Of course, these small studies–from Milham, Hydro-Quebec, and Havas– hardly constitute a blanket indictment of transients. “We’re still early in this part of the EMF story,” says Carpenter. Does that mean as evidence of their harm accumulates, officials will raise a red flag? Not likely, if past EMF debates are any indication. Power companies have successfully beaten back attempts to modify exposure standards, and the cell phone industry, which has funded at least 87% of the research on the subject, has effectively resisted regulation. One good reason has had to do with latency–how long it takes to develop a particular cancer, often 25 years or more. Cell phones have been around only about that long.
But does that mean we avoid any discussion of their possible dangers? Again, if the past is a guide, the answer appears to be “probably.” American scientists worried about the hazards of smoking, the DES (diethylstilbestrol) pill (given to pregnant women, it caused birth defects), asbestos, PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls)–the list is lengthy–but officially warned about exposure only after they could say with absolute certainty that these things were harmful.
As for protecting ourselves from toxic radiation, we have a lax–and laughable–history. In the 1920s, just a few years after medical imaging devices were invented, physicians were known to entertain their guests by x-raying them at garden parties. In the 1930s, scientists often kept radium in open trays on their desks. Shoe stores used x-ray machines in the 1940s to properly fit children’s feet, and radioactive wristwatches with glowing hour hands were popular in the 1950s.
All of which means that, absent prudent safety standards from both public officials and manufacturers (adding a protective filter would add 5 cents to the cost of making a CFL and $5 to the cost of a laptop), you’ll have to protect yourself from EMFs. Here’s a reasonable proposition: Practice what is known in Europe as the precautionary principle, which is pretty much what it sounds like. Don’t expose yourself unnecessarily to EMF hazards. Don’t buy a home next to a WiFi tower. Get a corded telephone instead of a cordless one. Don’t let your teenager sleep with a cell phone under her pillow.
Don’t use your laptop computer in your lap. Treat your EMF-emitting devices with the same cautious respect you do other invaluable modern devices, like your car, which is also dangerous–and can kill. You don’t drive in an unnecessarily risky fashion–at high speed or while talking on a cell phone (right?).
Al Masafirah, United Arab Emirates, Al Masafirah, UAE
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