Saturday, 7 December 2013

The microwave militia is bad for your mental health

A few weeks ago my mum, very customarily, emailed me a compilation of web articles about the dangers associated to the use of microwaves. I read it vertically in a flash, but lacking time for an appropriate evaluation decided to dedicate my time to other posts. Now, on a Saturday morning with my wife on my side and my baby resting asleep, boring Bundesliga highlights showing on TV, Pepe Guardiola distributing autographs in a very safe-mode competition where only one team wins the title, my eyes were incapable of doing more than reading slowly... conditions are perfect to analyse this microwave issue carefully.

The question here is understanding if an appliance used on a daily basis by basically everyone in the modern world is threatening our health or some anal retentive people have been saying more than they actually know.

Many articles widespread in the Internet blatantly state that the Russians banned the microwave back in 1976 following a study that was used to evaluate health hazards. Well, the Internet is flooded constantly with misinformation or really poor sourcing. The microwave was never banned in Russia, and if you need reassurance this page contains plenty references to make you sure of that. Biased? I don't think so, for in the bottom of the page there are article references for you to read through if necessary be. It seems that conspiracy theorists confused financial incapacity to buy a microwave back in the days with a supposed ban elevated on grounds of health and safety research.

The immediate question is then if microwaves do actually present any short or long-term health hazards. Where some crazy heads claim that there are countries that have banned the microwave, truth surfaces and tells you straight away that that is a perfect lie. No country banned the microwave, what happens is that different regions have different regulations in place to control electrical and electronic appliances; but such is a regulation, not a ban altogether.

What about health concerns in using microwave to prepare food? The microwave works by emitting microwave-band electromagnetic radiation of 2.5GHz through food. Molecules with electric dipoles in them (water is the perfect example - see image) vibrate/rotate along this electromagnetic field with friction creating heat (dielectric heating). Molecules that have a more complex structure are not affected at all. Thus, the microwave presents a clean, clear, straightforward way of heating food.

The myth must end immediately until someone really produces scientific-supported information. Until then, there is a great webpage [Skeptoid] deconstructing the myth and doing for us what science should be doing, allowing progress, knowledge and understanding with the least damage possible. So let's look at the facts that Skeptoid analyses:

"ever since microwave ovens came on the market in 1954, not one person has ever exhibited a single symptom of any illness resulting from having eaten microwaved food, or from having used water that had been microwaved.Burns are the exception, but burns are caused by heat from any source; that's not unique to microwaves." [1]

"chain email, and many of these web sites, also state that giving a plant water that has been microwaved will kill it. There is even a series of unsourced photographs of two plants, one of which withers and dies while its sibling flourishes. The awesome web site tested this particular claim. They all did exactly the same." [1]

"Probably the most flagrant error that the Microwave Militia propagates is that microwaved food or water contains what they call "radiolytic compounds" — new chemicals created by the tearing apart of molecules in a microwave. These new chemicals are said to be dangerous, cancerous, radioactive, unnatural, or otherwise harmful. This is a demonstrably false claim. Radiolysis, which is a real process and which the Militia believes creates these radiolytic compounds, is the process by which molecules are dissociated under ionizing radiation. Water can be dissociated under ionizing alpha particle bombardment, which is a natural process. Microwave radiation, as mentioned earlier, is not ionizing radiation. It is thus scientifically incapable of causing radiolysis. The differences between microwave radiation and alpha radiation are huge. With the claim that microwaves cause dissociation of water molecules, the Microwave Militia is either deliberately lying, or they are grossly ignorant of the very subject on which they claim superior expertise." [1]

There are loads of studies available and you can make your own judgement, but facts are facts and it is a fact that the only issue associated to microwaves is using the wrong container for heating food in a microwave, as the wrong vessel can leak toxic substances if not prepared to accept microwave radiation. Apart from that, these stories are just bullocks.

[1] Are microwave ovens safe? - Skeptoid, Critical analysis of Pop Phenomena; [], last visited on the 07th of December 2013, last update on the 25th of December 2007.

2nd image source unknown

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