Science

Are Cell Phones and Wifi Frying Our Brains?

Everything you need to know about devices that create electromagnetic fields and radiation

Some of the best-known ways we interact with electromagnetic fields are through cell phones, wifi, microwaves, and x-rays. Basically, we interact with them or use them do to mundane, but sort of magical, tasks every day. But, have you ever wondered if and how those things affect your health? Like is standing too close to the actually microwave bad? Is carrying your cell phone in your pocket or sports bra going to ruin your sperm or give you breast cancer? Is sleeping with your phone under your pillow really a big deal? We dug through the current research to answer exactly those questions.


What are EMFs and how do they work?

First off, let's talk about what EMF refers to. EMF is an acronym that stands for electromagnetic fields. This is kind of a fancy way of saying anything that uses electricity to do things. The way EMF works is by creating electricity, which, when it interacts with other things, changes the charges on cells to make them do different things. If that got too technical for you, basically, the thought is that electricity makes things (big and very, very small) move or react. The reason this is something we are talking about here is because as we learn new ways to harness that magical quality (think more wireless technologies like your smartwatch, Alexa, and video doorbells) we are putting more electrical charges in the environment that can interact with our bodies. A potential concern is that as those electrical impulses reach our bodies, they might be changing how our cells act and that over time that might lead to problems, like cancers or disease.

Some of the reason that EMFs can change the ways cells in our bodies work is because they encompass a whole range of different frequencies and wavelengths of energy, including radiation. We often hear about radiation and think x-rays or cancer treatment, but there is a huge spectrum of radiation. On one end, there are radio waves, in the middle is visible light (the things we can see), and the other end is x-rays and gamma rays that are sometimes used to treat cancer (10). Just because radiation is involved doesn't always mean that it is as powerful an as x-ray. The difference that people should worry about is if the radiation is ionizing or not. Things like strong UV light (like from the sun or tanning booths) and x-rays are ionizing because they have the ability to remove electrons from atoms. Non-ionizing radiation from things like radio waves, microwaves and visible light are weaker and are generally believed to only have the potential to harm people if they generate enough heat (11).

So, how worried should we be about all these new wireless technologies?

It kind of depends.

Based on the variety of research that has been done, the results are a little all over the place. This is because it depends on the technology being studied, how often it is being used, and in what situations. Also, many of these technologies are rather new (and constantly changing), meaning there just hasn't been enough time to study them to see how they affect people after a long period of use. However, in the limited research that has been done, scientists have concluded that the levels of radiofrequency that people interact with on a normal basis are low enough that they really don't pose a threat to human health(1, 11). While there is consensus that there isn't a general threat, nobody has been able to prove that constantly interacting with EMF radiation is safe either. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified EMF as a possible carcinogen (along with dozens of other things we commonly come into contact with) (20). And, there are isolated studies that have linked it to potential adverse health outcomes, like miscarriages, in certain groups of people who may be more vulnerable (21).

The bottom line is that scientists are still working on the answers. And as we use more and more types of technologies that generate non-ionizing radiation (hello wifi enabled water bottles and umbrellas?!), we can expect more scientific studies to be done on what this all means for your health. This leaves a lot of people wondering and promoting precautions. We'll go through a couple of the most common forms of EMF, lay out what the experts are saying, and give you a few suggestions for ways you can take precautions, if you're a better safe than sorry kind of a person.

Cell Phones

This is the big one here with the most research. Cell phones still fall in the category of non-ionizing radiation, but they are at a higher level on the radiation spectrum than wifi or Bluetooth (6). There are some studies that have found that prolonged use of cell phones can impact some types of functional memory (7), but everyone agrees that more research is needed to draw conclusions (1, 6). In a report from the partial findings of a study done by the National Toxicology Program using rats as subjects (which is a common way to get information on health more quickly than with humans since rats have more generations of babies in less time), researchers found that prolonged exposure to cell phone radiation for 2G and 3G signal is likely the cause of increased rates of cancer in both the brain and heart in male rats (13). They didn't find statistically significant differences for female rats who were exposed to the same amount of cell phone radiation and aren't sure why. They are hoping to do more studies to learn effects of different types of cell phone radiation, including with updated technologies like 4G and 5G, but they are pretty sure that cell phone radiation is at least linked to higher cancer rates in male rats (14). Others say that very high levels of non-ionizing EMF can hurt you (like cause a burn), but not cause cancer or tumors (8). The most recent NIH studies researching the effects of cell phone use and cancer also have not been able to show strong links between cell phone use and increased cancer risk (15).

While more research is being done, there are still recommendations of easy changes that could reduce your exposure to EMF from cell phones - because being cautious is never a bad thing. The California Department of Public Health, which issued a statement on the matter, and other groups including the FDA suggest:

  1. keeping your phone away from your body (14, 19) (men that means out of your pockets, ladies probably not the best to shove it in your sports bra). Try keeping it in your bag when you're on the move and on a table when you are working or hanging out at home.
  2. Using headphones or speakerphone when you make a call, especially if you are moving or have bad or spotty signal. Those situations cause cell phones to use more energy, which can create higher levels of EMF. Sounds like a great excuse to text more to us! (9, 14)
  3. Keeping your phone out of and away from your bed at night or in airplane mode for the night. Do you really need to sleep with your cell phone under your pillow? Try keeping it on your dresser if you use it as an alarm, or in the other room if you can.
  4. If you have kids, don't let them use your phone as a chew toy (the slobber is probably not great for the phone either). Also, if you are using your phone to entertain your child, try downloading the show and then putting it in airplane mode while they watch the show instead of streaming it (3). This means the phone doesn't have to work as hard and maintain a constant connection to service. Children with cellphones should follow the above recommendations about keeping it away from their body when possible, texting more, and using headphones or speakerphone for calls (19).

Wi-Fi

Mos of us can't even imagine a normal day without wifi, but, when you think about it, for wifi to work there has to be something getting the internet connection from the wall to your computer, phone, e-reader, streaming device, and about a million other things. So how does that work? It's not like those rays, waves, or particles of fairy dust are only reaching your devices - they are also hitting the table, the couch, and your body. While this is true, wifi is considered a form of non-ionizing, low-frequency electromagnetic radiation (as opposed to ionizing, which we know can cause harm). Remember that non-ionizing radiation, is generally recognized as "harmless to humans" (2, 3) unless it can generate enough heat to cause harm (11). While it is considered safe, in recent years there has been more research looking specifically at this kind of radiation to determine its effects because it has become such an integral part of daily life.

While this is widely accepted, you can still reduce your exposure a couple of ways.

  1. If you can, place your wifi router on a higher shelf or away from where people often sit and work.
  2. Try to keep your laptop off your lap or stomach when you work (or watch your favorite show). Put it on a table or even just next to you on the bed instead. This is a good thing to do anyways if your laptop battery is hot because heat in extreme amounts can damage semen quality.
  3. Turn your wifi router off at night when you go to sleep. You are sleeping anyway, you don't need wifi. And, many people say turning off screens half an hour before you go to bed is good for you anyway. If you aren't sure you can commit to not scrolling in bed, you can get a timer for the outlet your router is plugged into and automatically set it to turn off from midnight to 6 am (or whatever hours feel right for you).

Bluetooth

There has been less research done on Bluetooth because Bluetooth is essentially a weaker form of wifi, which is why it doesn't reach as far. But, since many studies have determined that wifi is generally safe, most assume the same is true of Bluetooth (4). Much of this is based on the science of how both wifi and Bluetooth work (5).

Because Bluetooth is so weak, there are very few recommendations about it. In fact, many organizations suggest using headphones (including Bluetooth headphones) instead of holding the phone to your ear when on a call.

Microwaves

So, let's just get right to it - are microwave ovens safe or should you stand far away when they're on? The answer is that as long as your microwave closes properly and doesn't weirdly stay on when you open the door, you are safe (16, 17). Microwaves are designed to protect the user. There are regulations on the way they are constructed, and they have to have safety measures built in. All of these things mean that you won't be exposed to any sneaky radiation that would try to escape the inside of the oven. Also, you will be reassured to know that the FDA tests microwaves in their own laboratories to ensure safety (16).

While you shouldn't worry about any radiation coming from your microwave, you can do a couple of things to be extra cautious.

  1. Keep your microwave clean and make sure that the door shuts properly every time. Chances are it won't turn on if the door isn't shut correctly, but it's still a good check.
  2. Don't stand with your face peering into the door. And don't let your kids get that close either. While microwave radiation can't get through the metal in the body of the machine, it is well known that radiation becomes much weaker the further away from the source you are. Being 20 inches away would have one 100th the amount of radiation as being two inches away (16).

Smart Meters

First off, what are smart meters? They are installed on homes to automatically report your power or water usage back to the company without them having to have a real human being come to read the meters that are on your home tracking how much of a utility you use. People worry about smart meters when it comes to EMF because it is another source of wifi or cell phone radiation to interact with on a regular basis. It's important to understand how these meters work though. Often, these meters only emit a signal when they report back to the company, which typically isn't often. Additionally, they are almost always placed on the outside of your home, meaning that there is at least one wall between your family and the signal at all times, which lowers how much is reaching you.

While this may be a small source of added EMF, if you have no choice about it being added to your home (which is often the case), there is little science pointing to a smart meter being able to greatly increase your exposure to EMFs or pose a heightened risk to your health because it emits less EMF than a cell phone or wifi (18). So, yes, they use EMF to send signals, but this is one we say to take with a grain of salt. If you truly want to lower your exposure, focus on making some of the other small changes we already suggested.


Overall, because everyone agrees we need more research, the best thing you can do is just be smart about the way you use all of these technologies. We aren't saying give up your phone, or even reduce the amount of time you spend on the internet (although you might want to do that for mental health reasons) (12), but we think adding some distance when you can can't hurt. The best thing to remember about all of these things that produce EMF is that the amount of EMF signal you are interacting with is dramatically reduced with any amount of distance (6, 16, 17). So, when you aren't using your phone try to keep it off your body. Move your router to a higher shelf, and find a pair of headphones you like to make calls with. And maybe, be thoughtful about the number of wi-fi enabled gadgets you have on your body and in your home. Even just making one of these changes can quickly reduce the amount of EMF you get on a daily basis.


Resources

  1. http://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index1.html
  2. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/emf/index.cfm
  3. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-pre...
  4. https://www.livescience.com/56027-bluetooth-headphone-safety-concerns-with-iphone-7.html
  5. https://www.consumerreports.org/radiation/do-i-need-to-worry-about-radiation-from-wifi-and-bluetooth-devices/
  6. https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/emf/index.cfm
  7. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/ehp2427/
  8. http://time.com/4508432/what-is-wifi-radiation-cancer/
  9. https://static.ewg.org/ewg-tip-sheets/EWG-CellPhoneGuide.pdf?_ga=2.258947587.865200574.1532365333-723583559.1510852026&_gac=1.3394052.1532641336.EAIaIQobChMI_vX77N293AIVGLvsCh2IYw-gEAAYASAAEgISHvD_BwE
  10. https://www.britannica.com/science/electromagnetic-spectrum
  11. https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/nonionizing_radiation.html
  12. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/da.22466
  13. https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2016/05/26/055699.full.pdf
  14. https://factor.niehs.nih.gov/2018/11/feature/1-feature-radiation/index.htm?WT.mc_id=efactoremail_redesign
  15. https://dceg.cancer.gov/research/how-we-study/exposure-assessment/cellular-telephones-brain-tumors
  16. https://www.fda.gov/radiation-emittingproducts/resourcesforyouradiationemittingproducts/ucm252762.htm
  17. http://www.who.int/peh-emf/publications/facts/info_microwaves/en/
  18. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/radiation-exposure/smart-meters.html
  19. http://www.releasewire.com/press-releases/american-academy-of-pediatrics-issues-new-recommendations-to-reduce-exposure-to-cell-phones-726805.htm
  20. International Agency for Research on Cancer . Non-Ionizing Radiation, Part 2: Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields. WHO Press; Lyon, France: 2013. http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Monographs/vol102/mono102.pdf.
  21. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-16623-8

If you've made it here, you probably already know that bottled water isn't great. Plastic in general can also be tough because of the ever popular BPA and it's sister chemicals. So we found the best 7 glass water bottles that are well reviewed and that you can bring with you everywhere. That assures that even if your plastic water bottle is BPA free, you won't have to worry about BPA replacements.

Glass does tend to be a bit more heavy than stainless steel, but sometimes people complain about stainless steel having a taste or not being as easy to wash. We like how with these glass bottles, you can flavor your water or even drink iced tea in them, throw them in the dishwasher and then put water in them without a nagging smell or taste. Some of these brands have different sizes and colors, so poke around to find a size and look that work for you.

Also, in case you're wondering, it's tough to find glass bottles without plastic lids, but if the water isn't constantly touching the lid, a plastic lid usually isn't something to get too worried about. If you have some old plastic reusable water bottles kicking around (who doesn't!) then check out our advice about how to use them safely.


a) Bkr b) Contigo Purity c) Ello Pure d) Lifefactory with Classic Cap e) Purifyou f) Soma g) Takeya


*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

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Assume that Bottled Water is Safer than Tap...Think Again!

Testing Finds Arsenic in Bottled Water at Whole Foods

Bottled water is marketed as healthy, pristine, and pure. And people believe this, often paying a premium cost for water that they believe will be healthier than what comes out of the tap. Bottled water is one of the most-sold beverages in the United States — which makes it especially disturbing to think that it may not be so safe after all.

What's So Dangerous About Bottled Water?

Recent studies by the Center for Environmental Health and Consumer Reports have found alarming levels of harmful chemicals in bottled water sold across the country. In June 2019, the Center for Environmental Health tested popular bottled water brands Starkey, owned by Whole Foods, and Peñafiel, owned by Keurig Dr Pepper and found concerning levels of arsenic. These levels are high enough that we believe they require a warning label under California state law Proposition 65, but no such label is in use.

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9 Non-Toxic & Eco-Friendly Backpacks

Just in time for back to school

As soon as August rolls around, all we can think of back-to-school shopping. It seems like the list of new supplies to buy gets longer every year, but a new backpack might be the most exciting thing on the list if the one from last year is torn to shreds or not big enough anymore. Most kids backpacks are made from synthetic materials or even harmful plastics like PVC, which contains phthalates. This is why we searched for backpacks that are not only cute and functional, but good for the environment. Our backpack recommendations are all phthalate free, lead free, and some are even made from recycled water bottles! Talk about a triple threat. There are lots of colors and styles so that your kid can express themselves. Plus, most of the brands listed below have different sizing options so everyone from elementary to high school will be covered.


a) Apple Park b) Fjallraven Re-Kanken c) Fluf d) Garnet Hill Eco Backpack e) Milkdot f) Parkland Design & Manufacturing g) Petit Collage h) So Young i) Terra Thread


*Because Health is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program so that when you click through our Amazon links, a percentage of the proceeds from your purchases will go to Because Health. We encourage you to shop locally, but if you do buy online buying through our links will help us continue the critical environmental health education work we do. Our participation does not influence our product recommendations. To read more about how we recommend products, go to our methodology page.

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Instagram Blogger Hannah from California Shares Her School Lunch Ideas

We might steal some of these tips for our own lunches!

As soon as August rolls around, we instantly start planning for back to school. While this month is filled with exciting beginnings (new school, new supplies, new teachers), one thing always remains the same… what do I pack in my kid's lunch box?! We asked Instagram blogger Hannah From California to share some tips on how to create easy and healthy lunch box meals. Keep reading for a fun Q&A; that includes tips on how to deal with picky eaters, school lunch prep, and how to pack a lunch as a busy parent.

BH: What inspired you to start your Instagram account?

H: My reasons for starting my Instagram account were totally selfish! As a new stay at home mom I was craving that connection, adult conversation, and sense of community from other parents who were all in the same boat as me. Sharing about the meals and snacks I made for my son happened organically, and I quickly realized the challenge of coming up with fresh and nutritious meal ideas day after day. After receiving positive feedback from my food related posts and requests for more simple, healthy meal ideas, I just ran with it! I figured that since I was making all the food anyway, it was easy enough to snap a few photos in hopes that it would give other families some ideas!

Cheese, turkey, pitas, apples, snap peas, bell pepper, cucumber

BH: What are your top 3 tips for parents of picky eaters?

H: First and foremost, I've been there, and you've got this! I do have some tips and tricks that have worked for my son, but before I go into that, I wanted to share about Ellyn Satter's Division of Responsibility Theory. This will hopefully change the way you view meal times (for your own sanity)! The Division of Responsibility is the idea that we (the parents) and our children each have jobs when it comes to mealtime. It is our job as parents to provide a variety of healthy food options and multiple opportunities to sit down and eat. Then, it is our children's job to choose how much and what to eat from what we provide. If you can accept this theory when it comes to feeding your child, like truly BELIEVE it, you will save yourself hours in the kitchen as a short order cook, and overall, you'll be less stressed when you hit those picky eating phases!

Tips & Tricks for feeding picky eaters:

  1. Involve your kids in the meal making!
    There are a number of benefits, both life skills and academic skills, from cooking with your kids, but one of my favorite parts about involving my son in the kitchen is that I know it will greatly increase the chance that he'll eat the meal he helped prepare!
  2. Eat the same food! My son, husband and I eat the same food. Eating with your child, and also eating the same thing, not only makes it easier on you (only preparing one meal), but it allows for modeling during mealtime (look at mama trying and enjoying these different foods and flavors)!
  3. Include a dip! When I include a familiar dip with my son's meal, I can almost guarantee that he'll at least try a new food! Hummus is his favorite!

Finally, whatever you do, do not stop serving the food your child is being "picky" about because exposure is key! Sure, take a day or 2 or a week off, serve it up differently (raw, baked, steamed, with a dip, cut in circles or sticks), but keep including that food with meals because you just never know when they'll be in the mood!

Pita and kale almond hummus, edamame, seaweed, cherries and bunny grahams

BH: What advice do you have for packing healthy school lunches that are easy to do for busy parents?

H: I am a huge advocate of packing lunch boxes the night BEFORE school. Not only does it make mornings (while you're trying to do all the things) much smoother, it allows you take the time to prep and actually think about what you want to pack vs. reaching for all the packaged food while feeling rushed to get out the door and to school on time! Here are a few things I have learned about packing lunches thus far!

  • A lunch box with different sized compartments is key! This helps encourage you to include a variety of healthy options, and the great thing about these boxes is that each section in the box closes completely, so there are no foods mixing together (ex. juice from your strawberries leaking into your sandwich and making it soggy).
  • Note the amount of time your child has to eat at school/camp/daycare and pack accordingly! They only have a certain amount of time to eat at school, which is typically a lot less than we allow for them to spend eating at home. So, If you want your child to eat some of each food included, consider cutting your portions down (for example, pack a ½ a sandwich vs. a full one so that your child has time to each the sandwich and also has time to eat the strawberries and snap peas you included as well).
  • Include foods that you know your kids enjoy and will likely eat! Packed lunches are not the time for you to throw in all the foods your kid is refusing at home; rather, you want them to have a yummy lunch that will fuel their body while they are away from you!

Salami sandwich on seed bread, watermelon stars, bell pepper, pea chips, multi-vitamin gummies

BH: How do you make healthy eating fun for kids when there's so much packaged and processed foods marketed towards kids?

H: For me, I think it is all about our family's attitude toward food, and also what is available in our home. We believe that real, healthy, fresh food is fun! We go to our local farmer's market to see, touch, and taste-test seasonal fruits and veggies. We talk about what foods we're in the mood for, and how might prep it or cook it up! While packaged and processed food is not the norm for us, it's also not viewed or talked about negatively. I have always just made a point to explain to my son which foods do what for our body, and how real, healthy food tastes delicious and can help our body grow strong.

BH: At Because Health we recommend limiting plastic around food and water and buying organic when possible. How do you limit exposure to plastics, toxics chemicals and food additives in your kitchen and food?

H: It's so important to pay attention to what we're putting in (and on) our bodies, and the more I read and learn about this topic, the more I aim to limit the exposure to plastics, toxic chemicals, and food additives. A few simple changes that I have made over the years have been to store my food in glass or stainless-steel containers, use reusable bags, use non-toxic cleaners, and buy organic when possible (especially if as you guys say the produce is leafy, berries, or something you eat with the skin on)!

It's almost the end of summer and time to start thinking about those back-to-school supplies. Backpack, lunch box, pencils, pens, crayons, notebooks, NSF/ANSI 53 certified water bottles to filter lead…wait, what was that last one? Yep, many children in this country will be attending school in a state where there is currently no requirement to filter and test school drinking water for lead. Even in states and counties where they do have laws on the books, there are still gaps that need to be addressed to better protect children. So, here is what you need to know and what you can do about it.

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Sometimes after a long day at work, the last thing anyone feels like doing is cooking dinner. Eating out or ordering take out is just so easy, especially with modern technology! But before you open that food delivery app, you might want to keep reading. Some recent studies have shown a link between eating out and phthalate exposure.

What Are Phthalates Again?

Phthalates are endocrine-disrupting chemicals, which means they mess with your hormones. These sneaky chemicals can change the way hormones messaging and how the body reacts to them. Endocrine disrupting chemicals have been linked to serious health effects like cancer, developmental abnormalities and fertility issues. And you don't have to be exposed to a ton of phthalates to have negative impacts. In fact, studies show that low level exposure can impact your health (1).

How They Get into Food

Phthalates are used to make plastic flexible and durable. There are a ton of different steps in food processing and distribution that relies on plastic to get the job done. Food handling gloves, plastic packaging material, plastic parts in machinery, and flexible plastic tubing are all used when creating processed food. Phthalates can easily leach from plastic into food during any of these steps. The more processed a food product is, the higher the chance that its come into contact with phthalates.

Why does this matter? Well, two major studies recently looked at phthalate exposure associated with eating out and found concerning results. Both studies found a higher rate of exposure to two phthalates called DINP (Diisononyl phthalate), and DEHP (di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate) in people who had recently dined out. The first study found that people who dined out had phthalate levels that were approximately 35% higher than those who ate at home (2). Adolescents were especially susceptible to high phthalate levels because they were the most likely age group to eat out.

The second study had similar findings, as well as observing fatty fast food items like burgers or french fries could elevate phthalate levels even more (3). Both studies found that eating food that had been cooked at home significantly reduced phthalate exposure.

What to do Instead

The good news is that the body metabolizes phthalates very quickly and they'll leave your body within 24 hours. So the cheeseburger you had after that big night out over the weekend probably isn't still impacting your phthalate levels. And there's currently a petition going to stop fast food workers from using vinyl gloves, which could contain phthalates. If you find yourself ordering food more than you're cooking it, now might be a good time to swing by the grocery story. But if you just can't break that delivery habit, try ordering foods that are less fatty, and less processed like salads.

Weekly meal prep is a super easy way to regularly start cooking. Preparing weekly dinner on Sunday means you'll always have something ready when you come home from work! Shopping for groceries on Sunday is also an easy way to make sure there are ingredients already on hand when you make dinner during the week. We have some easy recipes on our site! Check out veggie grilling recipes and recipe ideas using beans.


References:

  1. https://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/acs.est.6b00034
  2. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412017314666
  3. https://ehp.niehs.nih.gov/doi/10.1289/ehp.1510803

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