Hundreds of scientists have signed a petition warning against wireless technology
On subway trains around the world, a certain fruit-based logo has become our status symbol of choice. Now, however, one also needs the corresponding wireless earphones in order to keep up.
Apple's AirPods marked a big leap forward in wireless technology. Unlike wireless headphones which are comparatively bulky, these small earphones make a statement while being understated. But experts are warning that they could be putting users at risk.
A petition warning of radiofrequency radiation has been put to the World Health Organization (WHO). Radiofrequency radiation has repeatedly been linked to WiFi, mobile data and Bluetooth - including the in-ear headphones.
"We are scientists engaged in the study of biological and health effects of non-ionising electromagnetic fields (EMF)," the appeal states. "Based upon peer-reviewed, published research, we have serious concerns regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices."
Last year, Apple sold 28 million pairs of the earphones. However, some 250 scientists signed the petition to the WHO and there are concerns that the non-ionising electromagnetic fields which they use could be carcinogenic.'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 states. "By not taking action, the WHO is failing to fulfil its role as the preeminent international public health agency."
There are similar concerns around WiFi which, for risk experts, is considered a potential future equivalent of asbestos - a type of insulation which was commonly used until it was found to cause respiratory issues.
"The WHO adopted the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classification of extremely low frequency magnetic fields (ELF EMF) in 2002 and radiofrequency radiation (RFR) in 2011," the document continues. "This classification states that EMF is a possible human carcinogen (Group 2B)." They then make a number of demands.
"1. children and pregnant women be protected;
"2. guidelines and regulatory standards be strengthened;
"3. manufacturers be encouraged to develop safer technology;
"4. utilities responsible for the generation, transmission, distribution, and monitoring of electricity maintain adequate power quality and ensure proper electrical wiring to minimize harmful ground current;
"5. the public be fully informed about the potential health risks from electromagnetic energy and taught harm reduction strategies;
"6. medical professionals be educated about the biological effects of electromagnetic energy and be provided training on treatment of patients with electromagnetic sensitivity;
"7. governments fund training and research on electromagnetic fields and health that is independent of industry and mandate industry cooperation with researchers;
"8. media disclose experts’ financial relationships with industry when citing their opinions regarding health and safety aspects of EMF-emitting technologies; and
white-zones (radiation-free areas) be established."
Online comments on the issue are varied. Common sense appears to dictate that such technology would not be commercially available if it were dangerous. However, others argue that common sense necessitates a degree of scepticism towards wireless technology - especially when inserted partway into the body.
Further concerns pertain to the effects of the AppleWatch. It has been linked to skin issues, the exact cause of which remains unclear. "A great deal of care and research go into choosing materials for all our devices," the tech giant explained. "A small number of people will experience reactions to certain materials."
"This can be due to allergies, environmental factors, extended exposure to irritants like soap or sweat, and other causes." However, online commenters have speculated that the rashes or "burns" could instead be related to the electronic or radio wave functions of the watch.
"Since there is controversy about a rationale for setting standards to avoid adverse health effects," the petition stated, "we recommend that the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) convene and fund an independent multidisciplinary committee to explore the pros and cons of alternatives to current practices that could substantially lower human exposures to RF and ELF fields."
It then adds: "The deliberations of this group should be conducted in a transparent and impartial way. Although it is essential that industry be involved and cooperate in this process, industry should not be allowed to bias its processes or conclusions. This group should provide their analysis to the UN and the WHO to guide precautionary action."
The 800-word plea subsequently lists the scientists, from Armenia to the United States, who agree that something must be done. The lead addressee is Secretary-General of the United Nations Antonio Guterres.
Ultimately, there will always be concerns from the public about new types of technology and scares around things which don't have a proven track record across decades, as older forms of technology do. However, with so many experts fearful that electromagnetic fields could quietly be causing us serious damage, perhaps it's time to review the evidence.