Well, I’ve used my quota of words for the month of May so now I’m going to have to make the next several posts somewhat shorter. That’s what happens when you get on a really passionate topic. The last post was about smart electric meters and the un-smart way in which the power companies have tried to make their case. We all know that it falls under the heading of WIIFM . . . short for what’s-in-it-for-me, and that goes both ways. All kinds of rhetoric has been tossed around about how good smart meters are for the user (they allow you to make a 4-color graph of power usage one electron at a time) but a lot of people who are about to get smart meters are really worried about their safety.
Should we be concerned about RF safety? It’s pretty obvious that when you are lucky enough to trap a mean little gremlin in your microwave oven and press the GO button, you can create a big mess. Microwave 1, Gremlin 0. We can do the same thing by trying to heat a hardboiled egg. It’s possible to heat coffee, cook chicken, or warm up leftovers. It’s been known since at least the early 1960s that there are thermal effects associated with RF energy and that the higher the power, the greater the effect. It’s also known that RF energy changes the characteristics of the material being heated.
There are some athermal effects as well, and these can occur at low RF levels. Sunlight is a form of electromagnetic energy so it is not surprising that at some RF frequencies – other than light – plant growth rate increases. Wow! Cells multiply at an increased rate. Isn’t that somewhat like cancer?
Depending on the amplitude, frequency, and pulse repetition rate, RF energy can stimulate the optic nerve creating light flashes or humming/buzzing sounds when auditory nerves are stimulated. At around 400 V/m one begins to experience a sour lemony taste sensation. Been there, done that! We didn’t know any better. In the 1960s and early 1970s EMC engineers often performed RF radiated susceptibility tests with the test generators, amplifiers, antennas, and personnel in the enclosures along with the test sample.
The US DOD has a crowd dispersal weapon that causes a burning sensation on all exposed skin. A couple of weeks ago an article came out about a new Russian RF weapon that destroys parts of the central nervous system creating zombie like victims. This is really interesting because since the 1960s the Russians have had RF safety requirements that are three orders of magnitude less than the ones we use. Their list of RF reactions includes headaches, listlessness, memory loss, and indecisiveness.
Now, let me ask the question again. Should we be concerned about RF safety?