Is ‘electrosmog’ harming our health?
"In the decades-long debate about whether EMFs are harmful," says Milham, "it looks like transients could be the smoking gun."
The case against EMFs
The evidence showing harm is overwhelmingIn 2007, the Bioinitiative Working Group, an international collaboration of prestigious scientists and public health policy experts from the
Fears about the hazards of cell phones seem justified"Every single study of brain tumors that looks at 10 or more years of use shows an increased risk of brain cancer," says Cindy Sage, MA, coeditor of the report. A recent study from Sweden is particularly frightening, suggesting that if you started using a cell phone as a teen, you have a 5 times greater risk of brain cancer than those who started as an adult. The risk rises even more for people who use the phone on only one side of the head. While defenders of cell phone safety claim no scientist can explain why EMFs may be harmful in humans, a body of reliable and consistent animal research shows that electromagnetic fields, equal to those generated by mobile phones, open the blood-brain barrier, causing blood vessels to leak fluid into the brain and damage neurons. Ironically, that research (by renowned Swedish neuro-oncologist Leif G. Salford, MD,
Other countries are revising exposure standardsMembers of the European Union, which has led the way on EMF investigations, are moving quickly to protect their citizens, particularly children and pregnant
Electrical pollution is increasing dramatically"For the first time in our evolutionary history, we have generated an entire secondary, virtual, densely complex environment — an electromagnetic soup — that essentially overlaps the human nervous system," says Michael Persinger,
In the 1970s, Nancy Wertheimer,
In the 1980s, investigators concluded that office workers with high exposure to EMFs from electronics had higher incidences of melanoma — a disease most often associated with sun exposure — than outdoor workers.
In 1998, researchers with the National Cancer Institute reported that childhood leukemia risks were "significantly elevated" in children whose mothers used electric blankets during pregnancy and in children who used hair dryers, video machines in arcades, and video games connected to TVs.
Over the past few years, investigators have examined cancer clusters on Cape Cod, which has a huge US Air Force radar array called PAVE PAWS, and Nantucket, home to a powerful Loran-C antenna. Counties in both areas have the highest incidences of all cancers in the entire state of Massachusetts.
More recently, the new findings on transients — particularly those crawling along utility wiring — are causing some scientists to rethink that part of the EMF debate pertaining to the hazards of power lines. Could they have been focusing on the wrong part of the EMF spectrum?
Transients: the post-modern carcinogen Some earlier, noteable — albeit aborted — research suggests this may be the case. In 1988, Hydro-Québec, a Canadian electric utility, contracted researchers from McGill University to study the health effects of power line EMFs on its employees. Gilles Theriault, MD, DrPH, who led the research and was chair of the department of occupational health at the university, decided to expand his focus to include high-frequency transients and found, even after controlling for smoking, that workers exposed to them had up to a 15-fold risk of developing lung cancer. After the results were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the utility decided to put an end to the study.
That research commenced at a time when
So how does the human body respond to this pulsing radiation? "Think of a magnet," explains Dave Stetzer, an electrical engineer and power supply expert in Blair, WI. "Opposite charges attract, and like charges repel. When a transient is going positive, the negatively charged electrons in your body move toward that positive charge. When the transient flips to negative, the body's electrons are pushed back. Remember, these positive-negative shifts are occurring many thousands of times per second, so the electrons in your body are oscillating to that tune. Your body becomes charged up because you're basically coupled to the transient's electric field."
Keep in mind that all the cells in your body, whether islets in the pancreas awaiting a signal to manufacture insulin or white blood cells speeding to the site of an injury, use electricity — or "electron change" — to communicate with each other. By overlapping the body's signaling mechanisms, could transients interfere with the secretion of insulin, drown out the call-and-response of the immune system, and cause other physical havoc?
Some preliminary research implies the answer is yes. Over the past 3 years, Magda Havas,
Transients are particularly insidious because they accumulate and strengthen, their frequency reaching into the dangerous RF range. Because they travel along home and utility wiring, your neighbor's
Something else is sending transients into your home: the earth. From your high school science texts, you know that electricity must travel along a complete circuit, always returning to its source (the utility) along a neutral wire. In the early 1990s, says Stetzer, as transients began overloading utility wiring, public service commissions in many states told utilities to drive neutral rods into the ground on every existing pole and every new one they erected. "Today, more than 70% of all current going out on the wires returns to substations via the earth," says Stetzer — encountering along the way all sorts of subterranean conductors, such as water, sewer, and natural-gas pipes, that ferry even more electrical pollution into your home.
A pragmatic proposal Of course, these small studies — from Milham, Hydro-Québec, and Havas — hardly constitute a blanket indictment of transients. "We're still early in this part of the EMF story," says Carpenter. Does that mean as evidence of their harm accumulates, officials will raise a red flag? Not likely, if past EMF debates are any indication. Power companies have successfully beaten back attempts to modify exposure standards, and the cell phone industry, which has funded at least 87% of the research on the subject, has effectively resisted regulation. One good reason has had to do with latency — how long it takes to develop a particular cancer, often 25 years or more. Cell phones have been around only about that long.
But does that mean we avoid any discussion of their possible dangers? Again, if the past is a guide, the answer appears to be "probably." American scientists worried about the hazards of smoking, the DES (diethylstilbestrol) pill (given to pregnant
The sad truth is that until we have more epidemiologic evidence — whether from disease clusters like the ones at La Quinta and on Cape Cod or from long-term analyses of the health of the world's 4-billion-and-growing cell phone users — we won't know definitively whether electrical pollution is harming us. And even then, we are unlikely to know why or how. "In this country, our research dollars are spent on finding ways to treat disease, not on what causes it — which is to say, how we can prevent it," says Marino. "And that's a tragedy."
But that's also another story.