Electricity might be a scarcity, but according to recent research artificial electromagnetic fields can cause cancer, memory loss, headaches, fatigue and sleeping disorders in adults and children.
On Saturday, Dr Tasnim Ahsan, the head of the department of medicine at Jinnah hospital, gave a presentation on ‘Dirty Electricity’. She explained that the term dirty electricity referred to the electro-smog created daily by using electrical appliances, including computers, laptops, cell phones and the radio, at home and work.
“Although we cannot touch, taste, see or feel the smog,” she said, “It is pervasive in the environment and is harmful to our health.” She added that a couple of years ago, doctors were only aware of the therapeutic effects of electromagnetic fields which were used for bone repair, depression, anxiety and insomnia.
According to Dr Ahsan, the harmful effects of ionisation radiation were common knowledge but no one knew about the impact of electromagnetic radiation – Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) and Radioactive Frequency (RF). “Evidence-based research on the impact of electromagnetic fields have been going on for the last two decades but the concept was absolutely unheard of in Pakistan,” she said. “We stumbled on this research while working on a few others.”
In her presentation, Dr Ahsan explained that the current ELF and RF limits were 1,000mG and 2.0W/kilogrammes, respectively. RF is usually measured as Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) which reflects the amount of RF energy absorbed into the body when a cell phone or cordless phone is pressed to the ear. The regulatory limits are based on induced currents in the body and thermal effects of ELF and RF.
Effects on adults and children
Evidence suggests that children might be more susceptible to the effects of EMF since their rate of cellular activity is high. RF travels through a child’s brain faster than in adults. Different studies show that ELF causes leukemia in children. Patients recovering from leukemia have a poorer survival rate if their ELF exposure is between 1 to 2 mG. A study on a pregnant woman’s exposure to magnetic fields showed that higher exposure put them at a risk of miscarriage in the first ten weeks of conceiving, especially among those with a history of miscarriages.
In 2007, the World Health Organisation called for remedial action and precautionary approaches to fight exposure to ELF sources. The German government issued a safety warning on Wi-Fi systems, the Swiss government issued a list of precautionary measures in 2005, while countries such as United States, Canada, United Kingdom, France and Spain set a limit on ELF and RF exposures.
Do’s and don’ts
One of the most important measures would be to decrease or completely avoid using a cell phone. “Do not allow children under the age of 18 to use a cell phone,” said Prof. Ahsan. “Also avoid using a wired headset, when using the cell phone, keep it two centimetres away from the head. You know, it is less harmful to use the landlines.” She added that the government should take this research and precautionary measures seriously to create public awareness.
On your finger tips
Dirty electricity: is unusable electromagnetic energy that is created by many electrical devices – caused by interruptions and fluctuations in the flow of normal 60-Herts AC power travelling through wires and electrical systems and appliances at home and at work. These interruptions result in voltage spikes or surges which combine to form a complex and potentially harmful electromagnetic field.
ELF : electromagnetic fields from electrical and electronic devices and power lines
RF: microwaves from wireless devices such as cell phones, cordless phones, cellular antennas and broadcast transmission towers
Common sources of dirty electricity:
Broadcast/cell phones antennas
Mobile radar units
Energy saver lights
Hair dyer, shaver, etc
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2012.