By Dr. Mercola
Alasdair Philips is qualified in both Electrical and Electronic Engineering, as well as Agricultural Engineering.
In 1998, he started the British organization Power Watch, which is committed to uncovering the specific details of how electromagnetic fields (EMFs) affect our health and how we can practically protect ourselves against detrimental effects.
Mr. Philips is also a member of SAGE (the UK Department of Health Stakeholder Group on ELF EMFs) and a member of the UK Health Protection Agency's EMF Discussion Group.
Another early group he became involved with was called Electronics and Computing for Peace.
In the 1980s, they were asked to go to Greenham Common Airbase, where a group of women claimed the American military were "zapping" them.
"We went down and we measured, basically, early non-lethal microwave weapons working at the same sort of frequencies that cell phones operate at (about 1800-1900 MHz) [which were being] pulsed at the women...
That's what got me interested in the biological effects of electromagnetic waves," Mr. Philips says.
"... Ten years or so later, I was invited to talk a lot about the first mobile phones and other health concerns, through a series of international [industry] conferences in the late 1990s. I was the token outsider saying, 'Yes, I think there is a problem.'"
The Similarities between Cell Phones and Non-Lethal Weapons
Going back to the women at the Greenham Common Airbase for a moment, Mr. Philips claims they believe there was evidence of biological impact from these microwave weapons, which were being pulsed at the same frequency today's cell phones operate at. These effects included:
- Ringing in the ears
Today, both the U.S. military and the UK military admit to having these types of non-lethal microwave weapons.
"The Pentagon has actually demonstrated the big ones mounted on Humvees," Philips says. "They can down somebody at like 1,000 meters. But at a lower power, closer by, it disrupts you; it disrupts your headspace."
According to Philips, the technology for these types of pulsed microwave weapons is very similar to that used for cell phone transmission. The pulse rate is different between the two, but it's still quite similar, particularly with the second generation GSM and the PCS cell phones, which are still widely used.
"Even if you have a third generation UMTS 3G phone, a lot of the time it reverts back to the old method because there is more base stations out there still to handle your call," Philips says. "Those pulse in a very similar way. They turn on and off in bursts right next to your head."
Indisputable Links Between Power Lines and Leukemia
Cell phones and other wireless technologies are really just the latest sources of harmful EMF's. Power lines have long been associated with ill health effects, particularly childhood leukemia. Unfortunately, these associations have been largely ignored worldwide, as addressing these concerns would cause major societal disruptions... Still, we have to at least question whether it's really worth the risk.
"There is without doubt an approximate doubling in the incidence of childhood leukemia with magnetic fields above 4 milliGauss, or 0.4 microTesla in U.S. units," Philips says. "It's been confirmed in over 20 studies. Most of the studies are showing a doubling at a level between 3 and 4 milliGauss."
This is a tiny fraction of the international standard, set at 1,000 milliGauss (100 microTesla). They know acute effects may occur at twice the standard limit, at 2,000 milliGauss, but to think the current standard actually protects health is a grave mistake... Unfortunately, according to Mr. Philips, no progress at all has been made in changing the standards for power frequencies to take into account the effects on biological health.
Housewares to Use with Caution
But overhead or underground power lines aren't the only source of potentially hazardous EMFs. In your home, the following items are particularly troublesome and should be used with care:
- Electric storage radiators (heaters)
- Electric stove ring
- Microwave ovens
- Electric blankets
- Hair dryers
As for hair dryers, Mr. Philips brought up a surprising point, and that is that hair dryers are most dangerous when used later in the evening, as the magnetic field produced near your head is enough to shut down your brain's production of melatonin, which has been acknowledged as a radioprotective anticancer agent. Short-term, it can also disrupt your sleep cycle.
And with respect to microwaves; standing a foot away from your microwave oven while it's running can expose you to upwards of 400 milliGauss, and remember, a mere 4 milliGauss has been firmly linked to leukemia. It would certainly be wise to avoid letting your children stand near the microwave when it's running, and avoid it yourself as much as possible—especially if you're pregnant.
"We recommend you put your microwave oven either in the far corner of your kitchen or ideally in the utility area where you can just go through and put it in and go back a few minutes later. You don't actually use it right next to where you're working on the work surface," Mr. Philips says.
Electric Fields and Electrosensitivity
Over the years, an increasing number of people have begun reporting electrosensitivity issues, which can range from bothersome to debilitating. (For more information about Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS), please see this previous article.) Fortunately, there's been some progress in raising awareness about this problem, and certain companies have stepped forward offering various counter-technologies to reduce ambient electric field exposure. Unfortunately, there are probably more misses than hits in this field...
"Safety" Gadgets—the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Many of the gadgets promising to shield you from harmful radiation and electromagnetic fields don't live up to their promise, such as:
- Special Resonance Technology, typically in the form of stick-on stickers and pendants do NOT affect the levels of microwaves you're exposed to from your cell phone or any other source of radiation
- Some stick-on patches claim to modify your phone's antennae, thereby reducing the amount of radiation you're exposed to. However, there's no telling whether this will make it better—it could potentially make it worse, according to Philips
That said, there are some products and techniques that can indeed help.
"There are some devices made in Germany which turn off your lighting and other circuits when you're not using power," Philips says. "They are quite effective. We [also] recommend, for new building wiring, that people put in screened wiring... You can get mains wire with a screen built into it. That stops the electric fields."
Another technology known as EMX Technology, originally discovered by the Walter Reed Army Institute, is said to mitigate against radiation effects. By breaking up the coherent, regularly pulsing fields with noise ODC, which is part of our cellular process, chemical processes were not disrupted. However, according to Philips:
"If you have a 1 milliGauss field that is giving you problems, you need to add the same amount of random field to cancel it out. So you need another milliGauss of EMF coming from this device, and then it does seem to mitigate the effects. But it doesn't strike me as a good way forward..."
On Creating a Safe Haven to Protect Your Health...
As the 1990s went on, Mr. Philips became increasingly aware of the health concerns posed by cell phones and cordless house phones. He also began feeling the effects of them himself.
"I have met a lot of people that are far more electricity sensitive than I am," he says, "but it gives me brain fog. I can't think properly. I can't concentrate properly. It gives me headaches. If I'm exposed at night it significantly disrupts my sleep. That was really when we started moving over and looking at those sort of devices."
Part of why we don't notice obvious huge increases in health problems that can be directly attributed to EMFs and microwaves from wireless technology is due to the fact that entire societies are inundated with electromagnetic fields. Since everyone is exposed on a chronic basis, you don't see a big jump in risk odds between those who are regularly exposed versus those who are not—quite simply, there are virtually no groups of people who are completely unexposed anymore, and this effectively hides the effects. But there's little doubt that there ARE health effects...
"... [W]here VHF radio, TV, and cell phones fit in the electromagnetic spectrum [used to be] the "cosmic quiet spot," Philips says. "We are now allowed under [current] guidelines to expose ourselves to 10 to the 18th [power]. That's a billion-billion-billion-fold more energy in that part of the electromagnetic spectrum than our ancestors were exposed to 100 years ago! We have no idea what that's doing to us, but it is a phenomenal change in the electromagnetic environment in populated areas of the Earth...
In my opinion it's good to reduce our exposure where we can, and have places—particularly where we sleep—where we are minimally exposed."
... I'm actually speaking to you in a place in Scotland where actually I can't get a cell phone signal in any network by choice. It doesn't stop me from going to London and Brussels and other places for meetings and doing what I need to do, but I think our bodies need somewhere to recover. We need some place where the pressure is off, and the obvious one is the home. I think the first thing everybody can do... is [to have] a healthy lifestyle; diet, exercise, good night's sleep, no bright light late at night... A good healthy lifestyle... is an enormous protective factor."
How to Reduce EMF Exposure in Your Home
Philips recommends the following common-sense strategies to reduce your exposure to harmful radiation in your home:
- Turn the brightness on your computer monitor down as low as possible if you have to use the computer in the evening
- Avoid using a cordless phone unless you absolutely have to. Use a wired home phone instead
- Do not keep cell phone chargers, or worse, your cordless phone base, in or near your bedroom
- Make sure you only use and store your cell phone in areas where reception is good, and don't make the mistake of artificially reducing the signal strength, which forces the phone to crank up the power to reach the base station. Many teens, for example, will place their cell phones beneath their pillow or underneath their bed, not realizing that as the cell phone cannot easily get a signal out, it significantly increases its power output!
- Avoid using Wi-Fi routers in your home. Instead, install cable or Ethernet cable. If you need portability, you can use a dLAN device that allows you to access your Ethernet without laying extra wires or irradiating yourself with pulsing microwaves from a router.
"I did a BBC Panorama program a few years ago on Wi-Fi... We were comparing Wi-Fi levels with the levels you get 100 meters from a cell phone tower. They're roughly the same! If you're a yard away from a Wi-Fi router, or sitting next to a Wi-Fi laptop, it's about the same as what's coming from a mast 200 yards away. The UK government gave the UK Health Protection Agency 300,000 pounds sterling to go and do the work to just prove us wrong. Actually they found slightly higher levels than we reported on the Panorama program..."
How to Reconfigure Your Wi-Fi Router to Minimize Unnecessary Transmission
Most wireless access points (APs) and routers automatically transmit their service set identifier (SSID or network name) into open air every few seconds. This feature of Wi-Fi network protocols is intended to allow users to dynamically discover and roam between WLANs / WiFi Access Points. But in private Wi-Fi networks, such as your home, roaming is largely unnecessary and the SSID broadcast feature serves no useful purpose apart from continuously irradiating the area with pulsed microwaves, and also making it easier for hackers to gain access.
Philips strongly recommends disabling the SSID broadcast feature to prevent 24-7 microwave pulsing and also improve the security of your network.
Once your portable PCs, etc., are manually configured with the right SSID, they no longer require these background broadcast messages.
A service set identifier, or SSID, is a name used to identify the particular 802.11 wireless LANs to which a user wants to attach. Configure your Wi-Fi router so that it won't broadcast your SSID.
As most manufacturers ship their routers with same generic SSID, Philips suggests you also increase your security by changing the SSID (e.g. to a name unique to you). That new SSID then needs to be added in the wireless set-up for your laptop and any other wireless devices that you use. (Note: it is not essential to change the SSID in the WLAN and laptop but is recommended for security.)
Is there Such a Thing as a Safe Cell Phone?
I've previously reported that GSM phones are far more dangerous because they emit 28 times more radiation than CDMA phones. Opting for a CDMA-based phone is certainly advisable; however it's NOT a guarantee of safety.
Neither should you mistake the SAR (specific absorption rate) value on your phone as being indicative of its safety. Buying a low SAR phone is a false sense of security, because the SAR rating has nothing to do with the non-ionizing radiation emitted and only is gauge of the intensity of the heating effect, and simply comparing one phone to another.
A major hurdle we have to face is the fact that we still do not know exactly what the biologically active part, or parts, of the wireless signal is. We're getting closer, and some researchers, such as Dr. Martin Blank, can now explain at least a few of the mechanisms of harm on the cellular and DNA level. But we're also dealing with a very rapidly changing field, so researchers investigating the potential impact of new technology certainly have their hands full trying to keep up, and they're always behind since they're investigating technology after its been released.
"George Carlo, who... ran the 27 million dollar CTIA program in the 90s on cell phones [to determine if] it was causing harm... says it's information-carrying radio waves; it's how you get the information modulated on to the radio waves. But we don't know whether it's the pulsing, the pulse rate, the type of modulation [or something else]," Philips says.
"The trouble is the industry tries to get more bandwidth... and everything is changing the way this is done year by year.
We don't know whether GSM cellphones, the second generation cellphones are worse or not. The third generation, if you are broadcasting video or you are streaming from your camera, then there is a lot of power coming out of your camera and you drain the battery quite quickly. So you can have higher power from them but actually, if you're in a good area and you're just using a voice call, then they irradiate you less than the older cellphones. However, we don't know if that's safer. We just don't know."
How to Protect Yourself from EMF
We're still in the infancy of EMF science as it relates to understanding the mechanism of the human health effects, but there is enough solid evidence to show that there are very real risks apparent. It is time to exercise the precautionary principle, but keep in mind that completely eliminating exposure is close to impossible.
Even if you don't use a cell phone and your home is wireless-free, you can be exposed to microwave radiation from your neighbor's wireless devices or while visiting "hot spots" or traveling near cell phone towers. That said, there's still plenty you can do to minimize your exposure and help safeguard your children's health:
- Children Should Never Use Cell Phones: Barring a life-threatening emergency, children should not use a cell phone, or a wireless device of any type. Children are far more vulnerable to cell phone radiation than adults, because of their thinner skull bones, and still developing immune and neurological systems.
- Reduce Your Cell Phone Use: Turn your cell phone off more often. Reserve it for emergencies or important matters. As long as your cell phone is on, it emits radiation intermittently, even when you are not actually making a call.
Leave an outgoing message on your phone stating your cell phone policy so others know not to call you on it except in emergencies.
- Use a Land Line at Home and at Work: Although more and more people are switching to using cell phones as their exclusive phone contact, it is a dangerous trend and you can choose to opt out of the madness.
- Reduce or Eliminate Your Use of Other Wireless Devices: You would be wise to cut down your use of these devices. Just as with cell phones, it is important to ask yourself whether or not you really need to use them every single time.
If you must use a portable home phone, use the older kind that operates at 900 MHz. They are no safer during calls, but at least some of them do not broadcast constantly even when no call is being made. Note the only way to truly be sure if there is an exposure from your cordless phone is to measure with an electrosmog meter, and it must be one that goes up to the frequency of your portable phone (so old meters won't help much). As many portable phones are 5.8 Gigahertz, we recommend you look for RF meters that go up to 8 Gigahertz, the highest range now available in a meter suitable for consumers.
Alternatively you can be very careful with the base station placement as that causes the bulk of the problem since it transmits signals 24/7, even when you aren't talking. So if you can keep the base station at least three rooms away from where you spend most of your time, and especially your bedroom, it may not be as damaging to your health.
Ideally it would be helpful to turn off or disconnect your base station every night before you go to bed. Levels of microwave radiation from portable phones can be extraordinarily high.
You can find RF meters at www.emfsafetystore.com. But you can pretty much be sure your portable phone is a problem if the technology is labeled DECT, or digitally enhanced cordless technology.
- Limit Your Cell Phone Use to Where Reception is Good: The weaker the reception, the more power your phone must use to transmit, and the more power it uses, the more radiation it emits, and the deeper the dangerous radio waves penetrate into your body. Ideally, you should only use your phone with full bars and good reception.
Also seek to avoid carrying your phone on your body as that merely maximizes any potential exposure. Ideally put it in your purse or carrying bag. Placing a cell phone in a shirt pocket over the heart is asking for trouble, as is placing it in a man's pocket if he seeks to preserve his fertility.
- Don't Assume One Cell Phone is Safer than Another. There's no such thing as a "safe" cell phone, and do not rely on the SAR value to evaluate the safety of your phone. Always seek CDMA carriers over GSM as they have far lower radiation in their signaling technology. And remember, eliminating cell phone use, or greatly lowering cell phone use from phones of all kinds, is where true prevention begins.
- Keep Your Cell Phone Away From Your Body When it is On: The most dangerous place to be, in terms of radiation exposure, is within about six inches of the emitting antenna. You do not want any part of your body within that area.
- Respect Others Who are More Sensitive: Some people who have become sensitive can feel the effects of others' cell phones in the same room, even when it is on but not being used. If you are in a meeting, on public transportation, in a courtroom or other public places, such as a doctor's office, keep your cell phone turned off out of consideration for the 'second hand radiation' effects. Children are also more vulnerable, so please avoid using your cell phone near children.
- Use Safer Headset Technology: Wired headsets will certainly allow you to keep the cell phone farther away from your body. However, if a wired headset is not well-shielded the wire itself acts as an antenna attracting ambient information carrying radio waves and transmitting radiation directly to your brain. Make sure that the wire used to transmit the signal to your ear is shielded.
The best kind of headset to use is a combination shielded wire and air-tube headset. These operate like a stethoscope, transmitting the information to your head as an actual sound wave; although there are wires that still must be shielded, there is no wire that goes all the way up to your head.
Alasdair Philips has been active in this field for 23 years now, and has compiled quite a bit of resources during that time. The Power Watch website is a great resource, although he apologizes that the organization hasn't had the resources to maintain it quite as well as they'd like. Still, you can find a wealth of articles in the library. Access only requires free registration with the site. They have articles relating to all aspects of EMF, from cancer risks to how to properly wire your home to reduce EMF.