In 2011 the World Health Organisation’s International Agency on Research for Cancer (IARC) grouped radio frequency electromagnetic fields in group 2B in their classification of agents, declaring it as possibly carcinogenic (cancer-causing) to humans.
Radiofrequency is instrumental to the function of cellphones, computers and microwaves. Most industry professionals in health and technology argue that substantial research has n2ot been conducted to claim or disclaim the effects radiofrequency has on human health. Yet why sufficient research has not been undertaken to determine the health risks associated with items so deeply integrated into modern daily life is uncertain and disturbing.
Any negative effects associated with these recent technological advances are likely to reveal themselves only in the longer term, as was the case with tobacco; perhaps we should begin studying the possible effects now rather than later.
Between mobile phones, computers and microwaves, the most research has been conducted on microwaves, perhaps because its invention preceded mobiles and computers. Research conducted on microwaves in the past 20 to 30 years, although also somewhat limited in its extent, may provide useful insights into the effects of radiofrequency on the human body.
Countless scientific studies and experiments have analysed the effects microwaves themselves may have on the body, although the question remains – does microwaved food pose a danger to our bodies?
The typical microwave has a power rating of about 600 to 1,500 watts. Microwaves use radiation to agitate polarised water molecules in food, creating the heat that warms your meals. Building on Nazi radar technology developed in World War II, Percy Spencer invented the revolutionary item that made cooking and reheating our food relatively quick and easy.
A common concern is that cooking food in a microwave eliminates a significant amount of its nutrients. Research shows that most food loses some nutrients when cooked, regardless of the method; the argument is whether microwaving food results in a loss that results in food no longer being beneficial for the body, or even dangerous.
Other research has found that microwaves damage our food in ways far beyond destroying their nutrients, specifically since dielectric heating, the heating process used by microwaves, causes a change in the chemical structure of food.
In 1989, a well-known study by Swiss nutrition scientist, Dr. Hans Ulrich Hertel and Professor Bernard Blanc, both from the Zurich Federal Institute of Technology and the University Institute for Biochemistry, found that eating microwaved food can have multiple negative effects on the human body.
Dr. Hertel concluded that microwave-cooked food changed the chemical composition and nutrients in food in a dangerous way. The effects of these structural alterations included increased cholesterol levels; decreased numbers of white blood cells in humans (which could suggest poisoning and cell damage); decreased numbers of red blood cells in humans (which affects how much oxygen body tissues receive, and tissues need oxygen to function effectively); the production of radiolytic compounds in food (chemical decomposition caused by radiation not naturally found); and decreased haemoglobin levels in blood (which could suggest anaemia).
The Swiss Association of Dealers for Electro-apparatuses for Households and Industry (FEA) quickly silenced Dr. Hertel and Dr. Blanc’s published results. The FEA’s demand for a gag order was approved by the President of the Court of Seftigen in the Canton of Bern. In this case, history repeated itself once again: the economic well-being of a few conglomerates trumped the health of the masses.
A year later, in 1993, Dr. Hertel was convicted by the Swiss judiciary system for “interfering with commerce.” The heavy weight of capitalism, and the nature of human greed struck again.
Five years later, the rulings of the court in Bern were ruled unconstitutional. In the case of Hertel v. Switzerland (1998), held in Strasbourg, France, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that Hertel’s freedom of speech had been violated by the 1992 court rule and the gag order issued by the Swiss court. They ordered the Swiss government to pay 40,000 Swiss francs to Hertel for costs and expenses.
Yet Hertel and Blanc were not the only researchers to identify chemical restructuration in microwaved food. In 2003, the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture published a study that showed that broccoli immersed in water and cooked in a microwave loses roughly 74 to 97 percent of its antioxidants, whereas steamed broccoli, or broccoli cooked without water, retains most of its nutrients.
Multiple researchers have found that the best way to retain maximum nutrients in most vegetables is to eat them raw or moderately steamed. Based on this research, we could conclude that microwaving food is not necessarily dangerous but is nonetheless a poor way to cook food and retain nutrients. Along the same line, in a 1992 Stanford Medical School study, scientists found a “marked decrease” in the immune-boosting factors of microwaved human breast milk.
Many health professionals have also reported that using a microwave to warm human blood in preparation for transfusion renders it dangerous. This is argued by some medical professionals to be a question of speed rather than equipment, maintaining that heating blood rapidly regardless of what technological machine is used would make it dangerous.
In Warner v. Hillcrest Medical Center, a 1991 lawsuit in Oklahoma, United States, the plaintiffs were the family of a deceased hip surgery patient suing a medical centre for giving a woman a faulty blood transfusion. Norma Levitt, a hip surgery patient, died following a blood transfusion because the nurse allegedly warmed the blood in a microwave. Blood transfusions are normally not warmed in microwave ovens. Blood is typically heated instead using a blood warmer, which closely monitors temperature and alerts the user when the transfusion is prepared. The argument was that the warmed blood was chemically altered in the microwave – the destruction of red blood cells due to rapid heating leads to the release of potassium in harmful quantities – and as a result killed the deceased.
Medical malpractice action against twenty-one defendants for death of patient after hospital employees administered transfusion with blood warmed in kitchen microwave.
Following a defendants’ verdict, sixteen defendants sought and received award of sanctions totaling $200,000 for alleged violations
The judged ruled against the Warners and ordered their legal representation, a law firm called Wilkinson & Monaghan. The Center was eventually not found to be guilty of medical malpractice, but the cause of death seemed to remain unclear. Hillcrest did, however, instate a ban on the use of microwaves for medical purposes following the case.[EK1]
In 1990, an issue of the Nutrition Action Newsletter, published by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, reported the leakage of different toxic chemicals from plastic packaging of many microwaveable foods like pizza, popcorn and ready-meals. Chemicals included polyethylene terephthalate (PET), benzene (classified by IARC as 1, carcinogenic), toluene, and xylene. Microwaving certain foods in plastic containers prompts the release of dioxins (known carcinogens) and other toxins into your food. Popcorn manufacturers, for example, coat the bags with a certain chemical that transforms into perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) while being cooked. PFOA is classified as a Group 2B possible carcinogen by the IARC and a ‘likely’ carcinogen by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
Another common contaminant in plastic packaging is bisphenol A (BPA). Dishes made specifically for the microwave often contain BPA, but many other plastic products contain it as well. As with many of the issues surrounding microwaving, not enough studies have been done, but research to date shows that BPA can potentially affect the brain, behaviour, and prostate glands in foetuses, infants, and young children.
Not enough research has been conducted in recent years to determine the effects of microwaves on the human body. Past research has drawn opposing conclusions. Based on the research we’ve seen thus far, however, microwaving food does not seem to be worth the consequences.
We know that microwaving our food compromises its quality and nutritional value. We know that the Soviet Union, a communist country, banned the microwave after testing its effects on the human body after World War II, while the United States, a capitalist country, chose to market and improve upon it. Both countries adopted the technology at the end of World War II from the Germans, who used the microwave to warm food quickly on the front line.
We know that instead of commissioning another researcher to debunk Dr. Hertel’s findings, the FEA decided to get a gag order. We know that in 2011, the WHO’s International Agency on Research for Cancer (IARC) declared radiofrequency fields would be classed 2b, “possibly carcinogenic” on their risk list, meaning that they are possibly carcinogenic and that the WHO virtually ignored and arguably covered up this information (see insightful documentary “Microwaves, Science, and Lies”, which investigates alleged corruption in the World Health Organisation).
In theory, if microwaves are dangerous, so by extension are our computers and our mobile phones and anything else that emits radiofrequency radiation. Yet what alternatives do we have? Are we ready to relinquish so much progress? Is there a safe balance? Is there a safe way to modify our communication tools without renouncing technological progress?