What is Electrical Pollution?

Electrical pollution is the result of fields given off by the power that we use. This ranges from the power that is used to run our homes and general appliances at one end of the spectrum to microwaves that power our mobile phones and other communication devices.

At low frequencies, such as the 50Hz we use for our mains electricity, the electric and magnetic components remain as distinct fields. These are known as EMFs (electromagnetic fields). At higher frequencies, such as the microwave frequencies we use for our growing mobile and 'wireless world' (commonly 900 to 3500 million Hertz - MHz), the electric and magnetic fields take the form of self-propagating waves of energy (hence “radiation”, and 'EMR'). EMFs and EMR are now ubiquitous phenomena.

With our increasing use of electrical gadgetry, and debates over the safety of, for example mobile phones, WiFi, the proximity to our homes and schools of mobile phone masts and TETRA to name just a few, it is important to understand a little about electrical pollution (also known as electrostress or electromagnetic pollution), what it is, where it comes from and suggestions as to what one can do about it.

Lower Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMFs)

The electrical household wiring in our homes is used to power our lighting, all electrical appliances (such as washing machines, hair dryers, electric blankets, TVs, vacuum cleaners) and also electrical heating. Electricity produces both electric and magnetic fields (also known as EMFs).

The strength of electricity is measured in volts. Volts measure electrical pressure in a wire similar to water pressure in a pipe. The higher the voltage, the higher the electrical pressure is in the wire.

Electrical fields are produced by the pressure in the wire  trying to equalise with the electrical pressure in the surrounding area. As the voltage increases the electrical field in the surrounding area increases. Electrical fields radiate from the wires and can be screened by shielding material and to a certain extent by walls and trees.

Magnetic fields are produced where electric current flows along a wire like water flowing through a pipe. The stronger the current, the higher the level of the magnetic field. It is harder to shield against magnetic fields. The strength of both the electric and magnetic fields decreases the further you get from the source.

Electric and magnetic fields are present within the human body, occurring naturally in association with nerve and muscle activity. The influence of EMFs outside the body can cause physical effects inside the body. Therefore it is important to measure both the electric and magnetic fields in areas where you spend most of your time (e.g. in bed or at your desk). You can then either move the furniture further away from the areas where the fields are high or move the source far enough away for the fields to drop to a safe level.

Typical sources of electric and magnetic fields: 

  ~ all electrical appliances including electric blankets, hair dryers,  electrically adjustable chairs and beds
  ~ electric cabling and house wiring
  ~ electric showers
  ~ electric tools and games
  ~ electric lamps and ceiling lights
  ~ computers, printers, photocopiers

In short, almost everything powered by, or delivering electricity.

Higher Frequency ( Radio Frequency, Microwave Frequency) EMR

Included in Radio Frequency (RF) is everything from the radio and television broadcast antennas, microwave dishes, satellites and radar, to all of the wireless communications devices everyone is using today.

As a general rule the frequencies given off by radio transmitters, satellites and radar systems are sufficiently far away and of low level not to be of major concern to the average householder. On the other hand the EMR in the microwave spectrum given off by Wi-Fi, a cordless (DECT) phone, a mobile phone, a tablet, a Smart Meter, a digital baby monitor, a wireless games console or a nearby mobile phone mast can be much higher and as a result have a much greater potential effect on the human body. We use these devices day-in, day-out, often without a thought to whether or not they are safe. Many of us think that if they were not safe, they wouldn’t be available for us to use. 

An accumulating body of research suggests that exposure to these technologies could have long-term implications for our health. This has led the IARC (the World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer) to classify powerline and radio frequency radiation as “possible carcinogens” (cancer-causing agents)1.

More studies need to be done on the subject to reach a definitive conclusion. However, if you are concerned about the potential health effects of electromagnetic and radio frequency radiation, there are things you can do to help to reduce your exposure to these fields and to mitigate potentially harmful effects.

Typical Sources of RF Radiation:

  ~ Mobile phones
  ~ Tablets
  ~ Cordless (DECT) phones
  ~ Wi-Fi  routers
  ~ Smart Meters
  ~ Laptops
  ~ Mobile phone and TETRA masts 
  ~ Microwave ovens
  ~ Voice-First devices   

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Electrical Sensitivity

With the onset of the ‘digital age’, a growing number of people across the globe are claiming to experience unpleasant and sometimes severe effects as a result of exposure to electrical and magnetic fields. 

Most household appliances emit low-frequency electromagnetic fields, such as TVs, hairdryers and mains-powered alarm clocks. These emit a lower frequency, less powerful radiation than that emitted by mobile phones and Wi-Fi, but some people who are electrically sensitive may still be affected by them.

Symptoms reported by electrically sensitive people include:

  ~ Lethargy
  ~ Depression
  ~ Heart palpitations
  ~ Sleeplessness 
  ~ Head or ear pain when using a mobile phone
  ~ Headaches and sleep disruption as a result of living near a  phone mast or Wi-Fi
  ~ Redness or burning on the face and arms during computer use
  ~ Concentration and memory problems
  ~ Erratic high blood pressure
  ~ Miscarriage
  ~ Skin tingling
  ~ Irritability
  ~ Muscle and joint pains

ES-UK is a charity for people sensitised by electromagnetic fields and radiation. With a team of medical and scientific advisors, the charity works to raise awareness of electrical sensitivity amongst the general population and the medical profession. According to the charity, up to 30% of people are slightly sensitive to EMFs. 1% of people are thought to be severely affected and 3-8% of people moderately sensitive.  To learn more about ES-UK you can visit their website on www.es-uk/info.

Ref: 1 http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf

  ~ Childhood leukaemia close to high-voltage power lines--the Geocap study, 2002-2007 (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23558899)
Summary: An increase in incidences of childhood acute leukaemia was found close to high-voltage overhead electrical power lines.
  ~ Neurobehavioral effects among inhabitants around mobile phone base stations (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16962663)
Summary: : People living near to mobile phone base stations were found to be at increased risk of developing neuropsychiatric problems. The authors recommend revision of guidelines for public exposure to RF radiation from mobile phone base stations.
  ~ Association of mobile phone radiation with fatigue, headache, dizziness, tension and sleep disturbance in Saudi population (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15195201)
Summary: Mobile phone usage was found to be a risk factor for various health hazards. It was recommended that excessive use of mobile phones should be avoided.
  ~ Diseases of modern living: neurological changes associated with mobile phones and radio frequency radiation in humans (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15135881)
Summary: Radio-frequency radiation from mobile phones was shown to cause peripheral neurophysiological changes in some people, even at levels below the present safety threshold.
  ~ Skin changes in patients claiming to suffer from "screen dermatitis": a two-case open-field provocation study (http://www.es-uk.info/research-studies.html)
Summary: A high number of mast cells were observed in patients sitting in front of a television. The researchers concluded that this could explain the symptoms of itch, pain, oedema and erythema the patients claimed to be suffering from.
  ~ Effect of mobile telephones on sperm quality: A systematic review and meta-analysis (http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412014001354)
Summary: Mobile phone radiation exposure was associated with reduced sperm viability and motility.

Further information:

  ~ ES-UK - http://www.es-uk.info/web-links.html
  ~ Powerwatch – an independent group researching the link between EMFs and potential health hazards: http://powerwatch.org.uk/
  ~ Stop Smart Meters! UK -http://stopsmartmeters.org.uk
  ~ Wired Child – http://www.wiredchild.org/
  ~ EMF Analysis – http://www.emfanalysis.com/research/
  ~ Take Back Your Power – an award-winning documentary investigating the potential consequences of smart utility meters: http://takebackyourpower.net/
  ~ Electromagnetic Sensitivity and Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity - by Michael Bevington of ES-UK, http://www.es-uk.info/15-home/32-electromagnetic-sensitivity-and-electromagnetic-hypersensitivity-a-summary-by-michael-bevington-new-edition-march-2013.html
  ~ Health & Safety Executive – advice and FAQs from HSE on non-ionising radiation: http://www.hse.gov.uk/radiation/nonionising/faqs.htm