

The official Apple forum discusses this issue. The topic was not deleted, but apart from a link to an article by Moskowitz, there really is nothing there.

Is it possible to trust SAR and specialists in general? Maybe they are conspiring!

SAR device safety ratings are often criticized. Jerry Phillips, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado, studied the health effects of radio waves such as Bluetooth and found that the standard was unreliable. 

The authors of the SAR standards believed: if the radiation does not heat the tissue, then it is safe . One of the formulas for calculating this coefficient is the product of the heat capacity of human tissues and the derivative of the time function of the temperature of these tissues. 

But later it was proved that even without heating, not everything is good. In addition, no one knows yet whether the effects of exposure to radio waves and electromagnetic fields are accumulating or not. 

Phillips did a lot of research, and some of it was funded by Motorola. The scientist claims that when he came to frightening conclusions, the company asked not to publish the findings. Phillips still published an article on the topic, and Motorola stopped giving him money. 

What do scientists themselves do?

Moskovitsa does not have a smartphone – only a button dialer. He does not bring the phone close to his head and answers via speakerphone or from a wired headset. 

Moskowitz does not recommend carrying phones in pockets and other places near the body. And if possible, generally minimally use gadgets and keep them in flight mode. 

Philips also tries to carry a smartphone away from herself. Wired headsets rule. 

But both scientists did not completely abandon gadgets. And they did not die, judging by the new publications. 

There is no convincing evidence, and research against wireless headphones is criticized

Kenneth Foster, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, has found many studies that have not established a link between radio frequency radiation and the destruction of the blood-brain barrier . Even when volunteers were exposed to stronger radiation than Bluetooth.

Foster said:

If someone, for whatever reason, good or bad, worries [about the dangers of the headphones], he should take precautions, but I don’t think the evidence is convincing enough for the health expert to stand up and say that we should be careful.

John Molder, who taught radiation oncology at Wisconsin College of Medicine and published an article on the health effects of Wi-Fi, agreed with a colleague:

I do n’t see a real possibility of affecting the brain at all, let alone reaching the likely range for breaking down the blood-brain barrier. There is no biological or physical reason for concern about such low levels of exposure.

U.S. regulators, including the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Communications Commission and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state that the studies did not prove the association between exposure to Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cell phones and health problems . Theoretically, there may be a connection, but the likelihood of this is very small.

Have you been using phones for a long time? It is theoretically dangerous

In 2010, WHO conducted a study immediately in 13 countries. It did not reveal an increased risk for two types of brain tumors after 10 years of using a cell phone. But among the most active users, the risk of developing glioma (a type of cancer of the central nervous system) was slightly increased.

In 2011, after studying dozens of peer-reviewed studies, the WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer classified cell phone radiation as “ possibly carcinogenic ” to humans. 

Soon, a new study was conducted in Denmark, and 360 thousand people took part in it. Scientists have found that prolonged use does not increase the risk of brain tumors. But it does not exclude an increased risk of getting various cancer diseases for those who have used cell phones for more than 10 or 15 years . Activity of use did not matter.  

In May, the US National Toxicology Program published preliminary results of a two-year study that showed that exposure to cell phone radiation increases the risk of developing tumors in male rats (in females it does not). Although the study was considered controversial, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations to reduce the impact of mobile phones on children.

On this site you can find SAR values ​​for different models of old phones and smartphones (data for 2008). The values ​​are not high: for example, the iPhone has a SAR of 0.974 W / kg , the iPhone 3G has 1.38 W / kg . 

In short, I’m scared. Can I wear AirPods or not?

The connection between cancer and AirPods, like any other wireless headphones, has not been proven. Studies have not been conducted that would compare the likelihood of oncology among fans of wireless headphones and those who just use a smartphone / don’t use anything at all, live in the forest, and abandoned the benefits of civilization. This is a relatively young type of gadget; there are no large-scale statistics on it. 

If you are afraid of the effects of EMF, you will have to abandon not only the headphones, but also all electronics and household appliances. And also from electricity in the house in general. And make everyone around do the same.  

Failed? Use further and periodically watch for new publications in reputable scientific journals. The question is studied to this day, and one day a confident answer will appear on it.

And most importantly, do not trust loud headlines . And check out the news sources. 

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