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View Full Version : Does Electromagnetic Sensitivity Syndrome exist?



Perikles
2011-Sep-13, 07:49 AM
Apologies if this has been discussed already here, please delete if necessary.

I find it very strange when people claim to be seriously affected by something and the scientific evidence for the effect is disputed. This BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-14887428) article describes some extreme cases of the effects of electromagnetic waves, or the alleged effects. I really do not know what to make of it.

Recently, the locals in my village in the hills noticed a strange new chimney on an ancient cottage, and discovered that it was a disguised mobile phone (cellphone?) transmitter or relay station or something (you can see some device in a little window at the top). They have managed to bring about a court order for the removal of it, on the grounds that many people were complaining about sickness and headaches caused by the signals from it.
Now the odd thing about this is that the electricity company supplying the area has reported, after the court judgement, that there is no electricity supply to the property or anywhere near, so it has never actually been used. All rather odd.

Edit: The title should be 'hypersensitivity'

HenrikOlsen
2011-Sep-13, 08:10 AM
I think the title should include the words "nocebo effect" :)

There was a similar case in India, with lots of people getting sick from being in the vicinity of an unpowered cell-phone tower.

PaulLogan
2011-Sep-13, 12:21 PM
why is it difficult to imagine the syndrome exists?
the are plenty of electromagnetic processes going on in the human body and an em field close to a body is bound to have some effect. the question is how strong the effect is.
i don't know. but i do know that i would not trust "scientific" studies that claim there is no effect from mobile phones for example.

i am certainly no technophobe. i make my living with technology.
but there is way too much money invested in this issue. humans cannot be trusted when that much money is involved. and since science is done by humans...

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Sep-13, 02:38 PM
People claiming to suffer from "electromagnetic sensitivity" claim large and acute symptoms at the moment the (long wave, non-ionising, electromagnetic) radiation or electric field is present. This is an entirely different health issue from whether long term persistent exposure to such radiation and/or electric fields causes long term health damage in some, likely rather small, proportion of the population, the usual "mobile phone" question.

In the case of claimed "electromagnetic sensitivity", I think it is has been fairly convincingly shown that this is a mental disorder, not a physical disorder. When experimentally blinded, the self-identified sufferers can't distinguish between when the radiation is present or not; they claim symptoms when the source equipment is present, but, unknown to them, switched off; they notice no effect when hidden sources are switched on. In the case of mobile telephony, they also are often more sensitive to masts than to handsets, although the handsets usually present higher radiation exposure. A recent study showing that some people really do suffer from it is not inconsistent with this. Some people really do suffer from agoraphobia too.

It is an interesting question about whether the legal/planning system should protect some people against the "mental pain and suffering" that they clearly suffer when they think they are in the presence of this radiation. There are other situations where mental pain and suffering is clearly of legal relevance.

TrAI
2011-Sep-14, 04:33 PM
It seems unlikely to me that a phone company would invest in a cell site that has no way to be powered, so I suspect there is some power source for the things.

I also find it rather strange that the statement of the power company would be considered important in this situation as the telecommunications industry is perhaps one of the most experienced industries we have when it comes to operating equipment in difficult situations of all sorts, not having grid power is not at all an uncommon situation for the telecommunications engineers. Off grid cell phone stations are in operation in many places all over the world, of course, these are traditionally rather large, having a generator, back up battery or fuel cell banks and racks of equipment installed near a tower with cell phone and microwave link antennas, but there is a trend towards alternative power sources and smaller, more visually appealing installations. There are for instance sites powered by photovoltaics or fuel cells in operation at this time.

Of course, the site might have been installed for future expansion, and that the equipment/power supply is not yet placed, but without having more detailed information, it is hard to say.

profloater
2011-Sep-14, 06:51 PM
The interesting aspect for me is whether you can allow nocebo effects and placebo effects to be legally recognised. If a treatment like homeopathy can be shown to treat conditions it seems reasonable to allow practitioners to charge even if the whole effect is placebo. However when reversed could a perceived negative be allowed to condemn an unpowered device. That is equivalent to witch doctors' curses and various "offensive" art works. Belief systems really do have physical outcomes for believers so it could become a minefield to try to write a general law.

BigDon
2011-Sep-14, 07:39 PM
So what is the deal with electric blankets?

Do they or don't they cause leukemia?

Because it seems you can't live in a world where electric blankets cause blood cancers but cell phones, towers, etc are harmless.

Perikles
2011-Sep-15, 10:37 AM
It seems unlikely to me that a phone company would invest in a cell site that has no way to be powered, so I suspect there is some power source for the things.
.
.

Of course, the site might have been installed for future expansion, and that the equipment/power supply is not yet placed, but without having more detailed information, it is hard to say.Well, this is the interesting issue. People are complaining about the effects, but we don't know whether there is an illegal electicity supply or whether it is not actually functioning yet. I have seen the place, and there is clearly no obvious supply. And this is Tenerife, where electricity cables do not go underground without massive drilling operations. The court order to remove the thing is based on a general law prohibiting relay stations being placed in urban areas.

profloater
2011-Sep-15, 08:39 PM
I once went to the assistance of an old lady whose electricity socket has "stopped working" She used it for her electric iron and her late husband had installed it when she bought the iron. I soon found it was just a socket in a wooden cupboard with no wires at all. However she insisted it had worked well until recently during which time her husband had died. When I asked if it had ever got hot she said no but it ironed better before. I was not able to fix it since it would need a major wiring installation but as placebo my taking it apart and putting it together apparently made the iron work rather better than before but not as well as when her husband had fitted the socket. She could see the difference but I could not believe in a socket without wires. But who was right?

Strange
2011-Sep-15, 09:29 PM
I once went to the assistance of an old lady whose electricity socket has "stopped working"

That reminded me of the story of the "magic switch": http://www.retrologic.com/jargon/magic-story.html

SkepticJ
2011-Sep-15, 11:16 PM
So what is the deal with electric blankets?

Do they or don't they cause leukemia?

No. No, they do not.

Trebuchet
2011-Sep-16, 01:00 AM
No. No, they do not.

That's good. I'd be lost without my electric blanket; my wife likes it really cold in the bedroom. All the same, I have to admit it would make me nervous to live in an apartment with a cell tower directly over my bedroom. That's not particularly uncommon here. An office building I formerly worked in, on the top floor, now has a big antenna array right over where my desk was. I'm glad it wasn't there when I was, even though I don't believe in the effect!

Van Rijn
2011-Sep-16, 07:57 AM
That reminded me of the story of the "magic switch": http://www.retrologic.com/jargon/magic-story.html

That's a story we know well in our office. One time we had a problem with a stored procedure when upgrading SQL server. There wasn't any obvious reason for it to fail, but experimenting a coworker found that adding another parameter variable made it work. It shouldn't have been needed, no data was being passed. It was apparently some bug in the SQL engine. So, naturally, he named the variable "MoreMagic."

Greggo
2011-Sep-27, 03:37 AM
I am a long time sufferer of this thing for a long time. Over 15 years to be exact. I remember researching 5 years ago and finding nothing and then within the last year finding a whole bunch of useful subject matter to check out. I was very excited about this, yet at the same time deflated by the fact that there is no cure as of now. I suspect given another 10 years time there will not be any debate about this issue. From what I understand this condition only affect 2% of the population. Like any strange sickness or ailment it will be met by misunderstanding and disbelief by people who don't have it! This is an interesting documentary from New Zealand on the issue and isn't it funny that most of these studies into the affects of electromagnetic radiation seem to be conducted by the power companies that are at risk of being put in a rather negative light!!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I7_sBnSrHpE

Jeff Root
2011-Sep-27, 02:04 PM
I seem to feel my microwave oven. I had a 600 watt oven
always in the same location, never any problem with it, no
damage to it of any kind, no gunk build-up in it at all. After
maybe 6-8 years I began noticing an uncomfortable feeling
when it ran. I needed to get about 12 feet away to make
the sensation stop. After several years more, the oven died.
I replaced it with a newer but secondhand oven that is 1100
watts. I noticed right away that I had the same feeling of
discomfort, but I need to be some 20 feet away, around the
corner in the next room, to make the sensation stop. The
walls here have steel mesh lath. I have never felt any such
sensation from my parents' microwave oven.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Sep-27, 02:28 PM
I seem to feel my microwave oven. I had a 600 watt oven
always in the same location, never any problem with it, no
damage to it of any kind, no gunk build-up in it at all. After
maybe 6-8 years I began noticing an uncomfortable feeling
when it ran. I needed to get about 12 feet away to make
the sensation stop. After several years more, the oven died.
I replaced it with a newer but secondhand oven that is 1100
watts. I noticed right away that I had the same feeling of
discomfort, but I need to be some 20 feet away, around the
corner in the next room, to make the sensation stop. The
walls here have steel mesh lath. I have never felt any such
sensation from my parents' microwave oven.
Microwave ovens are designed to leak at most 50W/m2 at 50mm from the appliance. However by the time you are even just 50cm from the oven, the power density has reduced by a factor of 10,000 or so. So even if you have damaged the shielding of your microwave, it seems implausible that you could feel something at 10 ft that wasn't cooking you closer by.

I suspect this is rather like the sensation I get from standing near cliff edges, I get a distinct sensation in the soles of my feet. Even if there is a perfectly good fence. You just feel uncomfortable about the thing.

Strange
2011-Sep-27, 03:08 PM
I am a long time sufferer of this thing for a long time.

I don't mean to dismiss your statement or your suffering but I would like to question it a little...

What are you sensitive to? How do you know you are sensitive to it? How (and how quickly) does that manifest?

Have you ever tried a controlled, double blind experiment? For example, if it is Wi-Fi routers you are sensitive to, then you could do something like the following:

You need a sample of the electronic equipment you are sensitive to, a coin, possibly a cardboard box, and two friends (lets call them Alice and Bob) with notepads. The electronic equipment must silent and have no visible lights to show whether it is on or off. If it does have lights, then it can be covered by the cardboard box during the experiment.

Alice goes alone in to the room with the equipment. She tosses the coin and turns the equipment on or off (e.g. heads = on, tails = off). She records the state on her note pad and leaves the room.

You and Bob then enter the room and you say whether or not you feel any ill effect. Bob records this on his notepad.

Ideally, you and Bob should not encounter Alice during the procedure.

Repeat this several times (say 10, initially).

You might want to do the same thing again with some variations: have Alice and Bob swap roles; change heads/tails for on/off; have some trials where the equipment is always on or always off, etc. to eliminate systematic errors.

Now, compare the results recorded by Alice and Bob. You should expect to see almost complete agreement. If it is not clear cut, this may just suggest that your sensitivity is not that strong so you are not always aware of the effects. In this case you may need to increase the number of tests to get a meaningful result.

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Sep-27, 03:52 PM
I am a long time sufferer of this thing for a long time. Over 15 years to be exact. I remember researching 5 years ago and finding nothing and then within the last year finding a whole bunch of useful subject matter to check out. I was very excited about this, yet at the same time deflated by the fact that there is no cure as of now. I suspect given another 10 years time there will not be any debate about this issue. From what I understand this condition only affect 2% of the population. Like any strange sickness or ailment it will be met by misunderstanding and disbelief by people who don't have it! This is an interesting documentary from New Zealand on the issue and isn't it funny that most of these studies into the affects of electromagnetic radiation seem to be conducted by the power companies that are at risk of being put in a rather negative light!!
As I said above, it has been convincingly shown by experiments conducted by people without an axe to grind which have shown that this is mental condition, not a physical condition. See reference 19 at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrosensitivity for starters.

That doesn't mean you don't suffer from it, but it means accepting that it is a mental condition, like agoraphobia, not a physical condition, like an allergy. Agoraphobics suffer terribly, but open spaces are not physically damaging them. They need attention to their mental condition, not covered walkways.

Yes, you will unfortunately find the exploiters and conmen and the misguided seeking to profit from the belief that some have that it is a physical condition that can be treated physically. It can't.

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Sep-27, 04:00 PM
IThe walls here have steel mesh lath.
OK, I just woke up to the significance of that. You think the room is enclosing the energy, in the same way that the metal box that is the oven encloses the microwave energy to cook the food. But calculate the volume of your room in comparison to the microwave oven. And that's assuming that there is no leakage vertically.

If somehow we could blind you completely to sound and vision, so you couldn't tell by other direct senses whether the oven was on or not, it might be possible to carry out blind tests - someone turns it on and off without your knowledge - to convince you it is only your mental perception that is causing the discomfort.

Gillianren
2011-Sep-27, 04:31 PM
That doesn't mean you don't suffer from it, but it means accepting that it is a mental condition, like agoraphobia, not a physical condition, like an allergy. Agoraphobics suffer terribly, but open spaces are not physically damaging them. They need attention to their mental condition, not covered walkways.

And, of course, just because it's a mental condition doesn't mean it's "all in your head." It's still something which requires treatment--but the treatment isn't to do with shielding the appliances or whatever. It's therapy.

HenrikOlsen
2011-Sep-28, 08:34 AM
I seem to feel my microwave oven. I had a 600 watt oven
always in the same location, never any problem with it, no
damage to it of any kind, no gunk build-up in it at all. After
maybe 6-8 years I began noticing an uncomfortable feeling
when it ran. I needed to get about 12 feet away to make
the sensation stop. After several years more, the oven died.
I replaced it with a newer but secondhand oven that is 1100
watts. I noticed right away that I had the same feeling of
discomfort, but I need to be some 20 feet away, around the
corner in the next room, to make the sensation stop. The
walls here have steel mesh lath. I have never felt any such
sensation from my parents' microwave oven.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis
You may actually be reacting to high frequency sound instead of electromagnetic radiation.

Ivan Viehoff
2011-Sep-28, 10:14 AM
You may actually be reacting to high frequency sound instead of electromagnetic radiation.
In which case in the "blind" (and "deaf") experiment will produce a misleading result. Oh dear.

Jeff Root
2011-Sep-28, 12:10 PM
After reading Strange's post I thought about doing a sort of
half-blind test, and after reading Ivan's I went ahead and
half did it. (I only intended it as a proof of concept for an
actual test.) I put in my in-ear earphones which do a pretty
good job of sealing out the outside world. There was a bit
of a delay because when I turned on the radio/MP3 player
I plugged into, 'The Pines of Rome' was playing. After it
ended I switched to KQRS, which provided an excellent
source of purple noise. I turned on the microwave and faced
away from it. Although it is moderately loud, I couldn't hear
anything, including the beeps when it stopped. I only did it
three times. I couldn't tell for sure whether I felt anything.

One important bit of info I didn't mention: It takes a few
seconds before I feel anything. Generally about five or six
seconds, I think. Then it builds up until, within 15 seconds,
I want to get away as fast as I can.


Henrik,

What frequency range would you suspect?

Many years ago (I think I was 35) I went into a Radio Shack
store near the very end of the day, and immediately heard an
annoying high-pitched electronic wail. I told the manager that
it sounded like something in the store was about to fail (with
the thought that it might pose a fire hazard). He said it was
the motion detector, and that I was the first person to complain
about it that day. He switched it off as soon as I told him.

I now have constant tinnitus, which isn't terribly loud, so I
usually don't notice it, but it could mask some high-pitched
sounds. I've never actually heard any high-pitched sounds
coming from either oven. The tinnitus first started bothering
me long before I got a microwave, but only became constant
well after the first oven started to affect me, so I should have
been able to hear any sounds it made that were within my
range.

-- Jeff, in Minneapolis