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General Health : Environment Last Updated: Apr 20, 2011 - 9:38:09 AM

RFID tags useful, but potentially risky
By Ben Wasserman
Jun 25, 2008 - 2:06:06 PM

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RFID tag used by Wal-Mart. Credit: wikipedia
WEDNESDAY June 25, 2008 ( -- A new study found that use of radio frequency identification (RFID), a wireless technology, on medical device may pose a risk to patients who are supported by a critical care medical device such as pacemakers.

RFID, an automatic identification method, relies on storing and remotely retrieving data using devices called RFID tags or transponders, which can be applied to or incorporated into a product, animal, or person for the purpose of identification using radio waves.

The study showed that when active RFID tags were moved around 41 critical care medical devices including pacemakers, ventilators IV pumps, defibrillators, dialysis machines and anesthesia machines at different distances, they interfered with the critical devices in 34 tests out of all 123 tests.

Doctors were asked to evaluate the degree of the risk from the electromagnetic interference and they said in 22 out of the 34 test settings RFID tags may cause hazard to patients who are using a critical care medical device like pacemakers.

The U.S. health care providers are spending an estimated $50 million dollars a year in the RFID solutions and the applications are expected to at least double in the next decade, authors said in their report.   But according to, the medical industry has not yet adopted the technology as widely as thought because of the cost.

The study was conducted by researchers at Vrije University in Amsterdam in the Netherlands and the results were published in the journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers did not recommend that hospitals stop using RFID tags just because there is a potential harm the technology could pose to patients. Rather they suggest further research should be performed to confirm the findings and make sure that use of this RFID asset tracking method does not endanger the medical equipment and the patients.

RFID tags are finding more and more applications, far beyond hospitals.  The telecommunication companies like AT&T have been exploring new applications to a point that the industry wanted school children to wear a RFID tag for tracking purposes, which drew attention from privacy advocates.

RFID tags or implants provide incredible inconvenience in monitoring an animal or an article, or a property.  But this modern technology like many others such as medical x-ray and cell phones can pose a threat to human health and long-term or intense exposure to the radio wave such as from implants or RFID tags could potentially promote cancer development.

Reuters in September, 2007 reviewed studies on the safety of RFID and found that a significant percentage of animals wearing RFID tags developed tumors mostly near the tags.

Likewise in a September 8, 2007 news story, Washington Post cited some studies published in veterinary and toxicology journals between 1996 and 2006 to say lab mice and rats receiving microchips sometimes developed subcutaneous "sarcomas" _ malignant tumors, most of them encasing the implants.

In 1997, a German study found 1 percent of 4,279 chipped mice developed cancer.   And the researchers attributed the tumors the implanted microchips.

Although RFID technology used in hospitals may pose a risk mostly to patients who rely on a critical care medical device, long-term exposure to the radio wave or implants which would release a risky dose of radio wave can be a danger to an ordinary individual. conducted a review of eleven studies previously reported in toxicology and pathology journals and found that in six of the reports between 0.8% and 10.2 % of laboratory mice and rats developed malignant tumors around or adjacent to the RFID chips and two studies showed dogs developed microchips-relate cancer.

The current study did not involve patients who count on a device to live their lives, which could be potentially affected by a RFID tag.  But the research seems significant enough to warrant further studies on the possible risk of RFID tags to those patients.

For everyone else, caution may need to be exercised when considering volunteering to be implanted with a RFID microchip.  There should be no doubt that anyone who dares to try the fancy RFID tag or implants might put himself at higher risk of cancer.

For more information on RFID, read

© 2004-2008 by unless otherwise specified

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