|MadSci Network: Medicine|
Thank you for this interesting question. Microwave ovens work by irradiating food with radio frequency energy at a very specific wavelength. The vibrations are at just the right frequency to cause water molecules to vibrate vigorously at just the same rate, and heat up...we're talking gigahertz here - trillions of cycles per second. Microwave radiation only heats food, it could never "contaminate" anything. So, the problem is not so much keeping microwaves away from your cup of soup in the oven, as it is keeping them away from you. You don't want your own molecules jiggling from microwaves - the heat generated could damage delicate tissue like the lens of your eye, resulting in cataracts. Microwave ovens are carefully designed with special shielding to prevent any microwave energy from leaking out. If arcing or other damage has occurred then the shielding might have been compromised, making the oven unsafe. Besides, arcing can start a fire. I would trash the microwave. New units are cheap enough that it is not worth the risks of using a damaged one. You could set your house on fire, or be harmed by leaking microwaves and not know it until you started to go blind, months or even years after exposure! W Emory Lawrence, MD
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