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The EMF Controversy

By HHI Staff

There are few topics that generate as much passion, and as much heated controversy, as the potential health effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Those who feel that exposure to EMFs is a danger (especially if they believe they are being made ill by them) are very resolute in their belief that EMFs are an overlooked, major health threat to everyone. Not surprisingly, their sincere conviction is that EMFs should, ideally, be dramatically reduced wherever they exist.


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On the other hand, many of today’s researchers and electrical engineers are just as firm in their view that EMF-exposure risks are minimal, at their very worst. Generally, most who share this view believe that the public-at-large isn’t in any type of jeopardy from EMF exposure.

So, what’s the truth? As in most unresolved “hot topics,” it likely lies somewhere in the middle. The bottom line is that, on this particular issue, you’ll have to weigh the findings, as well as your own personal experiences, and decide for yourself. However, the best approach is probably something called “prudent avoidance.” This means that it’s a good idea to prudently avoid EMFs whenever you can easily do so—but you probably don’t need to be overly zealous.

Some Researchers’ Conclusions

You may be interested in learning about some of the conclusions of various researchers on EMF health effects as you try to formulate your own position on EMF exposure. Keep in mind, this is obviously a very small sampling.

Australia 1992
The Advisory Panel to the Australian Minister of Health in 1992 summed up their report by saying that “it has not been scientifically established that magnetic fields of extremely low frequency initiate or promote cancer or have any other harmful effects on humans. However, it has not been scientifically established that such fields are not harmful.”
Denmark 1993
A report given by the Danish Ministry of Health in 1993 noted that our, “Danish and Swedish study supports the hypotheses of previous studies that children living near high current plants have an increased frequency of cancer. But the results do not exclude the possibility that the association might be due to chance.”
Sweden 1994
A Swedish National Safety Board report in 1994 stated that, “we suspect that magnetic fields may pose certain risks to health, but cannot be certain. There is good reason to exercise a certain amount of caution.”
U.S. 1997

The National Research Council (and others) concluded, in the 1997 report, Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Residential Electric and Magnetic Fields, that “although some studies have presented evidence of an association between magnetic-field exposure and various other types of cancer, neuro-behavioral disorders, and adverse effects on reproductive function, the results have been inconsistent and contradictory and do not constitute reliable evidence of an association.”

Because of this last report, in particular, as well as the diminishing interest in the topic by the majority of American citizens, the once popular Electromagnetic Infoline, that was sponsored by the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), was discontinued. Yet, at the same time, books on potential EMF dangers continue to be published, such as The EMF Book: What You Should Know About Electromagnetic Fields, Electromagnetic Radiation and Your Health by Mark A Pinsky.
Possible EMF Exposure Symptoms
In this section, some of the possible adverse health effects, said to be associated with EMF exposure, will be discussed more specifically.
Initial Research-Study Findings
As was mentioned in the National Research Council report, there have been a variety of symptoms linked to EMF exposure, ranging from a temporary loss of coordination to cancer. Generally, these effects have been associated only with long-term exposure to high-voltage electric transmission lines and power stations—places where there tend to be very powerful EMFs. For example, some early studies linked electrical linemen, cable splicers, and others who work around electricity regularly, with higher rates of diseases such as leukemia, brain cancer, and breast cancer.


However, there are cases where the strength of the EMFs, and the duration of exposure, has been far less—yet certain people still appear to have been negatively affected. For example, researchers appear to have found an increased rate of miscarriage in women who sleep under electric blankets (especially electric blankets manufactured before 1987), or on electrically heated waterbeds. And, an early Swedish study seemed to indicate that children, who are routinely exposed to EMFs at home, have increased rates of leukemia, if the EMFs are strong enough.

Electromagnetic Sensitivity
Interestingly, there is a segment of the general population that appears to be particularly sensitive (hypersensitive) to EMFs. Such people are often termed electromagnetically sensitive and they are said to have a condition called Electromagnetic Sensitivity (ES). If these individuals are in an area where strong EMFs are present, they may respond with any number of symptoms, most being skin or neurological in nature. Adverse effects may include prickling skin sensations, dry eyes, light sensitivity, joint pain, headache, fatigue, memory loss, heart palpitations, uneasiness, hearing unusual noises, mental confusion, or loss of balance, among others. A few individuals with ES may temporarily lose much of their muscle control and collapse. In other cases, they may have seizures.

As it turns out, it appears that ES is probably less common than Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). Unfortunately, some persons have both conditions. In fact, it seems that most of the people who acquired ES either already had MCS, were computer users, and/or have had long, intense exposures to EMFs.

For those that do have ES, it can make their lives very challenging. Therefore, they may want to join a support group. One such national support and advocacy group is the Electrical Sensitivity Network (ESN). This particular organization has an informative internet website and publishes the bimonthly Electrosensitivity Newsletter. To learn more, contact ESN directly. In addition, a helpful manual for those with ES is The Electrical Sensitivity Handbook: How Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) are Making People Sick by Lucinda Grant.
EMF Health-Effect Theories and Research
Despite studies that show a link between EMF exposure and negative health effects, and despite the overt and varied symptoms displayed by electromagnetically sensitive persons, surprisingly, it’s still not known how EMF electricity could possibly cause ill health. After all, this type of electricity is nonionizing. Therefore, it’s supposedly incapable of causing tissue-damaging free-radical chain reactions. So, what could explain the correlation?
EMF Symptom Theories
In actuality, several theories have been proposed concerning EMFs as a cause of illness. One explanation is that EMFs disrupt the signals that normally cross cell membranes. It’s believed that this “short circuiting” could actually change the normal action of hormones and antibodies—and perhaps even activate certain cancer-inciting molecules.

Another theory is that magnetic fields hinder the deactivation of free radicals within the body. Normally, there are mechanisms in the body to squelch free-radical chain reactions, thus preventing them from continuing long enough to cause severe tissue damage. However, if the body’s natural free-radical defense system is prevented from functioning correctly, any free radicals present will remain reactive (and destructive) for longer periods of time. As a result, greater tissue damage would inevitably take place.

A third theory as to how EMFs could adversely affect human beings is that they restrict the normal production of melatonin in the body. This is important because melatonin (a hormone that is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain) regulates our body’s biorhythms (regular cycles of bodily function) and melatonin has anti-malignancy properties. When lesser amounts than normal are present within the body, cancer (among other conditions) can be more likely to develop.
EMF Research
Because of the controversy concerning EMFs (particularly their effects on humans), there’s still on-going research taking place in various countries around the world. In the United States, a number of the larger studies were sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), an organization funded by electric utilities. Founded in 1973, EPRI’s purpose is “to develop and manage research programs for the energy industry and their customers.” Free single copies of the EPRI Resource Paper on EMFs are available to non-profit, government, and educational organizations. However, they are not provided to private individuals. You may be able to obtain a copy through your local electricity utility.

Of course, other studies sponsored by other groups have also been done, and some are currently being undertaken, too. For example, a wide spectrum of studies on EMFs have been, or are currently being, sponsored by the World Health Organization and U.S. federal agencies including the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense, and the Department of Energy, among others.

By the way, more information on EMF health-related studies may be listed at the Web site of the National Institute of Environmental Health (EMF Rapid Information).
Dealing With Electromagnetic Fields
This section will discuss where high levels of EMFs can often be found in homes and what you can do to minimize any health risks to you and your family.
EMFs in Your Home
So, what’s a safe EMF exposure level? And where am I likely to find high-strength EMF sources in my home? Those are topics that will be discussed below.
Safe EMF Exposure Levels
How strong does an EMF need to be for you to be concerned? At this time, most researchers feel that a magnetic-field strength of less than 3 milligauss (mG) should pose little health risk for most people. (A Gauss is a unit of magnetic-field measurement; a milligauss is 1/1000th of a Gauss.) However, there is a very vocal minority who strongly believe that a safe level is less than 1 mG. Again, there’s not a clear cut answer with this controversial subject. But both sides agree that, if there is a risk, it would involve long-term exposure. In other words, you shouldn’t be concerned about relatively brief exposures to stronger field strengths—only if you are exposed to them for days, weeks, or months at a time. Of course, if you have Electromagnetic Sensitivity (ES), you may need to minimize your exposure to all EMFs.

Fortunately, so far the data shows that the average room in an American home has an EMF background intensity about 0.5 mG. A typical kitchen has an average that’s a little higher at 0.7 mG. These averages are below the levels considered unsafe by most “experts.” However, these are only average background intensities. There are areas in virtually all houses where more-intense EMFs can be found, such as around certain types of electrical devices and appliances. These sites of stronger EMFs are often called electromagnetic hot spots.
EMF Hotspots in Homes
As was just noted, there are certain situations, and particular areas, in most homes where more intense EMFs will exist—electromagnetic hot spots. Often this is due to certain kinds of wiring patterns. For example transformers and electric motors utilize wires that are wrapped tightly in coils, something that leads to strong EMFs. Of course, both transformers and electric motors are used in a variety of household electrical devices. In addition, other wiring patterns—such as those used in pre-1987 electric blankets and in the floors or ceilings of homes using radiant electric heat—also result in strong EMF levels.

Some EMF hot spots are temporary, such as the strong EMFs generated by using an electric hair dryer. Others are ongoing, such as the strong EMFs surrounding an electric power panel. By the way, it should be mentioned here that some individuals are worried that metal building materials such as aluminum siding or steel framing can create EMFs in their homes. In reality, however, this does not appear to be a significant cause for concern.

In the sections that follow, some of the more common sources of strong EMFs are listed and discussed.
Electric Appliances and Heating Systems
Because electrical appliances create EMFs when they’re operating, and because some of these fields can be relatively strong, research was sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) in the early 1990s to document the specific EMF levels surrounding them. While many newer appliances now have lower EMF readings than those tested several years ago, the EPRI findings are interesting nevertheless.

For example, it was found that an average refrigerator, when measured 10 1/2" away, had an EMF level of 2.6 mG. Interestingly, at that time, the worst refrigerator (at least in terms of EMFs) had an amazingly high magnetic field strength of 15.7 mG, while the best refrigerator registered a mere 0.1 mG (all measurements were taken at the same 10 1/2"). Of course, in all other categories of electric appliances measured, there was also a wide range of readings—some much higher than the average level, others somewhat below it. (Actually, the EPRI results don’t technically refer to an “average” figure, instead they refer to the median, or the statistically middle figure.)

As it turns out, EPRI research found that the median magnetic-field strength for electric ranges was 9 mG at 10 1/2". For fluorescent-light fixtures the reading was 5.9 mG at this same distance, and for analog (nonelectronic) clocks it was 0.8 mG. The median for television sets was 7 mG at 10 1/2". For microwave ovens at 10 1/2" the median measurement was a whopping 36.9 mG (Note: this is a measurement of magnetic-field strength, not microwave radiation). This same research revealed that dimmer switches, electric blankets (especially blankets manufactured before the late 1980s), and electric appliances containing motors generally recorded relatively strong EMF readings as well.

One of EPRI’s higher EMF measurements was for electric radiant heating systems that are typically installed either in ceilings or floors. At 10 1/2", the median reading for such a system was 26.6 mG. Furthermore, electric baseboard heaters also usually had high EMF readings.
House Wiring Practices
Besides electrical appliances and heaters, there can be high-strength EMFs generated in homes simply due to certain electrical wiring practices. Some of these practices are found routinely, even though they’re in violation of electrical codes. Various wiring practices that are responsible for high-strength EMFs are discussed in the sections below.
Knob and Tube Wiring
Today, most modern electrical home wiring is done with a single cable made up of an insulated black wire (the hot wire), an insulated white wire (the neutral wire), and an uninsulated ground wire. Fortunately, as long as the hot and the neutral wires remain close together, they tend to cancel out each other’s magnetic fields. If the hot and neutral wires are twisted around each other, they’ll neutralize each others fields even more. (Note: The ground wire doesn’t normally carry any current, so theoretically, it shouldn’t produce any fields).

However, years ago home wiring was done much differently. Instead of having the hot and neutral wires bundled together in a single cable, separate individual wires were run from the main fuse box to the various circuits. These wires were installed about a foot apart and were either supported on ceramic insulators called knobs or run through ceramic insulators called tubes. Unfortunately, because of the 12" distance between the wires, the fields didn’t neutralize each other, so this type of wiring produced relatively high EMF levels. By the way, the wider the hot and neutral wires are separated, the less the magnetic fields can interact to cancel each other out. This is one of the reasons why high field strengths are routinely measured near outdoor power lines that have their individual wires so widely separated from each other.
Cables Carrying High Levels of Electric Current
As was mentioned earlier, the more electric current a wire carries, the stronger the magnetic field will be surrounding that wire. So, the main power cable running between a home’s electric meter and the power panel generates a higher EMF level than the smaller wires running from the power panel to the various room receptacles. Not unexpectedly, the wires that run to the electric range or to an electric baseboard heater will produce EMF strengths somewhere in between those of the main power cable and the smaller wires—because they carry less current than the main cable but more than the smaller wires.
Grounding Problems
Perhaps one of the more unsuspected sources of EMFs in homes is from certain grounding practices. In grounding, a connection is made between an electric circuit (or electrical device) and the ground itself (the earth) which is capable of conducting away electric current. Grounding is very necessary for safety reasons; in fact, all building codes require that it be done. And, if done correctly, grounding generally doesn’t cause any problems.

How is grounding actually done? In practice, at the point where the main electric power cable enters a home, the main ground wire is connected to a metal rod which has been driven 8–10' into the soil. However, the main ground wire might also be connected to a metal water pipe (which connects to the piping outdoors that is buried in the soil). Commonly, cable TV lines and telephone lines are grounded in similar ways. Unfortunately, in some cases of water-pipe grounding, the home’s entire plumbing system can end up becoming its own complete electrical circuit, a circuit capable of producing EMFs.

To make matters worse, these unplanned electrical circuits in metal water pipes can, in some cases, be transferred to neighboring homes. In fact, sometimes whole neighborhoods can be interconnected in this way. So, an EMF problem in one house can travel through metal plumbing lines and cause problems in several other houses. This situation can also occasionally happen with homes connected to the same TV cable, or gas main. In any case, these unintentional multi-home interconnections provide easy pathways for the transfer of EMFs from one house to another.

There are a variety of other ways that you can get stronger-than-normal EMFs in a home wiring system, and some also involve grounding practices. However, it’s important to note that good electrical wiring practice (as described by the National Electrical Code), will not result in strong EMFs in water pipes. It’s also important to note that grounding is important, so you shouldn’t disconnect your ground wires because you are afraid of EMFs. If you suspect a problem, you should have it checked out by a qualified electrician.
Power Panels
Power panels are notorious EMF hot spots. Here’s why. All the cables that enter a power panel are made up of 3 or 4 individual wires. The individual wires are separated from each other only by insulation (so they don’t short out). In most cases the individual wires in each cable are close enough to each other that they neutralize the magnetic fields. Then, inside the power panel, the individual wires are run to different places—therefore they no longer neutralize each other’s magnetic fields. For example, the hot wires are run to individual circuit breakers (or fuses) and the neutral wires are connected together at a common connector called a busbar. At the same time, the ground wires are connected together at another, separate busbar. Because so many hot and neutral wires are separated, and because there are so many live electrical wires in one place, the magnetic-field strength can be high at a power panel.
Power Line Problems
Sometimes strong EMF levels in houses are not generated by the electricity running within the home itself. As it turns out, houses that are close to high-voltage power lines, or that are close to electric-power substations, often have higher-than-average EMF background readings. These high ambient EMF levels can occur because power lines not only carry a great deal of current, but their wires are widely separated from each other. On the other hand, electrical substations contain transformers that are made up of many wires wound together. And, as was mentioned earlier, both situations are commonly associated with strong EMFs.
Lowering EMF Risks in Homes
In reality, it can be very difficult, almost impossible, to completely avoid having at least some relatively strong electromagnetic fields in your home. However, there are a number of simple precautions you can take to reduce any potential health risks that may be associated with them.

In the following sections, you’ll learn how to minimize any potential health problems by either reducing the strength of the field, or by spending less time near strong EMF sources (this is often easier to do). Of course, those people who are electromagnetically sensitive will have to take more extreme measures to ensure their well being.
Measuring EMF Levels in Homes
Because of different electrical wiring practices, different appliances, different grounding techniques, and different locales (nearness to substations, etc.), every home’s EMF situation is unique. Therefore, to determine what EMF problems may exist in your home—if any—you’ll need to actually measure the EMFs. Fortunately, this is a fairly simple and straight forward task you can often perform yourself. All you need is a gauss meter, which is a device that’s designed to measure magnetic fields. As you may recall, it’s believed by most experts that a level below 1–3 milligauss (mG) is acceptable for long-term exposures to EMFs.

Before you purchase a gauss meter, first decide how accurate a measurement you need, or want. As it turns out, some meters only have small indicator lights that provide you with either a “Safe” or “Unsafe” reading. Obviously, this limited data may be far too vague for many individuals.

However, several kinds of more accurate gauss meters are available. The most sophisticated models will obviously have the most accuracy. As might expect, the more precise a gauss meters is, the more it will cost. Fortunately, for residential use, meters that have an accuracy of plus-or-minus 25% are popular and reasonably priced. While most electrical engineers wouldn’t consider plus-or-minus 25% very accurate at all, these meters are usually quite acceptable for most homeowners.

If you decide to purchase your own gauss meter, you may be able to find them locally at electrical supply stores or on the Internet. If, on the other hand, you’d prefer to hire a professional to do the testing for you, you may want to contact National Electromagnetic Field Testing to find out is there is an independent EMF tester in your locale.

By the way, if you’re concerned about EMFs generated by nearby high-voltage electric power lines, transformers, and substations, you should consider contacting your local electric utility. In many cases they will be willing to come to your home and measure the EMF level resulting from their equipment. This is often done at no or little charge. However, they usually won’t perform any measurements inside your home and, most likely, they won’t feel that any level of EMF exposure is unsafe.

Understanding EMF Strength, Distance, and Duration

It’s unlikely that most people could, or would, rid their homes of all electrical appliances and devices—just because they happen to emit high levels of EMFs. However, you should keep in mind that just because high EMF readings exist in your house, it doesn’t mean they’re necessarily cause for alarm. Negative health problems resulting from EMFs are going to depend on three factors: 1) the strength of the field, 2) the length of exposure, and 3) your particular susceptibility. You should also keep in mind that certain parts of your body are likely to be more sensitive to the potential negative effects of EMFs than others. For example, having your head or reproductive organs subjected to strong EMFs is probably more serious than, say, exposing your feet.

Importantly, the strength of a problematic EMF can often become acceptable by simply adding some distance between you and the EMF source. For example, a magnetic field might be very strong only 1–2" away from where it originates. But at 3' away, it could easily be at a level generally considered safe. For example, an electrical baseboard heater installed near your bed’s headboard might have an EMF reading of 20 mG directly next to it. But the EMF reading might be only 1 mG near your pillow, just a few feet away. Therefore, if you routinely slept in this particular bed, you would be exposed to EMFs regularly, but at a reasonably safe level. However, if you were to sleep on the floor with your head just a few inches away from the heater, the EMF reading now near your pillow might be 5–10 mG—not considered a safe level. As it turns out, the strength of most EMF fields from electrical appliances in homes decreases very quickly with distance, so much so, that safer fields often exist only 2–3' away from nearly all appliances. So, one simple way to minimize your risk is to make sure there are no EMF hot spots that are close to areas where you spend a lot of time. For example, you might move your favorite reading chair a little further away from your main electrical power panel.

Of course, the actual duration of EMF exposure is also very significant in determining your risk. This simply means the length of time you’re in the presence of high-strength EMFs. Obviously, a few seconds or a few minutes—even an hour or so—of strong EMF exposure is not nearly as serious as days, months, or years of exposure at the same high level. Therefore, although a portable electric shaver or hair blow dryer might generate very strong EMFs (perhaps over 100 mG), and your head is very close to them while they’re operating, you only use them for a few minutes at a time. Because the duration is quite short, most researchers believe that the EMF dangers posed by shavers and blow dryers, used in a conventional manner, is probably not very great. Of course, if you work in a hair salon and spend many hours every day using a blow dryer as a professional hair stylist, your EMF risk would be somewhat greater.
Specific EMF Reduction Strategies
There are several specific strategies you can take to minimize your risk from certain electromagnetic fields in your home. Some of these are detailed in the sections below.
Coping with EMFs from Appliances and Heating Systems
As has been noted, increasing the distance from an EMF source lowers your risk. If your television or microwave oven have strong EMFs, for example, you could simply increase the distance between you and them while they’re operating. Of course, you might choose to replace some of your older electrical appliances with newer models having lower field strengths. As it turns out, in the last few years, many companies have begun designing their electrical products so that they generate less intense EMFs than they did previously. This is particularly true with computer monitors, television sets, and electric blankets.

However, as an alternative to buying a new replacement appliance, in some cases you might consider purchasing EMF reduction equipment. These can include special EMF blocking shields and EMF wave neutralizers for computers. But it can include much more. Companies such as Less EMF Inc., handle a whole array of products to minimize EMF exposures. This includes everything from EMF-reduction foil, to special paints, to anti-EMF clothing, and more.

Of course, instead of replacing certain electrical appliances and devices with new versions, or modifying them in some way to reduce your EMF exposure, you might simply decide to buy nonelectric substitutes. Obviously, these would create no EMFs at all. For instance, you could purchase a windup alarm clock to use in place of your bedroom’s electronic clock radio. You might also buy a wire whisk to use instead of a hand-held electric mixer. And so on. Interestingly, the Less EMF Inc. Web site offers several such items including a non-electric doorbell, food processor, and clock. You should be able to find local stores that will also have some non-electric alternatives that you could purchase.

If your waterbed heater gives off high levels of EMFs, you might try turning it off whenever you’re in bed, then turn it back on during the day when you’re not in bed. This will usually keep the waterbed at a comfortable temperature, yet significantly reduce your EMF exposure risks. You might also want to try the EMF bed shielding that is available from various sources.

Unfortunately, if your home has loop-style radiant electric heating cables in its ceilings or floors that emit strong EMFs, this may be a situation that doesn’t have a simple, inexpensive solution. If you’re truly concerned about these fields, you may have no choice but to shut your radiant heat off and install some other type of heating equipment.

Incidentally, if you feel that you’re electromagnetically sensitive, you might want to shut off all the electric power to your bedroom at night. This can often be done by switching off the appropriate circuit breaker in your electric power panel. If you decide to do this, be sure your smoke detector, refrigerator, or freezer aren’t on the same circuit or they will be off all night as well! If you’re electrically sensitive you’ll want to limit the number and use of all types of electric appliances and devices throughout your home.
Wiring and Grounding Precautions
There are a number of steps that can be taken when electrical wiring and grounding situations are associated with higher-than-normal electromagnetic fields. Some of these are explained below.
New Construction
If you’re planning to construct a new house, or add an addition, there are a number of relatively easy precautions that can be taken to minimize your exposure to EMFs as far as wiring and grounding are concerned. One, that has often been suggested, is to request that twisted electric cable be used. However, it should be pointed out that modern wiring cables have the hot and neutral wires so close together that the fields tend to neutralize each other quite well. Twisted cable will reduce the fields further, but it probably won’t make a significant difference in lowering your overall EMF exposure. Because most of the wiring currently available isn’t pre-twisted, your electrician will have to twist the cables as he (or she) installs them.

Something that can make a real difference in reducing your exposure to strong field strengths is to specify that you want the electric wires carrying strong currents installed so they won’t be located in areas of your house where you plan to spend a great deal of time. Such wires would include the main electric cable that runs from the electric meter to your power panel, and the wires that run from the power panel to things like your electric range, electric water heater, and electric heaters. These particular wires should be routed in such a way that they won’t pass near your bed or favorite reading chair, etc.
Existing Homes
If your existing home has its electrical system grounded to your metal water pipes, you can use a gauss meter to see if there are any strong EMFs around the pipes. If there are, you’ll want to discuss the situation with a licensed electrician (to find one, check your classified telephone book). There are ways to remedy such a situation, however, under no circumstances should you unhook a ground wire because of EMF fears—proper grounding is extremely important and is required by building codes. Problems involving EMFs and grounding systems, and some solutions, was discussed in an article titled “EMFs Run Aground” in the August 21, 1993 issue of Science News (Vol. 144, pp. 124–7). Your local library may have a copy.

Unfortunately, sometimes in existing homes, there isn’t a readily obvious cause for mysteriously high EMF levels. In fact, in some cases, it’s going to take some detective work to track down precisely where an EMF problem originates. Sadly, most home inspectors and licensed electricians simply aren’t trained to locate EMF problems, especially unusual ones. However, if you find a home inspector or electrician who is willing to help you, the book, Tracing EMFs in Building Wiring and Grounding by Karl Riley contains very good, solid information that he (or she) can use. Remember, never to tamper with your electrical system yourself without proper training.

It should also be noted that perhaps a member at National Electromagnetic Field Testing, may be helpful. This organization will provide you with the names of independent EMF testing professionals in your area.
Power Panel Precautions
As has already been noted, main electrical power panels (both fuse boxes and circuit-breaker boxes) are generally surrounded by strong electromagnetic fields. As a result, it’s been suggested by certain experts that you should never locate your home’s power panel near where you and your family spend a great deal of time. For example, a basement utility room would be a better location (EMF-wise) for your power panel than your family room. Of course, in new-home construction, you can plan the placement of your power panel ahead of time, but in an existing home it’s already in place.

It’s important to remember that, even if the power panel is in a little-used room, you’ll still need to consider its potential EMF effects. This is because magnetic fields can easily extend through most walls. Therefore, you need to consider what is on the opposite side of the wall that the power panel is mounted on. For example, your power panel might be located on a utility-room wall, but your bedroom might be on the other side of that wall. If that’s the case, you wouldn’t want to place your bed against that same wall. Instead, it would be best to have the bed on the other side of the room, further away from the power panel.
Coping with Outdoor Problems
If you suspect that your building site has a high background EMF level, you’ll want to test the area before any construction begins. If you find high-strength fields, it may be possible to avoid them by relocating the house on the lot. Remember, it’s wise to build at some distance (500'-1,000') from high voltage power lines or substations, if at all possible. Of course, you should also be concerned about ground-level or pole-mounted transformers because they, too, can emit high-strength fields. If you can’t find a suitable safe building location, you may want to consider purchasing a different building site.

If you have an existing home with high EMF levels due to a nearby electrical substation or a high-voltage power line, you’ll need to try other strategies. One approach is to use your rooms differently than you have been. For example, you might make your den into a dining room and your dining room into the den, or simply rearrange your furniture. The goal is to create living areas where you’ll spend most of your time that have low field strengths. Unfortunately, if it turns out that every room within your house has strong background EMFs due to nearby power lines, or an electrical substation, there may not be much you can do to reduce your risk—that is, except to move somewhere else.
Further EMF Information
To learn more about electromagnetic fields, there are certainly many publications on the subject now available. Besides those already mentioned in this book, following are several more for you to consider.

A good book on EMFs is Warning: The Electricity Around You May Be Hazardous To Your Health by Ellen Sugarman. In addition, a very large selection of EMF-related books are handled by Less EMF Inc. Of course, other books and periodical articles on EMFs are available at most local libraries and bookstores. You may also wish to access the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (EMF Rapid Information Web site ).

An easy-to-understand 67-page booklet that’s helpful is Questions and Answers About Electric and Magnetic Fields Associated with the Use of Electric Power (January 1995) by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the U.S. Department of Energy. It’s available on-line from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (EMF Rapid Information Web site ).

In addition, you may want to contact the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to see what booklets they currently offer.

(Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent those of The Healthy House Institute, LLC.)



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The EMF Controversy:  Created on May 28th, 2007.  Last Modified on February 27th, 2011


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