There’s something lonely about parties. Especially if you’re one of the few who isn’t celebrating. And as laptop lovers citywide rejoice in the announcement that downtown Toronto will be a wireless Internet hot spot by the fall, critics worry that we may be feeding a new form of smog that hangs in the air without a trace and makes a growing number of us sick: electrical pollution.
Whether it’s fluorescent lights, cellphones or computer screens, more and more of us are realizing that the technology we’ve welcomed into our homes and offices is making us ill. According to stats from Sweden and Britain, about 2 or 3 per cent of the population suffers from potentially debilitating electro-hypersensitivity, or EHS. Symptoms are all over the map, and include nausea, headaches, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, tinnitus and rashes, to name a few.
Researchers also say that many more, over a third of us, are a little electro-sensitive and just don’t know it, blaming restless nights, office brain fog and Motrin moments on everything but our electrified environment.
While the biological effects of cellphones keep getting slammed in studies and researchers continue to examine the impact of electromagnetic fields on health, few people talk about the impact of Wi-Fi with any real specifics.
“Show me the studies that prove it is safe,” says David Fancy, co-founder of the St. Catharines-based SWEEP (Safe Wireless Electric and Electromagnetic Policy) Initiative, a network for EHS sufferers across Canada.
“I’ve never seen anything from industry except blanket assurances from their PR departments,” says the Brock U prof. “This is the identical strategy used by the tobacco industry in the 50s and 60s.”
Indeed, Toronto Hydro, which is bringing the hot zone project to the table, is full of comforting messages. “I can assure you that the health and safety of our employees and customers is the number-one most important thing to this corporation,” says president David Dobbin.
But even he can sound a little shaky on the data. “I understand where people are coming from. When you stand back and look at it, hey, there may be a concern,” says Dobbin, “but at this point in time we don’t have any conclusive evidence that it’s a health concern.” Just inconclusive evidence, then? Dobbin says not to worry, the signal is about as weak as that from a baby monitor or a cordless phone.
But Dave Stetzer, a Wisconsin-based electrical engineer, says cordless phones make plenty of people sick. In fact, the consultant recommends people with sensitivities not only get rid of their cordless phones, but also toss their dimmer switches, energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, halogen lights and, yes, baby monitors.
The link between them all? Radio frequencies. We know that wireless technology like cellphones and Wi-Fi emit such frequencies. But Stetzer explains that radio frequency surges created by appliances are also riding the electrical wiring in your home when they shouldn’t be.
Luxembourg, Luxembourg City
El Monte, California
Pembroke Pines, Florida
Fayetteville, North Carolina
The Netherlands, Amsterdam
Click on any of the pictures below
to learn more