Current science on Electromagnetic Sensitivity: an overview

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1. Introduction
The weight of evidence since 2008 among most involved scientists has accepted human sensitivity to non-thermal electromagnetic exposure. Since 1932 there has accumulated much ‘convincing’ and ‘consistent’ scientific evidence for Electromagnetic Sensitivity and its many established symptoms and causes. Nevertheless there are also some outstanding uncertainties, especially about the full range and variability of biological and genetic mechanisms involved, and the nature, development and extent of ‘hyper’ sensitivity.

(a) Majority viewpoint now accepts non-thermal adverse effects
In 2011 the vast majority of involved scientists, voting 28 to 2 at the IARC meeting, classified radio waves as a 2B human carcinogen caused by non-thermal effects. Since then, the medical science has advanced significantly, with many hundreds of scientific studies showing adverse health effects, including Electromagnetic Sensitivity, at non-thermal levels.

(b) Minority viewpoint remains skeptical
A small number of scientists, mainly physicists and those linked with the radio industry and its regulators, such as some members of the ICNIRP and WHO EMF Project, still cling to the long invalidated hypothesis of no harm. A few have recently switched to accepting harm but claiming it is relatively minor harm or of short duration and therefore does not constitute a ‘health’ effect, despite this appearing to be in direct contradiction with the WHO’s basic principles on health.

2. Established Electromagnetic Sensitivity effects

  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms in the general population living within about 500m of cellphone towers.
    These are established by some 80% of scientific studies, according to reviews.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms in non-thermal electronic warfare.
    Non-thermal electronic warfare was first used in 1953 and is now a key component in much warfare and even civilian restraint.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptom of tinnitus.
    Tinnitus caused by electromagnetic exposure, also called ‘Microwave Hearing’, was established in 1962.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms in teenagers with high usage of cellphones.
    Teenage sensitivity symptoms have been established as a consistent outcome in a review of five different studies from 2013-14.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms in workers near MRI scanners.
    The strong magnetic fields in an MRI scanner can induce electric currents in a person moving through them, and thus cause typical electromagnetic sensitivity symptoms. This has been established as a consistent outcome among a few workers, according to many different medical studies.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms in people with a particular genetic composition or haplotype.
    Such people are almost 10 times more likely to suffer such symptoms compared with the rest of the population, according to a discovery in 2014. Similarly genetic factors have been shown to be associated with a raised incidence of leukemia.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms caused by geomagnetic events.
    These and similar occurrences have been established for several decades.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms have been established as associated with a number of objective markers.
    Such markers include: increased stress hormones, chronic dysregulation of the stress system, decreased melatonin, changed protein expression, changed glucose levels, reduced cerebral blood perfusion, reduced sleep markers, increased cancer risks, involuntary muscular effects, changes in heart rate variability, memory loss, cognitive impairment, increased depression and anxiety, delayed objective effects, postnatal outcomes, etc.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms related to calcium flux.
    Calcium flux across the cell membrane can be caused by non-thermal EM exposure. This mechanism can explain how low level electromagnetic exposure can induce biological changes in humans, animals and plants. 

3. Partially established Electromagnetic Sensitivity effects:

  • Blood-brain barrier disruption caused by non-thermal EM exposure.
  • DNA breakages and damage caused by non-thermal EM exposure.
  • Allergic or immune reactions, including asthma, multiple chemical sensitivities, wheat allergy, linked with, for instance, mast cell degranulation caused by non-thermal EM exposure and with the opening of the "tight junction barriers" as in the respiratory tracts, lungs, topmost layer of skin, and gut, resulting in the development of antibodies causing symptoms, including chronic fatigue.
  • Central and peripheral nervous systems reactions, including demyelination, caused by non-thermal EM exposure.
  • Hypothyroidism, caused by non-thermal EM exposure.

4. Areas needing more research as regards Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms:

  • Threshold for induction of Electromagnetic Hyper-Sensitivity.
  • Mechanism of induction of Electromagnetic Hyper-Sensitivity.
  • Role of geomagnetic fields and events on Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms.
  • Role of other environmental influences, including chemicals and heavy metals, on Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms.
  • Role of genetic factors on Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms. 

5. Established differences between physical Electromagnetic Sensitivity and psychological Electro-Phobia or ‘fear’ of electromagnetic exposure:

  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity is not a known psychological condition, whereas Electro-Phobia is an established psychological condition.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity is not a ‘Nocebo’ effect and does not require prior psychological conditioning, whereas Electro-Phobia can include a ‘Nocebo’ effect and does require prior psychological conditioning.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity and Electro-Phobia may both at some stage involve similar intermediate opioid and neural networks, but they have different underlying etiologies in the initial sensitization and causation.
  • Redmayne M et al.: “Redefining electrosensitivity: A new literature-supported model” (Electromagn Biol Med., 2021) 

6. Established recognition of Electromagnetic Sensitivity

  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms are recognized as being proved to be caused by electromagnetic exposure when they disappear in the absence of electromagnetic exposure, by the international Nordic Council of Ministers (2000).
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms are recognised as genuine and caused by EM exposure, by the majority of physicians and medical practitioners, according to some surveys.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms are recognized as real and potentially disabling by the WHO (2005).
  • Functional disability, as caused by Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms, is recognized by most interpretations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms are specifically recognized as a functional disability in several countries, such as Canada, Sweden and the USA.
  • Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms are recognized, sometimes under a different name, as sufficient for financial compensation for loss of earnings or for disability allowances by Australia, France, Spain, the UK, the USA etc.

7. Areas lacking agreement in some countries

  • The degree to which Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms can be counted as disabling health effects, thus generating equality and access issues, such as whether a commercial business or employer or public facility, like a school or hospital, can ignore equality of access caused by disabling Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms.
  • The degree to which Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms, if caused by exposures from a commercial or source permitted by government or regulators, can be subject to litigation on the part of the person harmed or denied full access, or on the behalf of a child suffering from such exposure.
  • The role of physicists, radio engineers, government employees and workers in the radio and electrical industry in determining the significance of biological and health outcomes for use by regulatory groups, as opposed to medical physicians who diagnose and treat people with Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms.
  • The reliability of evidence provided by groups with commercial or government interests as opposed to independent medical researchers.
  • The role of conscious psychological provocation tests with averaged outcomes, as opposed to the use of objective biological markers based on individual cases, for determining the causation of Electromagnetic Sensitivity symptoms.
  • The importance of the power of sufficient numbers of subjects for conscious psychological provocation tests and objective biological tests, if easily verifiable instances of extreme Electromagnetic Hyper-Sensitivity occur in less than 0.01% of the general population and more common but less severe cases in 3-4%.
  • The significance of data from researchers like Prof. Marshall (see Expert Viewpoints) suggesting that some 40% of US adults are sensitive to low levels of man-made electromagnetic exposure.

8. Progress in recognizing Electrosensitivity in specific countries:

France, to 2015:

"Electrosensibilité : d'importantes avancées dans la reconnaissance En France" (PRIARTEM, 2015)

9. Worst Ever Public Health Crisis:

  • Prof. Emeritus Martin Pall, who holds degrees in physics and biochemistry, when asked if using the phone frequently is dangerous, replied “Yes.”
  • Pall says it was just recently that science figured out how the invisible waves of radiation that wireless devices emanate have a biological effect.
  • When asked whether we've got a public health crisis here, he replied: “Yes. Absolutely. Worst one I've ever heard of.”

          “Ashland residents meet to discuss potential health risks of wireless radiation” (Boston 25 News TV, June 20 2017)

10. Prevalence

A review of studies suggests that:

  • 79% of the general population is subconsciously affected by electromagnetic radiation, in a dose-response relationship, as near cell-phone towers shown by objective biological markers and disturbed sleep;
  • 30% of the general population is consciously affected with mild specific EM symptoms by electromagnetic radiation, in a dose-response relationship;
  • 3.6% of the general population is consciously affected with moderate specific EM symptoms by electromagnetic radiation, in a non-linear relationship;
  • 1.2% of the general population is consciously affected with severe specific EM symptoms by electromagnetic radiation, in a non-linear relationship;
  • 0.65% of the general population is consciously affected with severe specific EM symptoms by electromagnetic radiation, in a non-linear relationship, to the extent that they are restricted in access to work if the employer fails to make the necessary adjustments.

For prevalence generally and restricted access to work:

  • Austria
    (Schröttner & Leitgeb, 2008)
    Phone survey among 460 people, 15-80 years (response rate=88%).
    3.5% defined themselves as electrosensitive.
    (Leitgeb & Schröttner, 2003)
    Study on 708 adults, 17-60 years (response rate=55.1%).
    4.2% of women and 1.7% of men were “electromagnetic sensible”, or able to perceive electric and electromagnetic exposure.
  • England
    (Eltiti et al., 2007a)
    Questionnaire survey among 20,000 people (response rate=18.2%).
    4% were considered sensitive to electric and magnetic fields.
  • Germany 
    (Schroeder, 2002)
    Phone survey among 2,406 individuals over 14 years (response rate=61.4%).
    6% were considered electrosensitive.
    Germany (Institut für angewandte Sozial-wissenschaft, infas, 2003)
    8 % were considered electrosensitive.
  • Sweden: Stockholm
    (Hillert et al., 2002)
    Questionnaire survey among 15,000 men and women, 19-80 years (response rate=73%).
    1.5% defined themselves as electrosensitive.
    Sweden: Scania
    (Carlsson et al., 2005)
    Postal questionnaire survey among 24,922 people, 22-84 years (response rate=59%).
    30.2% stated annoyance within the last 14 days from a chemical or electrical factor, of whom 40% gave an electrical factor.
  • Switzerland
    (Schreier et al., 2006)
    Phone survey among 2,048 individuals over 14 years (response rate=55.1%).
    2.7% reported adverse health effects from electric and magnetic fields, and 2.2% such effects in the past.
  • USA: California
    (Levallois et al., 2002)

    Telephone survey among 2,072 Californians, over 18 years (response rate=84%).
    3.2% defined themselves as electrosensitive, 24% reported chemical sensitivity, and 1.3% reported electrosensitivity without any chemical sensitivity.