Are AirPods and Other Bluetooth Headphones Safe?
Experts are at odds over the health impact of Bluetooth
Every week, the Nuance will go beyond the basics, offering a deep and researched look at the latest science and expert insights on a buzzed-about health topic.
Apple made waves in 2016 when it announced the newest iPhones wouldn’t have headphone ports. Most of Apple’s competitors — including Google and Samsung — have since followed suit. It’s still possible to connect wired headphones to these devices with an adapter, but ditching the headphone jack is viewed by many as an acknowledgment that Bluetooth won the battle for our ears.
You might assume, based on these industry moves, that the safety of Bluetooth was established long ago. That assumption is incorrect. Some experts who study wireless technologies have concerns about their health effects.
“My concern for AirPods is that their placement in the ear canal exposes tissues in the head to relatively high levels of radio-frequency radiation,” says Jerry Phillips, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs. He mentions tumors and other conditions associated with abnormal cell functioning as some of the potential risks. These risks are not restricted to AirPods. Existing evidence “indicates potential concerns for human health and development from all technologies that operate at radio frequencies,” he says.
In the past, Apple spokespeople have responded to concerns about the AirPods with assurances that they comply with current safety guidelines.
Phillips is not alone. Roughly 250 researchers from more than 40 countries have signed a petition to the United Nations and the World Health Organization expressing “serious concern” about the non-ionizing electromagnetic field (EMF), which is the kind of radiation emitted by wireless devices, including Bluetooth technologies.
“My concern for AirPods is that their placement in the ear canal exposes tissues in the head to relatively high levels of radiofrequency radiation.”