Francisca Benitez

A bill introduced in the Oregon Senate would require the Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority to review studies on the potential health risks of exposure to radiation from electronic devices in classrooms.

SB 283 focuses on microwave radiation emitted from electronic devices like Wi-Fi routers, computers and cellphones.

The bill calls for the Department of Education and the Oregon Health Authority to review scientific studies about the effects of radiofrequency (RF) radiation and create a strategic plan for safety based on their research. It would also require schools to “prepare a statement that discloses the potential health risks of wireless network technology” and distribute them in public and private elementary and secondary schools in the state.

But what exactly is radiofrequency radiation from electronics?

Davison Soper, a physics professor at the University of Oregon, explained that it sounds scarier than it is. “Radiation is an unfortunate word,” he said.

According to the FDA, the electromagnetic spectrum is a measurement of waves of energy and how they move. The American Cancer Society’s website says High-energy radiation is radiation that can damage DNA and cause cancer and is called “ionizing radiation.” X-rays and gamma rays are examples of ionizing radiation. Non-ionizing radiation is not powerful enough to affect DNA. Visible light is a form of non-ionizing radiation.

The radiation in question is radiofrequency radiation, which is a non-ionizing form of radiation. It occurs naturally in space and on Earth and through man-made sources like TV, cell phone signals and Wi-Fi signals. It’s also used to heat food in microwave ovens.

Soper said because RF radiation waves cannot affect DNA and can only cause cells to vibrate or heat up, it is unclear how they could cause cancer. He noted the amount of radiation from electronic devices is highest when holding a cellphone to your head. The radiation is much greater when a cellphone is broadcasting a signal — like during a call — and because it cannot travel far, radiation is reduced greatly by talking on speakerphone or using a hands-free device.

The National Toxicology Program released a study in November of 2018 that showed a link between RF radiation and cancer.

However, the study exposed rats and mice to much higher levels of RF radiation than humans would experience, and the results were still mixed. Only male rats had an increase in cancerous tumors, and their lifespans were actually longer than rats that had not been exposed.

The American Cancer Society’s website refers to this study and states, “Some aspects of this study make it hard to know what these results might mean for people, but the results add evidence to the idea that RF radiation might potentially impact human health.”

The International Agency for Research on Cancer lists RF radiation — next to aloe extract and pickled vegetables — as “possibly carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans.” The American Cancer Society’s website is also inconclusive on the possible link between cellphones and cancer, saying, “Although some studies have shown a possible link, many others have not.”

See complete story in Monday's Observer