aside

Before I get to far into the hot topics, I need to discuss the theory (as far as it is known) regarding electromagnetic radiation.

Image

As you can see from the picture above, electromagnetic radiation has frequencies and energies which run the spectrum from high energy and high frequency gamma rays which have a very short wave length to radiowaves of a low frequency and low energy.  The term electromagnetic means that the waves (radiation) have both electrical and magnetic properties.  All of this electromagnetic radiation is actually referred to as “light”; even though we really only see the visible light spectrum, take note that it really is a small part of the spectrum.

One of the most commonly discussed points about electromagnetic radiation (light) is which parts of the spectrum might be harmful, which parts might have no effect, and which parts are necessary to humans and may in fact be considered healthy!  The first big division is between ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.  Ionizing radiation which is essentially the region overlapping ultraviolet and soft X-rays and everything to the right: hard X-rays and gamma rays. The word “ionizing” describes the ability of the radiation to dislodge an electron from the outer shell of an atom – thereby creating a free radical.  It is unequivocal that chronic exposure to this radiation has negative health effects.  Fortunately, it is relatively easy to shield ourselves from this type of radiation.

Non-ionizing radiation which is everything from ultraviolet B to the left: visible light, infrared, microwaves and radio waves. It has traditionally been accepted that this type of radiation is not harmful to humans as the energy in the photons of the wave do not possess enough energy to dislodge an electron.  The sun actually emits the full spectrum  of electromagnetic radiation.  Fortunately, the earth’s magnetic field protects us from most of the high energy ionizing  particles.  In fact, most of the radiation from the sun is infrared radiation – heat.

It is safe to say, that humans evolved in a sea of electromagnetic radiation of all frequencies.  Without a doubt, we need infrared radiation or we would freeze.  Our eyes have evolved to see the visible light spectrum.  Ultraviolet B is needed for vitamin D production and melanin production to protect our skin.  When we get into the evolutionary role of microwaves and radio waves, the answers are less clear (future post topic).  Research into the health effects of non-ionizing radiation has primarily focused on the effects of exposure to household power frequencies (50/60 Hz) and high tension power lines.  This area of the spectrum is known as Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) and covers the spectrum from 0-300 Hz.  The next post will specifically focus on this range and the health research.

Brett

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