The internet is abuzz today with worries about the latest tech-fad-turned-health-hazard, with headlines warning that wireless headphones-like Apple's trendy AirPods-are a potential source of cancer. And yes, articles claiming that the little white devices could "pump radiation into your brain" caught our attention. But before we freak out too much, let's look at all the facts.
Those headlines you may be seeing today seem to stem from a Medium article published last week, which posed the question, "Are AirPods and Other Bluetooth Headphones Safe?" The article quotes Jerry Phillips, PhD, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, who says he's concerned about AirPods because "their placement in the ear canal exposes tissues in the head to relatively high levels of radio-frequency radiation."
The article also points out that Phillips is "not alone" in his concerns about wireless Bluetooth devices, citing a petitionthis addressed to the United Nations and the World Health Organization and signed by 250 researchers from more than 40 countries.
But here's something that's getting lost in the news reports this week: That petition doesn't mention AirPods by name, or even wireless headphones. Rather, the letter expresses "serious concern" about the potential health risks of non-ionizing electromagnetic field (EMF) technology, which is used by all Bluetooth devices.
The petition's not new, either. It was first published in 2015 and last updated on January 1 of this year. Among the devices it calls out by name are "cellular and cordless phones and their base stations, Wi-Fi, broadcast antennas, smart meters, and baby monitors."
Ken Foster, PhD, a professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania whose research involves the safety of electromagnetic fields, says he's not buying the latest hype about earbuds. "What's the news here? Someone's trying to play the media by resurrecting this petition," he tells Health.
Yes, it's true that wireless Bluetooth headphones emit radiation. It's also true that Apple sold an estimated 28 million pairs of its iconic AirPods last year-and that there's not a ton of long-term research on the safety of this type of radiation.