Answer to Question #8044 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Microwaves, Radar, and Radiofrequency — Microwaves and Radiofrequency

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

Our new adult cat has the habit of sleeping on top of our microwave. The cover on the oven is a foam-backed olefin fiber rug, backed with a 1/16" reflective aluminum-surface-type heat blanket. The oven is used approximately 20 times per day for a total run time of approximately 10 minutes total with our cat on top. Is there any danger to the animal in this situation as described, assuming the oven is in good repair? It is only about three years old.

Microwave ovens are actually regulated by two federal agencies; the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates the two radiofrequencies assigned for microwave generation, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) limits the radiation levels. FDA requires two safety interlocks to prevent the ovens from operating with the door open; otherwise any microwave radiation emanating from these ovens is considered extremely low and safe, even for cats. A mandatory standard of 5 mWatts per cm2 at 5 cm from any surface of the oven is the actual standard. In the 1970s Robert van Allen, for whom the van Allen radiation belts are named, made a statement that getting injured from a microwave oven was analogous to getting sunburn from moonlight! He even offered to sit on his oven 24 hours a day.

I am attaching several URLs from several organizations, some of which provide additional links, for additional information.

The Federal Communications Commissions has standards.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also has the authority to establish such standards when the FDA consider 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 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has an excellent and informative site.

And finally, I will refer you to our own Health Physics Society site. Simply search on "microwave ovens" for additional answers to related questions.

I hope this is useful information.

Orhan H. Suleiman
Topical Editor, Health Physics Society

Answer posted on 28 January 2009. 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.