Diary of Unknown Symptoms

Mystery of the Internal Vibration

Entry for March 21, 2006

Another great article on the effects of Toronto’s WiFi project.

Wi-Fi’s electric shock

Wireless Net hoopla masks growing concern over frequency pollution

By Adria Vasil 

There’s something lonely about parties. Especially if you’re one of the few who isn’t celebrating. And as laptop lovers citywide rejoice in the announcement that downtown Toronto will be a wireless Internet hot spot by the fall, critics worry that we may be feeding a new form of smog that hangs in the air without a trace and makes a growing number of us sick: electrical pollution.

Whether it’s fluorescent lights, cellphones or computer screens, more and more of us are realizing that the technology we’ve welcomed into our homes and offices is making us ill. According to stats from Sweden and Britain, about 2 or 3 per cent of the population suffers from potentially debilitating electro-hypersensitivity, or EHS. Symptoms are all over the map, and include nausea, headaches, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, tinnitus and rashes, to name a few.

Researchers also say that many more, over a third of us, are a little electro-sensitive and just don’t know it, blaming restless nights, office brain fog and Motrin moments on everything but our electrified environment.

While the biological effects of cellphones keep getting slammed in studies and researchers continue to examine the impact of electromagnetic fields on health, few people talk about the impact of Wi-Fi with any real specifics.

“Show me the studies that prove it is safe,” says David Fancy, co-founder of the St. Catharines-based SWEEP (Safe Wireless Electric and Electromagnetic Policy) Initiative, a network for EHS sufferers across Canada.

“I’ve never seen anything from industry except blanket assurances from their PR departments,” says the Brock U prof. “This is the identical strategy used by the tobacco industry in the 50s and 60s.”

Indeed, Toronto Hydro, which is bringing the hot zone project to the table, is full of comforting messages. “I can assure you that the health and safety of our employees and customers is the number-one most important thing to this corporation,” says president David Dobbin.

But even he can sound a little shaky on the data. “I understand where people are coming from. When you stand back and look at it, hey, there may be a concern,” says Dobbin, “but at this point in time we don’t have any conclusive evidence that it’s a health concern.” Just inconclusive evidence, then? Dobbin says not to worry, the signal is about as weak as that from a baby monitor or a cordless phone.

But Dave Stetzer, a Wisconsin-based electrical engineer, says cordless phones make plenty of people sick. In fact, the consultant recommends people with sensitivities not only get rid of their cordless phones, but also toss their dimmer switches, energy-efficient fluorescent bulbs, halogen lights and, yes, baby monitors.

The link between them all? Radio frequencies. We know that wireless technology like cellphones and Wi-Fi emit such frequencies. But Stetzer explains that radio frequency surges created by appliances are also riding the electrical wiring in your home when they shouldn’t be.

“A few years ago, if you had a computer and you didn’t have a power bar surge suppressor, when a surge came though it could shut off your computer or destroy it,” he says. That surge is dirty electricity. “We know it affects electrical equipment, but what our research is showing is that it’s also having an effect on humans.”

Magda Havas, an environmental science professor at Trent, has been studying just that. Havas teaches a course on the biological impact of electromagnetic radiation and radio frequencies – the only one of its kind in Canada.

Her work with people with MS, diabetes and other illnesses documents how many found their symptoms improved when their environments were electrically cleaned, so to speak, by placing capacitators (filters) throughout their homes. Brad Blumbergs has progressive multiple sclerosis and says he walked with a cane until he volunteered for Havas’s experiment. Michelle Illiatovitch’s daughter suffered from chronic fatigue from the time she was eight and saw her energy return once an electrician fixed some faulty wiring in their home and filters were put in her North York school.

Explains Havas,”We can take a person who is diabetic and put them in an [electrically] dirty environment, and their blood sugar levels rise. We then put them into a clean environment, and within half an hour their blood sugar levels are lower. It becomes a barometer.”

Why diabetes? Scientists have long known stress affects the disease. But what researchers like Columbia cellular biophysics prof Martin Blank say is that electromagnetic waves and radio frequencies actually trigger stress responses in cells.

“If you need any more evidence that the body is telling you, ‘I’m hurting,’ this is it,” says Blank. “That’s what the stress response is – it’s the testimony of the cells.” And that response, he adds, is activated by very weak fields, not just the kinds emitted by major transmission lines, but the kind inundating your home.

“Who knows what being exposed to [multiple sources] simultaneously does? You’ve got TV broadcasting outside, you’ve got cellphones broadcasting outside. God knows what’s going on with all these things coming and going together. There’s no attempt to deal with it except in the vaguest way.” And Wi-Fi? Blank says he wouldn’t want it in his home.

Bottom line, says the prof, “the guys who say they’re protecting us with these standards are not protecting us.”

Health Canada, on the other hand, insists our exposure to all this stuff is safe. Says spokesperson Paul Duchesne, “We’ve conducted four studies since 2000 assessing the impact of radio frequency fields’ [ability] to cause DNA damage and affect gene expression, and there’s been no effect. We haven’t seen any, anyway.”

Still, Duchesne says, “we recommend that if people are experiencing any symptoms they should contact a physician so that treatment can happen.” It’s hard to imagine what kind of treatment the department expects doctors to give when both Health Canada and the World Health Organization discourage doctors from fuelling speculation about a connection between electrical pollution and EHS and suggest a psychological assessment be given.

“I wonder how many people out there are being misdiagnosed,” asks Martin Weatherall, a retired Toronto cop who started developing a ringing in his ears and headaches when he moved into a new home. “They’re being harmed by their electrical environments, and doctors are just sending them to a psychiatrist.”

Even casual acceptance of the connection by official sources seems to be frowned on. A report released by Britain’s Health Protection Agency’s radiation division last fall was publicly smeared by the Department of Health there for suggesting that those with EHS stay away from electrical appliances. Nonetheless, Toronto Hydro’s website encourages anyone concerned to move clock radios away from their bed and to air dry for a few minutes after bathing to cut down on hair dryer time. Kind of strange for a company that says there’s nothing to worry about.

It seems both industry and regulators are seriously covering their asses. You know, just in case.

Many people aren’t waiting around for global consensus on the issue. Some are calling inspection services like Dirty Electricity Solutions to measure radio frequencies in their homes and offices and outfit them with filters. The International Association of Fire Fighters has demanded that their stations not be fitted with cellphone antennas until more research proves their safety.

One municipality in Norway just banned cellphones from a public beach, to make it accessible to people with electro-sensitivities (like Norway’s former prime minister, Gro Harlem Brundtland, who won’t allow cellphones within 12 feet of her because she says they give her headaches).

Sweden, with an estimated 250,000 sufferers, leads the pack by recognizing EHS as a full-on disability. Authorities there will not only electrically retrofit your home and your office, but will make a restaurant remove, say, offensive lighting if an electrically sensitive person wants to eat there but can’t – kind of like Canada’s policy on wheelchair ramps. Stockholm’s even planning a special EHS-friendly village.

A little closer to home, Lakehead University in Thunder Bay recently shocked onlookers by banning wireless Internet from most of its campus. A controversial move in these parts, but school prez Fred Gilbert says the jury’s still out on Wi-Fi’s health impact. That, he says, is enough to justify a precautionary approach, even if it means taking a ribbing from the tech sector and students.

“You run a certain risk if you go against the wave of implementation,” says Gilbert. “But I think at the end of the day, when you can do something to avoid exposure until we have more definitive information, I think we’re making the right decision.”

Warren Bell sits on the board of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment. He says this would not be the first time we’ve jumped on technology that works well in the lab but not so well in the real world. “Our industrial civilization has embarked on a lot of courses without a lot of documentation on their safety or lack of safety. As a result, we’ve got ourselves in a number of different corners, something we have subsequently come to regret.”

Whether or not our beloved personal communications technology will be one of those isn’t yet clear, says Bell, but based on our history, we might want to look a little harder before we jump.

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

Entry for March 09, 2006

Another great article in the Toronto Star newspaper:

Cool, but how safe is it? Toronto Hydro plans blanket wireless network for city core

Some urge caution in the face of potential health risks

Mar. 8, 2006. 05:21 AM



News that Toronto will be blanketed by radio signals enabling Internet access anywhere downtown, had some cautioning yesterday that officials should move slowly since little is known about associated health risks.

“Where are the studies that demonstrate this is safe?” asked David Fancy, head of SWEEP Initiative, which stands for “safe wireless electrical and electromagnetic policies.”

“I have never seen any actual peer-reviewed science, epidemiological studies done with human subjects over an extensive period of time that suggests this is actually safe,” said Fancy, also a dramatic arts professor at Brock University.

“Let’s be honest about this, let’s see the science around this before we move.”

His comments came on the heels of yesterday’s announcement that Toronto Hydro plans to blanket the city core by the end of the year with wireless fidelity (WiFi) coverage, which would allow logging on to the Web anywhere in the “hotspot.”

Dr. Louis Slesin, founder and publisher of New York-based scientific newsletter Microwave News, doubts there are major health risks, but echoed Fancy’s concerns, saying, “We haven’t done our homework on this.”

“This is the new era, this is the new world and it’s not going to go away, so it seems that we should be doing long-term studies about what we’re doing to our urban environments,” said Slesin, adding that U.S. cities are doing much the same. “The jury is still out on this one,” Slesin said in a telephone interview.

It’s that belief that prompted Fred Gilbert, president of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, to ban WiFi networks from parts of the campus.

“There is some evidence, and it’s growing evidence, that there might be health effects, so why should we unnecessarily expose people to this — whether they want it or not — until we’re absolutely certain?” Gilbert said.

But physicist Tony Muc, of the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine, argues that, in fact, the “scientific jury is in.”

While extensive studies on WiFi haven’t been conducted, he pointed out that research has been done on other electromagnetic waves, the kind that we’re bombarded with each day from household appliances, microwaves, cellphones and radios.

“You have radio and TV signals travelling through your home, through your workplace, and this would be no different,” said Muc, who has studied the impact of electromagnetic fields and radiation on human tissue.

“There are subtle differences in the way that information is being carried and is encoded by (WiFi) waves … But I don’t believe there’s anything particularly problematic when it comes to health hazards.

“I can’t say that I’m other than amused by reactions against a specific application when there are literally dozens of others that are conceptually identical already out there.”

Shahrokh Valaee, a U of T computer engineering professor, agrees. “The whole matter has really been overblown,” he said. “We experience signals every day of our lives, and singling out WiFi as a (danger) is an overreaction.”

March 13, 2006 Posted by | Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Entry for March 07, 2006

You can’t be serious…are they trying to kill me?

Toronto Hydro plans city-wide WiFi Web access available almost anywhere

Today Toronto Hydro Corp. is expected to announce plans to bring “municipal Wireless-Fidelity” (WiFi for short) to Toronto. It’s a mesh of radio signals that can blanket an entire city, giving subscribers wireless Internet access virtually anywhere.

WiFi receiving and transmitting units will be mounted on items of urban furniture, like street lamps or pay phones. They’ll pick up radio waves carrying the Internet and pass them on from street lamp to street lamp. The waves will course up and down every street in the city, through parks, schoolyards, markets and pool halls. Subscribers will surf the Internet on a park bench or in a shopping mall.

Liang said the wireless industry won’t use stronger signals because it’s not yet known if they could cause health problems. But what about an abundance of weaker signals? It remains to be seen if anyone in the city would be spooked by the increase in regular-strength signals the project would unleash.

They wouldn’t be the first to question the safety of WiFi transmissions. Fred Gilbert, president of Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, recently banned WiFi networks from parts of the campus, saying it’s still not known if regular exposure to wireless signals can have long-term health consequences.

Long-term health consequences? I’m a walking example!

And I’m still vibrating…

March 7, 2006 Posted by | Health | , , , , | Leave a comment


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