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Electrophobia

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1 Author(s)
Adair, Eleanor R. ; John B. Pierce Lab., New Haven, CT, USA

One is are assaulted almost daily by fearful headlines in the media. Flyers urge attendance at public hearings to protest the siting of a new TV broadcast tower or cellular base station. One is exhorted by experts to practice “prudent avoidance”" of the fields from power distribution lines and even from electric clocks. Is there any wonder that inhabitants of much of the civilized world are suffering from “electrophobia” the irrational fear of what is called in the vernacular “electromagnetic fields” or “EMF”. In actuality, most of the recent concern has centered on purported hazards from exposure to environmental magnetic fields from 50/60 Hz electricity delivery systems, with minimal emphasis on the companion electric fields. But other concerns over mobile phones, police radar, etc. expand the fear to the radio frequency and microwave bands (where it all started, originally). And what are the consequences of this flourishing electrophobia? Severe curtailment of wireless technology and it's miraculous prospects is one immediate consequence. Another involves increasing costs to the taxpayer for meaningless research, product redesign, school re-siting, and electric power distribution retrofit; costs that have already been tallied at more than 23 billion dollars in the United States alone and that may soar into the trillions of dollars in the next decade. Untold billions will be spent in litigation involving alleged damages from cellular phones, police radar, magnetic fields from powerlines, weather radar, and even lowly household appliances like electric razors and can openers. Indeed, Louis Slesin, the editor of Microwave News (a bimonthly trade newsletter) has predicted no end to electrophobia; he asserts that the calm following the firestorm on any one EMF source will be followed by another firestorm on yet another EMF source. How has this rampant electrophobia come about? What were its cause? What can history teach us about effective means to combat this problem? What roles can scientists and engineers play to instill greater confidence in a fearful public? One fact is abundantly clear. If no voices are raised to challenge electrophobia, a significant share of the civilized world's attention and funds will be diverted from other, proven hazards to this purported health risk which is, upon careful scrutiny, truly insignificant

Published in:

Engineering in Medicine and Biology Magazine, IEEE  (Volume:15 ,  Issue: 4 )