From Japan, friends write me saying people suddenly stopped being social about five years ago. They stay home and don’t want to be physically active. In Sweden, prescriptions for sleeping pills for young women doubled between 1994 and 1996, and prescriptions for anti-depressants increased 40%. In these and other countries, something happened in the mid to late 1990s that disrupted the social fabric and had a large impact on public health. What was it?
Here in the United States the wireless revolution arrived with major fanfare in the fall of 1996. The Federal Communications Commission had auctioned off huge amounts of radio spectrum, and large corporations invested billions of dollars in equipment and infrastructure in time for the gift-giving season in two dozen major cities. The result today is similar to what is occurring almost everywhere in the world: towers and antennas sprouting like wildflowers from fields, forests, and electronics rooftop gardens; and mobile phones glued to ears of some one billion people worldwide. And not just mobile phones: radio waves, supposedly as safe as water, are being used to transmit data, connect computers, connect cordless home phones, collect tolls, monitor traffic, track railway cars, open garage doors, lock and unlock cars, turn on and off television sets, transmit to hearing aids in theatres, power new kinds of light bulbs, monitor environmental conditions, forecast the weather, etc., etc., etc. Thousands of satellites broadcasting from space make this type of pollution impossible to escape.
Like fish in the sea, most people do not notice the radio waves we are swimming in because we never leave them. And yet, one scientist recently remarked that if Neil Armstrong had tokened a mobile phone to the moon in 1968, it would have been the single most powerful source of microwave radiation impacting the earth at that time from space, next to the Sun. The amount of microwaves our planet swims in today far surpasses the output of the sun. Clearly, we have completely altered our electromagnetic environment in an incredibly short amount of time, without regard to consequences. This pollution takes the form of radio waves of a great range of frequencies and wavelengths, from extra low frequency (ELF) waves to high frequency waves to microwaves all the way up to infrared radiation and coherent visible light (lasers).
The consequences are noticeable in a number of ways.
First, human sensitivity to electricity and radiation is not uniform. Despite widespread denial that electromagnetic radiation (EMR) cause disease, large numbers of people in dozens of countries are suffering so terribly that they are no longer keeping silent about it. At 1998 statewide survey by the California Department of Health Services found that 3.3% of the population surveyed said they were “allergic or very sensitive to getting near electrical appliances, computers or power lines”. Extrapolating to the entire United States, this means that about 9 million people react so severely to EMR that they cannot be convinced otherwise by experts, doctors, and friends.
The social stigma that always comes when one admits to being electrically sensitive is so great that the true extent of this health problem is likely to be much larger. Among the thousands of electrically sensitive people, I have heard from during the past five years, the experience of rejection is always the same. Friends and family members abandon them, their spouses often leave them, and their doctors advise psychiatric help. In the 1998 California survey, 53% of these people were unemployed or unable to work, and 38% had income below $15,000. The authors found, however, that these people were not much more likely than average to believe that electromagnetic fields (EMF) are a health risk. Perception of risk did not, therefore, explain the prevalence of this problem. Some organizations and support groups for electrically sensitive people are the Cellular Phone Taskforce (USA); Föreningen för El- och Bildskärmsskadade (FEB) (Sweden); El-og Billedskaermsskaded I Danmark (EBD) (Denmark); Association Europeenne d’ Aide aux Victimes des Champs Electromagnetiques (AVICEM) (France); Teslabel Coordination (Belgium); Suomen Sahl Koyliherkkien Tuki Ry (SSYHTRY)(Finland); Arbeitskreis fur Elektrosensible e.V. (Germany); Circuit (England); Irish Electromagnetic Radiation Victims Network (Ireland); Gauss Network (Japan); and the Electromagnetic Radiation Awareness Network (Australia).
Symptoms of exposure commonly include insomnia, headaches, dizziness, nausea, memory problems, difficulty concentrating, irritability, flu-like illness, fatigue, weakness, pressure or pain in the chest, pressure behind the eyes, swollen throat, thirst, dry lips or mouth, sweating, fever, muscle spasms, tremors, pain in the legs or the soles of the feet, testicular or pelvic pain, joint pains, nosebleeds, digestive problems, skin rash, ringing in the ears and impaired sense of smell.
A second indication what is occurring comes from mortality statistics. The proponents of wireless technology claim there is no problem because life expectancy is still rising. Nevertheless, it can be shown that new sources of EMR are already having temporary effects on mortality that mimic disease epidemics. For example, in 1999 I published my analysis of statistics which were provided me by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. It showed that the beginning of digital cellular phone service in dozens of cities during 1996 or 1997 was accompanied by a 10-25% rise in total mortality lasting approximately 2-3 months. The increase in mortality began, in each case, within a day or two of the beginning of cell phone service.
A third indication of a problem is the recent rise in the incidence of certain diseases that are predicted, from the medical literature, to occur as a result of exposure to EMR. The greatest store of information about radio waves sickness was accumulated beginning in the 1950s in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe by studying workers exposed to radio waves on the job. Excellent research on the health effects of radio waves was also done in the U.S. during the same period of time by a number of scientists, notable Dr. Milton Zaret, an ophthalmologist, and Dr. Allan Frey, a biologist. Dr. Frey was the first to discover a phenomenon, now well recognized, called microwave hearing – the sensation of sound caused directly by low energy microwave radiation.
In the 1990s several well publicised epidemiological studies showed similar health effects caused to the population living near: a short-wave radio tower at Schwarzenburg, Switzerland; a long wave radio at Konstantynow, Poland and an early warning radar station at Skrunda, Latvia. There have also been an increasing number of medical reports of similar health problems among users of mobile phones.
The diseases that are now rising, worldwide, that are to be expected from the exposure to radio waves, include asthma; hypertension; “tinnitus” (which is often not tinnitus but the hearing of electricity or radio waves); sleep disorders; depression; memory loss; chronic fatigue; and multiple sclerosis. Flu-like symptoms are also increasing and too readily being attributed to new viruses without looking for the likely environmental causes. There is also some indication that the incidence of cerebral hemorrhage, especially in young people, is beginning to increase again in many parts of the world. This may be related to the leakage of the small capillaries in the brain (a breakdown of the so-called “blood-brain barrier”) that many researchers have found occurs upon exposure to even extremely low levels of radio frequency radiation.
A fourth indication of a problem comes from observations of animals by farmers, veterinarians, wildlife biologists, and birdwatchers. It has been known since the 1920s that homing pigeons become disorientated by novel radio frequency fields, and those who are still racing pigeons today will tell you that it is becoming more difficult to keep their birds healthy. They also lose more birds during races than they used to. Disorientated pigeons are found thousands of miles from home or become lost and are never found.
The same disorientation is probably responsible for an increasing number of wild birds killed by radio towers. Some, no doubt, are attracted to the lights on top, or crash inadvertently into the nearly-invisible guy wires. But there have also been incidents of thousands of birds at once flying full force into the ground near a radio tower, and other reports, as yet unexplained, of massive numbers of birds simply falling out of the sky, in several cases carpeting a major highway. Attempts to explain the special sensitivity of birds to microwave radiation led one Canadian research team led by Dr. J. Bigu Del Blanco, in 1973, to postulate that feathers function as radio antennas and amplify the incoming signals. In careful experiments they found that bird feathers do indeed make fine microwave receiving aerials.
Dairy farmers have also been yelling about the effects of radio and mobile phone towers on their animals. This has been well documented both in Europe and the USA. The most obvious, and expensive, effect is a decline in milk production – the same effect that alerted so many farmers the older, but similar, stray voltage problem from electric power distribution systems. Cows are also experiencing still births, spontaneous abortions, birth deformities, behavior problems, and sudden declines in health without other explanation. In some cases, the whole herd or individual animals have regained their health immediately upon removal to a remote location away from the radio tower.
According to Dr. Robert O. Becker, author of The Body Electric (Morrow, 1985) and a pioneer in the field of bioelectromagnetic, electromagnetic pollution is the greatest threat to our environment, greater even than global warming.
The complete failure of society to deal with, or even recognize, this threat, has a long history – going back at least two centuries to the debate between Volta and Galvani about the existence of what the latter called “animal electricity”. It was not until the early 1900s, however, that it was firmly established among mainstream scientists that electricity and the life force must be two separate things, and that the one cannot have any effect upon the other. It has, in fact, been necessary to deny any effect in order to build up the modern technological web which is so intimately dependent on an ever-growing supply of artificially produced electricity. This has not been without consequences to health from the very beginning, but until five or six years ago we have (for the most part) being getting away with it. Now a threshold has been crossed.
The goal of wireless technology is that people never be out of touch with one another, no matter where they go. But this means the irradiation of every square inch of the earth’s surface, both sea and land, which is absolutely unprecedented.
For the survival of life on our planet, this must stop.
There are various measures one may take, at home, to minimize one’s personal exposure to EMFs, and to protect oneself against their effects. For example, fermented live foods such as yogurt, sauerkraut, and miso, are said to be protective against all forms of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Dissolving natural clay in one’s bath water seems to help. Some say this increases the conductivity of the water and helps to discharge the body. A variety of ways to try to shield one’s home or one’s body – special paint, clothing, pendants, etc. – are on the market, but none are completely effective, and some do more harm than good. A simple hygienic measure which should be taught in all schools is to unplug appliances, especially televisions and computers, when they are not in use.
But the most important thing to do is to never use any wireless devices in one’s home or at work, and – for our common benefit and future – to educate others to do the same.
Arthur Firstenberg is the founder and president of the Cellular Phone Taskforce, the editor of its publication “No Place to Hide” and the author of “Microwaving our Planet: the Environment Impact of the Wireless Revolution” (Cellular Phone Taskforce, 1997). He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Cornell University in 1971 with a B.A. in Mathematics and Physics and went to medical school at the University of California, Irvine from 1978 to 1982. Injury by X-ray overdose cut short medical career. It also led him to study the health effects of electromagnetic radiation for the past 20 years.
He is also a certified practitioner of the Feldenkrais and Rubenfeld Synergy Methods of Healing.