"The radiation left over from the Big Bang is the same as that in your microwave oven, only less powerful. It would cook your pizza to minus 271 degrees Celsius." - Stephen Hawking
I'm often asked if the radiation emitted by batteries, such as an iPhone or, more frequently, electric vehicle (EV) batteries, is dangerous. As we're all living in a progressively more technologically advanced society where most everything is electrified, we're all exposed to a constant level of electromagnetic radiation.
To answer the question of how dangerous our modern technological lifestyle is, one has to understand what is meant by radiation. Radiation is the energy of the electromagnetic waves as they travel through space. The two most important impacts on health we must consider are first, the intensity or energy level of the radiation, and second, the exposure time to that radiation. In regards to the intensity, the electromagnetic spectrum spans from high-energy gamma rays, then x-rays, then UV rays to lower-energy radio waves.
Visible light is on this spectrum and lies in between these two extremes. The most dangerous radiation to humans is ionizing radiation. These are the gamma rays, x-rays, and ultraviolet rays that can knock out electrons from their orbit around atoms and cause damage to the underlying structures of molecules (such as DNA). When we go out in the sun and get sunburnt, it is UV light that is causing the damage and potential skin cancer via this mechanism. The radiation in question, however, the one that is emitted by telephones, power lines, or electric vehicles, is classified in the lower-energy spectrum. This radiation is not ionizing as it is not energetic enough to knock off electrons out of their orbits around the atoms.
The question is, does this lower level of radiation cause biological damage to tissues, and specifically, is there an increased risk of cancer as a result of exposure to such low-level radiation? This question has been extensively studied. Over the last several decades, well over 20,000 papers have appeared in the scientific literature relating to this topic. Sparing you the excruciating details, the conclusion appears to be, so far, there is no evidence of an increase in harmful effects of these lower-level radiations.
In neurosurgery, for instance, there is no epidemic of right-sided brain tumors as a result of cell phone usage. It appears that even the more powerful electric vehicle batteries do not have a strong enough electromagnetic field to harm humans. Nevertheless, as more electric vehicles come to market and as the batteries get progressively more potent, the second aspect of radiation needs to be studied more extensively.
As I mentioned above, the two components of radiation that make it harmful are first, the energy level of the radiation, and second, the time exposure. EV batteries emit a very low level of radiation. However, as more people become exposed to progressively longer electromagnetic low-level radiation from EV batteries, one could start seeing a cumulative effect over a prolonged period of time.
To try to avoid low-level radiation around us is virtually impossible in a developed society. We're continuously surrounded by both natural and man-made radiation. Although sunlight itself is much more powerful and potentially damaging than the low-level radiation of power lines, telephones, and EV batteries, the cumulative effect of all this radiation over many years is still unknown. As it is virtually impossible to get away from radiation, I think it is important to find ways to mitigate its effects.
The use of sunscreens and other shielding methods from sun damage is well-documented as a very effective barrier. For the other forms of radiation, I believe that the use of antioxidants in the diet may also be beneficial in mitigating the effects of low-level radiation damage from the other sources. More on this in future posts.