One of the most active UK groups is ElectroSensitvity-UK. Its technical consultant is Dr. John Rogers, a retired microwave-research scientist who himself suffers from ES.
Rogers points out that many of the so-called ‘wireless’ technologies (or Wi-Fi, for ‘wireless fidelity’) use microwaves like those used in radar. Wi-Fi frequencies (2.45–5.3 GHz) are chosen for their high transmission efficiency. But these frequencies are highly ‘bioactive’, says Rogers.
What are the wireless dangers lurking in our homes? In pole position, according to ES experts, are cordless phones, especially those called DECT (digital electronic cordless telephone). They enable the phone to be used anywhere in the house, but at a price. ES campaigners say that having a DECT phone is like having an Orange or Vodafone mobile mast plonked slap-bang in the middle of your living room.
Just like a phone mast, DECT phones transmit 24/7, even when they’re not being used. Like masts, they also transmit a pulsed signal—suspected of being more dangerous than continuous radiowaves, for example. “These pulse rates mimic the body’s own endogenous nerve signalling rates, thus potentially interfering with normal functioning,” says Philips.
Added to that, like masts, DECT phones always operate at peak power, something even mobiles don’t do, having been designed to reduce power to the minimum when close to a mast (which is, incidentally, why rural mobile users receive higher doses of radiation that city-dwellers).
DECT phone emissions have a power of about 6 volts per metre (V/m) within a few feet of the base unit. That’s well within the official safety guidelines in the UK—but not in Austria, Switzerland, Sweden, China, Italy or Russia. Indeed, the city of Salzburg decreed a maximum exposure of 0.6 V/m after a scientist discovered cellular effects with emissions as low as 0.1 V/m (Electromagn Biol Med, 2003; 22: S161–9).
Likewise, in an open letter to the Bavarian Prime Minister in July 2005, a group of doctors urged a reduction of safety levels to even lower—to 0.06 V/m—after over 300 patients reported a range of health problems down to that level of exposure.
The concern over DECT phones has revived fears concerning an older piece of wireless technology—baby alarms, which have now also gone digital. Although not as powerful as DECT phones, they are potentially far more dangerous. They’re often mounted close to a baby’s head, and a baby’s brain is even more vulnerable than an adult’s.
Next on the list of domestic hazards are wireless broadband and wireless laptops. These also use the 2.45–5.3 GHz microwave frequencies, pulsed to obtain a range of up to 90 metres. Official figures of their power outputs are hard to come by, but ES groups have measured 1–3 V/m.
As radiation drops off rapidly with distance, the biggest worry is laptops, often used close to the body. What’s more, laptops seem to radiate downwards: outputs similar to those from DECT phones have been recorded from the underside of laptops. One case on Electro-Sensitivity-UK’s files is of a man who developed a penile tumour that may have been caused by a laptop, believes Dr Rogers.
Where’s the evidence?
The electronics industry, however, backed by the UK and US governments, continues to argue that any health risks from wireless are largely imaginary, fostered by hysterical hypochondriacs. Most electrical engineers and doctors agree with London University’s risk-expert Professor John Adams, who mocks ES as “an example of the modern disease of ‘compulsive risk assessment psychosis’--otherwise known as crap.”