LENOX (Massachusetts)-It looks like a house. Well, it really is a house. But to Gary Johnson, an engineer with the Electric Power Research Institute, it is one big electric appliance.
And down in the basement, Johnson has the big, fat, black electric plug to prove it. "With this," he said, holding the 15cm-long plug and pointing to four equally large sockets, "we can configure the electric wiring in the house any one of four ways."One set of wires is enough for most abodes, but this brown, clapboard house is in reality a laboratory for testing electromagnetic fields. Electromagnetic waves course through the universe. They are, with gravity and nuclear energy, among the basic forces of nature. Even Earth generates its own electromagnetic field. But so do television sets, microwave ovens, alarm clocks, personal computers and electric power lines, and there is growing evidence that their low-level fields may affect human health. Some epidemiological studies have shown a possible relationship between exposure to electromagnetic waves from high tension wires and leukemia in children. Others have found evidence of unusually frequent tumours in telephone-line workers. Though not conclusive, the studies have been worrisome enough to spur further research on electromagnetic fields, or EMFs- have complex medical studies to experimental models like the house in Lenox. Concerns about the possible risks of EMFs have also sparked protests from communities with high tension lines and electric switching stations. In Pennsylvania, concerns over the fields have led to legal challenges to new high-tension lines installed by Philadelphia Electric Co in Montgomery and Bucks counties and lines proposed by Duquesne Light Co of Pittsburgh. The opposition protests have forced the state Public Utility Commission to consider, for the first time ever, the effects of EMFs, in issuing permits. But high-tension lines aren't the only source of EMFs that may pose a risk. For example, a study done by University of Southern California medical school researchers found some preliminary indications that exposure to television sets and hair dryers might raise the risk of childhood leukemia So, how much electromagnetic radiation are we actually exposed to? Where does it come - from? And what can be done to engineer it away? Those are some of the questions that the Electric Power Research Institute, the research arm of the electric utility industry, is trying to answer in its Lenox house. The house is part of an imaginary subdivision created here in rural Massachusetts. The 17 other "houses" are merely open plots of land with water and electric hookups. The electric lines run to circuit-breaker boxes and sets of outlets on wooden poles. That is enough, the researchers say, to simulate electrical use on the average suburban street "Four years ago, we did a study on 50 volunteer homes," Johnson said. "But the fields were so complicated that it would have been difficult to figure out what was going on without digging up people's yards and rewiring their houses. That's why we built this." Since the test house was built in 1988, the engineers have identified a variety of sources that funnel into the sea of electromagnetic radiation in which we live. The radiation comes not only from a home's electric lines, but also from the phone lines, the cable television lines and even metallic water pipes. "You can have all the electricity off in your house, but if your neighbour has a lot (of appliances on) the fields can find their way into your home through the pipes," Johnson said. Where electric lines enter the house and where the wiring is grounded also make a difference. For example, when the test home is plugged in so that the electricity comes in from an elevated wire at the back of the house and the wiring ground for the system is at the front, the field created inside the house is about 1.5 milliGauss. (A milliGauss, mG, is a measure of the density of a magnetic field.) But if the electrical line is underground and the wiring ground is right next to the incoming line, the field is reduced to l.01mG. Similarly, wiring in the walls can make a difference. One of the highest readings resulted from wiring for two light switches at opposite ends of the living room. One wiring configuration yielded 10mG across an entire wall, while another generated only 4mG. Home appliances-from washing machines to home computers-also can create vastly differing amounts of EMFs. At a distance of 30cm, the test home's microwave oven created a field of 25mG, a fluorescent light produced 19mG, and a television set generated a field of 4 to 5mG. In all those cases, the fields dropped to near zero about a metre away. Surprisingly, one of the strongest fields was created by a small electric clock. The field, however, is relatively small, dropping from 920mG at the clock face to 47mG at 15cm away. In this way, Johnson's research team has found that people travel through a terrain of EMF peaks and valleys as they walk through their homes turning lights on and off, using appliances and receiving pulses of energy from the neighbours' homes. The key question is, how dangerous are these electromagnetic fields? The answer, at least for now, is that nobody knows.
What is known is this: In laboratory experiments, EMFs have affected the metabolism of cells and suppressed the production of melatonin, a hormone produced by the brain's pineal gland, which is important in regulating the body's immune system. "Most people accept there have been demonstrations of biological effects, but it isn't clear what impact they might have on human health," said Stanley Sussman, chief scientist for the electric institute. A 1989 epidemiological study done by researchers from Johns Hopkins University detected an increase in tumours among telephone cable splicers, including two cases of rare breast cancer in men. Seven epidemiological studies have found a relationship between the presence of power lines or increased EMFs and an increase in tumours in children. But the relationship is not a very strong one.
have been measured away from man-made influences at about 7.83 Hertz (cycles per second) and are termed the Schumann Resonance. This comparatively faint signal has been found to be very important to cellular health, and humans, animals and possibly plants are weakened by its removal or if it is swamped out by man-made magnetic fields. These competing magnetic fields are put out by high voltage power lines, office/industrial machinery, particularly computers, fluorescent lights, electric motors, and transformers. Also at home where T.V's videos, microwave ovens, electric blankets, electric fans, and air conditioning are present, and in modern computerized cars, and electronic security systems.