Sunday, April 29, 2007

Power to the people

When I was 14, I remember seeing a report on the News at Ten about a village in Devon where, if you walked under a power line holding a flourescent tube, it suddenly lit up like a Star Wars light sabre. A group of around twenty locals were shown brandishing their tubes, waving them around like Jedi knights. Nobody seemed unduly alarmed. Indeed they all looked as if they were having great fun and the story was shown in the programme's light-hearted last item slot. I remember wondering what the power lines were doing to their bodies.

A few years later Channel Four showed a superb programme which made a pretty compelling argument linking high-voltage power lines to cancer and a variety of other illnesses. There was strong evidence to suggest a higher incidence of childhood and adult leukemia in homes that were close to electricity pylons. I naively assumed that the programme would generate a lot of coverage in the media and prompt the public to demand Government action. Nothing happened. A few lone voices tried to push the issue of EMF radiation to the top of the public health agenda, but they were generally treated as a lunatic fringe. Perhaps it wasn't a 'sexy' enough subject.

This week, two decades after the Channel Four programme, there has suddenly been a spate of articles about power lines and cancer clusters and it isn't just pylons that are the culprits now. Mobile phone masts have also been blamed for a variety of ills ranging from M.E to the disappearance of the sparrow and children have been advised not to have Wi-Fi laptops on their laps (presuming it's okay for me to continue irradiating my testicles).

Obviously I am not an expert on this subject and there is no scientific consensus about EMF radiation and health problems. There is, however, a growing convergence of opinion in the same way that there was a few years ago in the environmental movement.

If you don't know much about EMF radiation, there is a very general explanation here and a more detailed one here. If you're already concerned about this issue and want to protect yourself, there is an excellent (if slightly scary) book on how to make your home a safer place:

I am only a layman and perhaps I'm emulating my grandmother, who wouldn't talk on the phone because she believed that she'd get an electric shock, but compare the world today to 100 years ago. In addition to all of the normal background radiation our bodies are being exposed to countless radio waves. There was much hilarity when, 25 years ago, a man in New York picked up a music station on the metal plate of his false teeth (Apparently it was The Four Seasons' 'Oh What a Night'), but today most of us are within range of a mobile phone mast and can here the bip bip bip noise on our radios when a mobile phone is finding a signal. As that isn't enough, in our homes we now have cordless digital phones, baby alarms and wireless internet connections. What's it doing to us? Maybe nothing, but I'm not taking any chances.

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