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Press Reports on EMF
Wi-Fi's Electric Shock
Toronto News, March 15, 2006
Wireless Net Hoopla Masks Growing Concern Over
There's something lonely about parties. Especially
if you're one of the few who isn't celebrating. And as laptop lovers
citywide rejoice in the announcement that downtown Toronto will be a
wireless Internet hot spot by the fall, critics worry that we may be
feeding a new form of smog that hangs in the air without a trace and
makes a growing number of us sick: electrical pollution.
Whether it's fluorescent lights, cellphones or
computer screens, more and more of us are realizing that the technology
we've welcomed into our homes and offices is making us ill. According
to stats from Sweden and Britain, about 2 or 3 per cent of the
population suffers from potentially debilitating
electro-hypersensitivity, or EHS. Symptoms are all over the map, and
include nausea, headaches, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, tinnitus and
rashes, to name a few.
Researchers also say that many more, over a third
of us, are a little electro-sensitive and just don't know it, blaming
restless nights, office brain fog and Motrin moments on everything but
our electrified environment.
While the biological effects of cellphones keep
getting slammed in studies and researchers continue to examine the
impact of electromagnetic fields on health, few people talk about the
impact of Wi-Fi with any real specifics.
"Show me the studies that prove it is safe," says
David Fancy, co-founder of the St. Catharines-based SWEEP (Safe
Wireless Electric and Electromagnetic Policy) Initiative, a network for
EHS sufferers across Canada.
"I've never seen anything from industry except
blanket assurances from their PR departments," says the Brock U prof.
"This is the identical strategy used by the tobacco industry in the 50s
Indeed, Toronto Hydro, which is bringing the hot
zone project to the table, is full of comforting messages. "I can
assure you that the health and safety of our employees and customers is
the number-one most important thing to this corporation," says
president David Dobbin.
But even he can sound a little shaky on the data.
"I understand where people are coming from. When you stand back and
look at it, hey, there may be a concern," says Dobbin, "but at this
point in time we don't have any conclusive evidence that it's a health
concern." Just inconclusive evidence, then? Dobbin says not to worry,
the signal is about as weak as that from a baby monitor or a cordless
But Dave Stetzer, a Wisconsin-based electrical
engineer, says cordless phones make plenty of people sick. In fact, the
consultant recommends people with sensitivities not only get rid of
their cordless phones, but also toss their dimmer switches,
energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, halogen lights and, yes, baby
The link between them all? Radio frequencies. We
know that wireless technology like cellphones and Wi-Fi emit such
frequencies. But Stetzer explains that radio frequency surges created
by appliances are also riding the electrical wiring in your home when
they shouldn't be.
"A few years ago, if you had a computer and you
didn't have a power bar surge suppressor, when a surge came though it
could shut off your computer or destroy it," he says. That surge is
dirty electricity. "We know it affects electrical equipment, but what
our research is showing is that it's also having an effect on humans."
Magda Havas, an environmental science professor at
Trent, has been studying just that. Havas teaches a course on the
biological impact of electromagnetic radiation and radio frequencies –
the only one of its kind in Canada.
Her work with people with MS, diabetes and other
illnesses documents how many found their symptoms improved when their
environments were electrically cleaned, so to speak, by placing
capacitators (filters) throughout their homes. Brad Blumbergs has
progressive multiple sclerosis and says he walked with a cane until he
volunteered for Havas's experiment. Michelle Illiatovitch's daughter
suffered from chronic fatigue from the time she was eight and saw her
energy return once an electrician fixed some faulty wiring in their
home and filters were put in her North York school.
Explains Havas,"We can take a person who is
diabetic and put them in an [electrically] dirty environment, and their
blood sugar levels rise. We then put them into a clean environment, and
within half an hour their blood sugar levels are lower. It becomes a
Why diabetes? Scientists have long known stress
affects the disease. But what researchers like Columbia cellular
biophysics prof Martin Blank say is that electromagnetic waves and
radio frequencies actually trigger stress responses in cells.
"If you need any more evidence that the body is
telling you, 'I'm hurting,' this is it," says Blank. "That's what the
stress response is – it's the testimony of the cells." And that
response, he adds, is activated by very weak fields, not just the kinds
emitted by major transmission lines, but the kind inundating your home.
"Who knows what being exposed to [multiple
sources] simultaneously does? You've got TV broadcasting outside,
you've got cellphones broadcasting outside. God knows what's going on
with all these things coming and going together. There's no attempt to
deal with it except in the vaguest way." And Wi-Fi? Blank says he
wouldn't want it in his home.
Bottom line, says the prof, "the guys who say
they're protecting us with these standards are not protecting us."
Health Canada, on the other hand, insists our
exposure to all this stuff is safe. Says spokesperson Paul Duchesne,
"We've conducted four studies since 2000 assessing the impact of radio
frequency fields' [ability] to cause DNA damage and affect gene
expression, and there's been no effect. We haven't seen any, anyway."
Still, Duchesne says, "we recommend that if people
are experiencing any symptoms they should contact a physician so that
treatment can happen." It's hard to imagine what kind of treatment the
department expects doctors to give when both Health Canada and the
World Health Organization discourage doctors from fuelling speculation
about a connection between electrical pollution and EHS and suggest a
psychological assessment be given.
"I wonder how many people out there are being
misdiagnosed," asks Martin Weatherall, a retired Toronto cop who
started developing a ringing in his ears and headaches when he moved
into a new home. "They're being harmed by their electrical
environments, and doctors are just sending them to a psychiatrist."
Even casual acceptance of the connection by
official sources seems to be frowned on. A report released by Britain's
Health Protection Agency's radiation division last fall was publicly
smeared by the Department of Health there for suggesting that those
with EHS stay away from electrical appliances. Nonetheless, Toronto
Hydro's website encourages anyone concerned to move clock radios away
from their bed and to air dry for a few minutes after bathing to cut
down on hair dryer time. Kind of strange for a company that says
there's nothing to worry about.
It seems both industry and regulators are
seriously covering their asses. You know, just in case.
Many people aren't waiting around for global
consensus on the issue. Some are calling inspection services like Dirty
Electricity Solutions to measure radio frequencies in their homes and
offices and outfit them with filters. The International Association of
Fire Fighters has demanded that their stations not be fitted with
cellphone antennas until more research proves their safety.
One municipality in Norway just banned cellphones
from a public beach, to make it accessible to people with
electro-sensitivities (like Norway's former prime minister, Gro Harlem
Brundtland, who won't allow cellphones within 12 feet of her because
she says they give her headaches).
Sweden, with an estimated 250,000 sufferers, leads
the pack by recognizing EHS as a full-on disability. Authorities there
will not only electrically retrofit your home and your office, but will
make a restaurant remove, say, offensive lighting if an electrically
sensitive person wants to eat there but can't – kind of like Canada's
policy on wheelchair ramps. Stockholm's even planning a special
A little closer to home, Lakehead University in
Thunder Bay recently shocked onlookers by banning wireless Internet
from most of its campus. A controversial move in these parts, but
school prez Fred Gilbert says the jury's still out on Wi-Fi's health
impact. That, he says, is enough to justify a precautionary approach,
even if it means taking a ribbing from the tech sector and students.
"You run a certain risk if you go against the wave
of implementation," says Gilbert. "But I think at the end of the day,
when you can do something to avoid exposure until we have more
definitive information, I think we're making the right decision."
Warren Bell sits on the board of the Canadian
Association of Physicians for the Environment. He says this would not
be the first time we've jumped on technology that works well in the lab
but not so well in the real world. "Our industrial civilization has
embarked on a lot of courses without a lot of documentation on their
safety or lack of safety. As a result, we've got ourselves in a number
of different corners, something we have subsequently come to regret."
Whether or not our beloved personal communications
technology will be one of those isn't yet clear, says Bell, but based
on our history, we might want to look a little harder before we jump.
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