gadgets.jpgIn the past couple months, there have been a number of local cases of concern over electromagnetic (EM) radiation emitted by wireless technologies such as cell phone towers and SmartMeters, with claims that exposure to fields that are electromagnetic in nature can cause long-term, detrimental health effects. But how legitimate are these concerns? Is Appeal commenter Slappy’s skepticism about the disorder warranted?

A recent example of concerned citizenry rising up to protect themselves from this disorder occurred when T-Mobile made an effort to repair “an identifiable gap in coverage” by installing a new antenna on the steeple of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church, which is located on 16th and Dolores Streets, and stands within 300 feet of four San Francisco schools.

Neighbors and families in this area of the Mission District, voiced concerns that the 500 children in those schools would be affected by the EM radiation. Such protests caused T-Mobile to yank its application in June. According to a letter from the carrier to the planning commission, T-Mobile did so in order “to promote harmonious relations and engender community goodwill.” Some authorities have recommended 1,500-foot buffer zones around schools and day-care centers until more research is complete, according to a press release from the protesters.

In a more recent argument over SmartMeters, the advanced utility meters that wirelessly communicate usage information to customers and utility companies, worried San Franciscans asked state energy regulators to suspend installing the devices across all of PG&E’s service territory–which covers most of Central and Northern California–until an investigation is complete on whether the electromagnetic radiation produced by the devices could be dangerous, an assertion that the company has vigorously disputed.

Last week, the Marin Independent Journal said that the Fairfax Town Council approved its moratorium on “SmartMeter” installation, echoing the same concerns about SmartMeter accuracy and the safety of electromagnetic frequency radiation. An increasing number of counties in the Bay Area are following suit.

But does the weight of these concerns match up to the severity of the illness that one sufferer describes as, “an unhealthy sensitivity (or sensitivities) to a particular source of electricity, for example mobile phones, computers, power lines or even minor electrical equipment, [in which] symptoms are wide-ranging and can include skin problems, headaches, fatigue, fainting, light sensitivity, heart problems and much more?”

Not according to a recent Wired article, which says that not only are symptoms such as these exaggerated, they are mostly a figment of sufferers’ imaginations. “Unfortunately for sufferers expecting a cure to emerge from new research, not one of 46 blind and double-blind studies of EHS has identified a credible correlation between the ailments and any radio wave or magnetic field.”

The article quotes James Rubin, a psychiatry research fellow at London’s King’s College, who attributes EHS to the “nocebo effect. In other words, “‘You expect something to cause symptoms, get anxious about it, and start looking out for those symptoms in your own body,’ he says. ‘Sure enough, you sometimes find them.'” And for a false disease there is, sadly, little hope for a cure.

The Wired article goes on to explain how in admitting ignorance about the effects of electromagnetic fields, government agencies and scientists create more public anxiety and more reason for people to think radio waves make them sick.

So, unfortunately, says Wired, fears about EM hypersensitivity may not dissolve “until we develop allergic reactions to BS, hyperbole, and fearmongering, [meaning] gadget allergies are here to stay. Achoo!”

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  • Wil

    Think ya coulda buried the lede even further?

  • Wil

    Think ya coulda buried the lede even further?

  • Erik

    You can tell something like this is bullshit when they cite specific cases of someone’s illness being caused by an environmental factor. It is literally impossible to study something like this by looking at individual complaints.

  • Erik

    You can tell something like this is bullshit when they cite specific cases of someone’s illness being caused by an environmental factor. It is literally impossible to study something like this by looking at individual complaints.

  • Eve Batey

    Yes! We probably could have buried it WAY further, since it was in the headline AND the first paragraph!

  • Eve Batey

    Yes! We probably could have buried it WAY further, since it was in the headline AND the first paragraph!

  • DT

    Mentally ill are frequently oversensitive and San Francisco is the preferred national dumping ground for these people. Plus, they love to visit City Hall with all the free time they have, unlike working citizens.

  • DT

    Mentally ill are frequently oversensitive and San Francisco is the preferred national dumping ground for these people. Plus, they love to visit City Hall with all the free time they have, unlike working citizens.

  • Wil

    I disagree; the title poses a question, perhaps phrased so as to bias towards the answer that would eventually be given. The only statement of fact in the first paragraph is a restatement of the the claims that were disproved by the Wired article – which is cited for the first time seven grafs down. The next bulk of the article – and everything up to the Wired link – is a rehashing of the disproved claims.

    If you had titled the article something like “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Wired Claims San Franciscans Are Overly Sensitive” I would have gotten the gist of the article without having to read through a bunch of crazy person BS before stumbling upon a reference to an article I had already read elsewhere.

    (This is meant constructively; I love the Appeal and enjoy much of what I read here. Wouldn’t bother pointing it out if I didn’t.)

  • Wil

    I disagree; the title poses a question, perhaps phrased so as to bias towards the answer that would eventually be given. The only statement of fact in the first paragraph is a restatement of the the claims that were disproved by the Wired article – which is cited for the first time seven grafs down. The next bulk of the article – and everything up to the Wired link – is a rehashing of the disproved claims.

    If you had titled the article something like “Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Wired Claims San Franciscans Are Overly Sensitive” I would have gotten the gist of the article without having to read through a bunch of crazy person BS before stumbling upon a reference to an article I had already read elsewhere.

    (This is meant constructively; I love the Appeal and enjoy much of what I read here. Wouldn’t bother pointing it out if I didn’t.)

  • Brock Keeling

    Big man tell silly woman about interweb and writing. Grrr. Grunt.

  • Brock Keeling

    Big man tell silly woman about interweb and writing. Grrr. Grunt.