You can’t see them, hear them, but we are bathed in them 24 hours a day.  Apart from the air itself electromagnetic fields (emfs)

are the most pervasive things in our environment , and yet few of us give them a second thought.  But there is a group of people who think of little else.  These are the so-called ‘electrosensitives’ people who find the fields generated by everyday electrical appliances so disabling that they cannot easily live a normal life.   Their symptoms range from headaches from chronic fatigue.  How common is the problem.    Because there is very little publicity given to it, you would be forgiven for thinking that electrohypersensitivity (ES) is rare.   But it is possible that as much as 3 per cent of the population suffer from extreme adverse reactions to EMFs, according to a Swedish survey carried out by the prestigious Karolinska Institute.

Sweden is unusual in taking the problem seriously as, in most other countries, the medical establishment often denies the issue, dismissing electrosensitives as mere hypochondriacs.  ~So, is the problem of ES really imaginary, or are sufferers  like canaries down mines – a warning to the rest of us of the hazards we all face in an increasingly electromagnetic world?

Humanity has had millions of years of evolution but, in the space of 60 years we have rapidly become exposed to huge amounts of artificial electromagnetic radiation.   While it is true that we evolved in an EM environment, primarily radiation from the sun and the earth’s magnetic field, these natural fields are very different from the EMFs produced by electric power.


The first  ‘canaries’  warning us of all of the hidden dangers in EMFs have been workers in electricity-related industries.   To the authorities great surprise and discomfiture, it turns out that there are significant occupational risks from being exposed to high levels of electro-magnetic radiation.

Here again, Sweden has taken the lead in researching the link between EMF exposure and sickness.  Over a decade ago, researchers at the Swedish National Institute of Occupational Health concluded a 19 year long study of the increased risk of various diseases among electrical workers and a clear pattern emerged.  Consistently these workers were found to have an increased risk of two types of cancer, brain tumours and leukaemia, a virulent cancer of the blood.  There was a relatively consistent dose-response , too by and large, the greater the EMF exposure the higher the risk of cancer.

Among electronics engineers and technicians, for example, the leukaemia risk rose by 30 per cent but, for people working on high tension power lines, their risk was up to twice the usual.  Welders were found to have a 30 per cent increase in brain tumours, but television and radio assemblers, being more continuously exposed, suffered nearly three times the normal risk of developing these tumours.

After the same two cancers showed up in electric train drivers, the Swedish occupational health doctors decided to find out why and what they saw was profoundly disturbing.  They discovered that four out of fie drivers had ‘significant aberrations’ in their chromosomes.  But more alarming still was the fact that these were occurring at relatively modest levels of EMF exposure.

But it is not just workers in the electricity industries who have been found at risk.  An Oxford University team announced the results of a study of the effects of electricity power lines on the general population, particularly children.  After studying over 35,000  medical records, they concluded that children living within 100 metre of overhead power lines had almost twice the risk of developing leukaemia.  (unpublished report by Draper G et al, childhood cancer and electromagnetic field exposure from power lines – reported in The Times 30 October 2004).

In 1998 a Swedish trade union carried out a survey of the major ES symptoms.  Top of the list were eye problems, described as a smarting irritating grit in the eye sensation, which may be accompanied by photophobia (an aversion to light).  These were followed by skin conditions – feeling of irritation, warmth, itching, dryness and tingling, also there is often a redness of the skin leading to a rash.  Other problems on the list included headache, fatigue, loss of concentration, and short-term memory, depression, breathlessness, excessive thirst numbness and a ‘prickling’ or weakness of the joints leading to severe pain such as in fibroymyalgias.


Most EMF exposure comes from buried electrical wiring and appliances in the average home.  Experts advise that the places to watch out for are where you spend the most of the time – for most people this is in bed.

Ensure that bedside electric clocks are not too close to your head

If there are wires buries in the wall, move the bed a few inches away from the wall.

Avoid metal beds and spring matresses which can act as EMF ampfliers.

Don’t keep an electric blanket switched on while in bed.

Turn televisions etc.  off at night.

EMFs drop off rapidly the further you are from the source.  Nevertheless the table below shows that some common household appliances radiate levels that are not only above the UK guidelines, but even above the Swedish maximum levels.

UP CLOSE                                                                       ONE METRE AWAY.

Electric razor             2000                                                         0.3

Hairdryer                   2000                                                          0.3

Vacuum cleaner          800                                                          2.0

TV set                               50                                                         0.2

W/Machine                    50                                                          0.2

Bedside clock                 50                                                          0.02

Fridge                                2                                                           0.01

Electric blanket               3                                                               —


Extracts taken from What Doctors Don’t tell you.