Earlier, Kenton asked about environmental sensitivities. I usually try to stay away from the electromagnetic field (EMF) and MCS “sensitivity” issues since, in general, they trump even the “toxic mould” nonsense for passion and myth.
Nevertheless, as part of my professional consulting services, and having completed the NIOSH 583 course on Non-ionizing Radiation Hazards over a decade ago, I perform a variety of legitimate EMF surveys for many different organizations including the US Federal Government, private industry, school districts and even (rarely) private households.
Unquestionably, high field strengths can be hazardous. Employees working on radio transmission dishes, around radio towers, industrial microwave ovens, microwave transmission cones and the like may be exposed to dangerously high field strengths. On one project, I encountered an employee who described working unprotected on a transmission dish whose field strengths were so high, sparks would jump from his feet to the dish surface as he walked across the transmission dish. OK - THAT’s a problem!
However, in the context of Kenton’s post on “environmental sensitivities” (which prompted this post, and my other post on the psychological disorder known as “multiple chemical sensitivity syndrome,” (MCS)), these fields strengths and exposure scenarios are NEVER seen – EVER in normal residential settings.
As such, the whole EMF exposure issue began as junk science and, as such, was quickly adopted by the same psychological profile who wants to be a “victim” of MCS (that is how virtually all MCS sufferers see themselves, “victims.” That may sound rather editorial, but it’s true; and besides, it’s Saturday morning, and I am at liberty to do what I want. Nevertheless, I will provide support for the statement later.
In any event, the difficulties in separating and measuring near-field and far-fields not withstanding, I generally try to address concerns about EMFs by addressing the science behind the claims rather than measuring the EMFs and then having to explain why the numbers are generally unimportant, since in virtually all cases, the consultant is forced to measure near-field activity – which is an hopeless pursuit.
Usually, as in this case here, Kenton’s EMF discussion involves domestic exposures to domestic EMFs, and not the sort of occupational exposures exposure scenarios I described earlier.
I have seen reference statements like “…8 out 10 peer-reviewed studies showed children have a higher risk of leukemia, lymphoma & brain cancer when living near transmission lines and distribution lines.” However, I haven’t been able to find any such studies that support these claims and I find that those concerned about EMFs generally rely on just one study - the seriously flawed Wertheimer–Leeper studies. These were the junk science studies that kicked off the whole EMF concern when the authors claimed that EMFs from overhead power lines caused childhood leukemia. The Wertheimer–Leeper studies have long since been shown to be some of the worst “science” ever produced during the last century. The original Wertheimer–Leeper EMF “study” remains to this day as one of the finest examples of junk science available.
Amongst the many, many fatal flaws with the Wertheimer–Leeper “study” were the selectional bias problems. I single out this flaw because it still plagues many of the better designed ambient EMF studies today. This is due to the fact that if one tries to study the effects of EMFs from transmission lines, one invariably ends up studying a cohort from the lower socioeconomic ladder and the confounders within that group abound.
Due to the HUGE volume of junk science that seemed to pour in on the EMF issue, the NIEHS and the EMF Research and Public Information Dissemination (EMFRAPID) Program through United States Department of Energy and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences/National Institutes of Health organized what became known as “The Working Group” for the leukemia and lymphoma. The Working Group concluded (in NIH Publication No. 98-3981):
*Two long-term bioassays demonstrated no carcinogenic response, and one showed an equivocal response at one tumor site in animals of one sex of one species. Within the limits of the experimental model of multistage mammary carcinogenesis, the results of the ensemble of experiments do not provide convincing evidence for a promoting effect of EMF on chemically induced mammary cancer. In another commonly investigated model, skin carcinogenesis, exposure to magnetic fields had no effect. EMF did not promote leukemia or lymphoma in mice or rats in several studies. *
*In several long-term bioassays, no association was found between exposure to magnetic fields and brain cancer; however, the sensitivity of rodent models for assaying brain cancer has not been well established. *
*The overall conclusion of the Working Group is that most of the studies suggest a lack of carcinogenicity, and the few with borderline positive results are inadequate to conclude that exposure to magnetic fields at the magnitude and field configurations at which they were investigated increases the incidence of cancer in rodents. *
There is inadequate evidence in experimental animals for carcinogenicity from exposure to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields.
This conclusion was supported by 19 of the 29 members of this particular Working Group within the international consortium gathered to investigate the issue; there were 8 member who voted for a ‘lack’ of evidence of carcinogenicity, there was 1 abstention and 1 absent.
Finally, specific to EMF induced leukemia in children, that particular NIEHS working group concluded:
The majority (20 out of 26) of the Working Group members who voted concluded there is limited evidence that residential exposure to ELF magnetic fields is carcinogenic to children on the basis of the results of studies of childhood leukemia; the remaining 6 voting members concluded that there was inadequate evidence. Three lines of evidence supported the overall finding: the association between exposure to calculated magnetic fields and risk for childhood leukemia, the association between exposure to measured 24-h magnetic fields and risk for childhood leukemia, and continued concern about the association between wire codes and risk for childhood leukemia. There was inadequate evidence from spot measurements of magnetic fields in homes to support this finding.
The reality is – the residential EMF issue, in general, is dead, dead, dead. It is so dead, and dead for so long, that I require non-industrial clients to sign off on a disclaimer they must read where I advise the homeowner (or school district) that their expenditures are virtually a complete waste of their money, and there are no valid scientific foundations for concern about normal residential EMFs.
Some better studies regarding leukemia and EMFs would include the following:
Babbitt, J.T., Kharazi, A.I., Taylor, J.M.G., et al Leukemia/lymphoma in mice exposed to 60 Hz magnetic fields: Results of the chronic exposure study. EPRI: Los Angeles, 1998
Shen, Y.H., Shao, B.J., Chiang, H., Fu et al, The effects of 50 Hz magnetic field exposure on dimethylbenz(alpha)anthracene induced thymic lymphoma/leukemia in mice Bioelectromagnetics, 18, 360-364, 1997
McCormick, D.L., Ryan, B.M., et al, Magnetic field exposure and risk of lymphoma in PIM transgenic and TSG-p53 (p53 knockout) mice. Carcinogenesis 1998
Harris, A.W., Basten, A., Gebski, V., et al, A test of lymphoma induction by long-term exposure of Em- Pim1 transgenic mice to 50 Hz magnetic fields Radiation Research, 149, 300-307, 1998
Finally, regarding my remark about MCS and EMF. Even Kenton’s earlier post demonstrated the very common occurrence where someone who claims to have MCS also claims to be “environmentally sensitive” to EMFs –they go hand in hand.
I was involved in a workman’s comp issue regarding a “chemically injured” employee (with a Master’s Degree in geology). The subject self-presented with EMF sensitivity and MCS. During my visit to his (very bizarre) house, he gave me a list of instructions and prohibitions. One of the prohibitions was that I was not to bring a pager, since the exposure to the EMF spike from pagers caused extreme pain in this person. The party told me that even the act of turning off the pager would induce excruciating pain, and he requested that I leave my pager in my vehicle at the end of his very long driveway.
Naturally, based on that information, the use of a pager became a very important potential test mechanism.
I not only brought my pager but during the course of my investigations, I repeatedly turned the pager on and off. The MCSer showed absolutely no response. At a predetermined time, a colleague of mine paged me on several occasions, and I permitted the pager to buzz repeatedly – again, absolutely no response from the subject.
I made an excuse to return to my vehicle and placed the pager in my car. Then, during my interview with the party, I lied and I suddenly stopped speaking and said “Oh, my gosh, I’m sorry! My pager just went off! I accidentally brought it in with me!” The man instantly fell to the floor and began to writhe in pain.
This is the same effect we see with MCS “victims” – their symptomology is exclusively related to their beliefs and not to any actual exposures to any actual insults. If they believe they are being exposed to something they believe is harmful, they respond. If they are exposed to the supposed insult, but do not know it – they don’t have symptoms.
I would be happy to discuss the ethical questions that were considered before performing the pager test (yes, we are concerned about ethics).
Caoimhín P. Connell
Forensic Industrial Hygienist
(The opinions expressed here are exclusively my personal opinions and do not necessarily reflect my professional opinion, opinion of my employer, agency, peers, or professional affiliates. The above post is for information only and does not reflect professional advice and is not intended to supercede the professional advice of others.)