New Debates on Electromagnetic Sensitivity

Senior man with a headacheElectromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is a relatively new term for those who are sensitive to the radio waves coming from various forms of technology. This could be a TV, laptop, cell phone, WiFi router — basically anything that emits a signal. Recently, the condition has gone more mainstream and been recognized on a more global scale.

The condition is characterized by numerous “non-specific” symptoms, but there is debate on its legitimacy. On one hand, a study in 2012 said that chronic EMF exposure showed physiological stress in cells after 1.5 years. In addition, a federal agency called the Access Board, which is responsible for the guidelines in the Americans with Disabilities Act, said that the condition may be considered a disability. But on the other hand, the World Health Organization (WHO) doesn’t recognize the condition.

In August of this year, a lawsuit was filed by parents against a private school for a failure to accommodate their son’s electromagnetic sensitivity. The school already ran their WiFi signal at 1/10,000th of the safety limit, but the parents wanted them to turn it down or return to Ethernet cables.

But the WHO argues that “there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF [electromagnetic frequency] exposure.” They recently published an article entitled, “Allergic to Technology: Ethics and the ‘Electrically Hypersensitive’ Individual,” in which Dr. Kenneth R. Foster and Dr. G. James Rubin said that their years of research did not show conclusive evidence linking the symptoms to EMF. They also said in another study that it seems the symptoms depend on whether a person thinks they’re being exposed, rather than if they actually are.

The term for this type of condition in the medical community is a “nocebo effect.” This means that an individual may experience legitimate symptoms that come from a completely inert exposure/source. This is to say, the effects may be real, but the source is not actually dangerous.

Court cases concerning this condition have varying degrees of outcomes. A French woman won $900/month disability stipend in September, while a New Mexico case ruled against the plaintiff in March since there is currently no scientific basis for the condition.

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