John Gardner has permanent ringing in his ears and insomnia.
It was 10 years ago – his memory is fuzzy as to the exact timeline – that he suffered debilitating head pain and ended up in a geriatric psychological ward, heavily sedated, believed to be suicidal.
Unable to work he lost his surgery, his wife and his home. He believes it began with the introduction of wi-fi and 4G (the fourth generation of wireless mobile telecommunications technology).
He now warns that wi-fi and cordless phones are radiating 24 hours a day and are the equivalent of having a cell tower in your house.
In 2004 Karen Geranios of Lakeside collapsed, ending up in a trauma ward with symptoms diagnosed as psychosomatic and blamed on stress.
Alwyn Lewies’ children aged nine and 11, have never known their dad to sleep at home. Each night he drives 80km from his home in Somerset West to nature reserves to escape radiation and sleep in his car. In 2000 a cellphone company approached him wanting to build a cell mast on his farm. Not knowing anything better, he agreed. Four months later he suffered chronic migraine-like headaches which he describes as toothache with an open nerve.
They all suffer similar symptoms: headaches, insomnia, heart palpitations, digestive problems, fatigue, memory and concentration problems and chronic back pain.
A process of elimination led them to electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) sparked by cellphones, microwave ovens, cordless phones and baby monitors, mobile phone base stations and electric pylons, even television and today’s modern cars, General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS), data cards for laptop and notebook computers and wireless local area network (LAN or WLAN).
Tracey-Lee Dorny, chairperson of Electromagnetic Radiation Research Foundation of South Africa (ERRMSA), said EHS, also known as electrosmog, cannot be seen, smelt or felt. It is difficult to pin down and sufferers are often dismissed as hypochondriacs or end up diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome, Myalgic en-cephalomyelitis (ME) or fibromyalgia. But a growing body of research suggests initial exposure can spark an allergic reaction.
“Children have had to leave their schools because of cell towers and wi-fi. How many children that have been diagnosed with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder are not just suffering from the impacts from the wi-fi or cell tower at their schools,” asked Ms Dorny.
Research nationally is slim but growing. Electrical technician, David Miles of Table View said EHS is increasing at an alarming rate. Referring to a study by Hallberg and Oberfeld (2006), half of the population is likely to be electrically hypersensitive by 2017.
Medical anthropologist at the University of Cape Town’s Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, Dr Lauraine Vivian, and her family have suffered EHS for over five years. She said Dr Gardner’s sense of suffering with EHS is the best indicator of his sensitivity. “He is not the first medical person in South Africa to suffer but it’s more difficult for a MBChB graduate because they want to stick to science and evidence and believe that their symptoms may be psychosomatic or psychological. This is how the International Commission on Non- Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and World Health Organisation have categorised the condition,” she said.
James Lech of Edgemead, who is studying international radiation exposure guidelines of Cape Town through Rhodes University, said in South Africa there is no mandatory enforcement of radiation guidelines. The Bulletin went online to confirm this and found “The Department of Health recommends the voluntary adoption of the American ICNIRP guidelines of 1998 which permit one of the highest exposure levels.”
Mr Lech explained that this means companies and private bodies may choose to follow an honour code in adopting it which may lead to their transmission levels being above or below it.
He said even if the recommended levels by the Department of Health are considered safe, their implementation, monitoring and practice in South Africa do not follow the guidelines recommending lowered exposure limits to the vulnerable (children, pregnant mothers, the elderly and chronically ill).
Provincial Department of Health spokesperson Mark van der Heever checked all their radiation units and found no cases of EHS at any of their facilities. He said they have taken their lead from the national Department of Health pertaining to guidelines which are strictly adhered to within radiation units by the staff.
Darren Francis, also from the provincial Department of Health, said he had checked but found nothing. “Our doctors at Groote Schuur and Tygerberg hospitals have not admitted patients with these EHS,” he said.
Mr Lech said for an EHS diagnosis everything else must be ruled out which means blood tests, MRI, brain scan and allergy tests. “Treatment for EHS is to build up tolerance to enable the person to recover and be able to be in areas with radiation. In worse cases a Faraday cage (an earthed metal screen surrounding a piece of equipment to exclude electrostatic and electromagnetic influences),” said Mr Lech.
Another recommendation is for communities to vote for a by-law for reasonable restrictions on transmitters, such as having cell masts within a certain radius or area. Mr Lech suggested three ways of doing this: collecting signatures by going door-to-door; using residents’ and ratepayers’ associations; or to open a voting booth outside Independent Electoral Commission stations where citizens can register and submit their vote on the by-law. Once the by-law vote is passed this is taken to the ward councillor who then takes it to the respective departments within the municipality. The document acts as an objection letter and is more powerful coming from a community than from an individual.
“If a tower is still erected,” Mr Lech continued, “residents have grounds to approach the court for assistance. The judge could then order for the transmitter to be removed or for the council or telecom to conduct investigations at their expense to defend that there is no public health concern,” said Mr Lech.
He also suggested arranging an educational talk for the community at a school or community hall before the vote.
Mr Miles said if you cannot prove that you feel unwell every time you are close to a radiation source you must start a process of elimination, which is long and expensive. The most important goal is a low EMR environment, especially in bedrooms.
Meanwhile Dr Gardner had crowns removed, as well as mercury and posts, which he believes act as conductors for radiation. He experienced immediate relief. Mr Miles agreed, saying sensible people have their amalgam fillings removed to get rid of the mercury toxicity.
Ms Gerianos would love to get off the grid to get her health back but knows this is impossible at the moment.
Mr Lewies is building a bunker so he can sleep at home.
What does it mean?
Besides being called electro hypersensitivity, it is also known as radio wave sickness and microwave sickness and was first reported in a German scientific paper in 1929 when the exposure was from AM radio transmitters. The condition became better known during the Second World War when aircraft radar technicians became ill from microwave radiation transmitted from the equipment that they were working on.
* (Long Term Evolution) a 4G mobile communications standard replaced 3G allowing wireless internet access at a much higher speed.
* Wireless local area networks, commonly known as wi-fi, allows electronic devices to connect to a wireless LAN local-area network (WLAN) network.
* WiMAX (Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access) is a wireless industry coalition dedicated to the advancement of IEEE 802.16 standards for broadband wireless access (BWA) networks.
* General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) is a packet oriented mobile data service on the 2G and 3G cellular communication system’s global system for mobile communications (GSM).
* UMTS (Universal Mobile Telecommunications Service) is a third-generation (3G) broadband, packet-based transmission of text, digitised voice, video, and multimedia at data rates up to 2 megabits per second (Mbps).
What the world says
Environmental Health Trust details what other countries are doing to protect their citizens.
In 2012, the Austrian Medical Association released: Guideline of the Austrian Medical Association for the diagnosis and treatment of EMF related health problems and illnesses.
A training hospital in Toronto became the first to recognise EHS symptoms and train staff to recognise it.
The International Telecommunications Union estimated global cellphone subscriptions to be 5 billion.
A Danish study of over 358 000 cellphone subscribers with brain tumor incidence showed no association between cellphone use and the incidence of glioma, meningioma, or acoustic neuroma, even after 13 years of usage.
Many schools in Sydney, Australia, are banning laptops and tablets because they find children became more creative without them. Switzerland has hard-wired all its schools.
A 2005 World Health Organisation (WHO) report states that people who believe they are sensitive to EMFs are unable to detect radiation fields and suggest anxiety as the root cause of all of the symptoms.
A recent English study of 48 self-described electrosensitive people and 132 non-sensitive people found that almost everyone had the same reaction to microwave radiation – no obvious reaction at all. The researchers speculated that a fear of EMFs – and not any physical issues – might be the root cause of electrosensitivity.
British doctors are not trained to recognise electrosensitivity and could be misdiagnosing patients and treating them with medication for conditions such as headaches, tinnitus, dizziness, memory deficits, irregular heartbeat, sleep problems, depression and so on.
A 2009 PLoS ONE article speculated that people who believe they are electrosensitive may have overactive distress signals in the brain.
In March 2015 The New York Times upheld a lower court ruling that outspoken opponent of wireless technology Arthur Firstenberg could not seek $1.43 million in damages from his neighbour Raphaela Monribot for damaging his health by using her iPhone and a wi-fi connection.
In Switzerland, Christian Schifferle, of the Healthy Life and Living Foundation, is the prime driver behind an apartment building on the outskirts of Zurich where those suffering from multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), a chronic condition not broadly recognised by the medical community. Those afflicted, however, believe it is sparked by low-level exposure to chemi- cals in things such as cigarette smoke, pesticides, scented products and paint fumes in which electrical circuits and radiation from wireless equipment make them equally ill. They estimate about 5 000 people in Switzerland alone suffer from MCS.
What are the symptoms
There is usually one trigger event that sets off a general reaction to further sources of electro-hypersensitivity. Most common symptoms:
* A warm or burning sensation in the face, similar to feeling sunburnt.
* A tingling or prickling sensation across the face or other parts of the body.
* Extreme dryness of mucus membranes such as the back of the throat and eyes.
* A swelling of the mucus membranes without any infectious cause, such as nose, throat, ears and sinuses.