They’re polarizing, but the Apple’s AirPods, the courageous wireless earbuds that promised to whisk us away to an untethered musical wonderland, are undeniably big hits.
With Apple ceremoniously killing off the headphone jack on the iPhone, other smartphone makers have followed suit, writing thankless obituaries for the traditional 3.5 mm audio port and declaring boldly that the future of headphones is indeed wireless.
But as we’re now increasingly bombarded with constant radio frequencies and electromagnetic radiation from our gadgets every single second, do the AirPods and other wireless headphones pose a very serious danger due to their close proximity to our heads?
A group of scientists believes so, and they are now imploring the United Nations (UN) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to hear them out.
Can AirPods cause cancer?
A group of around 250 EMF scientists has issued an international appeal to the UN and the WHO, calling for “protection from non-ionizing electromagnetic exposure.”
Based on peer-reviewed research, they said that they have serious concerns about our increasing exposure to the radiation emitted by electric and wireless devices.
And like any other modern gadget, AirPods and other Bluetooth earphones, like the Beats X and the new Samsung Galaxy Buds, for example, also emit electromagnetic field (EMF) radio frequencies.
AirPods, in general, are a big cause of concern since they are embedded within one’s ear canal when in use, directly exposing the inner ear to EMF radiation. The close proximity to the brain of their typical position is also alarming to many scientists.
According to the group’s UN appeal, numerous recent studies show that EMF exposure has these effects on living organisms:
- increased cancer risk
- cellular stress
- increase in harmful free radicals
- genetic damages
- structural and functional changes of the reproductive system
- learning and memory deficits
- neurological disorders
- negative impacts on general well-being in humans
This damage, they said, goes beyond humans. There is growing evidence that these also adversely affect both plant and animal life.
The debate over Bluetooth and other low-power EMF
One thing about Bluetooth and cellphone radiation is that it is low energy, so some argue that it’s generally safer than high-energy radiation sources like X-rays.
The most well-known short-term risk associated with radio frequency radiation is that, at very high levels, it can generate heat and cause burns. However, scientists and researchers are still gathering data about the effects of long-term exposure to low-power EMF radiation. There’s simply not enough data yet to make anything conclusive.
Past studies have certainly linked certain types of brain cancer and fertility problems even to low-energy radiation like the type emitted by cellphones and other wireless gadgets. Similar to what the EMF scientists said, although not conclusive, radio frequency radiation is linked to health issues like:
- Brain cancer, tumors of the acoustic nerve (necessary for hearing and balance) and the salivary glands
- Lower sperm counts and inactive, less mobile sperm
- Headaches and effects on learning and memory, hearing, behavior and sleep
Some people also claim that they have EMF hypersensitivity and say exposure to radio frequency radiation trigger multiple symptoms like headaches, muscle aches, pain, rashes, insomnia,
Other bodies such as the FDA and the International Agency for Research on Cancer also admitted that “extremely low-frequency electromagnetic fields” are possibly carcinogenic to humans.
Again, similar to the debate over cellular and Wi-Fi electromagnetic field radiation, the scientific community is yet to conclude on the health impact of low-energy EMF exposure.
But although there is no conclusive data yet (research will take years), why should we risk it?
This is precisely the reason why this group of EMF scientists petitioned the UN and the WHO to develop guidelines to substantially lower human exposures to radio frequency radiation.
The EMF scientists’ recommendations
Here are the EMF scientist group’s requests to the UN and the WHO moving forward:
- Children and pregnant women are protected
- Guidelines and regulatory standards are strengthened
- Manufacturers are encouraged to develop safer technology
- 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
- The public be fully informed about the potential health risks from electromagnetic energy and taught harm reduction strategies
- Medical professionals are educated about the biological effects of electromagnetic energy and be provided training on the treatment of patients with electromagnetic sensitivity
- Governments fund training and research on electromagnetic fields and health that is independent of industry and mandate industry cooperation with researchers
- Media disclose experts’ financial relationships with industry when citing their opinions regarding health and safety aspects of EMF-emitting technologies
- White-zones (radiation-free areas) be established.
So should you use AirPods?
Wireless earbuds and headphones like the AirPods are definitely convenient and cool but all these warnings do make a lot of sense.
And since AirPods and other wireless earbuds and headphones are absolutely useless when not stuck in your ear canal or over your head, if you’re worried about their health risks, then you might want to stick with regular wired headphones hooked up via an adapter or a dongle.
If you’re concerned about the long-term effects of close proximity EMF radiation, sticking with the wire is the way to go for extended listening sessions. Pound for pound, wired headphones sound a whole lot better, too.