It’s a common misconception that solar panels can cause cancer. While they are made from certain elements and emit electrical fields, this doesn’t mean they are hazardous.
Solar panels are generally safe to use and aren’t likely to cause cancer provided you use them as instructed by the manufacturer.
Let’s debunk this myth and see what’s actually going on here.
Can Solar Panels Cause Cancer?
To be completely blunt about it, no, solar panels cannot cause cancer. Unless you eat them.
Particular kinds of thin-film solar cells are made from materials like gallium arsenide and cadmium telluride. These are classified as carcinogens, which cause cancer.
It’s reasonable to think that there are some health concerns that can come with the prevalence of modern technology.
Modern technology makes it possible to use renewable energy with things like solar panels and wind turbines. These are meant to improve our environment and health by reducing our emissions.
In truth, a solar system doesn’t emit any more radiation than the electrical wiring in your home already does. There’s no documented connection between cancer and non-ionizing RF radiation.
Your solar panels together with solar panel’s inverters generate electricity as direct current or DC, for short. Silicon solar cells, which are a staple in photovoltaic technology, do not contain toxic materials.
The concerns that people have are possibly coming from three things involving the idea of “radiation” namely, radiofrequency (RF), electromagnetic field (EMF), and also ultraviolet (UV) light.
These are capable of causing cancer in high doses but that means being constantly exposed to these elements.
Just like x-rays can also cause cancer but since you rarely go for them, you’re going to be fine. The doctors and nurses operating the scans, on the other hand, are there each day, so it makes sense for them to take cover.
How Is It Different from Cancer Caused by UV?
Ultraviolet radiation is an energy source that’s naturally produced by the sun. There are three kinds of UV and each of them affects your body in a different way.
UVB rays are the cause of most of the sunburns you’ve ever got. UVA can go deeper into your skin and cause aging while it doesn’t directly play a role in sunburns.
The last kind of ultraviolet ray is the most dangerous of the three, UVC. Although, this is blocked by the earth’s ozone layer.
Being exposed to too much UV radiation damages the DNA in our skin cells. When enough damage is done, the cells start to reproduce and grow out of control. That’s what leads to skin cancer.
What Are the Health Risks Connected to EMF and RF?
We know that radiation can be hazardous at times. So, how bad is it to be exposed to electromagnetic field (EMF) and radiofrequency (RF) radiation?
Electromagnetic Fields (EMF/EM)
Electromagnetic fields are caused by any flow of electrons through metal (wire). The strength of the EMF depends on the amount of energy flowing, so a power line will produce a larger field than a toaster.
Much like other electronics, a solar panel’s inverter also produces a small amount of EM radiation as well as the AC-carrying wires, as we mentioned earlier. DC wires can emit static magnetic fields, which are similar to the Earth’s magnetic field.
The risk of electromagnetic radiation has been extensively researched and documented, and no link to low levels of EM radiation and negative health outcomes has been discovered. In short, unless you live inside a nuclear generator, you’re not likely to come out any worse.
The real danger sets in when we are continuously exposed to high levels, which can indirectly harm us. However, these dangers are nullified because of a standard limit of exposure that makes electromagnetic radiation safe for use within those limits.
At a reduced frequency compared to visible light, photons change their character and become radio waves.
RF radiation is harmless; the radio stations you listen to in the car are transmitted via radiofrequency.
The latest research done on radio waves state that cellphones and radio stations don’t increase the risk of any health issues you could experience.
Most of the RF energy associated with solar panels—sunlight—is already present. We’re exposed to far more electromagnetic energy from the sun than we experience from the components of a solar panel.
Are the Materials Used in Solar Panels Toxic?
It usually comes down to what kind of material is being used for the solar panel. There are two prominent materials used for solar panel technology, and they can be made of either silicon cells or thin-film materials.
Silicon cells are the most common, and they’re built into almost every solar panel available, like a 200-watt solar panel, for example.
Silicon is the main element in things like rocks or sand and it’s not toxic at all. Solar panels made for being used at home are exclusively made from crystalline silicon cells.
Silicon is the primary metal used in solar panels. Silicon solar panels still have other materials built into them, like small amounts of lead wiring. This is sealed with durable glass and an aluminum frame to protect the wires from being exposed.
Thin-film uses other kinds of solar panel materials in its manufacturing process and is not designed for residential use.
This technology is made using different compounds than silicon panels. This includes toxic elements like cadmium.
Cadmium is actually a product that comes from waste left by mining. This waste is then used in the production of thin-film panels without causing an increase in cadmium production.
Like the silicon panels, these materials are also sealed behind durable glass and aluminum frames designed to endure harsh weather conditions, such as hail or strong winds.
Being sealed away behind glass and a durable frame removes the risk toward homeowners, fortunately.
Hazards of Solar Panel Manufacturing
Homeowners and installers don’t have to worry about any hazards since they only have to handle and expose themselves to the final product.
We thought about the people making it, who have to interact and work with the product in its raw form. If solar panels are able to cause cancer then those working on them in the factories are more likely to be at risk.
Certified Solar Panels
Most manufacturers guarantee the safety of their products by including labels on their products. It informs you about the safety certifications that the panel has gone through.
It’s tested to see if it passes the minimum safety standards for environmental and work conditions.
However, this isn’t guaranteed solely through labels and such but rather through the assurance that the panel has been built to industry standards.
While solar panels aren’t toxic to homeowners, are solar panels safe and non-hazardous to the people working in the factory line?
Arguably, they are exposed to more hazardous materials and substances depending on what kind of technology they’re working with while creating solar cells.
During the manufacturing process, silicon cells release strong alkalis like sodium hydroxide as well as creating nitric acid. It’s important that the employees are provided with the right physical protection equipment and proper ventilation to ensure their safety.
The minimum safety standards can be different from country to country but standards are in place practically everywhere, especially in the United States; one of the countries with the highest occupational safety standards.
The risks are less for the installers and buyers that work with the finished product since the panels are usually installed onto the roof of the homeowners.
International Electrotechnical Commission
The International Electrotechnical Commission, or IEC, is an industry body that sets international quality standards for electronic devices, including solar panels.
Solar panels that meet the standard are given the certification referred to as IEC 61215. This means the panel has gone through and passed tests regarding climate, electrical, and mechanical quality.
The climate tests measure how well a solar panel withstands exposure to hail, elements, and other conditions like snow, or heavy rainfall.
Electrical tests need to see that the panel has the correct insulation and seals against water, which is why it’s important regarding what glass is used for solar panels.
The mechanical tests involve testing the physical performance of the solar panel.
What about solar panels’ fire safety? A different certification is issued, called the IEC 61730, and it determines the solar panel’s electrical safety and includes electrical performance and fire safety.
Other certifications like the IEC 61701 and 60068-2-68 involve tests against corrosion caused by salt, especially in solar panels meant to be used near the ocean, as well as sand damage in desert-like regions.
Besides the IEC, another label you’d potentially find on any electrical product is the UL or Underwriters Laboratories label.
They are an organization that is devoted to the safety of electrical products and offers testing and certification on a wide selection of products made globally.
The organization uses testing and strict science to guarantee that products like solar panels are safe for consumers and the environment.
A solar panel without certification from either IEC or UL is most likely a risk to you and your home.
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