Are EMFs Hazardous to Our Health?
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Can electromagnetic fields (EMF) from power lines, home
wiring, airport and military radar, substations,
transformers, computers and appliances cause brain
tumors, leukemia, birth defects, miscarriages, chronic
fatigue, headaches, cataracts, heart problems, stress.
nausea, chest pain, forgetfulness, cancer and other
health problems? EPA Says the Threat Is Real
Numerous studies have produced contradictory results,
yet some experts are convinced that the threat is real.
Dr. David Carpenter, Dean at the School of Public
Health, State University of New York believes it is
likely that up to 30% of all childhood cancers come from
exposure to EMFs. The Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) warns "There is reason for concern" and advises
Martin Halper, the EPA's Director of Analysis and
Support says "I have never seen a set of epidemiological
studies that remotely approached the weight of evidence
that we're seeing with EMFs. Clearly there is something
Concern over EMFs exploded after Paul Brodeur wrote a
series of articles in the New Yorker Magazine in June
1989. Because of Paul Brodeur's reputation. his articles
had a catalytic effect on scientists, reporters and
concerned people throughout the world.
In November 1989, the Department of Energy reported that
"It has now become generally accepted that there are,
indeed, biological effects due to field exposure."
The EMF issue gained more publicity in 1990 when
alarming reports appeared in Time, the Wall Street
Journal, Business Week and popular computer
publications. ABC's Ted Koppel and CBS's Dan Rather both
aired special segments on EMFs.
In addition to the long-term health concerns, buying a
house with high fields will be an economic disaster. In
a few years, when power line radiation is as well known
as asbestos and radon, a house with high fields will be
practically impossible to sell. Already there are
hundreds of lawsuits regarding EMFs and property
By 1990, over one hundred studies had been conducted
worldwide. Of these, at least two dozen epidemiological
studies on humans indicated a link between EMFs and
serious health problems. In response to public pressure,
the Environmental Protection Agency IEPA) began
reviewing and evaluating the available literature.
In a draft report issued in March 1990, the EPA
recommended that EMFs be classified as a Class B
carcinogen -- -a "probable human carcinogen and joined
the ranks of formaldehyde, DDT, dioxins and PCBs.
After the EPA draft report was released, utility,
military and computer lobbyists came down hard on the
EPA. The EPA's final revision did NOT classify EMFs as a
Class B carcinogen Rather, the following explanation was
At this time such a characterization regarding the link
between cancer and exposure to EMFs is not appropriate
because the basic nature of the interaction between EMFs
and biological processes leading to cancer is not
Curiously, this rather unusual logic appears on the same
page as the following: "In conclusion, several studies
showing leukemia, Iymphoma and cancer of the nervous
system in children exposed to supported by similar
findings in adults in several/ occupational studies also
involving electrical power frequency exposures, show a
consistent pattern of response that suggest a causal
When questioned about the contradictory nature of these
statements, the EPA responded that it was "not
appropriate" to use the probable carcinogen label until
it could demonstrate how EMFs caused cancer and exactly
how much EMF is harmful.
This explanation does not satisfy many critics who claim
that the EPAs upper management was influenced by
political and economic considerations exerted by
utility, computer and military lobbyists.
How Do I Measure EMFs?
A Gauss is a common unit of measurement of magnetic
field strength. A Gauss meter is an instrument which
measures the strength of magnetic fields. Inside a Gauss
meter there is a coil of thin wire, typically with
hundreds of turns. As a magnetic field radiates through
the coil, it induces a current, which is amplified by
the circuitry inside the Gauss meter.
Gauss meters may vary in the strength of the magnetic
field they are capable of measuring. A meter used for
measuring EMFs from power lines, transformers,
substations and appliances around the home, for example,
should be able to measure as low as .1 mg.
Gauss meters vary widely in price and accuracy. Meters
have either a single axis coil or a triple axis coil.
Single axis meters are much simpler than triple axis
meters to manufacture and thus, are less expensive.
To use a single axis meter you must point the meter's
one sensor in three directions -- -the x, y and z axis.
Then, you combine the three readings in a mathematical
equation to calculate the combined field strength.
Obviously, its far easier and more accurate to use a
3-axis meter. Triple axis Gauss meters are quite
accurate, but they are also more expensive.
Another thing to watch out for when purchasing or
renting a Gauss meter is whether or not it is frequency
weighted. Most meters will read the same EMF strength no
mater what the frequency.
As the human body appears to be sensitive to both the
field strength AND the frequency, Gauss meters used for
biological purposes should be "frequency weighted".
This means that if the field is different than 60 Hz the
meter will consider the frequency and use it in
calculating and displaying the EMF's strength. This
feature is why frequency weighted meters will show a
higher EMF reading than those meters typically used by
electricians and engineers.
An enormous amount of electricity is created at power
generating stations and sent across the country through
wires that carry high voltages. All power lines radiate
electromagnetic fields. The question is: how much are
power lines near YOUR home radiating? The amount of EMFs
coming from a power line depends on its particular
configuration. Power companies know which power line
configurations are best for reducing EMFs but most don't
feel the evidence supports costly changes in the way
they deliver electricity.
A substation is an assemblage of circuit breakers,
disconnecting switches and transformers designed to
substations have been blamed for causing cancer clusters
among nearby residents. Paul Brodeur wrote about several
such cancer clusters in the July 9, 1990 issue of the
New Yorker Magazine.
A key component of a utility's electrical distribution
network depends upon numerous, small transformers
mounted on power poles. A transformer looks like a small
metal trash can, usually cylindrical.
Even when the electrical service is underground, you
will often see a metal box (usually square} located on
the ground near the street. Many people don't realize
that when they see a transformer, the power line feeding
the transformer is 4000 to 13,800 volts.
The transformer then reduces the voltage to the 120/240
volts needed by nearby homes. Since these transformers
can be seen in almost every neighborhood, they are a
source of concern.
EMFs near a transformer can be quite high, but due to
its small structure, the field strength diminishes
rapidly with distance, as it does from any point source.
For this reason, having a transformer located near your
home is usually not a major source of concern, although
just to make sure, everyone should measure the field
strength around it.
If your home has high EMF readings, it is important to
determine the sources of the EMF so that remedial action
can be taken, if possible. Many times a particular room
will have a higher EMF reading. Check to see if the
electricity is coming into the house on the wall outside
that room. When this is the case, it is usually a good
idea to block off that room and only use it for storage
Sometimes, the source of a high magnetic field is
incorrect wiring. If you suspect that your home is wired
improperly, obtain the services of a licensed
electrician. Warning: Do not touch electric wires, even
if you think the current is turned off. If you need to
disconnect electrical circuits to determine the source
of magnetic fields, you should call a licensed
Computers are a complicated subject. Know this: EMFs
radiate from all sides of the computer. Thus, you must
not only be concerned with sitting in front of the
monitor but also if you are sitting near a computer or
if a computer is operating in a nearby room.
The Swedish safety standard, effective 711/90, specifies
a maximum of 0.25 mG at 50 cm from the display. Many US
manufactured computers have EMFs of 5 - 100 mG at this
distance. And know this too: the screens placed over
monitors do NOT block EMFs. Not even a lead screen will
block ELF and VLF magnetic fields.
Space does not permit a more thorough discussion of
computers. If you use a computer, it is important that
measure your EMF exposure with a Gauss meter and review
the literature concerning the health impacts of computer
Electric Blankets and Waterbeds
Electric blankets create a magnetic field that
penetrates about 6-7 inches into the body. Thus it is
not surprising that an epidemiological study has linked
electric blankets with miscarriages and childhood
This pioneering work was performed by Dr. Nancy
Wertheimer and Ed Leeper, who originally discovered that
magnetic fields were linked to childhood leukemia.
Similar health effects have been noted with users of
many electric blankets and waterbed heaters will emit
EMFs even when turned off.
The devices must be unplugged to delete the EMF exposure
Additionally, there is the issue regarding the
vibrations that are generated by sleeping on standing
water. There is less hard data in this area but some
experts are concerned about the consequences.
Electric clocks have a very high magnetic field, as much
as 5 to 10 mG up to three feet away. If you are using a
bedside clock, you are probably sleeping in an EMF
equivalent to that of a powerline Studies have linked
high rates of brain tumors with chronic exposure to
magnetic fields, so it is wise to place all clocks and
other electrical devices (such as telephones and
answering devices) at least 6 feet from your bed.
Fluorescent lights produce much more EMFs than
incandescent bulbs. A typical fluorescent lamp of a
ceiling have readings of 160 to 200 mg 1 inch away.
Microwave Ovens and Radar
Microwave ovens and radar from military installations
and airports emit two types of radiation -- microwave
and ELF. Microwaves are measured in milliwatt per
centimeter squared (mW/cm2) As of 1/1/93, the U.S.
safety limit for microwave exposure is 1 mW/cm2, down
from a previous 10 mW/cm2. The Russian safety limit is
.01 mW/cm2. All microwave ovens leak and exceed the
Russian safety limit. In addition, recent Russian
studies have shown that normal microwave cooking coverts
food protein molecules into carcinogenic substances.
When measuring microwaves from military and airport
radar sources, 100% accurate readings can only be found
with extremely expensive digital peak-hold meters. Why?
Because analog devices begin to drop their reading
immediately after the radar sweep passes. Thus, while an
analog meter can show whether or not you are being
exposed to radar EMFs, analog meters can't show your
true exposure. Although thousands of dollars to
purchase, digital-hold meters capable of accurately
detecting radar EMFs can be rented for several hundred
to over a thousand dollars per month.
Telephones and Answering Machines
Telephones can emit surprisingly strong EMFs, especially
from the handset. This is a problem because we hold the
telephone so close to our head. Place the Gauss meter
right against the ear piece and the mouth piece before
buying a phone.
Some brands emit no measurable fields and others emit
strong fields that travel several inches....right into
your brain. Answering machines, particular those with
adapter plugs (mini-transformers), give off high levels
Electric Razors and Hair Dryers
Electric razors and hair dryers emit EMFs as high as 200
to 400 mG. This seems alarming, but we don't know if
this is worse (or better) than a chronic exposure to a
2-3 mG field. Some EMF consultants recommend that hair
dryers not be used on children as the high fields are
held close to their rapidly developing brain and nervous
Electricity is an inseparable part of our modern day
society. This means that EMFs will continue to be all
around us. But as Discover Magazine postulated, aside
from making our life easier, is electricity also making
our lives shorter?
Most experts agree that limited, non-chronic exposure to
EMFs is not a threat. For example, it is probably
acceptable for a person to be near a toaster in the
BUT, it is not advisable for a person to sleep under an
electric blanket, up close, live near a powerline/substation,
and sleep in a room where the power enters the home.
This person is under an extreme case of chronic
exposure. This condition, unfortunately, applies to
millions of Americans.
If you wish to follows the EPA's advice and practice
"prudent avoidance" then the following advice is
Measure your home, work and school environments with a
Gauss meter Measure EMFs both inside and outside your
home. Don't let your children play near power lines,
transformers, radar domes and microwave towers.
Avoid areas where the field is above 1 mG. Measure the
EMFs from appliances both when they are operating and
when they are turned off. Some appliances (like TVs) are
still drawing current even when they are off.
Don't sleep under an electric blanket or on a waterbed.
If you insist on using these, unplug them before going
to bed (don't just turn it off). Even though there is no
magnetic field when they are turned off, there may still
be a high electric field.
Don't sit too close to your TV set. Distance yourself at
least 6 feet away. Use a Gauss meter to help you decide
where it is safe to sit.
Rearrange your office and home area so that you are not
exposed to EMFs from the sides/backs of electric
appliances and computers. In the home, it is best that
all major electrical appliances, such as computers, TVs,
refrigerators etc, be placed up against outside walls.
That way you are not creating an EMF field in the
Don't sit too close to your computer. Computer monitors
vary greatly in the strength of their EMFs, so you
should check yours with a meter. Don't stand close to
your microwave oven. Move all electrical appliances at
least 6 feet from your bed. Eliminate wires running
under your bed. Eliminate dimmers and 3-way switches.
Be wary of cordless appliances such as electric
toothbrushes and razors. You may choose not to wear a
quartz-analog watch because it radiates pulsating EMFs
along your acupuncture meridians.
An older mechanical windup watch would be an acceptable
alternative. It is also recommended to wear as little
jewelry as possible and to take it off at night. Many
people have metal sensitivity which can be aggravated by
placing it right on the skin. Measure with a gauss meter
to be sure.
And last, but not least, always always always remember
that EMFs pass right through walls. The EMF you are
reading on your Gauss meter could be radiating from the
next room...or from outside your home.
Additional Radiation Info:
Eyeglass frames should ideally be made from plastic with
no wires in them, otherwise they can serve as an antenna
to focus the radio and cellular phone waves directly
into your brain.
What EMF Level Is Safe?
There's a heated debate as to what electromagnetic field
(EMF) level is considered safe. Since the experts have
not come to an consensus, you'll have to decide for
yourself... Many government and utility documents report
the usual ambient level of 60-Hz magnetic field to be
Thus, any reading higher than 0.5 mG is above the
"usual" ambient exposure. Many experts and public
officials, as well as the few governments that have made
an effort to offer public protection, have adopted the 3
mG cutoff point. The EPA has proposed a safety standard
of 1 mG. Sweden has set a maximum safety limit of 1 mG.
Dr. Robert Becker, an MD who has been studying the
effects of EMFs for 20 years, states a lmG safety limit
in his book Cross Currents. When electricians try to
solve a magnetic field problem they do their best to
drop the level to 1 mG or below.
Dr. Nancy Wertheimer, a Ph.D. epidemiologist who has
been studying EMFs for 20 years, has been looking at the
epidemiological data in a different way -- she is trying
to associate EMF levels with
health rather than disease. The level she is coming up
with is a cut off of 1 mG. Russian researchers claim
that 1/1000ths of a mG should be the standard.
The BioElectric Body believes that there are several
stages of health between "optimum wellness",
"degenerative disease" and "Cancer". Thus, we maintain
our own living and sleeping quarters at 0.5mG and below.
Cross Currents The Perils of Electropollution. The
Promise of Electromedicine Robert 0. Becker, M.D. Jeremy
P. Tarcher, Inc., 1990
Currents of Death The Attempt to Cover Up the Threat to
Your Health Paul Brodeur Simon and Schuster, 1989
Electromagnetic Man Health & Hazard in the Electrical
Environment Cyril W. Smith & Simon Best St. Martin's
Press. Inc. 1989
statements enclosed herein have not been evaluated by
the Food and Drug Administration. The products mentioned
on this site are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure,
or prevent any disease. Information and statements made
are for education purposes and are not intended to
replace the advice of your family doctor...
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