Are electrical appliances dangerous to your health?
- Free Issues of Microwave News (21/10/02)
Tramès per Klaus Rudolph (Citizens'
The Body Electric
appliances dangerous to your health?
Slaton, Special to SF Gate
Thursday, October 17, 2002
© 002 SF Gate
For decades, power companies and official scientific entities such as
the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the World Health Organization
have been telling the public that there are almost no credible health
risks from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that emanate from power lines,
power transformers and every single appliance that runs on electricity.
The official public-health-agency position is that, aside from a small
increased risk of childhood leukemia, consumers are perfectly safe no
matter how many appliances litter their homes and offices, or how many
power lines exist nearby. But a newly completed $8 million, seven-year
study by the
Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF) Program has something quite different
-- and quite alarming -- to say.
"To one degree or another, all three of the scientists who worked
on the EMF Program are inclined to believe that electromagnetic fields
(EMFs) can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia,
adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease and miscarriage," says Dr.
Raymond Neutra, one of the scientists who wrote the report. Neutra is
chief of the Division of Environmental and Occupational Disease Control
for California's Department of Health Services (DHS), which ran the study
with funding provided by the state's Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
Considering that most of us work and live in areas full of electronics
in appliances from refrigerators to television sets to computers, each
of which emits more than one EMF frequency, the EMF Program's linking
of health problems to the fields is cause for some alarm. If you sit in
front of a computer all day long, should you be worried? Will you get
a brain tumor if you live too close to a power line or routinely use a
copy machine? Is that friendly-looking little electric pencil sharpener
sending out waves of energy that'll kill you someday?
The answers aren't easy, but assessing your risk starts with some basic
background on the fields. Artificially generated EMFs are produced when
alternating current passes through a wire or device -- like when you flip
on your computer, or pop bread down into the toaster. The force that's
produced, an EMF, exerts pressure on everything around it -- your body,
the kitchen counters, your desk, you name it. This pressure is not necessarily
harmful. After all, you may remember from Science 101 that Earth has its
own static magnetic fields, with magnetic poles located roughly at our
North and South Poles. We don't fully understand why these magnetic fields
exist or how they're generated, but humans evolved in their presence,
and it's thought that many basic functions such as sleep and sense of
direction are governed largely and unconsciously by these fields.
About a hundred years ago, however, humans started figuring out how to
generate and use electricity, thereby changing the kinds of fields we
are exposed to. These fields are not static, as are Earth's own EMFs.
Human-exposure conditions created by artificially generated EMFs can vary
dramatically according to the type of wiring, the number of
appliances in an area, how many of those appliances are turned on at a
given time and how close a person is to those devices. Exposure to EMFs
can range from barely detectible levels (less than one milligauss, the
unit used to measure magnetic fields) to quite strong levels (up to 100
milligauss and more).
Power companies and public-health agencies would have you believe that
these artificially generated EMFs have practically no effect on human
health. I was surprised when a communications officer at the FDA's Center
for Devices and Radiological Health told me flatly that "there are
no known health effects from appliance EMFs" and then refused to
let me talk to an FDA doctor to confirm or deny this statement. But despite
this hard-line stance, evidence is mounting that, in fact, EMFs do affect
health -- and not in a good way.
"There is some evidence to suggest that magnetic-field exposure reduces
melatonin levels," says Dr. W. Gregory Lotz, chief of non-ionizing
radiation for the <http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/homepage.html>National
Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). "It's an open
question for now which needs more study, but at least some animal studies
have shown melatonin changes."
EMF-related hormonal changes in the amount of melatonin your body produces
may not, on the surface, seem like a big deal when compared to something
as scary as a brain tumor. But melatonin has a far larger effect on your
health than you may realize. The hormone, which is secreted by the pineal
gland in the center of the brain, controls your sleeping and waking cycle.
But melatonin also shores up your immune system, lowers cholesterol and
blood pressure and, most important of all, is a potent antioxidant
that plays a part in preventing cancer, Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's
disease, diabetes and heart disease. Make no mistake: Anything that messes
with melatonin messes with you in a big way.
"The effects of EMFs on melatonin have been known for at least 10
years, as has the evidence linking EMFs to cancers, Alzheimer's and childhood
leukemia," says Libby Kelley, executive director of the <http://www.energyfields.org>Council
on Wireless Technology Impacts (CWTI), a San Francisco-based nonprofit
Even the shadow of a threat from these potent killers may have you wanting
to throw the computer and all your other electronics out the window and
jump after them. But for most people, the dangers aren't as severe as
they may seem at first.
For one thing, most of the risks associated with EMFs kick in when fields
are at a strength of 3 milligauss and higher. According to the DHS' Raymond
Neutra, most California office workers are exposed to daily fields at
an average strength of 1.5 milligauss daily, well below the level of exposure
known to cause deleterious health effects.
But don't be putting on the party hats yet -- though the average worker
has a safe level of exposure, some workers may be getting stronger doses
of EMFs due to faulty wiring or an unusually high number of appliances
in some areas. And since the strength of EMFs increases as you get closer
to an appliance, those working eyeball-to-screen on a computer many hours
a day face some increased risk of harmful EMF exposure, as does anyone
who works very near other
office appliances such as fax machines, copy machines and printers. The
more electronic equipment you have clustered near you and the more time
you spend in the high-EMF zone, the greater the risk you face.
"Copy machines, as it turns out, have one of the strongest magnetic
fields, and they increase as you get closer," says the NIOSH's W.
Gregory Lotz. "I've seen some measurements taken a foot away from
the machine. The lowest field measured was 2 milligauss. The highest was
40 milligauss. Electric pencil sharpeners are even worse -- I've seen
measurements of up to 90 milligauss."
"People are practically wrapped around their equipment at home or
at the office, and while you're working on it, it's working on you,"
says the CWTI's Libby Kelley. "It's one thing to pass by your microwave
in the kitchen, which produces a very strong field but isn't typically
used all day, every day. It's quite another to work 40 hours a week or
next to a piece of equipment putting out a strong field."
So what to do about these potential risks? Well, you could pick up a <http://home.t-online.de/home/electrosmog/>gaussmeter,
easily available via the Web for $50-$100. This simple instrument definitively
shows the strength of fields in a given area and may uncover potential
problems. The DHS' Neutra, for example, used to work in an office where
a gaussmeter showed that he and his colleagues were exposed to
unexpectedly strong EMFs of 9 milligauss. After the faulty lighting circuit
causing the strong fields was replaced, the EMF level dropped dramatically
to normal levels.
If you're not quite worried enough to shell out for a gaussmeter or get
your wiring checked by a competent electrician, there's a simple solution
-- distance. Stay at least two to three feet away from your computer as
you work, and make sure other appliances are at least that far from your
work space. Move your desk if you have to, or cluster your
appliances so that they are as far away as possible from where you generally
work or hang out in your house. Practice prudent avoidance of EMFs and
you will lower your risks.
Of course, these are just suggestions for what you can do on a personal
level, and there's a limit to how much risk you can avoid. Moving farther
away from your appliances won't do much if your home is quite near a power
line, an electricity-generating plant or a power-company fuse box, where
you are exposed to constant, ambient strong EMFs. And, until now, the
location of these facilities and lines has been largely unregulated, with
the power utilities deciding almost carte blanche where to place facilities.
And, also until now, those utilities have shown a distinct tendency to
ignore the mounting evidence of EMFs' effects on health.
"The EMF Program report is the strongest evidence yet of the health
risks the power companies have been trying to pretend didn't exist,"
says Louis Slesin, publisher of <http://www.microwavenews.com>Microwave
News, the definitive journal on EMFs and health. "The utilities have
played a very sophisticated game and have managed to smother the health
risks as a nonissue -- and, to an extent, it's worked. You never see coverage
of EMFs in most media, and after the California EMF Program closes down
there will be no research on the issues going on in the United States.
The risks can be controlled, but only if the utilities stop pretending
that there are no risks and start addressing them."
"Estimated lifetime risks smaller than the ones we've uncovered have
triggered regulatory evaluation and sometimes actual regulation of chemical
agents such as airborne benzene," says the DHS' Neutra.
Will the California EMF Program's report trigger increased regulation
of the power utilities, bringing about some sorely needed changes in how
power and its attendant EMF fields are allowed into our lives? Only if
the utilities -- and their regulatory agencies -- start hearing a whole
lot of protest from the public. Have you ever examined your PG&E bill
closely? Ever wonder why there's a disclaimer releasing PG&E from
responsibility over childhood leukemia on there? Take a good look -- and
then think about what you'd like PG&E, the CPUC, the Environmental
Protection Agency and other regulatory agencies to hear.
"As we bring more and more electronics into our homes and neighborhoods,
we are being exposed more and more to EMFs," says the CWTI's Libbey
Kelley. "We're already seeing breast cancer at younger ages, the
onset of cancer at younger ages. It could be due to EMFs, environmental
toxins or a whole combination of things -- we just don't know. Meanwhile,
we have these aging electrical power systems, we're not looking at alternative
power sources, we're building power lines and generating plants near homes.
It's business as usual. Unless there's public outrage over making the
world a safer place, the dangers are just going to continue."
For more information on the California EMF Program Report or plans for
public hearings, or if you have questions about EMF health and safety,
call the California EMF Program at Oakland's branch of the DHS at (510)
622-4300. You may also call the <http:/www.cpuc.ca.gov>CPUC at (800)
649-7570, or the CWTI at (415) 892-1963.
Informant: Don Maisch
Special offer from Microwave
There are now nine complete issues of Microwave News available to all
at no charge on our Web site: http://www.microwavenews.com.
Sincerely, Louis Slesin
Editor & Publisher
P.S. Want to know more about what you'll be reading? Here are a few highlights.
* IEEE Drafts Major Revision of RF/MW Human Exposure Limits * NCRP Halts
Revision of RF Standard
* WHO EMF Project Now Endorses Policy of Prudent Avoidance
* Japanese Leave Little Doubt 12 mG Can Inhibit Melatonin Effect; Report
Progress Towards a Mechanism
* Maximum EMF Exposure Emerges As Strong Miscarriage Risk
* Angelos v. Wireless Industry: Class-Action Lawsuits Filed
* Electrosmog Embroils Italy; Vatican Told To Cut RF Emissions
* Congress Told Public Needs Better Info on Cell Phone Risks
* Mobile Phones, Cancer Not Linked in Two Short-Term Studies
* California EMF Survey Says 1,700 Classrooms Exceed 5 mG
* Senator Kennedy Seeks NAS-NRC Study of PAVE PAWS Radar
* German Study: More Eye Cancer Among Mobile Phone Users
* Leading Epidemiologists See Childhood Leukemia Risk at 4 mG
* No Money for RF/MW Programs at EPA
* New Tests Show Hands-Free Sets Do Reduce SARs, But U.K. Consumer Group
Admits No Error
* EMF Exposure May Lead to Dramatic Change in Heart Rate
* U.K. Panel Discourages Use of Mobile Phones by Children
* Strong Electric Fields Implicated in Major Leukemia Risk for Workers
* Exposure Limits Based on Precautionary Principle Stir Controversy in
* California Coastal Commission & Navy at Odds over Radar Facility
* Switzerland Adopts Strict Limits for Cell Towers and Power Lines
* Views on the News: Harmonization vs. the Precautionary Principle
* Working on the Ground Floor: A Cancer Risk Factor?
* NCRP Cuts Scientific Staff; Impact on NIR Reports Uncertain
* "Consistent" Picture Emerges on EMFs and Childhood Leukemia
* Chinese Exposure Standard Is the Strictest
* New Cordless Phones: Higher Power, More Exposure
* Replication Attempt Finds No Support for Lai-Singh Work;
Debate Continues Over DNA Damage from Microwaves
* Canada Panel: Nonthermal Effects Exist and Need Study
* New Zealand Drops "Flat" RF/MW Limit; Australia in Limbo
* Japan Set To Begin Childhood Cancer Epi Study
* NAS-NRC Recommendations on EMF Research
* Sony Recalls Phones that Exceed FCC RF/MW Limits
* European Health Research Effort Planned; Wireless Industry To Pay Half
* FCC Moves To Tighten Compliance Testing Methods
* Norway: New Probe of Birth Defects Cluster
Informant: Don Maisch