We are being kept in a state of ignorance about the dangers posed by electrical pollution at a time when the devices contributing to that pollution from power tools to cell phones to electric cars are proliferating wildly, with no EMF safety-testing whatsoever and almost no non-industry-sponsored funding for research. Studies and missed opportunities In their 1979 study “Electrical Wiring Configurations and Childhood Cancer,” Wertheimer and Leeper observed, “Electrical power came into use many years before environmental impact studies were common, and today our domestic power lines are taken for granted and generally assumed to be harmless. However, this assumption has never been adequately tested. É In 1976-77, we did a field study in the greater Denver area which suggested that, in fact, the homes of children who developed cancer were found unduly often near electric lines carrying high currents.” The groundbreaking study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, was summarily dismissed by utility companies and government agencies, which refused to fund a single study that would refute or confirm the findings. Three years later, Swedish physician Lennart Tomenius reported significantly higher-than-expected levels of cancer among Stockholm residents exposed to EMF levels similar to those reported in the Denver study. His findings, too, were ignored. Many occupational studies have demonstrated an EMF-cancer link.
In July 1982, research epidemiologist Sam Milham of the Washington State Department of Health published the results of a study indicating that workers with high EMF exposure such as electricians and power station operators had a greater-than-expected rate of leukemia. Dozens of other studies corroborated these findings. And in 1989, Johns Hopkins University reported that, in addition to having a higher-than-average risk of leukemia and lymphoma, male telephone-cable splicers also had a higher-than-average risk of lung, prostate, colon and breast cancer. Most of this research went unreported by the popular press. Then, in 1989 and 1990, a series of articles by Paul Brodeur in the New Yorker, entitled “Annals of Radiation: The Hazards of Electromagnetic Fields,” shocked the nation into an awareness of the possible health dangers associated with these unseen energy fields. A flurry of print and TV news stories on the subject followed. Then silence. The myth of low risk ratios Critics who scoff at the idea that EMFs pose any health risk often point to studies in which exposure to EMFs could not be shown to cause a significant increase in cancer or other diseases in other words, EMFs seemed to have relatively low “risk ratios.” What these studies did not take into account was that, because EMFs are everywhere in modern industrial society, it is virtually impossible to find control groups for clinical EMF studies.
In his 1998 study of carcinogenic risk, “Carcinogenicity of Electromagnetic Fields,” Milham illustrates this point by presenting the basic data of a 1956 study of smoking and lung cancer conducted by British physicians Richard Doll and Austin Bradford Hill. In that study, Milham notes, “a high relative risk [was] achieved only when heavy smokers [were] compared to nonsmokers.” He then points out that “the EMF equivalent of nonsmokers does not exist in the industrialized world.” The relatively small risk ratios camouflage an already elevated incidence of EMF-related disease in the general population.
A second factor compromising EMF risk calculations is that researchers may actually have used the wrong magnetic field meters to conduct their exposure assessments. The Positron, Emdex and Amex meters that still are used in many residential and occupational studies have one fatal flaw: They do not detect EMFs below 35 or 40 Hz, the very low frequency (VLF) and extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields that are known to have negative effects on human health. (Nor do they detect the higher frequencies used by cell phones, televisions, radios and microwaves.) The fudge factor Let’s examine a study that is still widely cited as evidence that EMFs are harmless: The National Cancer Institute-Linet Study. According to a 1997 NCI press release, “A comprehensive study by researchers from the National Cancer Institute and the Children’s Cancer Group found no evidence that magnetic fields in the house increase the risk for the most common form of childhood cancer.” Yet, the researchers acknowledge in no less than four places in the report that a statistically significant increase in acute lymphoblastic leukemia exists in children exposed to power line magnetic fields in excess of 3 milligauss (mG).
The report confirms previous studies showing a similar level of association between childhood leukemia and magnetic fields from electricity. So how did the NCI come to the conclusion that there was no risk? Very simple. It set a cutoff limit of 2 mG. (The worldwide safety standard is 2.5 mG.) By establishing that limit, the NCI effectively removed any statistically significant connection with the associated dangers. Standards? What standards? There are no health-based standards for long-term or short-term exposure to extremely low-frequency EMFs in the home or in the workplace. The federally permitted 1,000 mG limit for U.S. workplaces, established in 1986, addresses only thermal safety standards those necessary to avoid shocking, boiling or frying the human body.
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