Published Wed, Sep 15, 2010 02:00 AM
Modified Wed, Sep 15, 2010 05:56 AM
DURHAM Practically everyone has a cell phone these days, and alarms
have been raised by prominent scientists about studies showing that
long-term cell phone use doubles the risk of brain tumors. Dr. Ronald
Herberman, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute,
warned in 2008 that children should limit their use of cell phones to
avoid potential health risks.
Those who have seen the movie "Thank You for Smoking" may remember the
Big Tobacco lobbyist who has lunch each week with firearms and alcohol
lobbyists, as self-described members of the "Merchants of Death." At
the movie's end he quits the tobacco business and is seen negotiating
with Scandinavian cell phone executives to provide similar services
for their company by spinning the science regarding potential health
hazards to their advantage.
It is ironic that one of the first reports of negative health effects
attributable to cell phones in the 1980s came from an Ericsson
telecommunications engineer named Per Segerbäck. His story is told in
a February 2010 Popular Science article headlined "The Man Who Was
Allergic to Radio Waves." Segerbäck's initial symptoms of dizziness,
nausea, headaches, burning sensations and red blotches on his skin
were part of what is now known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity
In the engineering group he led for 20 years designing prototype
telecommunication systems, all but two of the 20 members developed
similar symptoms, although his were the worst. With a telecom antenna
located right outside his window, his symptoms progressed to the point
where Ericsson paid to have electromagnetic field (EMF) shielding
installed in his Volvo, office and home, and provided him with a
special EMF- shielded suit.
Ericsson produced a report on "Hypersensitivity in the Workplace" in
1993, and Segerbäck was eventually dismissed when he could no longer
function effectively in the EMF environment. He now experiences rapid
loss of consciousness if exposed to a cell phone nearby and lives in a
remote cabin relatively isolated from EMF.
Sweden now recognizes EHS as a functional impairment affecting an
estimated 230,000 people. However, the majority of double-blind
placebo-controlled studies funded by governments and the telecom
industry have not shown that EHS sufferers can reliably tell when they
are exposed to a real EMF rather than a sham field.
Given the funding bias in the studies, people with EHS may still be
the "canaries in the coal mine" with their acute symptoms serving to
warn us of the long-term dangers of EMF exposure, which are supported
by more robust scientific evidence. Many countries now have stricter
guidelines than the United States to protect their citizens from these
potential hazards. In the U.S., some cities are following suit,
including San Francisco, which did a 2007 analysis of the potential
environmental effects of a proposed Earthlink Wi-Fi Network.
This alarm is occurring at a time when wireless networks, including
high-powered Wi-Max, are rapidly proliferating. So it behooves us to
have local discussions about the benefits and risks.
Last month Gov. Beverly Perdue announced "$115 Million in Federal
Recovery Funds to Expand Broadband Access in North Carolina." This
includes, among many other projects, construction of 24 new wireless
towers to complement six existing towers for a public safety broadband
network in the Charlotte area.
There is also funding for the Yadkin Valley Telephone Membership Corp.
to offer a diverse Fiber-To-The-Home network to six western Piedmont
counties. Given a choice between wireless and fiber optic, the latter
appears to be the safer choice, with significantly less mass exposure
of the general public. This option is also a greener choice, requiring
much less expenditure of energy once the cables have been installed.
Now is the time to have public conversations in city councils and in
the legislature, before the EMF genie is let completely out of the
bottle in an uncontrolled way that is modulated only by financial
interests. Unless we act now we will not have learned anything from
our state's tobacco legacy. What kind of EMF-polluted world will our
children inherit if we do not use appropriate precautionary principles?
Larry Burk, M.D., is president of Healing Imager, Inc., in Durham.
Information on a local support group for electromagnetic
hypersensitivity is at www.raleighes.info
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