[VIEWPOINT]Sensationalism Clouds Radiation DebateThe controversy over whether electromagnetic radiation from microwave ovens, high-voltage power transmission lines and mobile phones can cause cancer or nervous disorders has been going on for more than 10 years. Reportedly, a law has been enacted that calls for setting standards for protecting people from the potential biological hazards from electromagnetic radiation.
Electromagnetic radiation, which is emitted from nearly all materials around us, may cause serious health defects in the human body. For example, visible rays of light are a type of microwave radiation, and too much bright light can cause problems.
Strictly speaking, electromagnetic radiation, which has been the topic of a heated debate, is either emissions from microwave ovens and cellular phones or extremely low frequency, or ELF radiation, generated by an alternating current in the frequency range of 60 hertz.
The light quantum of microwaves has an extremely small amount of energy. So it affects the vibration or spinning of molecules to make things heated but it cannot destroy a chemical combination.
In other words, powerful microwave radiation can burn the human body but it is not capable of causing cancer.
The vibrating magnetic field of ELF radiation has the potential to generate electric current in the nervous system. But the strength of electromagnetic fields produced by high-voltage power lines or home appliances account for a mere one-several hundredths of the earth's magnetism.
There is little possibility that this output would cause serious health problems in the human body. If we got rid of power lines for fear of radiation emissions and lived with candles, the hazards posed by indoor air pollution would be far greater.
The conclusion is not a unilateral argument made by a handful of people. Modern science provides clear explanations on it. It is also a fact proved by major science institutions.
Why do these outrageous theories go unstopped? Because an irresponsible news media likes to spread unfounded, sensational arguments for unidentified risks.
The issue of the potential biological hazards of electromagnetic radiation was first raised in 1976 by Paul Brodeur, an American journalist. In Korea, the issue was introduced in 1992 by a Korean- American, who had nothing to do with science.
In order to solve the controversy over the potential hazards of electromagnetic radiation, which became a social issue because of magnified media reports, the United States enacted a law in 1991 to bring funding to investigate such radiation, and the country has so far spent a staggering $25 billion to probe those possible risks. In an absurd move, the Korean government wants to spend 10 billion won ($7.7 million) just to reconfirm what has already been proved in the United States. Do the emissions from electromagnetic radiation have a nationality? Moreover, the Korean press has turned a deaf ear to reliable research results that were released in 1997. Too much sensitivity to unfounded arguments may lead to a waste of precious money and time. Some people are trying to take advantage of such arguments to make unjust profits. In modern life, it is hard to defend ourselves if we are not able to make rational judgments based on accurate scientific knowledge.
The writer is a professor of chemistry at Sogang University.
by Lee Duck-hwan