This subject is of personal interest to me and has been a hot topic in the news as more and more claims emerge that electromagnetic sensitivity is ruining people’s lives. Like this recent story:
Professional pilot Melissa Chalmers has moved twice in 10 months to escape wireless radiation and worries she’s running out of places to hide.
The commercial pilot of 20 years is on sick leave. She suffers from sensitivity to electromagnetic waves — the invisible waves given off by almost everything electric, in particular, those emitted by communication towers that are popping up across Canada.
Cellphones, cellphone towers, wireless internet routers, cordless phones and power lines have all been recognized as possible contributors to electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EMS), which is caused by significant exposure from radio waves.
The doctor quoting in this piece says: “WHO (World Health Organization) supports that phenomenon as being real”. Again, misleading. Here is what the WHO actually says:
EHS [Electrical Hypersensitivity] is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms that differ from individual to individual. The symptoms are certainly real and can vary widely in their severity. Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual. EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem.
There indeed are a few studies that hint this may have a basis in reality. Here is a case study of one person. And here is a study that shows individuals vary in perception of fields. Take a look at the rest of these studies (I used recent ones and reliable sources) that show there may be SOMETHING there but not to the degree that is claimed.
Detection of MF might be possible for people with IEI-EMF to some extent. Although heightened sensibility to MFs may play a role in the development and/or in the perpetuance of the IEI-EMF phenomenon, symptoms attributed to the MF seem to be mainly of psychogenic origin.
Do people with idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields display physiological effects when exposed to electromagnetic fields? A systematic review of provocation studies.
At present, there is no reliable evidence to suggest that people with IEI-EMF experience unusual physiological reactions as a result of exposure to EMF. This supports suggestions that EMF is not the main cause of their ill health.
Idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF) remains a complex and unclear phenomenon, often characterized by the report of various, non-specific physical symptoms (NSPS) when an EMF source is present or perceived by the individual. The lack of validated criteria for defining and assessing IEI-EMF affects the quality of the relevant research, hindering not only the comparison or integration of study findings, but also the identification and management of patients by health care providers.
This systematic review and meta-analysis finds no evidence for a direct association between frequency and severity of NSPS and higher levels of EMF exposure. An association with perceived exposure seems to exist, but evidence is still limited because of differences in conceptualization and assessment methods.
The major study endpoint was the ability of the subjects to differentiate between real magnetic stimulation and a sham condition. There were no significant differences between groups in the thresholds, neither of detecting the real magnetic stimulus nor in motor response. But the three groups differed significantly in differentiating between stimulation and sham condition, with the subjectively electrosensitive people having the lowest ability to differentiate and the control group with high level of EMF-related complaints having the best ability to differentiate. Differences between groups were mostly due to false alarm reactions in the sham condition reported by subjectively electrosensitives (SES). We found no objective correlate of the self perception of being “electrosensitive.” Overall, our experiment does not support the hypothesis that subjectively electrosensitive patients suffer from a physiological hypersensitivity to EMFs or stimuli.
In most previous provocation studies subjects suffering from “electric hypersensitivity” have not been able to determine correctly whether or not they have been subjected to a sham or true provocation to magnetic or electric fields. However, an often-discussed weakness is that most of the earlier provocation studies have been performed in a laboratory situation, often with simulated fields, which may not be representative of conditions prevailing in the homes or workplaces of the patients.
The patients suffering from “electric hypersensitivity” were no better than the control group in deciding whether or not they were exposed to electric and magnetic fields.
Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: A Systematic Review of Provocation Studies (A frequently cited review of studies)
The symptoms described by “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” sufferers can be severe and are sometimes disabling. However, it has proved difficult to show under blind conditions that exposure to EMF can trigger these symptoms. This suggests that “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” is unrelated to the presence of EMF, although more research into this phenomenon is required.
Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Residential Electric and Magnetic Fields (1997) (National Research Council Report)
[…]the conclusion of the committee is that the current body of evidence does not show that exposure to these fields presents a human-health hazard. Specifically, no conclusive and consistent evidence shows that exposures to residential electric and magnetic fields produce cancer, adverse neurobehavioral effects, or reproductive and developmental effects.
Proceedings International Workshop on EMF Hypersensitivity (WHO workshop)
The majority of studies indicate that IEI individuals cannot detect EMF exposure any more accurately than non-IEI individuals. By and large well controlled and conducted double-blind studies have shown that symptoms do not seem to be correlated with EMF exposure.
There are also some indications that these symptoms may be due to pre-existing psychiatric conditions as well as stress reactions as a result of worrying about believed EMF health effects, rather than the EMF exposure itself. It was added that IEI should not be used as a medical diagnosis since there is presently no scientific basis to link IEI symptoms to EMF exposure.
What to think of all this? My opinion from looking at this as a layperson: Most people who think they are EMF sensitive are not but some individuals may be under specific circumstances. The cases of people who say their lives are ruined can undergo double-blinded tests to see if they are actually affected or have psychosomatic issues instead. But to suggest that the whole world bathed in EMFs is making you sick is currently NOT a claim you should accept at face value. The evidence is NOT there.