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What You Should Know About Electromagnetic Fields, Electromagnetic Radiation & Your Health
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Electromagnetic fields and radiation are everywhere – near power lines, computers, radio and television signals, microwave ovens, toasters, alarm clocks and everyday electrical appliances. The media are warning of the possible hazards of EMFs and EMR and recent studies suggest that they cause leukaemia in children and breast and brain cancer in adults. It advises which levels to worry about, and how to minimize the risks. It is also a sourcebook for citizens seeking action from utility companies, employers, manufacturers and governmental agencies.
Copyright © 1995 by Mark A. Pinsky
All rights reserved.
Warner Books, Inc.
Hachette Book Group
237 Park Avenue
New York, NY 10017
Visit our website at www.HachetteBookGroup.com
First eBook Edition: October 2009
MANY PEOPLE HAVE, CONTRIBUTED TO THIS BOOK IN SMALL AND big ways. For particular help and support in researching and writing, my appreciation goes to Dan Dasho, Robert Goldberg, Tina Irvin, Colleen Kapklein, Ed Leeper, Jennifer Paget, Dr. Linda Pinsky, Karl Riley, Jeriy Sontag, and Dave Weiss.
I have strived to make this book precise and accurate. In simplifying complex scientific information, I may have condensed some data in pursuit of clarity. This is unfortunate but unavoidable.
GRAPPLING WITHEM FIELD ANDEM RADIATIONHEALTH EFFECTS
DOTTIE ENGLISH AND HER HUSBAND, FRANK, ARE UNLIKELY activists. "Neither Frank nor I were ever involved in community issues before EM fields," she explains. "We worked all day, came home, and in some cases we hardly even knew our neighbors." Now in her mid-fifties, Dottie English is a businesswoman who speaks softly and calmly, dresses conservatively, exercises extreme restraint in her statements, and always makes her points carefully and logically. That, one utility official explained, is what made her a threat.
Many of the people concerned about EM fields and EM radiation have young children, and most, like Dottie English, have no history of activism. Some fear for their children, some for themselves, some for their property values. "Concern about the research on kids and cancer really sent people through the roof," English says.
Dottie led a quiet, suburban life until 1990, when she learned that Philadelphia Electric Company (PECO) was installing a new electric power transmission line along an abandoned railroad track behind their home in upper Southampton, Pennsylvania. One of the company's workers told the Englishes that he would be concerned about the EM fields the line would emit if he were them. A few weeks later at a public meeting, a utility spokesman announced that the projected EM field levels in the yards next to the proposed line would be nothing to worry about, even though he said the levels would be about 20 milligauss. By then, the Englishes knew on the basis of news stories that this was ten times as high as the exposure levels that several studies had linked to cancer in children.
"The electric company brought the opposition on itself," Dottie English believes. "They were telling us there was no reason to be concerned before we even knew anything about the transmission line." The utility told them not to discuss the line with their neighbors and not to ask questions at local municipal meetings.
Within a month the Englishes had plunged into the research data and found themselves part of a burgeoning international network of people in similar situations. What they were reading and hearing worried them. "Once you start looking at the volume of research and the length of time it has been around, it starts to look like someone wanted to keep us from the facts," she says.
They organized a local group, Parents Against an UnSafe Environment (PAUSE), forced the state Public Utility Commission (PUC) to reopen its deliberations on the planned power line, and forced Pennsylvania's public officials to take their first serious look at EM fields, just as officials in dozens of other states were doing. Although they eventually lost their challenge when the PUC refused to hear testimony from scientists supporting their claims, they raised awareness of an important issue.
At home, Dottie and Frank made changes they thought would help protect them. They rearranged furniture, lights, and their television set to reduce their exposures based on what they had learned. They decided to stay away from their dishwasher and microwave oven when they were in use. "We didn't stop using electricity. It's a vital part of our life," she notes. Some neighbors took more severe actions. One family threw away its microwave oven, and several stopped using many other appliances.
A growing number of people who have closely evaluated the EM field and EM radiation research have found ways to reduce exposure levels. Granger Morgan, a prominent researcher at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, moved his son's bed across the room, stopped using electric blankets, and shifted electric bedside clocks away from the beds. Diane Allen, a television reporter who investigated the EM field controversy, revealed at a congressional hearing that her reporting led her to bury the electric wires that bring power to her home. The lead author of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency report recommending that FM fields he classified as "probable human carcinogens" and that EM radiation he labeled "possible human carcinogens" put away his electric razor, and measured levels in his home to see if there were exposure conditions of concern.
Like the Englishes, some people have organized community groups to raise awareness about EM fields and EM radiation and, in some instances, to oppose new or existing sources of emissions. People have organized in places as diverse as suburban New jersey, rural Michigan, and New York City. Some have quit their jobs to press EM field or EM radiation issues, and some have sold their homes at sustantial losses.
Dottie and Frank English moved from Pennsylvania to the Midwest in 1993, but Dottie, in particular, remained actively involved in the issue as a hoard member of the EMR Alliance, an international network, and as a co-director of the Center for Public Information on EM Radiation.
Dottie English is confident that her concern and her activism are justified. Asked whether she overreacted to the issue, she responds firmly. "I underreacted, and I am sorry that we weren't better organized. I'm really sorry that I wasn't more vocal, more involved," English muses. Eventually, research will give us clear answers about EM field and EM radiation safety, she believes, but "it's going to take a lot of years. Until we get truly independent research, I don't think this issue is going to he solved," she says.
As Dottie English and hundreds of other people have learned, the research completed thus far is a mixed lot. There has never been a concerted, organized effort to understand whether EM fields and EM radiation are dangerous and, if so, how, despite the fact that EM fields and EM radiation are the by-products of electricity and increasingly common electrical devices such as cellular phones.
Our knowledge is based on a hodge-podge effort that nonetheless has produced compelling evidence that makes up in quantity at least some of what it lacks in quality. A handful of studies have found that children exposed to EM fields above a certain level—approximately 2 milligauss (a milligauss is the unit of measure for EM fields)—are approximately twice as likely to die from cancer as are children exposed to fewer than 2 milligauss. These studies are the most compelling and alarming of all the research, but they are not the only evidence that a problem exists. Adults exposed to EM fields and EM radiation on the job also are more likely to develop or die of cancer.
What really concerns scientists and public health specialists is that the levels associated with cancer are very low. Indeed, millions of people experience 2 milligauss EM fields for extended periods every day. This research is inconclusive, however. What investigators have not yet found is an explanation for how EM fields and EM radiation at the very low levels we commonly encounter can cause cancer or any of the other health effects attributed to exposure. In other words, no one has yet found the mechanism of interaction—the smoking gun, so to speak.
That is not to say that research has not produced evidence pointing toward an explanation. Experimental results have produced at least four possible mechanisms. The hunt is on to prove or disprove whether exposure to EM fields or EM radiation causes cancer and other health problems. For scientists, this means that they must observe some or all of the following factors:
• A strong statistical association. If exposed people are only slightly more likely to develop cancer after exposure, that would be a weak association.
• A consistent association. The apparent link should be observable among people from diverse economic, racial, and geographic groups.
• A specific association. Exposure should produce a specific result—that is, a particular type of cancer.
• A sequential association. The exposure should precede the health effect.
• A dose-response relationship. As exposure conditions increase, the statistical association should grow stronger.
• Scientific consistency. There must be a plausible mechanism for the health effect, and the association should fit with prevailing scientific knowledge.
• Agreement between human and animal studies. Findings of cancer among humans should be reflected in findings of cancer among laboratory animals or animal cells or organs.
• A scientific precedent. There should he an analogous association between a causal agent and an effect.
EM fields and EM radiation are, based on all that we know now, unprecedented. No chemical or physical agent affects the human body in any of the ways that EM fields and EM radiation seem to.
As a result, scientists working to understand how EM fields and EM radiation might be dangerous are grappling with very complex problems on the cutting edge of research. The layers of difficult and unresolved questions overwhelm even some specialists. Stripping away the layers, however, reveals two basic questions: What effects occur? And how do they occur?
Scientists have tried to answer these questions through large-scale studies of people—known as epidemiological studies—and laboratory studies. This chapter summarizes some of the major findings. (In this relatively new and unexplored field, there are nonetheless more than 50 epidemiological studies and more than 12,000 laboratory studies. Appendix A details the major epidemiological findings on a study-by-study basis.) It spotlights the most widely recognized theories, questions, and effects, but it does not try to cover every facet.
If you read the original research, you will find that scientists have yet to determine whether it is more important to know the field strength, the wave shape, the frequency, the relationship of the field to the earth's geomagnetic field, the duration of exposure, or some other factor. You will also discover that every research result on EM fields and EM radiation health effects seems to raise more questions than it answers. For instance, researchers have observed changes at certain frequencies and power levels but not at others, with no obvious trends to explain the so-called windows.
It is important that you are aware of these issues, and it will help if you understand the research at at least a rudimentary level. Keep in mind, however, that there is uncertainty in all that we know—uncertainty that only more and better research can resolve. The scientific community, with few exceptions, accepts the need for a substantial research program that can answer at least some of the questions about EM fields and EM radiation—Why are research results uneven and inconsistent? What are the right studies to do? And in what order?
ELECTRICITY AND YOUR BODY
In fundamental ways, our bodies run on electricity. Electric signals help cells communicate, relay information to and from the brain, and keep our complex network of vital organs operating smoothly. Paradoxically, scientists on both sides of the debate believe this supports their views.
Scientists who believe that the research cannot be pieced together into a coherent picture to show an EM field and EM radiation risk (a small—and shrinking—but influential group) say that the laws of physics make health hazards impossible. They reason that low-level EM field and EM radiation signals are much weaker than the signals the body creates for normal cell functions, and that therefore the signals generated by an external field get lost in the body.
In contrast, a growing number of scientists have come to interpret the research as suggesting, but not proving, that EM field and radiation health effects are possible. Dr. David Savitz, a prominent researcher at the University of North Carolina, articulated this mainstream thinking in a 1993 article: "When the question is posed, Is there theoretical or empirical evidence that exposure to [EM] fields at commonly, encountered levels poses a threat to health?, the answer must he a firm yes."
At EM radiation frequencies, scientists are starting to reach similar, though more tentative, conclusions. The late Dr. Cletus Kanavy, a scientist with the U.S. Air Force, argued shortly before his death in 1993 that, "A large amount of data exists, both animal experimental and human clinical evidence, to support the existence of chronic, nonthermal effects."
EM FIELDS AND EM RADIATION
EM fields and FM radiation are two types of electromagnetic energy. EM fields result from the flow of electric current—through a wire, for instance. The most common source of EM fields are power lines, such as the ones that carry electric current across the country and the ones that bring the current to your neighborhood or apartment building. In fact, any electric current produces an EM field (see Table 1).
EM radiation results from the acceleration of electrical charges, the building blocks of electricity. It comes from a diverse range of sources, such as radio and television broad-cast antennas, cellular phones, and computer terminals (see Table 2).
Both EM fields and EM radiation are most readily understood as waves, similar to ocean waves and sound waves. The waves have characteristics such as frequency and wavelength that allow us to describe them and explain how they work.
EM fields have lower frequencies than EM radiation. Since frequency and wavelength are inversely related—one goes up as the other goes down—EM fields have shorter wavelengths than EM radiation. (Appendix B; "An EM Field and EM Radiation Primer," explains this in greater detail. See also the glossary that starts on page 227.)
|Electric power transmissionlines|
|Electric power distribution lines|
|Portable electric heaters|
|In-home electric wiring and|
|Electric power transmissionlines|
|Electric power distribution lines|
|Video display (computer)terminals|
|Local radio communicationssystems|
|Microwave phone links|
|Police radar devices|
|Radio broadcast signals|
|Television broadcast signals|
|Video display (computer) terminals|
|Wireless office networks|
The health research on EM fields and EM radiation is inter-related but not interchangeable. EM radiation research comprises less study of human exposures and more study of animals than EM field research, in part because it is difficult to find a large group of people exposed in a uniform way to EM radiation.
EM radiation also is a much broader topic. The number of EM radiation frequencies is enormous, the number of forms EM radiation can take at each frequency is virtually limitless, and the thinking about where to target research is limited. Asa result, we have more specific information about EM field exposures—most of which occur at one frequency, 60 hertz—than we do about EM radiation exposures that occur at millions of frequencies.
Nonthermal vs. Thermal Effects
By the start of World War II researchers knew that EM radiation could cause heating in the human body and that the heating could be harmful, even fatal. As a result, health research concentrated on determining how much heat individual body parts could absorb from EM radiation and yet return to normal temperature within a short period. Most of this research was done in the United States by the military, since EM radiation was just beginning to be widely used for radar and communications. By the end of the war, the military was the single largest user of EM radiation, a position it continues to hold.
Medical researchers were using EM radiation-generated heat on a limited basis for therapeutic purposes. Scientists rapidly learned to use higher and higher frequency EM radiation for military and medical applications.
Higher frequencies mean shorter wavelengths, which penetrate the body more readily, depositing more energy inside. More energy produces heat more rapidly. With the potential for faster and more efficient heating, scientists began assessing how efficiently the body and individual body parts could cool.
Sweat and the flow of blood are two ways the body reduces heat, and some body parts (such as the eyes) do not sweat and have limited blood flow, reducing their ability to cool. As a result, researchers hypothesized that EM radiation might produce cataracts, much as can other forms of electromagnetic energy such as ultraviolet light. In addition, they discovered from experiments involving people and from accidental exposures among radar operators and others that increasing EM radiation exposures caused discomfort leading to illness and, if not stopped in time, death. Clearly there was a limit to safe EM radiation heating.
After the war, a military team set the first EM radiation exposure standard, focusing exclusively on the heating problem. This approach established criteria that continue to influence thinking about EM radiation and FM fields today: if exposure does not produce significant heating, it must be safe. Indeed, the widely used voluntary industry guidelines for EM radiation exposures, known as the ANSI standard, addresses only thermal effects.
The military model dominated thinking into the late 1980s, but it no longer rules scientific thinking because researchers have demonstrated that nonthermal EM radiation and EM field exposures can cause changes in cell behavior, in the production of key hormones that regulate body functions, and in other physical processes.
Epidemiological studies are real to people because they are about real people. These studies involve large numbers of people, some of whom either were exposed to a suspected agent such as EM fields or EM radiation or who had developed or died of a disease thought to be linked to one or more agents. They use statistics to determine the probability that an agent is associated with an effect. Because they involve humans, their findings are directly useful in shaping personal and public responses to real or perceived hazards. Unfortunately, the complexity of our lives often makes it difficult for an epidemiological study to show a link that is not called into question by one or more variables. Indeed, epidemiological studies are not supposed to prove anything but merely to pinpoint trends.
For EM fields, epidemiological studies have been the driving force behind public concern. Because power lines are a primary source of EM fields, it is fairly easy for researchers to find a large group of people with common exposure conditions. To date, five studies have linked EM field exposures to childhood cancer, and thirty-nine have found associations between adult cancer and on-the-job exposure. A smaller number of studies have found a weak link between cancer among adults and EM field exposure at home.
EM radiation exposure is more difficult to study epidemiologically. EM radiation sources are not as uniform as power lines, and so it is relatively difficult to find a good study group. Only a couple of EM radiation studies have been completed for cancer. Their results suggest an association between EM radiation and cancer, but they raise too many questions about exposure conditions and other variables to provide unequivocal information. A slightly larger number of studies have suggested a link between EM radiation and reproductive problems.
EM Field Studies
The first, and most important, EM field study appeared in 1979. Dr. Nancy Wertheimer and Ed Leeper reported that children living near power distribution lines were roughly twice as likely to develop cancer as were other children.
- On Sale
- Oct 31, 2009
- Page Count
- 256 pages
- Grand Central Publishing