Back to the top

AirPods: Are Apple’s New Wireless Earbuds Safe?

October 13, 2016

AirPods: Are Apple’s New Wireless Earbuds Safe?

September 12, 2016


Apple’s new AirPods are wireless earbuds that employ Bluetooth technology to communicate with your smart phone, laptop, or smart watch. 

According to Apple, “After a simple one-tap setup, AirPods are automatically on and always connected.”

The Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) for the AirPods

The left AirPod emits Bluetooth microwave radiation in the 2.402 – 2.480 GHz frequency range to communicate with a smart phone or other wireless device. The Specific Absorption Rate (or SAR) of the AirPod is 0.466 watts per kilogram (averaged over 1 gram). (1)  For more information about the SAR see my post on the iPhone 7.


If one uses the AirPods many hours a day, the cumulative exposure to the brain from this microwave radiation could be substantial. 

According to EE Times, the left AirPod communicates with the right AirPod using a different technology, "near field magnetic induction (NFMI)."

Although there is a substantial research literature on the health risks of exposure to magnetic fields, I am not aware of any biologic research that examines NFMI. Hence, this post focuses on the risks to the brain from exposure to Bluetooth radiation. 

Is Bluetooth safe?


The wireless industry argues that devices that use Bluetooth are safe because the microwave radiation emitted by such devices is low compared to FCC guidelines. The FCC requires the SAR to be 1.6 watts per kilogram or less.


More than 220 scientists who have published research on electromagnetic radiation safety believe that current national and international guidelines for exposure to radio frequency radiation are inadequate to protect human health (see the International EMF Scientist Appeal).

I could find only two peer-reviewed studies that have examined the effects of exposure to Bluetooth radiation. The studies which employed small samples evaluated the effects of brief exposure to Bluetooth radiation on the auditory system. (2) Given the study limitations, the absence of significant effects is not surprising. These studies do not provide the basis to argue that long-term exposure to Bluetooth radiation is safe.

Low-intensity microwave radiation can open the blood-brain barrier

In 1975, Allan Frey published a paper in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences which reported that exposure to low intensity microwave radiation could open the blood-brain barrier in rats. Moreover, pulsed radio frequency waves (like Bluetooth) were more likely to produce this effect than continuous waves. (3)

 

The blood-brain barrier is a special layer of cells in the brain that prevents chemical toxins in the blood system from reaching the brain. Breaching this barrier could potentially lead to neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases and brain cancer.

 

More than a dozen peer-reviewed studies have replicated Frey's findings—exposure to low intensity microwave radiation can open the blood-brain barrier (see links below). (3)  

The effect of microwave radiation on the blood-brain barrier is nonlinear—it occurs with low intensity exposures but not at higher intensity exposures.


Although other published studies have failed to find the blood-brain barrier effect, these studies tended to use higher intensity exposures or employed small samples.

Recommendations

We may not be certain of the long-term risks of using Bluetooth devices, but why would anyone insert microwave-emitting devices in their ears near their brain when there are safer ways to use a cell phone?

 

I recommend the use of corded headsets or hands-free use of cell phones, not wireless earbuds. Moreover, one should never keep a cell phone next to your body, especially during a phone call, but also whenever the phone is powered on. For additional tips on how to reduce your exposure to wireless radiation see http://bit.ly/safewirelesstips.

 

for extended reading: http://bit.ly/2eccb9J (source)