Radiation: Avoidance

Catch up on previous installments here.

 

Radiation is UNavoidable

Most people worry about man-made radiation – wifi, cell phones, etc. – when the largest doses of radiation we receive are from nature, and that radiation is often ionizing radiation. The measurements for radiation are in mrem. Dose limits per year are said to be 5,000 mrem/year, and 1,500 mrem for all three trimesters for a pregnant woman, though these limits are mostly used for nuclear plant workers, and are derived by attempting to discern where harm to the body begins and then setting a much lower limit. What studies show, though, is that we receive around 363 mrem/year from all sources natural and man-made. 28 mrem comes from cosmic sources, 28 from the earth’s crust, 39 from sources inside the body, and 200 from radon – uranium decay in soil. This is all called “natural background radiation.” On the other hand, the average dose of medical radiation is 54 mrem, and 10 mrem from consumer products. We receive less than 3 mrem from industry and less than 1 mrem from nuclear testing. This is on average – it will vary based on where you live and your lifestyle (for example, chain-smoking results in a markedly higher dose). Flying adds .5 mrem/hour because of being closer to the sun. Cathode Ray screens would also raise your mrem exposure (but LED screens are a LOT safer). But on average, these amount to approximately 363 mrem/year. These numbers come from this, but you can calculate it yourself here. This chart gives a more visual explanation of where we get radiation from and how much we get.
This is all about ionizing radiation. I can’t find anywhere how much mrem we get from wifi and cell phones a year (or averages depending on usage).
What I did find is an article that was critiquing the movement to take wifi out of schools that helps put things into perspective:

“When we have conducted measurements in schools, typical exposures from wi-fi are around 20 millionths of the international guideline levels of exposure to radiation. As a comparison, a child on a mobile phone receives up to 50 per cent of guideline levels. So a year sitting in a classroom near a wireless network is roughly equivalent to 20 minutes on a mobile. If wi-fi should be taken out of schools, then the mobile phone network should be shut down, too – and FM radio and TV, as the strength of their signals is similar to that from wi-fi in classrooms.”

Many people would say “why be okay with anything?”  I agree, and yet that kind of thinking isn’t a place I go regarding radiation, because while ideally things like wifi shouldn’t be made public until they’re proven safe (not just assumed safe), in today’s age we just can’t do anything to get rid of it. It’s unavoidable. We try to remember to turn off our wifi at night, partly to save electricity and partly just in case it has some effect. I’m not so worried about it, though, not so much because of the radiation but because if I pull up the wireless connections available on my laptop, there are 20 other connections available. Two of those have the same strength as ours, and another twelve of those have just one or two bars less. Most public places also have wifi now, and everyone around you has a cell phone and there are cell phone towers everywhere.
If you’re concerned about it, life without a microwave is easy. We have one for now because we can’t get rid of it, but would love to trade it for a toaster oven more for preference than safety (microwaved food doesn’t have as nice of a texture or stay warm as long as oven or stove-heated food). Ezra’s not worried about it; I’m cautious. I rarely use ours, and all it takes is a little more planning in my day. You can replaced wireless internet with wired without too much hassle. You could get a landline and only use your cell phone when out, but because of how it all surrounds us it won’t make much of a difference.
If we lived out in the country, I wouldn’t want wifi because not having it might do us some good. But in an apartment complex we don’t think it’s worth it, because getting rid of our wifi would make only a fractional dent (if even) in our exposure.
You also have to consider the costs and benefits. We don’t know how wifi and cell phone radiation might affect us, but we do know they can be incredible tools to stay connected, order healthy food, learn, and many other things. Those are the benefits, and as someone who has lived all over the world and has close friends and family all over the world, the benefits of internet and cell phones are great.
What are the costs? No one knows for sure at this point. Short-term, most people aren’t ill-affected at all. But over the course of our lives, it’s possible that there would be adverse effects.

Another example of radiation-related cost/benefit analysis is that strenuous exercise can create free radicals in our bodies. Free radicals are also what radiation can create in our bodies, and yet we consider exercise to be good and radiation to be bad. Why is that? The benefits from exercising are far greater than the risks of free radicals from exercising, aiding the sustaining of a healthy body that can fight the free radicals. While there is a cost to exercise in that regard, the consensus is that the risks of not exercising pose a far greater risk than production of free radicals from strenuous activity. However, many say that the best way to counter this risk in your exercise is by interval training rather than long, hard workouts.
The other similar example is sunshine. We get radiation from the sun, and yet we know that spending time in the sun can give us vitamin D, an essential vitamin, so we do it anyway, because the benefits outweigh the risks.

So while non-ionizing radiation affects our bodies differently than ionizing radiation, we don’t know exactly how, and yet they’re unavoidable. Where do we go from there?

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