Bioelectromagnetics: Current Risks & Concerns

by James B. Beal

Latest research developments, especially since 1994, indicates that your local power line is not the primary source of electromagnetic health effects. Home and business interior wiring, equipment or appliance motor and small transformer EMF sources, and grounding to metal pipes seem to play a much more important part, especially where we spend hours of our time in one place, working or sleeping. The intensity of the alternating current (a.c.) and associated EMFs present is only one of several factors to consider in a large number of environmental variables!

There appear to be trends in animal, primate, and human research over the years which indicate that continual long-term EMF exposure of individually-specific pulse rates, intensities and waveforms, may produce hypersensitive reactions in the living systems exposed [1-4, 7-10,19,21,25, 26]. Persons already hyperallerginic to many chemicals claim that EMF sources from nearby powerlines, home appliances and small associated transformers, and switches are one more irritating factor to avoid. These trends have caused popular concern, controversy and confusion, stimulating private, industrial and government research, changes in public power company policies, and legal actions regarding the biological effects of power frequency electric and magnetic fields [15-18,24].

Research programs are finally beginning to investigate the biological effects of raw signals (transient spikes & surges) coming in on your local power lines or generated by home appliance and wiring. Interest is being focused on the sharp pulse repetition rates (how many times per second), and what other frequencies or waveforms are present besides the normal 60 cycle [also, called Hertz (Hz)] power line frequency. Information about the length of exposure time, when the exposure occurs (especially at night), the EMF field intensity (milliGauss), and the interactions with people and other living systems in the environment is now being gathered. We are becoming more aware in recent months of the sensitivity of various life forms to EMF via their sensory system reactions [20], immune system effects [8.9], allergy reactions [10,21], etc. So it is not simply 60 Hz magnetic field strength, as indicated by a.c. milliGauss meters, that determines whether or not a given EMF will have biological effects. Biological effects which may be created by transients on the power line and in the home or business will vary, depending on what is switching on and off, how often, how long and when (day or night, weekdays or weekends). Five recent epidemiological studies in the United States and. Sweden [6,14] have shown weak, but consistent, cancer correlations with the local electrical wiring code and the number of appliances in the home. Because a specific subject EMF sensitivity profile has not been developed yet, it is likely that the weak epidemiological results were diluted by the overall test population chosen, and the variability in human immune system response to irritating stimuli.

Repetitious transients and surges (pulse spikes) are not only conducted from power lines into, but also created by, factors in home and business wiring, appliances and equipment. This repetitious long-term exposure may provide a kind of irritation or suppression factor, posing potential hazards to our health. EMF effects have been discovered, at night, reducing brain pineal melatonin hormone production, which affects immune system efficiency, and sleep, especially in older persons [8,9]. These effects appear to be caused by the sharp rise and fall of the pulse spikes created by motors and switches (electric blanket thermostat switch, for example) turning on and off. That’s the reason for ‘prudent avoidance‘ of operating electric blankets and water bed heaters by children and pregnant women. Dr’s Wilson and Reiter made these discoveries several years ago at Pacific Northwest Laboratory and University of Texas Health Science Center, respectively [7,8]. This points to a probable irritating or suppressing type of influence which would create symptoms in a variety of confusing ways, due to personal health and immune system factors [4]. Persons at risk would be those exposed for years in constant proximity to power line components (wiring, sub-stations), appliances, power tools, switching systems, and other sources of potential rapid transient (switching) EMF [1]. … And now we have the long-term microwave radiation health effects of cell phones to consider!

There is strong stimulus-response evidence, verified by eye pupil variations, that continual long-term exposure can result in allergic reactions to EMF of particular pulse rates, intensities and waveforms [10,21]. Environmentally ill (EI) persons with compromised immune systems, already hyperallergic to many chemicals, often find that EMF transients are one more irritating factor to avoid.

As more data accumulates on what EMF factors pose the most risk, precision line surge suppressors, isolation and current balancing transformers [23], for control of voltage and current transients, may be helpful. These methods will be beneficial, not only for computers and critical electronic systems, but also in improving our personal long-term health. These devices would be on power lines, in industries and in the home (see EnviraTest site). Motors, switches and switching systems can have built-in rise time suppression circuits so spikes would eliminated or reduced. Proper grounding directly to a copper rod in the ground, complete cut-off (pull the plug or breaker) of unused electrical systems and three-wire grounding of all appliances are approaches now used by EI persons in their business, sleeping and major home activity areas.

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