Thermal effects of RF Radiation

What’s RFIonizing RF Radiation –  Non- Ionizing RF

The electric and magnetic fields produced in the body by a nearby electromagnetic source may cause both thermal and non-thermal biological effects. The effects of magnetic fields vary with frequency, and are probably greatest in biological tissue containing small amounts of magnetite.  Magnetite (Fe3O4) is a naturally occurring oxide of iron. It is a ferromagnetic but behaves similarly in magnetic fields to a Ferro magnet such as iron. Magnetite is found in certain bacteria and in the cells of many animals, including human beings. It is believed to be used by some species of birds and fish to provide magnetic sensitivity, which they employ in navigation. However, no other effects associated with the interactions of electromagnetic fields with magnetite have been demonstrated in animals. 

It has been calculated that the interaction resulting from the largest RF magnetic fields generated by mobile phones is extremely small (Adair, 1994), and that any other effects of magnetic fields at these frequencies should be even smaller. Indeed, it seems to be generally agreed that any biological effects from mobile phones are much more likely to result from electric rather than from magnetic fields.


Thermal effects are those caused by the rise in temperature produced by the energy absorbed from oscillating electric fields. The force produced by an electric field on charged objects, such as the mobile ions present in the body, causes them to move, resulting in electric currents, and the electrical resistance of the material in which the currents are flowing results in heating. This heat input causes the temperature to rise and it continues to do so until the heat input is balanced by the rate at which it is removed, mostly by blood flowing to and from other parts of the body. It is estimated that it takes several minutes from the moment RF exposure occurs for the irradiated parts of the body to reach their final equilibrium temperatures. In view of this slow response, the equilibrium temperature arising from the pulsed fields of mobile telecommunications will essentially be determined by the average power absorbed. There will, however, be small oscillations about that temperature at the pulse frequency or frequencies.


Heating in the head see computer models

It has not yet proved possible to measure these small changes in temperature directly, except those at the outer skin (Adair et al, 1999) and, although temperature is a more direct determinant of thermally induced tissue damage, the majority of theoretical studies up to the present time have restricted themselves to the computation of SAR alone.

The relationship between the SAR and the resulting temperature rise is complex, and significantly dependent on antenna configuration, location and frequency. The most problematic feature of a temperature calculation is modeling the effect of blood flow on heat transfer. The traditional continuum heat-sink model developed by Pennes (1948) has been found to give remarkably accurate results in many circumstances, but numerous modifications have been suggested more recently (Arkin et al, 1994).


 In a recently published study (Van Leeuwen et al, 1999) the heat deposition within the head was computed by coupling a finite difference time domain model for SAR with a new thermal model.  The thermal model includes the convective effects of discrete blood vessels, whose anatomy was determined using magnetic resonance angiography of a healthy volunteer. For a 915 MHz dipole antenna with a time-averaged power output of 0.25 W (equivalent to a typical mobile phone), this study results in an SAR of about 1.6 W/kg and predicts a maximum brain temperature rise of 0.11°C in the steady state. There is general agreement between the brain temperatures calculated using the Pennes equation and that using the new discrete vessel model, which suggests that the sensitivity of the results to the exact blood flow model may not be critical. However, further work should be done to apply this model to more realistic simulations of mobile phone configuration, and to investigate the effect of different antenna positions and frequencies (particularly in the 1800 MHz band also used by mobile phones).


 A recent NRPB study (Wainwright, in press) has applied the traditional Pennes thermal model to the SAR patterns predicted by earlier work (Dimbylow and Mann, 1994). The radiation source was modeled as a monopole antenna on a metal box, and both horizontal and vertical orientations of the antenna were considered. Computations of the final steady-state temperature rise were carried out for a 0.25 W antenna at frequencies of 900 and 1800 MHz. The highest temperature rises found in the brain were around 0.1°C.