Some doctors believe Airpods may cause cancer

Casey McCabe

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A recent claim has surfaced online that Apple’s wireless airpod earphones have the potential to give users brain cancer.  This is causing controversy among users and the scientific community.

This claim originates from a 2015 United Nations petition warning against EMF radiation, which garnered the signatures of 250 medical professionals.  EMF, or electro-magnetic field radiation, is produced by technology such as cellphones, wifi signals, and radio waves.  The petition signed in 2015 urged governments to introduce legislation to regulate the strength of these signals in consumer products.  

In recent years, the advent of Bluetooth technology again raised this issue.  However in an article written by Melissa Healy of the Los Angeles Times, John E Moulder, a radiation biologist at the University of Wisconsin medical school said the risks posed by Bluetooth technology are nothing new.  Bluetooth technology utilizes short range radio transmissions that are much weaker than those emitted by the average cellphone.  The average Bluetooth device has an output of 10-18 milliwatts, only 1% of which is actually turned into EMF radiation.  This is a remarkably minuscule dose compared to the amount of radiation produced by holding a cellphone to one’s own head.  

The consumer market has played a role in limiting the amount of EMF radiation emitted by cellphones and Bluetooth devices.  This is due to the fact that technology with lower EMF radiation tends to have a longer battery life, a trait preferred by consumers. 

Although Bluetooth technology appears remarkably safe compared to wifi and cell signals at first glance, the medical community is hardly at a consensus.  In an article for the Daily Mail, Natalie Rahhal reached out to Dr. Joel Moskowitz, a community health professor at University of California – Berkeley.  Moskowitz said that Bluetooth technology is effectively a public health experiment that he advises the population to abstain from. 

Bluetooth was first patented in 2003, so there has been 15 years for the scientific community to analyze its effects.   Some studies have been conducted on rodents, but these studies themselves are a hotbed of debate.  Although one study did yield results suggesting that EMF waves can cause cancer, critics of the study raise the issue that the amount of radiation the rodents were exposed to was well above the average amount emitted by a Bluetooth device, let alone a cellphone.  

Part of the increased concern over airpods specifically as opposed to other wireless Bluetooth products is the fact that airpods communicate by sending signals to each other.  When both buds are placed in the ear these signals must travel through the user’s brain.  Because the Bluetooth signals emitted by the airpods are low intensity there is a possibility, according to Dr. Moskowitz that they could open the blood brain barrier.  The blood brain barrier is involved with keeping large molecules out of the brain.  

When Apple first launched airpods in 2016, Apple spokesperson Alex Kirschner said, “Apple products are always designed and tested to meet or exceed all safety requirements.”  The problem is that regulations are lax at best, and nonexistent at worst.  Currently the FDA and the FCC share responsibility for the regulation of radiation produced by wireless devices.  This regulation however is not proactive as the FDA and FCC cannot review the safety of devices before they enter the consumer market.  

The possible dangers of EMF radiation have been known for some time as in 2011, when the World Health Organization classified EMF radiation as a possible carcinogen.  At the end of the day, the scientific community simply has not had enough time to come to a consensus about whether EMF radiation in small doses is dangerous.  The one thing that the community does agree on is that there is a risk.