History of Electrosensitivity

The symptoms of electrosensitivity were first recognised in radio workers in 1932. During the 1940s and 1950s the symptoms of e
lectrosensitivity  became relatively well known among radar workers and those in the electricity industry. In 1958 the USSR (Russia) recognised these low-level biological effects and adopted non-thermal limits. By the early 1960s the condition was well known in several eastern European countries and was described in detail by Russian and Polish medical studies.

From the 1950s, the military used low-level e
lectromagnetic radiation in electronic warfare. From 1953 the USSR beamed microwaves at the US embassy in Moscow at 1,000 to 240,000 microWatts/meter squared. In 1965 Koslov, of the USA's Advanced Research Projects Agency, admitted that the Soviets had hundreds of studies showing low-level radio frequency bio-effects, such as "excessive fatigue, coordination loss, changes in blood pressure, in heart rate, biochemical changes in the blood, and some loss of sensory ability". In 1976 the US fitted aluminium screening to the windows of their Moscow embassy, to protect against non-thermal microwave health effects, and In 1977 the US Navy held a secret conference on "undesirable electromagnetic effects". The US used microwaves against women protestors at Greenham Common in the UK in the 1980s. During recent wars in places like Iraq some troops have been withdrawn when they have begun to suffer from symptoms of electrosensitivity. Much of the protective screening material used by people with electrosensitivity to shield them from radiation from cellphones and towers is made for the military. Most armies now deploy electronic warfare units which aim to create electrosensitivity symptoms in the enemy to confuse or debilitate them, while some governments have covertly deployed similar devices on parts of their population. 

In 1961 Frey discovered that microwaves can cause tinnitus or 'microwave hearing'. In 1970 Bawing identified a mechanism in calcium flux and in 1975 non-linearity or 'window effects', while also in 1975 Frey proposed a breach of the Blood Brain Barrier, confirmed in 1977. Meanwhile a key publication of 1960 was "The Biologic Action of Ultra High Frequencies" by Levitas and Gordon, (translated by the US Army Ordinance Missile Command office in 1962). This stated that "there is incontrovertible evidence confirming the necessity of taking the most serious measures of protection" based on the extensive evidence collected the previous decade showing the usual acute effects from low-level exposure, such as headaches, dizziness and depression, but also functional changes in the central nervous system. By 1964 Czerski and others were able to describe in detail the 'Microwave Syndrome'. In 1973 the World Health Orgazination held a conference in Warsaw to discuss the Health Hazards of Microwave Radiation, which recommended study of cumulative and delayed effects. The pioneer of microwave research since the early 1950s, Professor Zinaida Gordon, said that it was absolutely certain that microwaves had biological effects at levels way below heating. Dr Maria Sadcikova, in perhaps the most significant paper at the conference, showed evidence from 1,380 subjects that those exposed to microwaves had increased neurological complaints, such as heaviness of the head, fatigue, irritability, anxiety, insomnia and partial memory loss, in addition to cardiovascular symptoms such as a slow heartbeat, and reduced blood pressure and ventricular capacity. This confirmed earlier Soviet studies showing the clinical picture of microwave sickness as a complex of neurological and vascular disturbances, including crises of cerebral and coronary insufficiency. She had established that neurological complaints characterised the initial stages, and cardiovascular the more advanced stages, with symptom severity increasing with continued exposure, or stabilising when exposure ceased. From the 1960s, after the US discovered microwaves at its Moscow embassy, the US also undertook research into electrosensitivity in its Project Pandora. In 1974 this discovered one of the key mechanisms, calcium flux. In 1979 power lines were linked with suicides by Reichmanis, and with childhood leukemia by Wertheimer, over a century after Beard described adverse effects among telegraph workers in 1868 and nearly 200 hundred years after Galvani showed wireless non-thermal radiation effects on frogs' muscles in 1791.


Since computers became common in the 1970s with their Visual Display Units, and cellphones were introduced in the early 1980s, electrosensitivity has spread from being an occupational condition into one affecting the general population.  In Sweden, an early home of the cellphone industry, many people became electrosensitive, such as 18 out of 20 in a research group at Ellemtel, part of Ericsson, in the late 1980s. FEB, the Swedish Association for the ElectroHyperSensitive, was founded in 1987 with 10 members and rapidly grew to several thousand. In the USA electrosensitivity was legally recognised in a Workers' Compensation Board case in 1982, when the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division ruled in favour of "the existence of a disease identified as 'microwave or radiation sickness'". This concerned Samuel Yannon, who worked on radio frequency transmitters in the Empire State Building for 14 years until 1968 when, aged 57, he suffered from loss of hearing, vision, coordination, memory and weight, leading to his death in 1974. In 1989 effects on melatonin and the memory were discovered, and in 1995-96 links with Alzheimer's, ALS and Non-Hodgkinson's lymphoma. Court cases for brain tumours caused by cellphones led to a health study in the 1990s which found DNA breaks, the precursors of cancer, in 1994. In the 1990s the US Army returned to the earlier electrosensitivity studies of Project Pandora, trying to reduce sickness among troops exposed to EM radiation in the Gulf Wars.


In 2000 the Nordic Council of Ministers accepted the reality of electrosensitivity or 'el-allergy' and classified it as ICD-10.R.68.8. In 2001 the World Health Organization's agency IARC classified non-thermal Extremely Low Frequency radiation as a 2B possible cancer agent, while in 2002 another WHO agency, ICNIRP, warned governments that vulnerable sub-groups of the population, such as children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems, needed protection at non-thermal levels below the ICNIRP's heating-only limits. In 2005 the WHO accepted that electrosensitivity symptoms are 'real' and can be 'disabling', although it claimed it was unable to assess the cause, but in 2007 declared that electrosensitivity was not a 'known psychological disorder', invalidating the psychological hypothesis still held by a few governments. Also in 2007 the European Environment Agency called for non-thermal limits in place of ICNIRP's heating limits, and in 2009 the European Parliament voted that ICNIRP's heating-only limits were 'obsolete' and that electrosensitivity should be recognised as a disability, just as Sweden had accepted it as a functional disability in 2002. In 2002 the USA's Access Board recognised electrosensitivity, as did NIOSH in 2007. From 2007 electrosensitivity symptoms in workers forced libraries in Paris, France, to remove WiFi to protect their employees. In 2008 the scientific press reckoned that the majority of international scientists working in this area now accepted the adverse effects of electromagnetic exposure at non-thermal levels.


In 2011 the World Health Organization's agency IARC recognised non-thermal radio frequency radiation as a 2B possible cancer agent. The same year a study by McCarty et al. showed sub-conscious non-linear effects on the autonomic nervous system in an electrosensitive person, while other studies showed changes in heart rate variability, the brain, ACTH, and cortisol, along with cryptochrome magnetosensitivity. New diagnostic techniques for electrosensitivity, such as cerebral blood perfusion scans, were introduced. These objective tests rendered inadequate earlier flawed conscious psychological provocation tests showing Electrophobia, based on a linear model involving only conscious symtpoms and without sufficient objective data related to the autonomic nervous systems. In 2012 the Austrian Medical Association published its protocol for electrosensitivity. In 2012 the Italian supreme court accepted non-thermal harm in a brain tumour case. In 2013 workers in Australia and the UK were awarded compensation for loss of employment following electrosensitivity symptoms. Also in 2013 the WHO's EMF Project appealed for help to elucidate evidence of the physiological effects of electromagnetic exposure, while Health Canada reviewed evidence and the FCC in the USA was instructed to review its safety guidelines in the light of new evidence. New national groups to support the growing numbers of people suffering from electrosensitivity have been established world-wide, and there are now said to be over 30 such groups. Other groups have been active in seeking 'white zones', free from man-made electromagnetic radiation, for those who are so sensitive that they can no longer live in urban or some rural areas. Growing numbers of governments are now warning that cellphone users should limit the length of their calls and avoid holding the cellphone close to the head or other parts of the body. Some governments are beginning to ban or advise against children or schools allowing WiFi or cellphones, while some parents have been unable to educate their children within school where the child is electrosensitive and the school has WiFi and cellphones. Some scientists estimate that the numbers of people with electrosensitivity will continue to rise if the rate of increase in man-made electromagnetic radiation continues to rise, with perhaps 10-50% of the population suffering from electrosensitivity by 2035-2060. In 2015-16 a series of studies confirmed the existence of real physical EHS along with objective markers used in its diagnosis in international centres dealing with hundreds of people with real EHS. In contrast, studies confirmed that the different psychological condition of Electrophobia should not be confused with real EHS, as is still done by some minority viewpoint groups such as the authors of the WHO Backgrounder 296 of 2005. Wireless smart meters have been shown to cause both EHS specific symptoms and EHS itself. In 2016 the international EUROPAEM EMF Guidelines provided a safety limit for sensitive people at 0.006 V/m (0.1 uW/m2), with IGNIR providing a practical application in 2018. Meanwhile the old heating hypothesis of harm, still used by the ICNIRP and the WHO, has been further invalidated, with its few remaining exponents claiming that, even where no heat change is measurable and yet biological effects have been established,  there must be some 'hidden' source of heat. According to recent studies and the leading experts, tumor-promotion in animals at non-thermal levels and other cancer outcomes, including human brain tumors, have now been established in sufficient studies to require both ELF and RF exposures to be upgraded to class 2A probable, or 1 certain, human carcinogens. The NPT and Ramazzini studies of 2018 confirmed without any doubt that RF radiation causes cancer at levels below ICNIRP's short-term heating guidelines, rendering ICNIRP heating guidelines useless for human and wildlife protection. In 2017 the US DARPA began further studies into electrosensitivity, building on Project Pandora from the 1960s, by looking at cellular EM sensitivity and communication in project RadioBio. This led to the Calltech team finding that some, but not all, human brains show reaction in the alpha band frequency to magnetic fields at the intensity of, or below, the earth's field, as do animals to enable their geomagnetic navigation. This led to DARPA commissioning another electrosensitivity project, ICEMAN, started in 2020, to quantify the effects of RF and MFs on pilots in cockpits. Other studies have confirmed human electromagnetic sensitivity, including through mechanisms such as cryptochromes, while numerous large-scale studies have shown clear neurological and cardiovascular effects correlated with geomagnetic disturbances, meaning that no informed scientist now doubts that all humans are electrosensitive at subconscious levels, with some people electrosensitive at conscious levels too.  


In 2021 the U.S. Appeal Court required the FCC to evaluate non-thermal effects, which include electrosensitivity. The FCC had assessed only thermal effects in its restatement of its 1996 guidelines in 2019.

A Dutch appeal court recognized a person with EHS as an interested party in the proposed siting of a cell phone tower nearby.   

A few studies:

Standard older collections, 1960s to 1980s, including studies on Elecrosensitivity (Microwave Sickness):

The word "Electrosensitive":

An early recorded use of the word "Electrosensitive" was in 1910.

  • Frank Lewis Dyer & Thomas Commerford Martin: "Edison: His Life and Inventions" volume 1, (New York & London: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1910). [digital copy]
    page 144:

    “and also suggested numerous electrosensitive chemicals for the receivers”

The word "electrosensitive" was in use in published scientific journals by 1971:

  • Manaka S, Kitamura K, Fukushima T, Hirakawa K: [Muscle contraction headache. 1. Special reference to the block of most electrosensitive point of craniocervical muscles] No To Shinkei. (1971) 23(3):233-239. Japanese. PMID: 5107815.
    "the block of most electrosensitive point of craniocervical muscles"

The word "Electrosensitivity":

The word "Electrosensitivity" was in use by 1967:

  • Suga N: “Electrosensitivity of canal and free neuromast organs in a gymnotid electric fish” J Comp Neurol. (1967) 131(4):453-458. PMID: 5582290.

    "Electrosensitivity of canal and free neuromast organs"

It was applied to people who are sensitive to man-made electromagnetic energy by 1999:

  • Johansson O et al.: "A case of extreme and general cutaneous light sensitivity in combination with so-called 'screen dermatitis' and 'electrosensitivity' - a successful rehabilitation after vitamin A treatment - a case report" J Aust Coll Nutr & Env Med. (1999). Abstract.

    "light sensitivity in combination with ... 'electrosensitivity'"

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