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Is "electrosmog" causing cancer?


By 2005, 16 staffers among the 137 who'd worked at the new school had been diagnosed with 18 cancers, a ratio nearly 3 times the expected number. Nor were the children spared: About a dozen cancers have been detected so far among former students. A couple of them have died.

[...]Milham was especially interested in measuring the ambient levels of a particular kind of EMF, a relatively new suspected carcinogen known as high-frequency voltage transients, or "dirty electricity." Transients are largely by-products of modern energy-efficient electronics and appliances — from computers, refrigerators, and plasma TVs to compact fluorescent lightbulbs and dimmer switches — which tamp down the electricity they use. This manipulation of current creates a wildly fluctuating and potentially dangerous electromagnetic field that not only radiates into the immediate environment but also can back up along home or office wiring all the way to the utility, infecting every energy customer in between.

With Cohen's help, Milham entered the school after hours one day to take readings. Astonishingly, in some classrooms he found the surges of transient pollution exceeded his meter's ability to gauge them. His preliminary findings prompted the teachers to file a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, which in turn ordered a full investigation by the California Department of Health Care Services.

The final analysis, reported by Milham and his colleague, L. Lloyd Morgan, in 2008 in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine: Cumulative exposure to transients in the school increased the likelihood a teacher would develop cancer by 64%. A single year of working in the building raised risk by 21%. The teachers' chances of developing melanoma, thyroid cancer, and uterine cancer were particularly high, as great as 13 times the average. Although not included in the tabulations, the risks for young students were probably even greater.

"In the decades-long debate about whether EMFs are harmful," says Milham, "it looks like transients could be the smoking gun."

[...]In 2007, the Bioinitiative Working Group, an international collaboration of prestigious scientists and public health policy experts from the United States, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, and China, released a 650-page report citing more than 2,000 studies (many very recent) that detail the toxic effects of EMFs from all sources. Chronic exposure to even low-level radiation (like that from cell phones), the scientists concluded, can cause a variety of cancers, impair immunity, and contribute to Alzheimer's disease and dementia, heart disease, and many other ailments. "We now have a critical mass of evidence, and it gets stronger every day," says David Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany and coauthor of the public-health chapters of the Bioinitiative report.

Fears about the hazards of cell phones seem justified

"Every single study of brain tumors that looks at 10 or more years of use shows an increased risk of brain cancer," says Cindy Sage, MA, coeditor of the report. A recent study from Sweden is particularly frightening, suggesting that if you started using a cell phone as a teen, you have a 5 times greater risk of brain cancer than those who started as an adult. The risk rises even more for people who use the phone on only one side of the head.

[...]When television (also radio wave) was introduced in Australia in 1956, researchers there documented a rapid increase in cancers among people who lived near transmission towers.

In the 1970s, Nancy Wertheimer, PhD, a Denver epidemiologist (since deceased), detected a spike in childhood leukemia (a rare disease) among kids who lived near electric power lines, prompting a rash of studies that arrived at similar conclusions.

In the 1980s, investigators concluded that office workers with high exposure to EMFs from electronics had higher incidences of melanoma — a disease most often associated with sun exposure — than outdoor workers.

In 1998, researchers with the National Cancer Institute reported that childhood leukemia risks were "significantly elevated" in children whose mothers used electric blankets during pregnancy and in children who used hair dryers, video machines in arcades, and video games connected to TVs.

Over the past few years, investigators have examined cancer clusters on Cape Cod, which has a huge US Air Force radar array called PAVE PAWS, and Nantucket, home to a powerful Loran-C antenna. Counties in both areas have the highest incidences of all cancers in the entire state of Massachusetts.

[...]In 1988, Hydro-Québec, a Canadian electric utility, contracted researchers from McGill University to study the health effects of power line EMFs on its employees. Gilles Theriault, MD, DrPH, who led the research and was chair of the department of occupational health at the university, decided to expand his focus to include high-frequency transients and found, even after controlling for smoking, that workers exposed to them had up to a 15-fold risk of developing lung cancer. After the results were published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, the utility decided to put an end to the study.

[...]A telltale sign of an energy-efficient device is the ballast, or transformer, that you see near the end of a power cord on a laptop computer, printer, or cell phone charger (although not all devices have them). When plugged in, it's warm to the touch, an indication that it's tamping down current and throwing off transient pollution. Two of the worst creators of transient radiation: light dimmer switches and compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Transients are created when current is repeatedly interrupted. A CFL, for instance, saves energy by turning itself on and off repeatedly, as many as 100,000 times per second.

So how does the human body respond to this pulsing radiation? "Think of a magnet," explains Dave Stetzer, an electrical engineer and power supply expert in Blair, WI. "Opposite charges attract, and like charges repel. When a transient is going positive, the negatively charged electrons in your body move toward that positive charge. When the transient flips to negative, the body's electrons are pushed back. Remember, these positive-negative shifts are occurring many thousands of times per second, so the electrons in your body are oscillating to that tune. Your body becomes charged up because you're basically coupled to the transient's electric field."

Keep in mind that all the cells in your body, whether islets in the pancreas awaiting a signal to manufacture insulin or white blood cells speeding to the site of an injury, use electricity — or "electron change" — to communicate with each other. By overlapping the body's signaling mechanisms, could transients interfere with the secretion of insulin, drown out the call-and-response of the immune system, and cause other physical havoc?

Some preliminary research implies the answer is yes. Over the past 3 years, Magda Havas, PhD, a researcher in the department of environmental and resource studies at Trent University in Ontario, has published several studies that suggest exposure to transients may elevate blood sugar levels among people with diabetes and prediabetes and that people with multiple sclerosis improve their balance and have fewer tremors after just a few days in a transient- free environment. Her work also shows that after schools installed filters to clean up transients, two-thirds of teachers reported improvement in symptoms that had been plaguing them, including headache, dry eye, facial flushing, asthma, skin irritation, and depression.

[...]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." [...]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.

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