Diary of Unknown Symptoms

Mystery of the Internal Vibration

Entry for October 21, 2006

The dangers of owning a laptop…

Risky business

Threat to fertility? Poor ergonomics? Possibility of fire?
Laptop usage isn’t without its potential hazards.

Sep. 8, 2006. 06:12 AM

If your neck hurts, or pecs feel particularly flabby today or if your crotch feels warm, turn off your laptop and put it aside for a moment.

As hundreds of students head back to school and the ever-shrinking devices — now de rigueur for post-secondary and many secondary students — pop up in classroom and dorms, few people seem worried about the health hazards that intense use could bring.

With 7 million laptops in use throughout the country, according to IDC Canada, which tracks technology trends, many Canadians, especially travelling businesspeople or those who use laptops as their main computer, are potentially doing their bodies harm.

Most men might psychosomatically shudder to hear that a laptop, used in its most literal and seemingly innocuous way, balanced atop thighs in an airport lounge or bohemian coffeehouse, could affect their fertility.

If high-profile companies announcing recalls of laptop batteries — amid concerns of their potential to get too hot or even combust — doesn’t raise alarms about the possible health risks associated with portable computers, Dr. Yefim Sheynkin’s research might strike closer to home.

In 2004, the urology professor from State University of New York in Stony Brook set out to answer a burning question: Since high scrotal temperature has been identified as a risk to male fertility, does using a notebook computer while it sits on your lap cause that temperature to rise?

For 29 male volunteers, ages 21 to 35, “two cutaneous thermocouples were attached to the unshaved scrotal skin … using thin transparent tape to cover the sensor end of the thermocouple.”

(The doctor seems gentle: His practice specializes in no-scalpel vasectomies, a procedure, according to his website, that “is conveniently performed on Friday, which allows a smooth recovery over the weekend.”)

The results of the experiment might make Jerry Lee Lewis sit up and sing. But more on that later.

There are other health risks associated with laptops, however remote the possibility.

Earlier this year, a UPS cargo plane en route to Philadelphia International Airport caught fire and the three flight-crew members suffered minor injuries while the blaze caused major damage to the plane and cargo containers.

The fire invited the attention of the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and its investigation into the “potential risks of transporting cargo such as (lithium-ion) batteries.”

The lithium-ion format is popular, powering millions of laptops and other devices around the world, and appears behind several recent and highly publicized recalls.

Last month, Dell Inc. recalled 4.1 million Sony-made, lithium-ion computer batteries. Lithium-ion batteries are commonly found in laptops, cellphones and MP3 players.

Ten days later, Apple Computer Inc. recalled 1.8 million Sony-built notebook batteries, citing nine reports of overheating lithium-ion packs, including two cases where users suffered minor burns.

Then, Virgin Blue Airlines banned the use of Dell laptops aboard its planes, a move that quickly followed Qantas Airways’ decision to allow passengers to use their Dell laptops with a battery only or plugged into the plane’s power system without battery, according to media reports.

The problem, some experts say, is that the batteries are often not being used under ideal circumstances, as the devices they power are becoming smaller, faster and, with more options, placing greater demand on the battery. And the smaller the device, the more difficult it could be to allow air in to cool the battery.

Nevertheless, as industry watchers point out, the number of incidents of laptops overheating or bursting into flames is a tiny fraction of the number of lithium-ion battery-powered devices in use without incident.

But the health risk likely to affect the most laptop users doesn’t involve hot crotches or smoking batteries.

The problem, according to one chiropractor and two ergonomics experts, is a laptop, due to its design, is either at eye level, forcing the user to strain his arms to type, or in the lap, causing the user to bend his neck down to see the screen.

“Laptops are very bad because when you lean forward you change the dynamic in the neck,” says Toronto chiropractor Dr. Blair Lewis.

“Your back is not against the back of your chair. The whole neck moves forward, which causes over time a lot of degenerative changes in the neck. (Frequent laptop use) rounds everything. Everything is shifted forward. That’s not the way the spine is designed.”

And, Lewis, adds, frequent use of the small laptop keyboard can cause “shortening of the pectoral muscles.”

Ergonomics expert Marnie Downey notes that the human head accounts for about 8 to 10 per cent of body weight. “Your neck muscles are having to hold up your head,” she says. “Our neck is not meant to be bent down.”

Connecting an external keyboard — perhaps on an adjustable keyboard tray if the laptop is on a desk — could allow an upright posture with eyes level with the top of the screen and elbows at 90 degrees, which is the ideal posture, the experts say.

The trend toward smaller devices won’t help, says certified kinesiologist Tania Lillak.

“The smaller it is, the worse it is, generally,” says Lillak, who runs Elemental Ergonomics in Toronto. “Everything’s just too small. The writing’s too small. The buttons are too small. You’re always hunched over a BlackBerry.”

Lewis figures laptops are here to stay, sees more and more kids using them and says it’s important to educate young users about how to avoid injury.

Meanwhile, combining a laptop’s internal operating temperatures — which can exceed 70 degrees Celsius, according to the 2004 study — with the body position required to balance the laptop, Sheynkin’s experiment found a median scrotal temperature increase of more than 2.5 degrees Celsius.

“Our study demonstrates statistically significant elevation of scrotal temperature in laptop computer users,” says Sheynkin’s article in the journal Human Reproduction, but he adds that further research is needed to clearly establish whether laptop heat can directly lead to infertility.

October 21, 2006 Posted by | Health | , , , | Leave a comment

Entry for June 26, 2006


Keep That Laptop Off Your Lap
At Least Until a New Generation of Researchers Give Us Some Answers
August 13, 2005

The inside back cover of the August issue of Wired has an ad with a picture of a model who has a laptop on her belly. She’s got a big grin on her face apparently because her computer is protected with Symantec’s anti-spyware and anti-virus software.

Putting a laptop on your body may be okay for a photo shoot, but it’s probably not such a good idea to leave the computer there for a long time. In addition to delivering heat to sensitive organs, there can be significant exposure to EMFs. In fact, it’s probably not a good idea to keep any electronic or electric appliance flush to your body on a regular basis.

Let me be clear: We don’t know whether EMFs from appliances are a health hazard. What we do know is that some appliances give off strong localized fields with complex waveforms. While they diminish very quickly with distance, up close they can pack a wallop.

We also know that a discomfortingly large number of epidemiological studies show that long-term exposure to low-level EMFs is linked to childhood leukemia —the implicated levels are 250 times lower than the current limit for exposing children 24/7 and more than a 1,000 times lower than the occupational guidelines. (The U.S. has never adopted an EMF exposure standard.)

In addition, we know that the use of certain appliances has been associated with cancer. For instance, a 1998 National Cancer Institute (NCI) study showed that children exposed to electric blankets, hair dryers or video games had significant higher rates of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. A number of other appliances, including curling irons, were also linked to cancer.

But there were inconsistencies. The risk associated with years of use was often similar to that from short-term use —that is, there was no dose-response relationship. But that said, looking at all the NCI appliance data, you will see a large number of statistically significant elevated risks of childhood leukemia and it’s hard to escape the conclusion that something is going on.

The NCI team, however, focused on the inconsistencies, threw up their hands and concluded there was nothing to worry about.

Earlier this year, the NCI published another study which linked the use of electric hair dryers and shavers with brain tumors. (Men who used electric shavers had ten times more meningiomas!) Once again, the NCI decided that it was “unlikely” that there was a true association.

One major problem with both NCI studies is that the EMFs from the appliances were not measured. The NCI team assumed that the magnetic fields from a hair dryer are identical to those from a fan or a microwave oven, except in terms of the intensity of the field. This is a primitive, though not uncommon, approach among EMF researchers. But it’s like studying particulate air pollutants without specifying the size or the chemical composition of the particles. You might get an idea about effects, but it would be a very rough estimate.

By neglecting the differences among the different types of EMFs, the NCI team assumes that all appliances are sources of simple sinusoidal 60 Hz magnetic fields. No allowance is made for fields whose frequency and intensity fluctuate over time, whether other frequency components and transient are present, or
whether the resulting exposures are intermittent. (In the more recent paper, the NCI team does acknowledge that hair dryers and shavers give off high-frequency transients). Another ignored variable is the polarization of the field.

Elizabeth Ainsbury, an English doctoral student of Denis Henshaw’s at Bristol University, illustrates the variation in polarization of the magnetic fields associated with appliances in a paper published recently in Physics in Medicine and Biology. She reports, for example, that microwave and electric ovens have
the most elliptically polarized fields, while alarm clocks have the least ellipticity.

(As the field becomes more circularly polarized —that is, as it become more elliptical— the greater the potential for depositing its energy into those exposed, see MWN, M/A00.)

Ainsbury concludes that her measurements demonstrate that domestic magnetic fields are extremely complex and cannot simply be characterized by traditional measurements such as time-weighted average or peak exposure levels.”

Could polarization be the missing variable that, if taken into account, would clarify the existing epidemiological and experimental data? It’s far too soon to tell, but it is a tantalizing possibility.

For a long time, many have speculated that EMF epidemiological studies are cloudy because some characteristic of the field has been left out. It is as if we are looking through a distorted prism. But with the right set of filters, we could see the EMF risk more clearly.

Five years ago, Jim Burch showed that workers exposed to circularly or elliptically polarized fields were more likely to have lower melatonin levels. And years before that Masamichi Kato in Japan reported a similar finding in animals (see MWN, M/A00).

Back in 2000, Burch told us his results “definitely need to be followed up.” They weren’t. (Burch has recently moved to the University of South Carolina.)

With progress coming in five-year intervals it is going to take a long time to sort all this out.� Joe Bowman at NIOSH in Cincinnati is hopeful however. “I’m encouraged to see an EMF health study measuring more than just the time-averaged magnetic field,” he told Microwave News in a recent interview. “Studies like Ainsbury’s will hopefully lead to a new generation of more informative epidemiologic studies.”

Bowman is himself designing an epi study using the Multiwave meter developed by Electric Research, which can measure a number of field parameters including polarization. Ainsbury also used the Multiwave. Clearly, there is much more work to be done.

And until we learn more and can see the EMF problem more clearly, it’s probably a good idea to keep your laptop off your lap —especially if that computer is broadcasting RF radiation through its wireless connection to the Internet.

June 26, 2006 Posted by | Health | , , , , | Leave a comment

Entry for June 26, 2006


Woke up vibrating… But today is my appointment with the Osteopath.

Because the Oseopath is down the street from where I live, I am working from home today. I have the company laptop with me so I decide to test it for EMF exposure.

I turn on the laptop and use the meter to take a reading and it’s off the scale. Everyday I see people using laptop computers on their lap and it makes you wonder. These people are easily travelling two hours a day. What about the health effects of long term exposure?

June 26, 2006 Posted by | Health | , , , , , | Leave a comment


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