A town without wifi or cellphones is attracting the electrosensitive

NRAO/Public Domain

Whenever TreeHugger covers the issue of electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or EHS, we are deluged with comments about it being anti-scientific nonsense. Certainly it is out there on the fringe, with people complaining that smart meters and routers are making them sick. While I worry a bit about high powered transmitters being installed on apartment buildings, surely the low power of routers and cellphones couldn't be a problem.

Or could it? Joseph Stromberg writes in Slate about a sort of accidental community that is developing in Green bank, West Virginia, which is inside the US National Radio Quiet Zone, designed to protect the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.

What does the EHS do to them? one woman describes what happened after a smart meter was installed on her house:

...she believes this triggered her boyfriend’s heart issues, led to her own hypersensitivity, and even caused her cat to start panting, pacing, and shaking her paws. Over time, Cooney’s symptoms intensified—they included fatigue, numbness, circulation problems, and intense jolts of pain in her heart—and she impulsively moved out one night in October 2011. “I got so sick that I felt my life was in serious jeopardy, and if I didn't leave that minute, I didn't know if I'd survive.

Another explains what happened after she moved to the quiet zone:

Over time, living without exposure reduced Diane’s sensitivity, and she can now tolerate many devices without pain. The Schous use a landline and an Internet-connected computer (without Wi-Fi). But they still haven’t found a refrigerator with low enough radiation emissions, so Diane manually fills an icebox with ice each day. Even now, if she leaves the Radio Quiet Zone, exposure can set her off: “I'll say, ‘Oh, I have a headache,’ and then someone's cellphone will ring,” she said. “This happens time and time again.”

It's a fascinating article that looks at both sides of this issue, trying to separate the crazy people from the possibility that there might actually be real issues. In the end it pretty much concludes that it is all in their heads, that non-ionizing radiation is pretty much harmless at low doses.

The alluring idea that life hasn’t evolved to withstand non-ionizing radiation becomes silly when you consider that the main source of it on planet Earth is sunlight.

Read it all at Slate: Refugees of the Modern World

Tags: Electricity | Electronics | Health