A new middle school was opened in the city of La Quinta, CA, in 1990. It was an exhilarating experience for everyone, especially for a sixth grade teacher, Gayle Cohen, who showed her excitement in the following words, “For 2 years, we have been a part of temporary faculty, but this change is very exciting for all of us.”
However, this excitement soon diminished when one of the teachers did not return after the Christmas break because of weakness and dizziness. A few years later, another teacher developed cancer and died. The teacher who replaced him developed throat cancer. This was just the start. More and more instructors started falling sick. In 2003, Cohen too was diagnosed with breast cancer on her 50th birthday.
“That’s when I sat down with another teacher, and we remarked on all the cancers we’d seen,” she says. “We immediately thought of a dozen colleagues who had either gotten sick or passed away.” Out of 137 staff members, 16 had developed 18 cancers. The ratio came out to be almost 3 times the expected number. A dozen of the kids were diagnosed with cancer, of which a few died.
Cohen went to the school principal before starting her chemotherapy treatment. Sam Milham, MD, a widely traveled epidemiologist who has undergone investigations on a large number of environmental and occupational illnesses and published numerous peer reviewed papers based on his finding, became interested in a local newspaper article that discussed the possible disease cluster. The potential hazards of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) had been the focus of Milham’s studies for over 30 years.
He, along with dozens of international scientists, was able to conclude, “The electrosmog had started developing a century ago with the advent of electrical grids. Now, it surrounds everything and everyone present on this planet, resulting in disease and death.”
Milham was inclined towards measuring the ambient levels of a specific EMF which is now thought of as a new carcinogen and is commonly referred to as ‘high frequency voltage transients’ or ‘dirty electricity’. Being by-products of modern energy-efficient electronics and appliances including computers, refrigerators, plasma TVs, compact florescent light bulbs and dimmer switches, transients tamp down the electricity they use. The electromagnetic field fluctuates and becomes hazardous when the current is manipulated. Not only this, it also emits radiation in the environment and can back up along home or office wiring till the utility, contaminating everything in between that carries energy.
Cohen helped Milham enter the school and take readings. Some classrooms were detected with transient pollution being at such high levels that the meter was unable to measure them. On the basis of his findings, the teachers filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, due to which the California Department of Health Care Services was ordered to undergo a full investigation.
In 2008, Milham and his colleague, L. Lloyd Morgan, gave the final analysis in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, which was: There was a 64% chance that teachers would develop cancer due to the cumulative exposure to transients in the school. Working in the school’s building for just a year increased the risk by 21%. There were also high chances, of about 13 times the average, of teachers developing melanoma, thyroid cancer and uterine cancer. Young students were at an even greater risk.
Milham said, “In the decades-long debate about whether EMFs are harmful, it looks like transients could be the smoking gun”
The idea that disease could be linked with the greatest practical discovery of the modern era has been refuted by a number of people who have doubts about it, including congressional investigators, interest groups, cell phone manufacturers and Wifi providers. Increasing EMF pollution is now a matter of concern and it is important that it be addressed with the intention of reducing it.
A 650 page report incorporating 2000 studies that focus on the hazardous implications of EMFs was released in 2007 by an international collaboration of prominent scientists and public health policy experts from the US, Sweden, Denmark, Austria and China, known as the Bioinitiative Working Group. The scientists have revealed that radiation from even cell phones, which is apparently of very low level, is capable of causing various cancers, heart diseases, Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and immunity impairment. David Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany and coauthor of the public-health chapters of the Bioinitiative report said, “We now have a critical mass of evidence, and it gets stronger every day.”
Cindy Sage, MA, coeditor of the report stated, “Every single study of brain tumors that looks at 10 or more years of use shows an increased risk of brain cancer.” It has now been discovered in a Sweden’s study that if children start using cell phones in their teens in contrast to starting in adulthood, their chances of developing brain cancer increase by five times. This risk increases by a great degree in those people who talk on their cell phones using only one side of their head. Defenders of cell phone safety argue that there is no explanation for EMF causing damage to the human body, however, research has shown that radiation as low as that emitted by cell phones, can open the blood-brain barrier. This results in the neurons being damaged as the blood vessels leak fluids into the brain.
European Union members are now protecting the citizens, especially children and pregnant women. France, Germany and England have already eliminated wireless networks from schools and public libraries in the past two years. This trend is now followed by some other countries too. For example, in Israel, cellular antennae can no longer be placed on residences and Russian officials have banned under-18 cell phone use.
A newly emerged condition, EHS, has known to have the following symptoms: fatigue, facial irritation (similar to rosacea), tinnitus, dizziness and digestive disturbances. These symptoms appear after exposure from visual display units, cell phones, Wifi and everyday appliances. People who are clinically hypersensitive are about 3%, while one third are relatively less hypersensitive.
Michael Persinger, PhD, a neuroscientist at Laurentian University who has studied the effects of EMFs on cancer cells maintained, “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.” The long term effects of Edison’s invention of the light bulb seem to become visible now after centuries in the form of health hazards.
When there was no electricity, the only source of EMF exposure was the magnetic field of earth and the cosmic rays from the sun and outer space. Our body has now developed a protective pigment as a way of adapting to the solar EMFS. According to a pioneer in Bioelectromagnetics, Andrew Marino, PhD, JD, who is a professor in the department of orthopedic surgery at the Louisiana State Health Sciences Center has carried out in-depth research on EMF, “No protection exists against other EMF frequencies.” He also said, “How quickly can we adapt our biology to these new exposures? It’s the most important environmental health question — and problem — of the 21st century.”
The history of hazards of EMF dates back to as early as the time of World War II. The Russians noticed for the first time that the radar operators were developing symptoms that are now associated with electrical hypersensitivity syndrome. During the Cold War in the 1960s, the US embassy in Moscow was bombed with microwave radiation, which resulted in American employees falling sick. Henceforth, the diagnosis of radio wave sickness or microwave sickness is now largely accepted.
In 1956, radio waves were first introduced in Australia and it was after this that a growing increase in cancers was seen in people residing near transmission towers. Childhood leukemia spiked among kids who lived near electric power lines in the 1970s and this caused Nancy Wertheimer, a Denver epidemiologist, PhD, to carry out several studies which happened to give the same results.
The researchers from the National Cancer Institute found out in 1998 that those children have greater chances of getting leukemia who used hair dryers, video machines in arcades, played video games connected to TVs, and whose mothers used electric blankets while pregnant.
Cancer clusters have been discovered on Cape Cod and Nantucket. Cape Cod has a huge US Air Force radar array, known as PAVE PAWS, while a powerful Loran-C antenna exists in Nantucket. A lot of cancer cases are seen in the both the areas.
A Canadian electric utility, Hydro-Quebec, got researchers from McGill University to investigate the effects of power line EMF on the health of its employees in 1988. Head of the research, GIlles Theriault, MD, DrPH, who was also the chair of the occupational health department of the university, widened the scope of his study by including high-frequency transients in it. He discovered that the employees exposed to the transients had five times higher chances of getting lung cancer, even when smoking was greatly controlled. The study was put to an end after the results were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.
When energy-efficient devices started to spread in all of North American homes, it was that time when the research began. An energy efficient device can be easily identified when you see a transformer at the end of a power cord on a laptop or computer, mobile phone charger and printer. However, it is not necessary for all devices to have it. While it is plugged in, it usually starts to get warm. This is because the current is being tamped down and transient pollution is given off. Transient radiation caused by light dimmer switches and compact florescent light bulbs (CFLs) is the worst of all. A persistent interruption in the current creates transients. For example, a CFL continuously turns itself on and off to save energy.
Dave Stetzer, an electrical engineer and power supply expert in Blair, WI, finds the bodily response to this pulsing radiation to be similar to a ‘magnet’. “Opposite charges attract and like charges repel,” he said. The negatively charged electrons in our body move towards the positive charge, when a transient is positive. Likewise, when the transient becomes negative, the electrons in our body move away. This means that the electrons in our body are moving back and forth, as these positive-negative movements are occurring thousands of times per second. Hence, the body becomes charged.
Each cell in our body uses electricity or ‘electron charge’ for the purpose of communication, be they islets in the pancreas waiting for a sign to begin insulin production or the white blood cells rushing to the site of a wound. Research has been carried out to see whether transients can interfere with the secretion of insulin, drown out the call-and-response of the immune system and cause other physical disorders by overlapping the body’s signaling mechanisms. The research findings suggest that it is possible.
A researcher in the environmental and resource studies department at Trent University in Ontario, Magda Havas, PhD, has published several studies over the past three years that reveal blood glucose level rising in people with diabetes and prediabetes due to the exposure to transients. Once out of a transient polluted environment, people suffering from multiple sclerosis found their balance to improve and experienced palpitations less often. Havas’ work showed how two-thirds of teachers at the schools found their symptoms to improve, which included headache, dry eye, facial flushing, asthma, skin irritation and depression, once filters were installed in the schools to clean up transients.
The reason why transients are so dangerous is because of the fact that they accumulate and strengthen, causing their frequency to reach the dangerous RF range. Your neighbors’ energy choices will affect the electrical pollution in your house because transients travel along home and utility wiring. This means, if someone down the block has illuminated his porch by a CFL, your bedroom will still be affected by the transients.
Even the Earth sends transients into your house. It is a fact that electricity flows along a complete circuit and eventually returns to its source through a neutral wire. In many states, the public service commissions told utilities to insert neutral rods in the ground on both old and new poles when the transients began overloading utility wiring in 1990s. Stetzer said, “At present, 70% of the current that flows through the wires goes back to the substation by way of Earth. On its way, the current passes through various types of conductors, like water, sewers and natural gas pipes, bringing even greater amounts of electrical pollution to your house”.
The studies on transients by Milham, Hydro-Quebec and Havas do not completely condemn transients. Carpenter says that the research on EMF is still in its early stages. Power companies have failed to change exposure standards and the cell phone industry refuses to follow the regulation. This is to do with latency, that is the time period it takes for one to develop cancer, which is usually 25 years or more. Mobile phones were also introduced around the same time.
Should the possible dangers from transients be avoided? The answer is, probably yes. The hazards of smoking were recognized by the American scientists and so is the case with diethylstilbestrol pill (DES), asbestos, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and so on. However, people were warned about the health consequences only when the scientists were sure about them being dangerous.
When it comes to protecting oneself from harmful radiation, the American history is laughable. After a few years of the invention of medical imaging devices in 1920s, the physicians entertained their guests at garden parties by X-raying them. Moreover, radiums were kept in open trays on scientists desks in the 1930s. In order for the shoes to fit the children’s feet properly, shoe stores used X-ray machines in the 1940s, while in the 1950s, radioactive wristwatches with glowing hour hands became common.
The safety standards are not given importance by both the public officials and manufacturers. This is because the cost of CFL rises by 5 cents when a protective filter is added to it, while that of a laptop increases by $5. To protect yourself from EMFs, one safety practice would be to prevent yourself from being exposed to EMF. For instance, you should not buy a home in the neighbourhood of a WiFi tower. Use a landline instead of using a cordless phone. Do not allow your kids to keep their cell phones under the pillow while sleeping. Laptops should not be placed on your lap while using them.
We are still not sure whether this electrical pollution is harmful for human beings because more evidence is required. The existing evidence relating to La Quinta and Cape Cod is not enough. Questions like why and how is electrical pollution detrimental to health still need to be solved. Marino says, “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, and that’s a tragedy.”