AirPods haven’t been shown to be dangerous

17 April 2023
What was claimed

Apple’s AirPod wireless earphones emit a dangerous amount of EMF radiation.

Our verdict

There is no good evidence of a link between normal exposure to electromagnetic fields from AirPods and negative health effects.

A now-deleted Instagram post that had over 52,000 likes made a number of misleading and unevidenced claims about the supposed health risks of using AirPods, the wireless earphones made by Apple, in a video and accompanying caption. 

The video itself included the claim: “Airpods emit dangerous amount of EMF radiation. [sic]” A long caption accompanying the video contained more detailed claims, saying that “issues include” a number of specific medical conditions.

We can find no good evidence to link electromagnetic fields (EMF) from AirPods, or other Bluetooth headsets or home electronics, to these health problems. Experts have also told us that there is no compelling evidence to suggest a link.

We contacted the poster, Tim Gray—who describes himself as “the UK’s leading biohacker” and has almost 400,000 followers on Instagram—to ask about the evidence behind the claims. After a number of exchanges with Mr Gray, the post was amended three times and then subsequently deleted. 

Misleading claims about dangers to health can cause people to worry unnecessarily based on bad information. If misleading or unevidenced information about dangers to health is posted on social media, it’s important that this is corrected as soon as possible, and we’re grateful to Mr Gray for taking action in this case.

We have previously looked at other claims that AirPods and mobile phone masts cause cancer, finding no good evidence for either. 

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What is EMF radiation?

Electromagnetic fields (EMF) are a type of non-ionising radiation. Non-ionising radiation is lower in energy and is generally considered much less potentially harmful than ionising radiation like X-rays. It is produced in varying amounts when electronic devices are switched on.

AirPods use Bluetooth radio wave technology, which generally emits EMF at significantly lower power than mobile phones. 

Older versions of the post

When we first discovered the post, it had just under 30,000 likes, and included the claim that: “Issues include: Increased Brain, Heart & overall Health Risk; Reproductive issues; Neurological Disorders; Brainfog; Cellular damage (which affects overall health & resilience to sickness); Red blood cell coupling (and poor circulation); Headaches & migraines. [sic]” 

After we contacted the poster, the caption was revised to say “issues MAY include” the various health problems listed. After further contact, the post was subsequently revised again, to remove the list of specific health problems.The post was revised one further time with changes including the removal of the words “frying your brain”.

Mr Gray did refer us to a number of sources which he said supported the post’s claims, and put us in contact with Nick Pineault, an author and citizen journalist who has written a lot about EMF.

Mr Pineault initially sent us a review, but this contained no human studies for any medical conditions apart from male fertility issues, and the evidence presented for this was far from conclusive, with some showing no effect, and none accounting for actual clinical outcomes. Mr Pineault also sent us further studies, but again, these did not appear to include those looking at clinical outcomes, like diagnosed cancer or infertility. 

When we asked Mr Gray about the main claim in the video—that AirPods emit a “dangerous amount of EMF radiation”—he referred us to three main sources. 

The first was the World Health Organisation (WHO) International Agency for Research on Cancer classifying EMF as a “group 2B potential carcinogen”, a claim repeated in the caption. 

Secondly he referred us to a 2018 article arguing that EMF from devices like mobile phones should be upgraded in the WHO’s list of carcinogens. However, as of the time of writing, the WHO has kept EMF as a category 2B—something we address further on in this fact check.

Thirdly, he referred us to a mission statement and fact sheet from the International Commission on the Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields (ICBE-EMF). These include broad health claims as well as claims about links to cancer. The ICBE-EMF is the same group that authored the review sent to us by Mr Pineault, the limitations of which we have discussed above. 

After further contact with Mr Gray, the post and attached video were deleted. Mr Gray told us he intends to make further changes before reposting, and said: “I appreciate the positioning could be different on the main claim vs what can be proven at this moment in time.”

What do experts say?

This is a controversial area—a 2015 letter sent to the UN and WHO signed by 250 scientists garnered media coverage in its call for tougher regulation and claims of potential health risks from electromagnetic energy. But major health bodies don’t agree with this group.

When we put the original list of health harms in the post to them, the Society for Radiological Protection told Full Fact via the Science Media Centre: “There is no compelling evidence in the peer-review literature to suggest that Bluetooth headphones cause adverse health effects from the electromagnetic fields produced. The overwhelming evidence in studies point to the fact that, because they utilise such a low power (the peak power is typically 1 mW, compared with, say, 250 mW for a mobile phone), there are no adverse health effects.”

In response to male fertility issues specifically, it told us that “in summary, the evidence on the effect of RF fields on sperm quality is very weak and does not allow reliable evaluation of the presence or absence of an adverse health effect”.

The WHO says that there are still some gaps in the research, but in 2016 said that its analysis of the extensive body of work available (over 25,000 articles in the previous 30 years) found the evidence didn’t confirm there are dangerous health effects from low level EMF exposure such as that in homes and most workplaces.

The UK Health and Safety Executive says that while high level EMF exposure can be associated with unpleasant or irritating effects, these are “extremely rare”, and in workplaces with such exposure methods are in place to manage it.

Does EMF cause cancer?

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) did indeed categorise EMF in group 2B on its list of possible carcinogenic hazards in 2011, based on “limited” evidence of a potential link between mobile phone use and certain tumours in the brain.

But being listed as a possible carcinogen and actually being shown to cause cancer in normal usage are not the same thing. For instance, group 2B on the IARC list also includes talc-based body powder, pickled vegetables, carpentry and joinery and aloe vera.

The WHO previously told Reuters: “There is currently no established evidence that the expected low-level electromagnetic fields used in Apple AirPods would cause cancer.”

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) says that there is “no convincing evidence of harm from exposure [to radio waves] within the internationally agreed guideline levels”. In the past it has said there is some limited evidence linking higher levels of exposure to certain types of radiation, such as in homes near large power lines, to childhood leukaemia. But this is not definitive, and would account for a very small proportion of the disease, if it were the case.

Cancer Research UK says that EMF used by mobile phones and phone masts have not been shown to have an effect on cancer.

The US National Institute of Cancer has said there’s no evidence that EMF cause cancer, no mechanism has been identified in which they could do so, and animal studies have not demonstrated a link. 

Full Fact has contacted Apple for comment about its AirPods.

Featured image courtesy of Illinois Institute of Technology

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