Biological Effect of Microwave Radiation Term Paper

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Biohazard wastes are infectious materials or materials that are potentially infectious. The most common Biohazard wastes include human body fluids, microbiological wastes, animal wastes, sharp objects, electronic wastes, and wastes that contain radioactive or chemical substances (UC MERCED 1). For this reason, individuals handling Biohazard wastes must ensure that they are either properly treated or disposed of. Also, individuals handling such type of wastes must be highly cautious (Hazard Awareness and Management Manual 1).

Biohazard can also be defined as a material that can cause an injury or harm to humans and other living things (UC MERCED 1). The most notable Biohazards in our contemporary world are materials that emit radiations. Radiation is the type of energy that travels through a vacuum in the form of electromagnetic waves or subatomic particles (Gabr 2).

Naturally, all living things are exposed to different types of radiations in the atmosphere and from naturally existing materials. Several ecological radiations are of great significance to life. However, a high level of radiation is very harmful to living things (ICNIRP, 10).

Radiations originate from both natural and man-made sources. Natural sources of radiation are cosmic rays and terrestrial radiation. Man-made sources are classified into medical sources, industrial sources, nuclear explosions, nuclear power, and nuclear accidents. These radiations are in different forms.

They include radio frequency radiation, microwaves, infrared, ultraviolet light, X-rays, and Gamma rays (Adams and Ronald 4). This paper will focus on microwave radiation as a Biohazard. The paper will explore the microwave radiation characteristics, applications, and hazards at workplace, homes, and many other places.

Different types of Radiation

Radiations are classified into two groups, namely: non-ionizing radiation (electromagnetic radiation) and ionizing radiation. The term ‘non-ionizing radiation’ is limited to the section of the radiation continuum commonly referred to as the radio frequency region. This section of the spectrum is characterized by relatively low frequency ranging from 10 Hertz to 1014 Hertz. The non-ionizing radiation is sub-divided into extremely low frequency (ELF), radio frequency (RF), microwaves, and infrared (ICNIRP 10).

On the other hand, ionizing radiation has a very high frequency ranging from 1015 to 1026 Hertz. Ionizing radiation is also subdivided into ultraviolet, X-rays, and Gamma rays (ICNIRP 12). Since the focus of the study is on the microwave radiation hazards, the explanations will be limited to the electromagnetic spectrum.

Extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation has an exceptionally long wavelength, and its frequency is in the range of 100 Hertz. Radio frequencies have wavelengths and frequencies in the range of 1-100 meters and 300 Megahertz respectively.

The wavelengths for microwave are considerably shorter whereas its frequencies do not exceed 300 GHz. Microwave is generally used in the media industry and the ICT sector due to its short wavelength. This is also because microwave energy can penetrate clouds, smoke, and light rains (ICNIRP 13).

Biological Impact of Electromagnetic Radiation

Nearly everybody has been exposed to different sources of artificial electromagnetic fields. The level of exposure is likely to rise with the advancement in technology, especially information communication technology (ICT).

Currently, the mobile phone communication system and broadcasting transmitters are attributed to the high level of exposure (Adams and Ronald 6). The biological impacts of electromagnetic radiation (radio waves and microwaves) have conventionally been split into two fundamental categories, namely: thermal impacts and non-thermal impacts (Cook, Nicholas, Arthur and Gordon 323).

The thermal impacts of electromagnetic radiation are understood to be far and wide, and the mechanisms of action are recognized. However, the non-thermal impacts of radio waves and microwaves are still a subject of debate since the mechanism of action are not well understood (Cook, Nicholas, Arthur and Gordon 323).

Scientists from Eastern Europe and Russia believed that the biological impact of radio waves and microwaves take place at energy densities that are extremely low to generate palpable thermal impact. Such impacts have been questioned by Western scientists owing to the tentative evidence, obtained mainly from the American laboratories. They argue that most of the evidence provided by the scientists from Eastern Europe and Russia did not back up the existence of non-thermal side effects (Cook, Nicholas, Arthur and Gordon 324).

Nonetheless, the divergent opinions of the scientists from both Western and Eastern Bloc have been minimal in the recent past due to the application of standardized research protocols and materials. Also, the exchange of information on electromagnetic radiation hazards has increased (Cook, Nicholas, Arthur, and Gordon 327).

At the moment, scientists from both blocs agree that biological systems exposed to radio wave and microwave frequency ranging between one kilohertz and 105 Megahertz absorb different amounts of energy depending on the frequency and corporeal characteristics of the system. Normally, nearly 50 percent of the energy is sucked up in the system while the remainder is reflected (IEE 3).

Shorter wavelengths are very much hazardous because they lead to thermal heating. As already been mentioned, microwave have considerably shorter wavelengths ranging between one millimeter to one meter (Banik, Smirti and Szukaj 157). The level of penetration of the waves also depends on the frequency, wave schism, and corporeal characteristics. For that reason, extremely short waves are principally absorbed by the skin, whereas longer wavelengths penetrate deeper.

The level of heating tends to be a function of the water molecules of the cells or tissues. Microwaves normally disorient the thermal regulatory and adaptation processes of the organs. Furthermore, tissues that are less vascularized are highly prone to thermal damage since they have an inferior ability to regulate the heating effect of the microwaves (IEE 4).

The general impact of microwaves can be classified into three categories, namely: hazards of microwaves to personnel, hazards of microwave radiation to ordnance, and microwave interference.

Hazards of microwaves to personnel include heating of the body, cataract formation, reduced sperm counts, cancerous growth, and shocks and burns. Hazards of microwave radiation to ordnance include untimely activation of the electro-explosive devices. Last but not least, microwave interference involves interference with other electronic gadgets (ICNIRP 15).

Microwave radiation and occupational safety

Microwave radiation can exist in either a controlled or non-controlled environment. Controlled environments are locations where individuals are well aware of the exposure on account of their work or duties. This can also be areas where high levels of microwave radiations are sensibly expected to exist.

According to the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), individuals should hang about in such areas for less than 6 minutes. This depends on the levels of electromagnetic energy or frequency within an area. Non-controlled environments are locations where high levels of microwave radiations are not anticipated to exist; for instance, public places, staff quarters, and workplaces (Hazard Awareness and Management Manual 5).

ICNIRP has set up radio frequency and microwave radiation standards that must be adhered to by different sets of industries to minimize exposure (ICNIRP 20). Telecommunication industries have safety requirements for handling electrical equipment and for maintenance and repair work.

For example, they are required to lock out or tag out power during repairs to minimize exposure. Employees must be provided with necessary protective clothing/equipment when handling such repairs. Also, hazard warning signs must be erected, and access to hazardous areas should be restricted (ICNIRP 21).

Other safety requirements include: training of employees on safety and health procedures to enhance their awareness and understanding; microwave source equipment used must meet required standards; identification and constant inspection of microwave hazards by specialists; identification and controlling of hazardous locations; last but not least, periodic evaluation of safety standards and programs to identify and correct weaknesses or deficiencies (Hazard Awareness and Management Manual 6).


Biohazards are defined as infectious or potentially harmful materials that are found in the environment. The most notable Biohazard in our contemporary world is radioactive materials. Over the last four decades, the biological impact of electromagnetic radiation, especially microwave radiation, has been a subject of debate in numerous scientific forums.

This is because advancement in information and communication technology has increased the level of exposure to both radiofrequency radiation and microwave radiation. Exposure to a high level of microwave radiation energy/frequency can have a devastating effect on both humans and the environment at large. Therefore, radio frequency and microwave radiation safety standards must be observed at home and work.

Works Cited

Adams, Ronald and Ronald Williams. Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Radiation (Radio Waves and Microwaves) -Eurasian Communist Countries. Washington, DC: US Army Medical Intelligence and Information Agency, 1976. Print.

Banik, Sharma, Smirti Bandyopadhyay and Szukaj Ganguly. “Bio-effects of microwave- a brief review”. Journal of Bio resource Technology, 87 (2003): 155-159. Print.

Cook, Harold, Nicholas Steneck, Arthur Vander and Gordon Kane. “Early Research on the Biological Effects of Microwave Radiation: 1940-1960”. Annals of Science, 37 (1980): 323-351.Print.

Gabr, Ahmed. Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Radiation. Cairo, Egypt: Mansoura University, 2010. Print.

Hazard Awareness and Management Manual. . Seattle, WA: Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, 2013. Web.

ICNIRP. “Exposure to high frequency electromagnetic fields, biological effects and health consequences (100kHz-300GHz)”. Review of the Scientific Evidence and Health Consequences, 16 (2009): 10-45. Print.

IEE. The possible harmful biological effects of low level electromagnetic fields of frequencies up to 300 GHz. London, UK: Institute of Electrical Engineers, 2002. Print.

UCMERCED. Environmental Health and Safety: Biohazard Waste. North Lake Road, CA: University of California, 2013. Web.

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