Within the next few years, nearly all cell-phones and smart-phones will be capable of wireless charging. Currently, that wireless charging is limited to small pads and docks at your home or in your vehicle that you set your device on.
However, technology is already being tested that would charge your phones and devices over fairly large distances so that all the devices in a given room could be charging at the same time regardless of their location.
Like all technology, how we charge our phones is evolving and there isn’t much we can do about it. But the question has to be asked, “Are their health hazards from wireless charging?”
In this article, I’m going to go fairly in-depth about the EMF radiation emitted from all kinds of wireless chargers, whether we should be concerned about this currently or in the future, and how we can protect ourselves.
First, let me just answer the basic question, and then we’ll dive into the good stuff.
What are the potential health hazards of wireless charging? Wireless chargers do emit EMF radiation, which has been shown to be harmful to the human body. However, the range that it emits this is actually quite low, and most wireless chargers are only active when a device is activating them. However, new wireless charging technology that is being developed could be significantly more dangerous.
How Does Wireless Charging Work?
When you first think of wireless charging it might actually sound like there is some complex and advanced technology behind it. However, the idea for it came about over 100 years ago. In 1899 Nikola Tesla theorized and began testing, the idea that power could be transmitted without wires.
Now, Tesla thought by now that we’d likely be able to transmit power to anywhere in the world. While that certainly isn’t true yet, his original theory of power transfer without cables has come to fruition.
So, how does wireless charging work exactly?
Well, it works through the concept of electromagnetic induction between two devices. Essentially, one device (in this case a charging station) has a “transmitter coil” and another device a “receiver coil.”
So, when you place your phone (that has a receiver coil inside) within the magnetic field generated by a charging station, it intercepts the electric current and utilizes it to charge the lithium-ion battery inside your phone.
Now, nearly all current “wireless chargers” are only capable of transmitting this magnetic field over a very, very, short range. This means that you need to place your phone directly on the mat of the wireless charger in order to charge your device.
This has some positives and some negatives.
The positive is that the EMF radiation emitted from wireless chargers falls off extremely quickly with distance. We’ll talk more about the radiation emitted from wireless chargers later in the article, but this is important to mention now.
The negative is that it makes wireless chargers fairly inconvenient for many people. Although you don’t have to take .8 seconds to plug in your phone when you’re using a wireless charger, you also aren’t really able to use your device while it’s charging.
Most people just plug their phone into a cable and are able to continue to scroll through apps or take a phone call while it’s charging.
However, since wireless chargers require the devices to be practically touching, continuing to use your phone is not only virtually impossible, it’s also potentially dangerous. The potential danger obviously coming from a large amount of EMF radiation emitted from the charger while in use (even if it’s over a short distance.)
Alright, now that we’ve talked about how wireless chargers work, and some of the positives and negatives of the technology, let’s talk a bit more about the potential health hazards from the EMF radiation emitted by wireless chargers.
Wireless Charging Radiation – Is It Dangerous?
So first, just to clarify in case it wasn’t obvious at this point, wireless chargers do emit EMF radiation. In fact, it would be virtually impossible for them not to in their current form.
EMF radiation is actually broken up into three different types: magnetic field, electric field, and radio frequency.
Radio frequency radiation or RF is what you often hear about when it comes to the danger of EMF radiation because it is what is primarily emitted from things like cell-phones, WiFi, cell towers, Bluetooth, and the coming 5G networks. So, although your cell-phone emits all three types of radiation, the most dangerous type (and amount) is radio frequency radiation.
However, with a wireless charging device, the only type of EMF it emits is actually magnetic field radiation. So, if you have an EMF meter and were looking to measure how much radiation was being emitted from your charging pad, you would turn it to the magnetic field setting if you wanted to get a reading.
So, now that we’ve determined that wireless charging pads do emit EMF’s, the question is whether the amount of, and way in which they emit, EMF radiation, is dangerous.
How Much Radiation Do Wireless Chargers Emit?
I don’t personally have wireless chargers in my home, but I was able to go over to a friends house to get some measurements myself. Now I don’t want to give away the exact brand I was measuring because I don’t want to worry about litigation, and it honestly doesn’t really matter.
However, I will just say that the charging pad used Qi technology, which is common in smartphone chargers specifically used for Apple iPhones. So, what exactly is Qi (pronounced “chi”)? Well to quote Wikipedia:
Qi is an open interface standard that defines wireless power transfer using inductive charging over distances of up to 4 cm, and is developed by the Wireless Power Consortium. The system uses a charging pad and a compatible device, which is placed on top of the pad, charging via resonant inductive coupling
So, Qi is essentially just an open-source interface method for wireless charging between a charging device and a receiving device. There are actually quite a few different wireless power transfer technologies, with more being developed all the time. However, for the purpose of this article, we’re going to talk primarily about Qi, and another technology called Rezence.
So, to get back to my own measuring experience, this is what I found.
Qi Charging Standard Radiation
With my Trifield TF2 set to magnetic I measured the charging pad first with no phone near the device to charge, but with the device plugged in. The readings I got were virtually 0 and essentially just ambient levels.
This confirmed what I had heard that most charging pads do not emit a magnetic charging field unless a phone is on the pad to activate it.
I then measured the charging pad with my iPhone 7 on it. I got readings close to 3 mG (milliGauss). Now, if you’ve read my article on what a high EMF reading is, you’ll know that anything over 1 mG is considered harmful to the human body. However, we need to clarify a few things here.
When I pulled my EMF meter about 3 inches away, the reading dropped below 1 mG, and at a range of a few feet, it was back to ambient levels.
This is due to a few things:
- I talk about this quite a bit in my articles, but there is a concept called the inverse square law of physics. Basically, this law states that as we double our distance from a source of radiation, we quarter our exposure to it. So this means that distance allows for exponential levels of protection.
Now, depending on the device, this doesn’t always mean that after a few inches or feet you are safe. For example, things like WiFi routers, smart meters, cell-phones, etc. can all emit dangerous levels of EMF radiation over dozens of feet or more.
However, in the case of wireless chargers, they only emit a small magnetic field in the immediate vicinity of the device, and therefore even a small amount of distance offers protection.
- These technologies in their current form are not meant to transmit power over distance, in fact about 4 cm is the farthest these wireless chargers are even capable of transmitting.
To that last point though, this will likely not always be the case. We’ll talk about that more in the next section though.
So, that was my experience with the Qi charging standard, but next, I want to talk quickly about a technology called Rezence. Now, I’m not an expert in exactly how these technologies function (you can read more about Qi vs. Rezence here), however, I will just say that my experience measuring a Rezence charging device was quite different.
Rezence Charging Standard Radiation
I was able to track down a charging device that relied on the Rezence standard and using a friends phone, was able to test it myself.
Unlike the Qi charger that emitted around 3 mG of magnetic field radiation, the Rezence charger maxed out my Trifield TF2 at 100 mG. Unfortunately, I didn’t have another meter with me to find out just how far above 100 mG it spiked too, so we’ll give the benefit of the doubt and say it was 100 mG.
Like I mentioned before, both from my own research and from the conclusions of the Bioinitiative Working Group, we want to avoid magnetic exposure to below 1 mG. So, that means my measurements of the Rezence standard charger were nearly 100 times greater than the exposure limits we want to avoid.
Another interesting thing to note, at least with the charger I tested, was that I got the same measurements even when the charging pad wasn’t charging a phone. So, this likely means that it is emitting this much magnetic radiation all the time.
Like the Qi charger, the radiation did fall off fairly quickly with distance, but even at a few feet away, I was still getting readings close to 1 mG.
So, I guess from my brief testing of the two chargers I would say that the Rezence charging standard charger is quite a bit worse when it comes to electrosmog compared to the Qi charger.
Now, I do just want to say that I was only able to test one brand of each charging standard, so I am making some assumptions about the charging standards themselves that could actually be an issue with the product. However, after doing some additional online research it does seem like it could be, at least in part, the standard to blame for the higher levels of magnetic radiation, and not just the device itself.
Wireless Chargers in Cars – Is The Radiation Dangerous?
Now I want to take a second and talk about wireless chargers in cars. I’ve talked a bit about the amplification effects of EMF radiation inside of the metal body of a vehicle in posts like this. Think about a Tesla with its enormous battery and advanced technology.
The problem with EMF radiation inside a vehicle is two-fold:
- Like we talked about above, distance is your best friends when it comes to protecting yourself from EMF radiation. Inside a vehicle, you don’t have the luxury of getting much distance from the tablet-like console, the cell-phones in the car, tv’s on the back of the seats, etc.
- The metal body of a car has a tendency to bounce around EMF radiation, amplifying it affects.
So, when we think about wireless chargers in a vehicle, we don’t have the luxury of getting much distance from the magnetic field that is produced.
Wireless chargers in vehicles are quickly becoming the standard, with all of these manufacturers now implementing them as a baseline feature in most of their newest vehicles:
Depending on what charging standard they are using (Qi, Rezence, or something else) this could actually mean that you are exposed to a fair amount of EMF radiation at a fairly close range.
Now, I don’t want to scare you, as it is likely that many of these wireless chargers are only operating when a phone is charging on the pad. In addition, many of them probably only emit magnetic fields over a very short distance before it falls off, so it may not be a huge concern… yet.
However, with newer and “better” tech coming out all the time, this could quickly change.
Alright, so now that we’ve talked about how much radiation is emitted from wireless chargers currently, let’s talk briefly about what the future holds.
The Future of Wireless Charging.
So, now that we’ve talked about the slight danger, and limitations, of current wireless charging that is readily available, let’s talk a bit about the future.
So, the first thing that we will for sure see is greater implementation and availability of wireless chargers outside the home. A great example is Starbucks, that is adding wireless chargers to locations all over the country and the world. Within the next few years, we will likely see them just about everywhere, from airport lounges to your dentist’s waiting room.
It will likely be in just about all new vehicles and almost everywhere people congregate and spend time.
That is obvious, what is less obvious is the new technologies that are being created and tested.
As an example of some new technology, let’s look at something called WattUp by a California startup called Energous. Whereas most wireless charging pads use a fairly rudimentary magnetic field, WattUp uses Radio Frequency packets, similar I imagine to sending data from a cell-phone to a cell-tower, to transmit power from a transmitter to a receiver.
Their technology has an extremely small form-factor, allowing it to be implemented in just about any electronic that needs charging (think smartphones, fitness watches, laptops, tablets, or just about anything else). Since the technology uses RF instead of magnetic fields, it’s capable of charging a device up to 15 feet away from the transmitter! Not only that, but it tracks the devices and beams the power directly to them.
So, imagine you’re in your living room, a small transmitter may be able to simultaneously charge the watch on your wrist, the phone in your pocket, and the tablet in your hands.
Take a look at the video below to get a better idea of how this would work:
I’ve reached out to Energous to inquire a bit more about their technology, and hopefully get my hands on it to test for myself in the future and I’ll update this when I hear back.
For now though, to quote the FAQ on their own website:
“Is It Safe?”
The RF energy exposure with our technology is essentially zero when devices are not being charged. When devices are being charged, RF exposure is always below, and usually substantially lower than FDA, FCC, and International limits.
So, since I can’t test this technology for myself, this is all the info we really have. With a well-backed company like this, and considering they recently received approval from the FCC on some of their technologies, I’ll assume this is entirely true.
However, if you’ve read any of my posts about specific absorption rate (SAR), you’ll know that the adequacy of this safety guideline is controversial at best.
As well, I’d be curious to know that if you have multiple devices on your person at one time, and all of them are charging via RF, does this still fall below federal safety guidelines?
Do these numbers take into consideration other EMF radiation exposures in the home, office, vehicle, or on your person?
Now, I’m not trying to pick on Energous as the technology is certainly revolutionary and incredible. I just have concerns about the implementation of technologies like this that can beam any type of RF or other EMF radiation over distances and charge your devices.
As well, there are dozens of wireless charging technologies being tested that would be able to charge all of the devices in a given room.
In an article on Tech.co talking about the future of wireless chargers, they mention a tech being tested by Disney.
Quote from the article:
Last year, the entertainment giant showcased a prototype room with “ubiquitous wireless power delivery.” By generating magnetic fields through quasistatic cavity resonance, researchers found that they could charge multiple smartphones that were simply within the room. While that might sound complicated, the results are simple enough for everyone to understand.
“This new innovative method will make it possible for electrical power to become as ubiquitous as WiFi,” said Alanson Sample, associate lab director and principal research scientist at Disney Research, to Phys.org.
“As ubiquitous as WiFi…” To be honest, and to quote one of my favorite podcasts, that gives me full body chills. Considering WiFi radiation is already a pretty significant EMF radiation exposure concern, a technology that is beaming RF all over a room to devices as they move around sounds a bit terrifying.
This is just two examples of the future of wireless charging, both of which scare me a little bit.
I’ve heard that wireless charging via soundwaves and lightwaves is even being tested, so there is really no telling what the future holds.
I just hope that the companies developing this tech, as well as the ones implementing it, consider the possible health effects on consumers. I also truly hope that regulatory agencies in the US and abroad consider reevaluating current safety standards.
Alright, this post is a bit longer-winded than I intended, but to be honest there is even more that I could have covered!
Let me just bottom line this really quick.
Are wireless chargers a hazard to human health? In their current form, probably not depending on the location of the device in proximity to your body. This is primarily due to the rudimentary magnetic field produced and the small range that the radiation can even be measured. However, as new technologies continue to be developed, this may not continue to be the case.
If you feel like I missed anything or have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Your friend in health,