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BLOG: April 2009
Protection from EMF: you're on your own
As newer and more sophisticated studies continue adding to the decades long research overwhelmingly suggesting that low level non-ionizing radiation is capable of causing all kinds of adverse health effects, the question of protection from this type of EMF (electromagnetic field) exposure has become very important.
Everyone is exposed. Sources of radiation are everywhere, subjecting you to various EMF frequencies around the clock. Degree of exposure and individual vulnerability vary widely. What is all but certain, is that non-ionizing radiation many times below the current official safety levels have the capability to alter the very basic cellular functions, which may result in various acute or long-term adverse health effects.
In people with chronic diseases, or any type of adverse health symptoms, exposure to low-level energy field can be significant contributing factor to their symptoms.
Not knowing what your personal threshold is,
it is only prudent to have your exposure minimized.
And you have to do it on your own. Waiting for the official resolve is not an option - it is a part of the huge, conflicted global process that will take years to to produce even minor changes, if any.
The man-made electromagnetic energy in non-ionizing frequencies produces exposures in three different forms:
↯ electromagnetic fields that spread through space, inducing low-level currents in conducting materials, including biological tissues; the two major sources are nearly at the opposite ends of non-ionizing radiation range, one created by production, distribution and use of electric power (extremely low frequencies, ELF), and the other by mobile phone/wireless technology (microwave radiation, the high-frequency end of radio waves)
↯ irregular higher-frequency currents/micro-surges created around the main 50/60 Hz current, which tend to leak out of electrical wiring and move through conducting media (wiring, pipes, floors, human body); the main phenomenon behind the newly coined term "dirty electricity"
↯ stray voltage, the electricity escaping power lines and the hot-neutral wire loop of electrical wiring, most of which ends up as ground currents that may travel for miles, drawn to conductive mediums such as metal pipes, fences or building frames (estimates are that about 2/3 of all electricity returning from the point of use becomes ground current)
There we have it: it is in the air, in the structures surrounding us, in the ground beneath our feet and, of course, in our bodies. Table below summarizes basic information about these new forms of environmental pollutants which, according to the large body of evidence, are capable of interfering with basic body processes at the cellular level.
Obviously, it is impossible to avoid exposure to these energy fields altogether. But the exposure level can be significantly reduced, and with it the risk of adverse health effect caused by this new form of environmental pollution. Here's how.
_____________Power-frequency energy fields_____________
The standard electricity routes - power lines, inside and outside wiring, and electrical devices - create weak electromagnetic field in 50/60Hz frequency range. Electrical devices often create additional higher frequency fields. Plenty of evidence suggests that these energy fields, by interfering with bioelectricity, significantly increase the risk of childhood leukemia, occupational cancer, or some form of EHS.
To minimize your exposure to power-frequency fields:
▶ avoid proximity of permanent stationary sources such as power lines, transformers, indoor and outdoor wiring, (particularly important in your bedroom environment), and
minimize the use of
____________Wireless technologies energy fields____________
Electromagnetic fields created by wireless technologies are generally in 1-2400MHz frequency range. They are of higher intensity, and in addition to athermal effects, in higher frequencies can also produce low-level tissue heating. In the lower range of frequencies, up to 700MHz, the main source is broadcast transmission (0.6-1.6MHz AM radio, 88-108MHz FM radio, 54-700MHz TV). These are what most people relate to as "radio waves".
Being generally very weak - a small fraction of 1V/m away from the emitting antennas - the ever-present energy fields of radio and TV broadcasts are unlikely to interfere with biological processes for the majority of population. However, those living in the proximity of the emitting antennas are on the increased risk from EHS; within 1 mile from emitting antennas electric field strength of the signal can reach up to a few tens of V/m. As some studies (Dovrat et al. 2005) indicate, these energy levels are capable, at higher frequencies, of altering cellular function.
If we draw a parallel to the power-frequency (60Hz) field strength limit of 4167 V/m (1,000 milligauss in terms of the far field magnetic field equivalent), with adverse health effects (childhood leukemia) being repeatedly linked to over 200 times weaker fields, the corresponding level at FM/TV frequencies - with the safety limit for general population of 28 V/m - would be closer to 0.1 V/m. This means that broadcast radiation level may not be safe within a few miles from emitting antennas.
The next level of wireless sources of higher-frequency EMF exposure are voice and Internet related: cordless phones, cell phones, cell phone base stations, as well as WiFi (Wireless Fidelity), WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) and WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) wireless networks, providing wireless access to cell phones and computers within about 300 feet to 10 miles area.
These devices operate in the so called microwave range. Their use has become widespread, resulting in the exposure volume comparable to that of power-field frequencies. The focus is on the possible adverse health effects of cell phones, particularly in children and adolescents. They absorb more of the radiation, which is by the most reliable studies linked to
increased risk from brain cancer,
The risk is highest for long-term ipsilateral (same side of the head) users.
To protect yourself from this type of exposure:
▶ use cell phone only when really necessary
▶ use headphones instead of placing phone next to your head
▶ use it alternately on both sides when not using headphones
▶ use protective cell phone shield
▶ don't carry cell phone on you, and if you have to, use a protective shield
Other wireless EMF exposure sources include medical testing devices, surveillance and body screening. These types of exposures are less frequent, but can be significant. A recent study (Kjellsson et al. 2002) measured radiation levels emitted by surveillance system at library exit, as well as tag-activation/deactivation system inside. The former emitted 10μT field at 920Hz, 60% over the limit for general public; the latter emitted field of several mT at 50Hz, much over 0.5mT safety limit for occupational exposure for this frequency, and 0.1mT (100μT) limit for general public.
Radiation by a shop surveillance system was also measured. It emitted dual field, 200-300μT at 17Hz and over 100μT at 6.25kHz. Official safety limit (general public) for the former is 294μT, and for the latter 6.25μT, roughly 20 times lower.
These numbers indicate that this type of EMF exposure, fairly common, although usually - but not always - sporadic, could be a health hazard due to indiscriminate use of electronic systems used by businesses, not adhering even to the official safety levels, long criticized as being grossly inadequate.
Medical tests using some form of non-ionizing EFM field (ultrasound, bio-imaging) should be used only when really necessary. It is already known for those using ionizing radiation (X-rays, including CAT scan, PET scan), but there seems to be more than enough evidence to go by the same rule with non-ionizing radiation medical tests. This includes MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), emitting strong static (up to 5 Tesla, or 100,000 times stronger than Earth's magnetic field) as well as time-varying magnetic and radio-frequency fields.
Next in the lineup of EMF exposures is so called "dirty electricity". It is made of transient currents and harmonics, produced mainly by switched-power mode converters - a part of most modern electronic appliances - and also some other forms of ever more complex electrical circuitry. These irregular currents form around the main 50/60Hz current, with their components also present in the magnetic and electric fields.
In other words, standard electricity is contaminated by irregular higher-frequency currents. These tend to leak out of the electrical system, moving through surrounding conductive media which, of course, include human bodies. Take a look at dirty electricity roaming through a Michigan farm house. According to the growing body of evidence, these currents can adversely affect health in sensitive individuals - and quite a few of us could be belonging to that group.
For example, Dr. Magda Havas (Trent University, Ontario, Canada) has done substantial research on health effect of dirty electricity in homes and schools (Dirty Electricity and Electrical Hypersensitivity: Five Case Studies, presented to the 2004 WHO Workshop on EHS). She had observed significant link between "dirty electricity" and variety of EHS symptoms (fatigue, depression, headaches, body aches and pains, ringing in the ears, dizziness, impaired sleep, memory loss, confusion, attention deficit disorder in children), as well as with severity of chronic degenerative disorders like diabetes and multiple sclerosis.
While the long-term effects of exposure to "dirty electricity" remain to be determined, there is already more than enough reason to minimize your exposure to this form of electrical pollution. Dirty electricity is present pretty much whenever there is electricity, but levels can vary significantly from one location to another. Fortunately, means for measuring and significant reduction are available:
▶ Graham/Stetzer meter (co-invented by Dr. Martin Graham, University of California, Berkley, and David Stetzer, Stetzer Electric Inc., WI, USA) can measure the level of dirty electricity; acceptable level is below 50 GS (Graham/Stetzer) units, optimally below 30 GS
▶ excessive level of dirty electricity can be effectively reduced simply by plugging appropriate capacitors, like Graham/Stetzer filter, in electrical outlets
For comparison, levels of dirty electricity in the above paper by Dr. Havas ranged from 190 to over 2000 GS in homes (300-800GS mean), averaged 400 GS in an office, and measured 13-1011 GS (23GS mean) in a school. After G/S filters were installed, the levels dropped to 10 to 290 GS (40-70GS mean), 100GS and 8-24 GS (13GS mean), respectively.
A single significant dirty electricity maker such as dimmer switch would nearly double the mean, and more than double the peak value in unfiltered home, while increasing the mean by 75% and the peak value by nearly six fold in G/S filtered home (the filtered home 290GS peak level is with the dimmer switch on; it was only 50GS with the switch off).
Note that dirty electricity may be also coming - through the electrical wire - from neighboring homes, or offices; this portion of it can be reduced only by placing filters in those locations.
Finally, stray voltage refers to the electricity escaping the power line/wire circuit. It becomes ground current, attracted to conductive media in homes and buildings (metal structures, water pipes, ventilation systems, etc.). It is often referred to as "dirty electricity" as well, but since it also includes the standard 50/60Hz current/field, it is good to have it differentiated from irregular higher frequency forms.
Hence, stray voltage here is simple the electricity - either standard or "dirty" - that leaked out of the system.
Its two main sources are low quality power/distribution lines (outdoor) and wiring (indoor). In addition, it is increased by sub-optimal power distribution schemes, which often require higher voltage to deliver needed power to the user. Both, the amount of grounded current, and the extent of its in-ground movement also vary with the ground type.
Stray voltage currents, and associated energy fields, just as any other form of electromagnetic energy, can adversely affect health. They can also affect behavior and biological functions of domestic animals (for instance, milk production in cows) and, if strong enough, cause obstructions and damage to electronic equipment.
Reduction in this form of EMF exposure requires upgrading the quality of delivery system and both, outdoor and indoor wiring. Neither alone will solve this problem, so a concerted action of private citizens, electric companies and governmental bodies is needed in order to minimize this form of EMF pollution, for better protection of people's health and wellbeing.
This wraps up a series of articles on the subject of non-ionizing EMF pollution. Hopefully, the increased awareness of the harm they are capable of will put on the agenda and speed up the official process of drastic reduction in the exposure levels allowed. For the protection of everyone, but especially those most vulnerable, and at the same time least able to protect themselves: the children.
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