EMF: Another Outrage Fizzle?

Posted: September 18, 2018 in General Commentary

There has been a bit of a to-do about EMF emission from LED products on the usual outlets carrying SM punditry.  The alarmist assert that EMF from lighting products is harmful to human health, and the EMF emissions from LED light sources is damaging to the eye.

Some of this may be founded on studies like ‘Electromagnetic Field Radiation and Your Eyes‘, published on the EMF-Health web site, which references ‘Scientists Link Eye Cancer to Mobile Phones‘ and ‘Cell Phone Radiation May Cause Visual Damage‘.  Another expert warning of EMF and electronic devices is Dr. Mercola, who wrote ‘The Real Dangers of Electronic Devices and EMF’s‘. While none of this mentions LED lighting, the association of electronics and solid-state lighting is apparently too attractive to avoid for some. One such reference to this, with a list of additional references to weed through, is the article ‘Replacing CFL, Halogen and LED Light Bulbs‘, in which they point out that some LED GU10 bulbs produce radio frequencies of 30MHz-300MHz. The remainder of that article continues the blue light critique, with not more mention of EMF. Anyone in the industry might have furrowed a brow at the claim of 30MHz to 300MHz, since most products, even those driving LEDs with PWM, use far lower frequencies, with the 2KHz to 20KHz very common, although some may be as high as 1MHz. Microwave Induction lamps may operate at these extreme frequencies, but not LEDs. The exception to this might be LiFi technology, which operates at around 43Mb per second (something around 4GHz), with future development in the 10+Gb (9+/- GHz) range. However, this operates as a carrier within the existing EM range of light, which spans 400THz to 700THz- which is just what it is. If we want to see, we have to expose ourselves to this, as this is what light is – Electromagnetic Radiation. That said, LiFi is hardly used in a broad enough context to make this a central issue, even in street lighting applications. But, I’m getting ahead of myself, as the real topic here is EMF from LED products, not the larger discussion of the increase in Radio Frequency EMF we find ourselves surrounded in from a wide range of products, portable and fixed within our environments.

For purposes of this exploration, I am not going to get into inclusion of volts, or frequencies – other than the range of between 30Hz to 300Hz most refer to when discussion non radio frequency EMF. I am also going to skip over Stetzers or other peripheral metrics, for purposes of clarity. For the most part, EMF issues are discussed in units of µT (Microteslas) or mG (Milligauss), so that is what I will remain focused on here.

A Lot to Consider – None of it Very Damning

Excessive EMF radiation in our environment is suspected to be the cause a wide range of health issues. However, what levels are causing what damage is not yet fully defined or understood. The WHO has created ‘The International ELF Project‘ with the intent of creating more solid data and conclusions with which to create recommendations, establish limits to work from. The National Radiation Laboratory (NZ) has also published an informational brief called ‘Electric and Magnetic Fields and Your Health‘.  The IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer), has published as statement ‘IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans‘, which is not fully relevant to LED Lighting.  Another comprehensive review of the topic of EMF and human health can be found in ‘Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields‘ by the Expert Group of the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, Dublin, Ireland. The Hawaii Department of Health has also issued a very informative booklet on the topic of EMF ‘Electromagnetic Fields Associated with the Use of Electrical Power‘, that is work reading through for anyone interested in this topic. Hindawi (UK) has produced an interesting paper as well, ‘Health Implications of Electromagnetic Fields, Mechanisms of Action, and Research Needs‘ that outlines the concepts involved as well as the limits of knowledge at this point. For those completely obsessed with this topic, the IEMF Alliance offers a collection of books on the topic. However, none of these references have mentioned LED lighting specifically. In a few, CFL products, particularly the earliest versions using magnetic ballasts, were found to be somewhat offensive little EMF sources.

As a side note, if you read these papers and articles, you will find LED lighting not mentioned, but will find several references to the effect of Radio Frequency EMFs on men’s testes and brains. Before reading any further, or worrying about turning off the lights, it appears the first plan of action is to never put a cell phone in a pants pocket, or try to talk with it stuffed in the front of your drawers. Not much can be done about the brain thing it seems… Moving right along….

One group attempted to link EMF to LEDs – the EMF Safety Network – published their broad condemnation of LED street lighting in ‘The Perils of LED Streetlights‘. In this article, they eluded to the potential for damage from EMF, but actually did not make the case, as presented no data, then indicated queries to PP&G on the topic were unanswered – ominously indicating some effort to conceal the truth through power of suggestive writing. The rest of the article forwards all of the other well rehearsed issues of blue light, flicker,  CCT, dark skies, etc… unrelated to the EMF topic. One article commenting about the issues of artificial illumination, including LEDs, is ‘Make Light Healthier‘, by the International Journal of Science, which describes the issues and actual concerns very well. Meanwhile, contrasting that, is the work of an LED detractor/incandescent lamp advocate, Dr. Alexander Wunsch who published his thoughts on Mercola ‘The Dangers of LED Lightbulbs‘, recommending removal of all LEDs and use of incandescent lamps and candles in their place. He not only extols the dangers of blue light, but piles on with the argument that the absence of red light is a further danger to LED lighting. He does not mention EMF, so this reference may not be appropriate, but it is still interesting.

Summary of Threats

Probably the most interesting of all papers on this topic, is ‘A Summary of LED Lighting Impacts on Health‘ published by the Building Research Establishment, which included the following statement regarding EMF from LED products:

6. Electric fields generated by LED lighting: Lamps and control gear include electric and/or electronic components through which electric currents flow so that light output is initiated and maintained. These electric currents generate magnetic and electric fields of low frequency (50 Hz and harmonics thereof, eg 100 Hz, 150 Hz) and high frequency (30 to 60 kHz) depending on the type of lamp and control gear [14]. Above certain intensities, the magnetic and electric fields may induce electrical currents in the human body that can stimulate the nerves and muscles at low frequency, or even cause tissue heating at high frequency. Improvements in lighting technology have enabled a reduction in electromagnetic fields. For LED lighting, several studies have shown that the intensities of magnetic fields generated by LED lamps were significantly below the limits recommended by the International Commission for Nonionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). Therefore LED lighting does not appear to generate electric or magnetic fields that can damage human health.

The paper also includes references to 39 other papers on the topic worth reading to those concerned about the technology. These include papers by two of the most well published experts in the field, Dr. Veitch, JA and Dr. Wilkins AJ, who serve on numerous study groups and committees discussing light and human health – so searching these two names will also produce even more to read about. However, if the focus is on EMF and LED lighting concerns, they have haven’t mentioned it, so you can save time in this regard.

Real World Observation and Metrics

As far as objective testing of LED products, an article on the Healthy Building web site ‘EMF from LED Lights – Magnetic Fields and Recessed LED Lights‘ reflects what most of us in the obsessive world of lighting have found when breaking out meters and turning them onto on various lighting products. The levels found were simply too low to be of any concern. Move 24″ away, and the readings drop to zero.

While the USA has no standards of exposure for EMF, individual states do, as does the EU, the UK, and other countries, which use the ICNIRP recommendation of 100µT (Microteslas), which equates to 1000mG (Milligauss). Switzerland has set a limit of 1µT (10mG). That said, a common standard for what is called “prudent avoidance” (see the NZ brief mentioned earlier) is set even lower at 0.4μT (4mG), which is what I would personally consider a goal for any long term exposures within any working or living environment.  Note that in the Healthy Building article, the highest reading was 2.72mG at 2″ from a Lutron dimmer. This is well within acceptable levels, even at 2″ distance.

My own experience mirrors that of the Healthy Buildings article. Here is a summary of results from products I have around the shop, office and home, taken at a distance of 12″, and 24″ which are closer than I experience when using most of these items:

  • LED task lights, table lights – 0.0mG @ 12″, 0.0mG @ 24″
  • Collection of (3) Wall wart power supplies used for task lights – 5.4mG @12″, 3.8mG at 24″
  • LED Recessed 2 x 4 troffer –  0.0mG @ 12″, 0.0mG @ 24″
  • LED Retrofit PAR30 lamp – 0.0mG @ 12″, 0.0mG @ 24″
  • OLED Light Panel Lights – 0.0mG @ 12″, 0.0mG @ 24″
  • 360W LED Driver with 300W Load – 0.3mG @ 12″, 0.0mG @24″
  • Microwave oven – 1700W – 77mG @ 12″, 18mG @24″
  • IR Sauna panel -0.1mG @ 12″, 0.0mG @24″
  • Street light at street level – 0.0mG
  • Philips Hue Light – 0.0mG @ any distance
  • T12 HO fluorescent shop lighting mounted at 12′ AFF – 0.0mG measured at 48″ A.F.F. (not going to climb a latter to prove they emit EMF at close distances, as that’s dangerous and the point is moot.)
  • Vu1 ESL Lamp – 0.0mG @ 12″, 0.0mG @ 24″ (to my surprise)
  • Very old coiled bulb CFL – 0.4mG @ 12″, 0.0mG @ 24″
  • Kim Wall Grazer LED Fixture – 0.0mG @ 12″, 0.0mG @ 24″

At this point, I gave up, as the exercise was not causing me to believe there was anything to see. I even included readings of non-LED sources, to see if there was anything of concern. Other than the Microwave, I found nothing. And from LED products – nothing.

In general terms, when I look into arguments against LED technology, I will find a few references from legitimate sources that point to the conclusions or support the voracity of claims on some level. In this specific case, I find nothing to back the claims of alarmists that EMF is an issue in LED Lighting. This correlates with several other reports, and is summarized nicely in the aforementioned BRE report, paragraph 6.

Okay, so what about RF Then…

When it comes to WiFi and Radio Frequency EMF, I will only say that these devices do not emit RF energy any longer than it takes to impart a control function. All of the transmitters and receivers I tested in house emit nothing unless a control is activated. In my opinion, this transient nature is not going to cause any harm at the energy levels involved, over the very brief and infrequent periods that they exist.

That does not mean that devices do not emit any RFI. In fact many do, and it can interfere with communications equipment. However, the RF energy levels even the worst of these products generates, is very low, well below wireless communications, so the risk of exposure to humans is not an issue. The issue is one of quality, where RF emissions is not fully considered or included in the design. RFI is not EMF.

Confusion of terms – EMI vs. EMF

I did note that there are references and videos on You tube, like ‘Dirty Electricity and LED CFL Light Bulbs Stetzeriser Filter Placement‘, indicating issues of EMI, which is Electromagnetic Interference, not EMF, caused by various lamps. The noise these products creates on the AC power system within a building is indeed a potential issue, as it can interfere with other electronic devices that do not include line filtering, controls, and radio receiver devices. Most products operating from line voltage sources include filters to eliminate this, but some older products don’t. Utilities have also employed methods of filtering this out of metering systems.  Modern electronics, including lighting products also have features to eliminate this as well. Regardless, this is not EMF, and I could not find any objective evidence that this interference is in any way creating emissions in the delivered light of products that will have any impact on human health.  It should not go un-noticed that the largest collection of articles on “dirty electricity” is on the Electra Health web site, and that the majority of those articles are on RF and Microwave radiation concerns, where links to the actual .pdf papers are 404. Also noteworthy, is that the Electra Health web site is a product of Stetzerizer US, which sells filters for cleaning up dirty electricity. One of the more entertaining videos linked from the site is ‘Don’t use curly bulbs (CFL) compact fluorescent or LED bulbs‘ which asserts that EMI is emitted from the lamps and wires into the air, but uses a plug-in meter to show the EMI present from the samples they chose. No proof of any of the EMI frequencies escaping the wires or fixtures is provided, except using a low end AM radio placed near the sample lamps, which distinctly emitted a 60Hz buzz on the transistor radio. The viewer of the video is obviously being asked to set aside any experience they have in spaces illuminated by fluorescent and LED products, with no incandescent, and no Stetzerizer devices, yet experienced no radio interference.

Perhaps the most revealing information attached to the video is the following statement:

ElectraHealth.com highly recommends using only regular incandescent (old fashioned) light bulbs or as a better alternative the Clean Halogen energy-saving bulbs like the kind we carry in our store. They work just like incandescents, but use 30% less electricity.

Case closed.

Additional Reads on the topic:





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