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Multiple Chemical and Electromagnetic Sensitivities

  • Synopsis: Published: 2012-07-12 (Rev. 2014-12-11) - The presence of cell phones and towers and other electrical appliances can make a building inaccessible to electromagnetically sensitive people. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Wendy Taormina-Weiss at Disabled World.

Definition: Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity

Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity - Other terms for IEI-EMF include electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), electro-hypersensitivity, electro-sensitivity, and electrical sensitivity (ES). Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF) is a set of claims of adverse medical symptoms caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields. EHS symptoms are a real and sometimes a disabling problem for the affected person. Symptoms of EHS include headache, fatigue, stress, sleep disturbances, skin symptoms like prickling, burning sensations and rashes, pain and ache in muscles and many other health problems.

Main Document

The presence of cell phones and towers, computers, portable phones, unshielded wiring and transformers, fluorescent lighting, wireless devices, microwave ovens, scanning and security equipment, electric stoves, and many other electrical appliances can make building inaccessible to people who are electromagnetically sensitive.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) has noted that scientific studies raised questions concerning the potential health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMF's). NIOSH has recommended some different measures to take for people who need or want to reduce their exposure to EMF's. The use of low-EMF designs where possible such as in the layout for office power supplies, informing employers and workers about potential hazards related to magnetic fields, as well as increasing the distance between workers and EMF sources have been suggested by NIOSH, which has also suggested reducing the amount of time people are exposed to EMF's.

The Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board or, 'Access Board,' is issuing final accessibility guidelines which are meant to serve as a basis for standards to be adopted by the Department of Justice related to new construction and the alteration of recreational facilities that are covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The guidelines include technical and scoping provisions in relation to boating facilities, fishing piers, amusement rides, golf and miniature golf, swimming pools, spas, and sports facilities. The guidelines are meant to help ensure that newly constructed and altered recreational facilities meet ADA requirements and are accessible and usable by people with disabilities.

People who experience multiple chemical sensitivities or electromagnetic sensitivities have sent a large number of written comments and attended public information meetings concerning the draft final rule. What they have told the Access Board is that chemicals used in recreational facilities to include synthetic fertilizers and pesticides on golf courses, and chlorine in spas and swimming pools, deny them access to the facilities. They have asked the Access Board to include provisions in the final rule which will make these recreational facilities accessible to them.

Where chemical or electromagnetic sensitivities are concerned, the Access Board has recognized they might be considered forms of disabilities under the ADA if they so severely impair a person's respiratory, neurological, or other functions that it substantially limits one or more of their major life activities. The Access Board is planning to examine the needs of the populations of people with chemical or electromagnetic sensitivities and pursue activities that address their accessibility issues. The Access Board plans to develop technical assistance materials regarding the best practices for accommodating people with multiple chemical or electromagnetic sensitivities.

The Access Board is planning to bring together architects, building owners, building product manufacturers, model code and standard-setting organizations as well as people who experience multiple chemical and electromagnetic sensitivities and others. The goal is to examine building design and construction issues that affect indoor environments and to develop an action plan that may be used to reduce the levels of chemicals and electromagnetic fields in environments.

Electromagnetic Fields and Potential Health Risks

'Smart meters,' are meters that have the ability to provide information about the amounts of energy every business and home uses each hour. The information can be transmitted 24 hours a day through power lines, phone lines, as well as wireless radio frequency transmissions to monitor the amounts of electricity people use. The proposed frequencies range between 200 MHz and 1.4 GHz per second. The radio waves are added to an already existing pool of radio frequencies which are generated by broadcast and cell phone antennas. The following are other interesting facts of note:

  • 46% of people in Europe in one survey were either, 'very concerned,' or, 'fairly concerned,' about the potential health risks of EMF's
  • 58% of people in Europe believe public authorities do not do enough to protect them from the potential health risks of EMF's
  • The top 3 sources of EMF's are mobile phones, mobile communication masts, and high-voltage power lines
  • People are most often concerned about EMF's from power lines and mobile phone masts

The President's Cancer Panel has reported that, "the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated." The Cancer Panel has strongly urged action to reduce the widespread expose of people to carcinogens. The same report stated there is a risk of brain cancer from cell phone use, suggesting that people reduce their use of cell phones by making fewer and shorter phone calls, use hands-free devices so the cell phone is not against their head, as well as avoiding placing their cell phone in a pocket or on a belt. The Cancer Panel stated, "it could be a large public health burden."

Dr. Gerd Oberfeld, an Austrian scientist stated in a report, ''A study in Austria examined radiation from a mobile phone mast at a distance of 80 meters; EEG tests of 12 electro-sensitive people proved significant changes in the electrical currents of the brains." Volunteers for the test reported symptoms like buzzing in the head, palpitations of the heart, un-wellness, light headedness, anxiety, breathlessness, respiratory problems, nervousness, agitation, headache, tinnitus, heat sensation and depression.'

Epidemiological studies in Germany, Spain, Netherlands, and Israel have documented an increased risk of cancer and symptoms which are not classified as, 'electro-sensitivity,' in people who live within 400 meters of cell phone antennas. Dr. Magda Havas, a professor at Trent University, has pointed out that electrical sensitization is similar to chemical sensitization because it can be caused by overexposure and seems to be permanent. A small exposure may find a person experiencing severe symptoms when they are re-exposed to the same stressor.

The industries that expose large populations to electromagnetic frequencies that interfere with their health might find they have created entire generations of people with an inability to withstand the products these same industries have created. Dr. Havas has suggested the wireless industry would benefit by moving to longer wave-lengths as soon as it can. Dr. Havas has also estimated that nearly 35% of the population might be experiencing moderate electromagnetic sensitivities, and 2% may be experience severe sensitivities. She also suggests that electromagnetic sensitivities might have an association with disabilities such as multiple sclerosis or diabetes.

Sweden recognizes electromagnetic sensitivities as a form of physical impairment. The Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare states that in the year 2001, 220,000 people in Sweden experienced electromagnetic sensitivities, although the numbers today may be as many as 300,000 people, a number reflecting approximately 3% of the population. Swedish employees may request unique lighting fixtures that dramatically cut down on frequency emissions, as well as computer monitors that do the same. People who live in some municipalities of Sweden can get their home, 'sanitized,' of electromagnetic frequencies. Should the alterations be insufficient, people have the option to rent a small cottage in the countryside which is owned by the Stockholm municipality.

Update: (11 Dec, 2014) - Link between power lines and ill-health called into question

Several past studies have suggested that the magnetic fields created by phones, high-voltage power lines and other electrical equipment are harmful for humans.

Research first carried out in the 1970's and again subsequently, found an association between people living near overhead power lines and an increased risk of childhood leukaemia. Although some later studies have failed to find such a link, the International Agency for Research on Cancer has categorized low frequency magnetic fields as "possibly carcinogenic."

But a mechanism for this association has never been found and now the team from the Manchester Institute of Biotechnology has ruled out one of the prime candidates, in a paper published today in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. The team studied the effects of weak magnetic fields (WMFs) on key human proteins, including those crucial for health, and found that they have no detectable impact.

With funding from the Electromagnetic Fields Biological Research Trust, the team looked at how WMFs affected a protein class called flavoproteins, which are key to processes vital for healthy human function, such as the nervous system, DNA repair and the biological clock. If these proteins go wrong then there are serious knock-on effects for human health. But after subjecting them to WMFs in the lab it became clear that they have no detectable impact.

Dr Alex Jones, research fellow at the School of Chemistry at The University of Manchester, and co-lead author of the paper, said: "There is still some concern among the public about this potential link, which has been found in some studies into cases of childhood leukaemia, but without any clear mechanism for why.

"Flavoproteins transfer electrons from one place to another. Along the path the electrons take, very short lived chemical species known as radical pairs are often created. Biochemical reactions involving radical pairs are considered the most plausible candidates for sensitivity to WMFs, but for them to be so the reaction conditions have to be right. This research suggests that the correct conditions for biochemical effects of WMFs are likely to be rare in human biology."

Professor Nigel Scrutton, co-lead author of the paper, from the Faculty of Life Sciences, said: "More work on other possible links will need to be done but this study definitely takes us nearer to the point where we can say that power-lines, mobile phones and other similar devices are likely to be safe for humans."

Citations:

United States Access Board www.access-board.gov/

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) www.cdc.gov/niosh/

President's Cancer Panel deainfo.nci.nih.gov/advisory/pcp/pcp.htm



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