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Apple’s AirPods and similar wireless devices emit radiofrequency radiation, a kind of low-level electromagnetic field referred to as EMF, that most scientists say is harmless.
The government sets limits for how much radiofrequency radiation products can emit, based on how much exposure is safe. Tests show AirPods fall well below that limit.
Wireless earpieces emit far less radiation than the cellphones they’re often used with, experts say. And there’s no evidence that cellphone use can cause cancer in humans.
Will playing your tunes on AirPods damage your brain? Experts say no, but unproven claims that Apple’s popular wireless earpieces AirPods are dangerous because they emit high levels of radiation close to your brain are cropping up on social media.
"A lot of people ask me why I wear these headphones that have a cord instead of wearing AirPods," a man says in a video posted on Instagram Aug. 2. "The answer is quite simple, because AirPods are essentially microwaving your brain."
"They emit extremely high levels of EMFs," he goes on to say. "These EMFs release radiation. And the last place you want to release radiation is in your brain. That’s essentially what you’re doing by wearing AirPods."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
To bolster his case, the video’s narrator cites a 2019 article with a headline that reads, "More than 250 scientists warn EMF from wireless devices such as Apple's AirPods poses cancer risk."
That article refers to a letter that a group of scientists sent to the heads of the United Nations and World Health Organization, expressing safety concerns about increased human exposure to electromagnetic fields from electronic and wireless devices. The letter was originally sent in 2015 and updated in 2019 to add signatories and change the names of addressees. Neither letter mentions Apple AirPods, which were introduced in 2016.
We found no evidence that scientists have declared AirPods health hazards. We also found that AirPods emit levels of radiation far below government-established limits and far less than cellphones.
The video’s "frightening claim is grossly inconsistent with views of health agencies," said Kenneth Foster, a professor emeritus of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, who said he has studied radiofrequency energy’s health effects since the early 1970s.
Electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, are a combination of electric and magnetic fields of energy, or radiation, which are produced by electricity, according to the National Cancer Institute.
This radiation is categorized as high-frequency EMFs, or ionizing, which is produced by things like X-rays and gamma rays, and low-to-midfrequency EMFs, or nonionizing.
Although prolonged exposure to ionizing EMFs could harm humans, low-level EMFs are thought to be harmless, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Services.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said that "scientific consensus shows that nonionizing radiation is not a carcinogen and, at or below the radio frequency exposure limits set by the (Federal Communications Commission), nonionizing radiation has not been shown to cause any harm to people."
"There have been arguments — and overheated statements by activists — for many years about possible hazards of cellphones," said Foster. "But health agencies have repeatedly reviewed the scientific literature and found no clear evidence for hazards from RF exposures from cellphones, and, by extension, Apple AirPods."
The National Institute of Cancer said that cellphones have not been proven to cause cancer in humans and notes that there has not been an increase in brain or central nervous system cancers since cellphones entered wide use.
The World Health Organization said on a webpage dated in 2016 that "based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields. However, some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research."
There is some evidence that radiation from cellphones can cause cancer in rats, according to studies published in 2018 by the National Toxicology Program. However, the animals in those studies were exposed to radiofrequency radiation over their whole bodies at much higher levels than the limits set for human exposure, so extrapolating risks for humans is difficult, it said.
The American Cancer Society acknowledged that Bluetooth earpieces like AirPods emit radiofrequency radiation, and that "possible health effects from these devices cannot be ruled out completely at this time." Corded earphones, like the ones worn in the Instagram video, emit "virtually no RF waves," it said, and could be an alternative for people wishing to limit exposure to these rays,
The society said it has no official position on whether radiofrequency radiation can cause cancer.
The Federal Communications Commission said that all wireless devices sold in the U.S. must meet guidelines on radiofrequency radiation exposure in terms of specific absorption rate (SAR), defined as a measure of the rate that RF energy is absorbed by the body. The allowable limit from wireless devices, it says, is 1.6 watts per kilogram, averaged over 1 gram of body tissue.
The FCC stressed that there is no evidence of any health risks from wireless devices, but notes for concerned users that the small amount of RF energy released by wireless earpieces is much lower than from a cellphone, thus reducing total exposure to a person’s head.
Apple did not return a request for comment, but told Reuters fact-checkers in 2021 that AirPods and AirPod Pros "meet all applicable radio frequency exposure guidelines and limits" and that they are "more than two times below applicable limits for radio frequency exposure."
An Instagram video alleges that AirPods are "essentially microwaving your brain" by emitting high levels of electromagnetic radiation.
But the electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, the devices release as radiofrequency radiation are far below limits set by the government and much less than the cellphones they are used with, experts say.
Although some researchers have expressed safety concerns about long-term exposure, there is no scientific evidence to link the low-level EMFs emitted by cellphones — and, by extension, wireless earpieces like AirPods — to cancer or other health problems in humans.
We rate this claim False.
Instagram video, Aug. 2, 2022
Email interview with Kenneth Foster, a professor emeritus of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, Aug. 3, 2022
American Cancer Society, "Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation"
American Cancer Society, "Cellular (cell)phones"
National Cancer Institute, "Electromagnetic Fields and Cancer," accessed Aug. 2, 2022
National Cancer Institute, "Cellphones and cancer risk," accessed Aug. 2, 2022
National Institute of Environmental Health Services, "Electric & Magnetic Fields," accessed Aug. 2, 2022
EMFscientist.org, "Scientists call for Protection from Non-ionizing Electromagnetic Field Exposure," updated Sept. 21, 2019
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Radio Frequency Radiation and Cell Phones," accessed Aug. 2, 2022
U.S. Food and Drug Administration, "Scientific Evidence for Cell Phone Safety," accessed Aug. 2, 2022
Apple press release, "Apple reinvents the wireless headphone with AirPods," Sept. 7, 2016
National Library of Medicine, "Real-world cell phone radiofrequency electromagnetic field exposures," April 2019
Federal Communications Commission, "Wireless Devices and Health Concerns," accessed Aug. 3, 2022
Federal Communications Commission, "Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) For Cell Phones: What It Means For You," accessed Aug. 3, 2022
Federal Communications Commission, "RF Safety FAQ," accessed Aug. 3, 2022
FCC Report, "SAR evaluation report" 2021
FCC Report, "SAR evaluation report," 2019
International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, "RF EMFs," accessed Aug. 3, 2022
Cancer Treatment Centers of America, "Do wireless devices cause cancer?" Aug. 3, 2021
National Toxicology Program, "Cell Phone Radio Frequency Radiation," accessed Aug. 3, 2022
World Health Organization, "Radiation: Electromagnetic fields," accessed Aug. 3, 2022
Verify This, No, AirPods don't transmit dangerously high electromagnetic or radiofrequency waves," Nov. 12, 2021
Reuters, "Fact Check-No established evidence that Apple AirPods harm your health," July 1, 2021
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