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Non-ionizing radiation

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Different types of electromagnetic radiation Non-ionizing (or non-ionising) radiation refers to any type of electromagnetic radiation that does not carry enough energy per quantum to ionize atoms or moleculesthat is, to completely remove an electron from an atom or molecule.[1] Instead of producing charged ions when passing through matter, the electromagnetic radiation has sufficient energy only for excitation, the movement of an electron to a higher energy state. Nevertheless, different biological effects are observed for different types of non-ionizing radiation.[2][3] Near ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, microwave, radio waves, and low-frequency RF (longwave) are all examples of non-ionizing radiation. Visible and near ultraviolet may induce photochemical reactions, or accelerate radical reactions, such as photochemical aging of varnishes[4] or the breakdown of flavoring compounds in beer to produce the "lightstruck flavor".[5] Near ultraviolet radiation, although technically non-ionizing, may still excite and cause photochemical reactions in some molecules. This happens because at ultraviolet photon energies, molecules may become electronically-excited or promoted to free-radical form, even without ionization taking place. The light from the Sun that reaches the earth is largely composed of non-ionizing radiation, since the ionizing far-ultraviolet rays have been filtered out by the gases in the atmosphere, particularly oxygen. The remaining ultraviolet radiation from the Sun is in the non-ionizing band, and causes molecular damage by photochemical and free-radical-producing means that do not ionize.[3]

Health risks

Non-ionizing radiation hazard sign Non-ionizing radiation can produce non-mutagenic[citation needed] effects such as inciting thermal energy in biological tissue that can lead to burns. In terms of potential biological effects, the non-ionizing portion of the spectrum can be subdivided into: 1. The optical radiation portion, where electron excitation can occur (visible light, infrared light) 2. The portion where the wavelength is smaller than the body, and heating via induced currents can occur (MW and higher-frequency RF) 3. The portion where the wavelength is much larger than the body, and heating via induced currents seldom occurs (lower-frequency RF, power frequencies, static fields).[3]

Wavelength Frequency Biological effects Eye photochemical 750950 cataract; skin UVA Black light, sunlight 318400 nm THz erythema, inc. pigmentation Skin photoaging; eye Lasers, sunlight, fire, LEDs, light 385750 Visible light 400780 nm photochemical & bulbs THz thermal retinal injury Eye thermal retinal 780 nm 215385 IR-A Lasers, remote controls injury, thermal 1.4 m THz cataract; skin burn 100215 Eye corneal burn, IR-B Lasers 1.43 m THz cataract; skin burn Eye corneal burn, 3 m 300 GHz IR-C Far-infrared laser cataract; heating of 1 mm 100 THz body surface PCS phones, some mobile/cell 1 mm Heating of body Microwave phones, microwave ovens, 1300 GHz 33 cm tissue cordless phones, motion


Radiofrequency radiation Lowfrequency RF

detectors, long-distance telecommunications, radar, Wi-Fi Mobile/cell phones, television, 33 cm FM, AM, shortwave, CB, 3 km cordless phones Power lines >3 km

100 kHz 1 GHz

<100 kHz

Static field[3] Strong magnets, MRI


0 Hz

Heating of body tissue, raised body temperature Cumulation of charge on body surface; disturbance of nerve & muscle responses Magnetic vertigo/nausea; electric charge on body surface

Ultraviolet radiation
Ultraviolet light can cause burns to skin[6] and cataracts to the eyes.[6] Ultraviolet is classified into near, medium and far UV according to energy, where near and medium ultraviolet are technically non-ionizing, but where all UV wavelengths can cause photochemical reactions that to some extent mimic ionization (including DNA damage and carcinogenesis). UV radiation above 10 eV (wavelength shorter than 125 nm) is considered ionizing. However, the rest of the UV spectrum from 3.1 eV (400 nm) to 10 eV can produce photochemical reactions that are damaging to molecules by means other than simple heat. Ultraviolet light even in the non-ionizing range can produce free radicals that induce cellular damage, and can be carcinogenic. Photochemistry such as pyrimidine dimer formation in DNA can happen through most of the UV band, including much of the band that is technically nonionizing. Ultraviolet light induces melanin production from melanocyte cells to cause sun tanning of skin. Vitamin D is produced on the skin by a radical reaction initiated by UV radiation. Plastic (polycarbonate) sunglasses generally absorb UV radiation. UV overexposure to the eyes causes snow blindness, which is a risk particularly on the sea or when there is snow on the ground.

Visible and infrared, lasers

Visible light causes few effects to the human body. Bright visible light irritates the eyes. Visiblelight lasers have much more powerful effects and may damage the eyes even at small powers. Very strong visible light is used for cauterizing hair follicles.