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Answer to Question #8971 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Consumer Electronic Products

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:

Q

I have a question about RFID (radiofrequency identification) security tags that are in clothing to prevent store theft. My toddler has several pairs of jeans that he has worn and I washed for many months before I noticed the tags. One is falling apart. I am concerned. Is there any chance he would have been exposed to any radiation from them?

A

You have absolutely nothing to worry about. These consumer security tags often contain a small RF (radiofrequency) transmitter or a passive system that is activated by a nearby source. They are not hazardous in any way to the consumer.

In general, many electronic products emit RF radiation that is similar and part of the radio spectrum portion of the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum. This is considered nonionizing radiation and the biological effects are considered negligible and safe. There is actually more concern with the nearby RF source that may interfere with implanted medical devices. What you describe sounds like a passive RFID.

There are generally three types of RFID tags: active RFID tags, which contain a battery and can transmit signals autonomously; passive RFID tags, which have no battery and require an external source to provoke signal transmission; and battery assisted passive (BAP) RFID tags, which require an external source to wake up but have a significant higher forward link capability, providing great read range. Check out the RFID Journal website.

These emissions are not ionizing radiation such as x rays or gamma rays, which are associated with radioactive material. These nonionizing radiowaves include WiFi, broadband, cell phones, radar, television, and radio. Many of these are regulated by the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC). These are also closely monitored by other government agencies that may generate safety standards, if necessary. Studies have shown that environmental levels of RF energy routinely encountered by the general public are typically far below levels necessary to produce significant heating and increased body temperature.

I am attaching several URLs from several organizations, some of which provide additional links, which might be more information than you care for. In other words, do not worry.

The U.S. Federal Communications Commissions publishes standards.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also has the authority to establish such standards when it considers it a safety issue; the FDA site covers a broad range of such electromagnetic products.

The Department of Labor's Occupational Safety and Health website provides some excellent information.

The American Cancer Society also considers such radiation safe.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an excellent and informative site.

And finally, I will refer you to our own Health Physics Society site.

I hope this is useful information.

Orhan H. Suleiman, MS, PhD

Ask the Experts is posting answers using only SI (the International System of Units) in accordance with international practice. To convert these to traditional units we have prepared a conversion table. You can also view a diagram to help put the radiation information presented in this question and answer in perspective. Explanations of radiation terms can be found here.
Answer posted on 26 March 2010. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.