The case of the French woman with wifi sensitivity appeared in the comments of this story about a boy whose parents are suing a school for the same cause. Now, it’s all over the internet so we’ve decided, for completeness, to cover it separately. It raises justifiable concerns about science-based claims.
Forced to live in a barn without electricity due to her alleged EHS (electromagnetic hypersensitivity), Marine Richard won a court case and has been awarded disability payments.
She claimed that she suffers from electromagnetic sensitivity and sufferers say that exposure to mobile phones, Wi-Fi and televisions cause extreme discomfort.
French courts have refused so far to pay disability benefits to people who suffer from electromagnetic sensitivity, so after winning the case, Mariane (sic) Richard said that her win was a ‘breakthrough’.
Marine Richard was granted a £500 (approx. $770 US) monthly disability allowance for three years. How this will affect future cases and the legitimacy of EHS remains to be seen. EHS is officially called “Idiopathic Environmental Intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields (IEI-EMF)” in the medical literature, but the EHS term is more widely used in the vernacular.
There is considerable controversy regarding EHS and whether or not it’s actually a real medical condition. According to the current scientific consensus, it isn’t. But there is no doubt that this woman IS disabled. She can not function in a society she entirely believes is making her sick.
Will more French now be able to claim disability allowance for any disability that has no scientific consensus? Will it translate to other countries? What is critical to note is that the court did not declare EHS a legitimate illness. They just declared she was disabled by whatever condition she has. But, it will be used by those who demand that this condition be recognized sans scientific legitimacy.
There still does not appear to be a standard test for this but there probably should be.
Sadly, media reporting is making this worse (however, if you think you have EHS, you aren’t on the internet, right?). Some sites are reporting that she is “allergic” to wifi. Nope. False and misleading. Unfortunately, there are practitioners who encourage the diagnosis without proper blind testing.
Properly done experiments show it does not exist as described.
[A review of many studies that involved] 1175 IEI-EMF volunteers, have tested whether exposure to electromagnetic fields is responsible for triggering symptoms in IEI-EMF. No robust evidence could be found to support this theory. However, the studies included in the review did support the role of the nocebo effect in triggering acute symptoms in IEI-EMF sufferers. Despite the conviction of IEI-EMF sufferers that their symptoms are triggered by exposure to electromagnetic fields, repeated experiments have been unable to replicate this phenomenon under controlled conditions.
This is what we must rely on, not a court decision based on one person’s subjective account.
EHS is now a popular diagnosis and will probably get more popular. The condition plagued the character Chuck McGill on Better Caul Saul which likely introduced the concept to more people. The actor, Michael McKean, said in an Esquire interview that the condition was interesting to research but described it as a “psycho-physical problem”. He’s also a whip-smart skeptic, too. EHS is more akin to a phobia, anxiety or depression than an allergy.
See also: French Court Awards Disability for Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (Neurologica Blog)