• 22 MAY 07
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    #730: The Canadian Human Rights Commission Report (CHRC) on The Medical Perspectives on Environmental Sensitivities

    From Magda Havas:

    The Canadian Human Rights Commission Report (CHRC) on The Medical Perspectives on Environmental Sensitivities written by Margaret Sears is now available online at:


    It’s also available in pdf. http://www.chrc-ccdp.ca/pdf/envsensitivity_en.pdf

    Please note that there is a section on electromagnetic radiation and fields (see below).

    This is a first and it should help those of us trying to get electrical hypersensitivity recognized.


    The Medical Perspective on Environmental Sensitivities

    By: Margaret E. Sears (M.Eng., Ph.D.)

    Electromagnetic radiation and fields

    “Electromagnetic radiation” covers a broad range of frequencies (over 20 orders of magnitude), from low frequencies in electricity supplies, radiowaves and microwaves, infrared and visible light, to x-rays and cosmic rays.224 Our limited understanding of the biological effects of the vast majority of frequencies gives reason for concern.225-230 Although there is still debate in this regard,231-233 tinnitus, brain tumours and acoustic neuroma are associated with cell phones and mobile phones. 234-237

    Communications and radar antennae expose those who live or work near these installations to their emissions. The radiation travels through buildings, and can also be conducted along electrical wires or metal plumbing. Wireless communications create levels within buildings that are orders of magnitude higher than natural background levels.238

    The World Health Organization (WHO) acknowledges the condition of electromagnetic sensitivity, and published a 2006 research agenda for radio-frequency fields.239 The WHO recommends that people reporting sensitivities receive a comprehensive health evaluation. It states: “Some studies suggest that certain physiological responses of EHS individuals tend to be outside the normal range. In particular, hyperactivity in the central nervous system and imbalance in the autonomic nervous system need to be followed up in clinical investigations and the results for the individuals taken as input for possible treatment.” Studies of individuals with sensitivities ought to consider sufficient acclimatization of subjects as recommended by Joffres for chemical sensitivities,72 as well as recognition of individuals” wavelength-specific sensitivities. Reduction of electromagnetic radiation may ameliorate symptoms in people with chronic fatigue.240

    It is worth noting that off-gassing of electrical equipment may also contribute to sensitivities.84 Different sorts of technology (e.g. various medical equipment, analogue or digital telephones; flat screen monitors and laptop computers or larger older monitors) may vary significantly in strength, frequency and pattern of electromagnetic fields.238


    Visible light is a narrow range of electromagnetic radiation. Light affects hormone levels, including cortisol and melatonin,241-244 which affects the ability to sleep, among other things. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), wherein some people are increasingly depressed and fatigued during the winter months, may be alleviated with increased exposure to certain wavelengths of light in the blue end of the spectrum.245 People with environmental sensitivities may be unusually sensitive to light, reacting positively or negatively. Natural or full spectrum, non-flickering light is often best, but individuals ought to be consulted since they may be adversely affected by bright light.

    Fluorescent lighting, which is increasingly common and is promoted to save electrical energy, may cause increased radiofrequencies in the electrical supply and harm people with electromagnetic sensitivities. The flickering may also exacerbate sensitivities.246

    Electromagnetic radiation arising from the use of electricity

    There are four phenomena that emerge from the use of electricity: ground currents; “electromagnetic smog” from communications equipment; magnetic fields from power lines and specialized equipment; and radiofrequencies on power lines or so-called “dirty electricity.”

    Ground currents

    Ground current or “stray current” is electricity that is not contained in wiring; passing through the ground, building structures, plumbing, etc. Electrical current flows along the path of least resistance (e.g. through metal pipes or rods rather than through wood or concrete), with diverse health effects including behavioural, cardiovascular and reproductive problems (sterility and birth defects).247-249

    On October 19, 2006, the Ground Current Pollution Act unanimously passed second reading in the Ontario Legislature. The Bill defines “objectionable current,”y establishes a time frame for utility companies to respond to and remedy complaints, and provides for the development and implementation of a plan to eliminate current that goes through the ground instead of through the neutral wire.

    Low frequency electromagnetic fields

    Extremely low frequency fields from high-voltage electrical supply lines have been associated with genetic damage250 and leukemia in children and may be considered an occupational carcinogen.251

    One clear example of health effects from magnetic fields involved workers on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines. When electrical current flows, a magnetic field is created (measured in Gauss), and when conductors (including biological tissues) are moved within a magnetic field, electrical currents are induced. Workers experienced headaches and cognitive impairment at a greater rate and severity with increasing exposure time and magnetic field strength.252 Workers with quicker movements, which would have caused greater induced currents, suffered greater health effects.


    The Royal Society of Canada reviewed the issue of health effects of radio-frequency transmissions for Health Canada in 1999, with updates in 2001 and 2004.56 The latest report summarizes and is consistent with positions taken by many other authorities in Britain, Europe and the USA (e.g. California). Regulations for telecommunications are based upon avoiding heating of tissue as a result of exposure to electromagnetic radiation. However, other biological phenomena are both plausible and observed at much lower exposure levels.7 The Royal Society concluded that even if the evidence is not clear that adverse health effects from lower exposures to radiofrequencies exist, there is a need for further research.55,56 There is growing evidence of cancers (particularly acoustic neuroma) associated with the use of mobile telephones.235,237,253,254 Given the seriousness of the adverse effects and the availability of alternative technologies, a precautionary approach is warranted.255

    In 2006, based upon a comprehensive review of the scientific literature, the International Firefighters took the position that transmission facilities should not be located at fire stations.256 The growing plethora of wireless communication devices such as Internet, WiFi, cell phones, satellite radio, microwave transmissions, TV broadcasts, etc. are exposing the populace to more and stronger electromagnetic frequencies. Shielding may block electromagnetic radiation (but not magnetic fields). Buildings, geography, weathe r and immediate surroundings affect exposure from telecommunications by reflecting or focusing radiation, thereby creating elevated local levels. Measurements in Canadian cities are many times higher than the regulated levels.z Canadian regulations do not require labelling of emissions from communications devices. Use of alternative technologies (wire or fibre data transmission) is the most straightforward, feasible and effective measure to accommodate workers with electromagnetic sensitivities.

    Radiofrequencies on power lines

    Some emerging research regarding electromagnetic sensitivities focuses on the radio-frequency “noise” on power lines. This arises from problems in the wiring and from “chopping” of the 60-cycle signal in modern power-efficient and sophisticated electronics. Remediation of wiring and addition of low-cost tuned circuits to electrical equipment are two steps to address this problem. As a “band-aid,” Graham-Stetzer filters can be plugged into outlets to remove these high frequencies from the power lines. Using these filters to create an electromagnetically “cleaner” environment, improvements are reported for several health outcomes, including multiple sclerosis, behavioural problems and asthma in children in schools, and diabetes.8

    Canadian standards for electrical equipment do not require testing for or limits on “dirty power.” The CSA requires most products to be assessed only for shock and fire hazard. Electromagnetic compatibility testing is required for ballasts on fluorescent lights and medical equipment and can be carried out at the request of manufacturers.

    There is a lack of consensus in research regarding the health effects of electromagnetic phenomena. This may be due to methodological limitations including unmeasured and uncontrolled parameters such as the quality of the electrical signal, radiofrequencies, locally elevated exposure levels and ground currents.


    One of the most effective and economical strategies for achieving healthy indoor spaces and good air quality is to minimize potential pollutants during construction and renovation. This includes the use of low-maintenance surfaces that do not off-gas, design and construction that minimizes dampness and moulds, and an air intake system that avoids ground-level air. Energy conservation concerns create pressure to decrease ventilation in sealed buildings, reinforcing the need to use materials, finishings and furnishings with low toxic and volatile inputs and emissions. Least-toxic construction, maintenance and pest control, and infrastructure that minimizes exposure to electromagnetic phenomena all require attention to detail and might entail minimal additional costs. Minimizing on-going sources of environmental factors that initiate and trigger environmental sensitivities such as perfumes, dusts and vehicle exhaust require education and policies, and appropriate maintenance practices.

    h. ANSI/ASHRAE Addendum c to ANSI/ASHRAE Standard 62.1-2004, American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia.
    i. Personal communication, Dr. Kartar Badsha, Environmental Law Centre, UK. (August 14, 2006)
    j. “Considering the diversity of indoor air contaminants and the range of susceptibility in the population, compliance may not be acceptable for everyone.” ASHRAE Standard 62, Ventilation for Acceptable Indoor Air quality. American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia.
    k. ASHRAE® STANDARD, BSR/ASHRAE Standard 62.2P: Ventilation and Acceptable Indoor Air Quality in Low-Rise Residential Buildings, American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-conditioning Engineers, Inc., Atlanta, Georgia.
    q. Ontario hospitals with scent-free policies include: Toronto General Hospital; Women”s College Hospital, Toronto; Wellesley Hospital, Toronto; Lyndhurst Spinal Hospital, Toronto; Middlesex Hospital Alliance, Middlesex; Leamington District Hospital, Leamington; Grand River Hospital, Freeport Health Centre, Kitchener; Ottawa Hospital Civic Campus; Ottawa Hospital General Campus; Children”s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ottawa; Queensway-Carleton Hospital, Ottawa; University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Ottawa Health Research Institute; Kingston General Hospital; Hotel Dieu, Kingston; Soldiers” Memorial Hospital, Orillia; Niagara-on-the-Lake Hospital; North Bay General Hospital.
    r. Including Dalhousie, McMaster, Acadia, Memorial, St. Mary”s, Thompson Rivers, Mt. Allison and Malaspina Universities, and the Universities of Calgary, Toronto, Windsor, British Colombia, Prince Edward Island, Ottawa, Victoria, Saskatchewan, Waterloo and Guelph.
    u. Unpublished tests conducted by Prof. Tang G. Lee, University of Calgary, April 1, 2001.
    v. Personal communication, Dr. Kartar Badsha, Environmental Law Centre, UK. (August 14, 2006)
    w. Doug Perkins, DPEnvironmental, pest management services for Ottawa hospitals, personal communication, July 30, 2006
    x. Frank Reddick, agronomist, Turflogic, personal communication, August 4, 2006
    y. “objectionable current flow” means any steady state of electrical ground current for five seconds or more on a grounding conductor or any other conductor that normally does not carry electric current, except for any temporary flow of electrical fault current that is caused by a phase-to-ground fault condition and that results from the performance of a grounding conductor”s protective functions regarding faults or lightning
    z. Dr. Andrew Michrowski, Ottawa, December 5, 2006 personal communication based upon his unpublished research completed for the CMHC.

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