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Warning: High Frequency

Consider this story: It’s January 1990, during the pioneer build-out of mobile phone service. A cell tower goes up 800 feet from the house of Alison Rall, in Mansfield, Ohio, where she and her husband run a 160-acre dairy farm. The first thing the Rall family notices is that the ducks on their land lay eggs that don’t hatch. That spring there are no ducklings.

artwork showing an antenna with radial lines depicting radio waves and a suited figure holding a phone to his headIllustrations by Michael Morgenstern,

By the fall of 1990, the cattle herd that pastures near the tower is sick. The animals are thin, their ribs are showing, their coats growing rough, and their behavior is weird – they’re agitated, nervous. Soon the cows are miscarrying, and so are the goats. Many of the animals that gestate are born deformed. There are goats with webbed necks, goats with front legs shorter than their rear legs. One calf in the womb has a tumor the size of a basketball, another carries a tumor three feet in diameter, big enough that he won’t pass through the birth canal. Rall and the local veterinarian finally cut open the mother to get the creature out alive. The vet records the nightmare in her log: “I’ve never seen anything like this in my entire practice… All of [this] I feel was a result of the cellular tower.”

Within six months, Rall’s three young children begin suffering bizarre skin rashes, raised red “hot spots.” The kids are hit with waves of hyperactivity; the youngest child sometimes spins in circles, whirling madly. The girls lose hair. Rall is soon pregnant with a fourth child, but she can’t gain weight. Her son is born with birth defects – brittle bones, neurological problems – that fit no specific syndrome. Her other children, conceived prior to the arrival of the tower, had been born healthy.

Desperate to understand what is happening to her family and her farm, Rall contacts the Environmental Protection Agency. She ends up talking to an EPA scientist named Carl Blackman, an expert on the biological effects of radiation from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) – the kind of radiofrequency EMFs (RF-EMFs) by which all wireless technology operates, including not just cell towers and cell phones but wi-fi hubs and wi-fi-capable computers, “smart” utility meters, and even cordless home phones. “With my government cap on, I’m supposed to tell you you’re perfectly safe,” Blackman tells her. “With my civilian cap on, I have to tell you to consider leaving.”

Blackman’s warning casts a pall on the family. When Rall contacts the cell phone company operating the tower, they tell her there is “no possibility whatsoever” that the tower is the source of her ills. “You’re probably in the safest place in America,” the company representative tells her.

The Ralls abandoned the farm on Christmas Day of 1992 and never re-sold it, unwilling to subject others to the horrors they had experienced. Within weeks of fleeing to land they owned in Michigan, the children recovered their health, and so did the herd.

We are now exposed to electromagnetic radio frequencies 24 hours a day. Welcome to the largest human experiment ever.

Not a single one of the half-dozen scientists I spoke to could explain what had happened on the Rall farm. Why the sickened animals? Why the skin rashes, the hyperactivity? Why the birth defects? If the radiofrequency radiation from the cell tower was the cause, then what was the mechanism? And why today, with millions of cell towers dotting the planet and billions of cell phones placed next to billions of heads every day, aren’t we all getting sick?

In fact, the great majority of us appear to be just fine. We all live in range of cell towers now, and we are all wireless operators. More than wireless operators, we’re nuts about the technology. Who doesn’t keep at their side at all times the electro-plastic appendage for the suckling of information?

The mobile phone as a technology was developed in the 1970s, commercialized in the mid-80s, miniaturized in the ‘90s. When the first mobile phone companies launched in the United Kingdom in 1985, the expectation was that perhaps 10,000 phones would sell. Worldwide shipments of mobile phones topped the one billion mark in 2006. As of October 2010 there were 5.2 billion cell phones operating on the planet. “Penetration,” in the marketing-speak of the companies, often tops 100 percent in many countries, meaning there is more than one connection per person. The mobile phone in its various manifestations – the iPhone, the Android, the Blackberry – has been called the “most prolific consumer device” ever proffered.

I don’t have an Internet connection at my home in Brooklyn, and, like a dinosaur, I still keep a landline. But if I stand on my roof, I see a hundred feet away, attached to the bricks of the neighboring parking garage, a panel of cell phone antennae – pointed straight at me. They produce wonderful reception on my cell phone. My neighbors in the apartment below have a wireless fidelity connection – better known as wi-fi – which I tap into when I have to argue with magazine editors. This is very convenient. I use it. I abuse it.

Yet even though I have, in a fashion, opted out, here I am, on a rooftop in Brooklyn, standing bathed in the radiation from the cell phone panels on the parking garage next door. I am also bathed in the radiation from the neighbors’ wi-fi downstairs. The waves are everywhere, from public libraries to Amtrak trains to restaurants and bars and even public squares like Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan, where the Wall Street occupiers relentlessly tweet.

We now live in a wireless-saturated normality that has never existed in the history of the human race.

It is unprecedented because of the complexity of the modulated frequencies that carry the increasingly complex information we transmit on our cell phones, smart phones and wi-fi systems. These EMFs are largely untested in their effects on human beings. Swedish neuroscientist Olle Johansson, who teaches at the world-renowned Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, tells me the mass saturation in electromagnetic fields raises terrible questions. Humanity, he says, has embarked on the equivalent of “the largest full-scale experiment ever. What happens when, 24 hours around the clock, we allow ourselves and our children to be whole-body-irradiated by new, man-made electromagnetic fields for the entirety of our lives?”

We have a few answers. Last May, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC, a branch of the World Health Organization), in Lyon, France, issued a statement that the electromagnetic frequencies from cell phones would henceforth be classified as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” The determination was based in part on data from a 13-country study, called Interphone, which reported in 2008 that after a decade of cell phone use, the risk of getting a brain tumor – specifically on the side of the head where the phone is placed – goes up as much as 40 percent for adults. Israeli researchers, using study methods similar to the Interphone investigation, have found that heavy cell phone users were more likely to suffer malignant tumors of the salivary gland in the cheek, while an independent study by scientists in Sweden concluded that people who started using a cell phone before the age of 20 were five times as likely to develop a brain tumor. According to a study published in the International Journal of Cancer Prevention, people living for more than a decade within 350 meters of a cell phone tower experience a four-fold increase in cancer rates.

The IARC decision followed in the wake of multiple warnings, mostly from European regulators, about the possible health risks of RF-EMFs. In September 2007, Europe’s top environmental watchdog, the EU’s European Environment Agency, suggested that the mass unregulated exposure of human beings to widespread radiofrequency radiation “could lead to a health crisis similar to those caused by asbestos, smoking and lead in petrol.” That same year, Germany’s environmental ministry singled out the dangers of RF-EMFs used in wi-fi systems, noting that people should keep wi-fi exposure “as low as possible” and instead choose “conventional wired connections.” In 2008, France issued a generalized national cell phone health warning against excessive cell phone use, and then, a year later, announced a ban on cell phone advertising for children under the age of 12.

We now live in a wireless-saturated normality that has never existed in the history of the human race.

In 2009, following a meeting in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre, more than 50 concerned scientists from 16 countries – public health officials, biologists, neuroscientists, medical doctors – signed what became known as the Porto Alegre Resolution. The signatories described it as an “urgent call” for more research based on “the body of evidence that indicates that exposure to electromagnetic fields interferes with basic human biology.”

That evidence is mounting. “Radiofrequency radiation has a number of biological effects which can be reproducibly found in animals and cellular systems,” says David O. Carpenter, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the State University of New York (SUNY). “We really cannot say for certain what the adverse effects are in humans,” Carpenter tells me. “But the indications are that there may be – and I use the words ‘may be’ – very serious effects in humans.” He notes that in exposure tests with animal and human cells, RF-EMF radiation causes genes to be activated. “We also know that RF-EMF causes generation of free radicals, increases production of things called heat shock proteins, and alters calcium ion regulation. These are all common mechanisms behind many kinds of tissue damage.”

Double-strand breaks in DNA – one of the undisputed causes of cancer – have been reported in similar tests with animal cells. Swedish neuro-oncologist Leif Salford, chairman of the Department of Neurosurgery at Lund University, has found that cell phone radiation damages neurons in rats, particularly those cells associated with memory and learning. The damage occurred after an exposure of just two hours. Salford also found that cell phone EMFs cause holes to appear in the barrier between the circulatory system and the brain in rats. Punching holes in the blood-brain-barrier is not a good thing. It allows toxic molecules from the blood to leach into the ultra-stable environment of the brain. One of the potential outcomes, Salford notes, is dementia.

Other effects from cell phone radiofrequencies have been reported using human subjects. At Loughborough University in England, sleep specialists in 2008 found that after 30 minutes of cell phone use, their subjects required twice the time to fall asleep as they did when the phone was avoided before bedtime. EEGs (electroencephalograms) showed a disturbance of the brain waves that regulate sleep. Neuroscientists at Swinburne University of Technology in Australia discovered in 2009 a “power boost” in brain waves when volunteers were exposed to cell phone radiofrequencies. Researchers strapped Nokia phones to their subjects’ heads, then turned the phones on and off. On: brain went into defense mode. Off: brain settled. The brain, one of the lead researchers speculated, was “concentrating to overcome the electrical interference.”

Yet for all this, there is no scientific consensus on the risks of RF-EMFs to human beings.

The major public-health watchdogs, in the US and worldwide, have dismissed concerns about it. “Current evidence,” the World Health Organization (WHO) says, “does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields.” (The WHO thus contradicts the findings of one of its own research units.) The US Federal Communications Commission has made similar statements. The American Cancer Society reports that “most studies published so far have not found a link between cell phone use and the development of tumors.” The cell phone industry’s lobbying organization, CTIA-The Wireless Association, assures the public that cell phone radiation is safe, citing studies – many of them funded by the telecom industry – that show no risk.

Published meta-reviews of hundreds of such studies suggest that industry funding tends to skew results. According to a survey by Henry Lai, a research professor at University of Washington, only 28 percent of studies funded by the wireless industry showed some type of biological effect from cell phone radiation. Meanwhile, independently funded studies produce an altogether different set of data: 67 percent of those studies showed a bioeffect. The Safe Wireless Initiative, a research group in Washington, DC that has since closed down, unpacked the data in hundreds of studies on wireless health risks, arraying them in terms of funding source. “Our data show that mobile phone industry funded/influenced work is six times more likely to find ‘no problem’ than independently funded work,” the group noted. “The industry thus has significantly contaminated the scientific evidence pool.”

artwork depicting someone holding a mobile phone to their head, waves coming out of it

The evidence about the long-term public health risks of exposure to RF-EMFs may be contradictory. Yet it is clear that some people are getting sick when heavily exposed to the new radiofrequencies. And we are not listening to their complaints.

Take the story of Michele Hertz. When a local utility company installed a wireless digital meter – better known as a “smart” meter – on her house in upstate New York in the summer of 2009, Hertz thought little of it. Then she began to feel odd. She was a practiced sculptor, but now she could not sculpt. “I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t even finish sentences,” she told me. Hertz experienced “incredible memory loss,” and, at the age of 51, feared she had come down with Alzheimer’s.

One night during a snowstorm in 2010 her house lost power, and when it came back on her head exploded with a ringing sound – “a terrible piercing.” A buzzing in her head persisted. She took to sleeping on the floor of her kitchen that winter, where the refrigerator drowned out the keening. There were other symptoms: headaches and nausea and dizziness, persistent and always worsening. “Sometimes I’d wake up with my heart pounding uncontrollably,” she told me. “I thought I would have a heart attack. I had nightmares that people were killing me.”

Roughly one year after the installation of the wireless meters, with the help of an electrician, Hertz thought she had figured out the source of the trouble: It had to be something electrical in the house. On a hunch, she told the utility company, Con Edison of New York, to remove the wireless meter. She told them: “I will die if you do not install an analog meter.” Within days, the worst symptoms disappeared. “People look at me like I’m crazy when I talk about this,” Hertz says.

Her exposure to the meters has super-sensitized Hertz to all kinds of other EMF sources. “The smart meters threw me over the electronic edge,” she says. A cell phone switched on in the same room now gives her a headache. Stepping into a house with wi-fi is intolerable. Passing a cell tower on the street hurts. “Sometimes if the radiation is very strong my fingers curl up,” she says. “I can now hear cell phones ringing on silent. Life,” she says, “has dramatically changed.”

Hertz soon discovered there were other people like her: “Electrosensitives,” they call themselves. To be sure, they comprise a tortured minority, often misunderstood and isolated. They share their stories at online forums like, the EMF Safety Network, and the Electrosensitive Society. “Some are getting sick from cell phones, some from smart meters, some from cell towers,” Hertz tells me. “Some can no longer work and have had to flee their homes. Some are losing their eyesight, some can’t stop shaking, most cannot sleep.”

In recent years, I’ve gotten to know dozens of electrosensitives. In Santa Fe, New Mexico, I met a woman who had taken to wearing an aluminum foil hat. (This works – wrap a cell phone in foil and it will kill the signal.) I met a former world record-holding marathoner, a 54-year-old woman who had lived out of her car for eight years before settling down at a house ringed by mountains that she said protected the place from cell frequencies. I met people who said they no longer wanted to live because of their condition. Many of the people I talked to were accomplished professionals – writers, television producers, entrepreneurs. I met a scientist from Los Alamos National Laboratories named Bill Bruno whose employer had tried to fire him after he asked for protection from EMFs at the lab. I met a local librarian named Rebekah Azen who quit her job after being sickened by a newly installed wi-fi system at the library. I met a brilliant activist named Arthur Firstenberg, who had for several years published a newsletter, “No Place to Hide,” but who was now homeless, living out of the back of his car, sleeping in wilderness outside the city where he could escape the signals.

In New York City, I got to know a longtime member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) who said he was electrosensitive. I’ll call him Jake, because he is embarrassed by his condition and he doesn’t want to jeopardize his job or his membership in the IEEE (which happens to have for its purpose the promulgation of electrical technology, including cell phones). Jake told me how one day, a few years ago, he started to get sick whenever he went into the bedroom of his apartment to sleep. He had headaches, suffered fatigue and nausea, nightsweats and heart palpitations, had blurred vision and difficulty breathing and was blasted by a ringing in the ears – the typical symptoms of the electrosensitive. He discovered that his neighbor in the apartment building kept a wi-fi transmitter next door, on the other side of the wall to his bedroom. When Jake asked the neighbor to shut it down, his symptoms disappeared.

The government of Sweden reports that the disorder known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or EHS, afflicts an estimated 3 percent of the population. A study by the California Department of Health found that, based on self-reports, as many as 770,000 Californians, or 3 percent of the state’s population, would ascribe some form of illness to EMFs. A study in Switzerland recently found a 5 percent prevalence of electrosensitivity. In Germany, there is reportedly a 6 percent prevalence. Even the former prime minister of Norway, Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, until 2003 the director general of the World Health Organization, has admitted that she suffers headaches and “strong discomfort” when exposed to cell phones. “My hypersensitivity,” she told a Norwegian newspaper in 2002, “has gone so far that I react to mobile phones closer to me than about four meters.” She added in the same interview: “People have been in my office with their mobile hidden in their pocket or bag. Without knowing if it was on or off, we have tested my reactions. I have always reacted when the phone has been on – never when it’s off.”

“People are reporting these symptoms all over the globe. It’s not likely a transcultural mass hallucination.”

Yet the World Health Organization – the same agency that Brundtland once headed – reports “there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure.” WHO’s findings are corroborated by a 2008 study at the University of Bern in Switzerland which found “no evidence that EHS individuals could detect [the] presence or absence” of frequencies that allegedly make them sick. A study conducted in 2006 at the Mobile Phone Research Unit at King’s College in London came to a similar conclusion. “No evidence was found to indicate that people with self-reported sensitivity to mobile phone signals are able to detect such signals or that they react to them with increased symptom severity,” the report said. “As sham exposure was sufficient to trigger severe symptoms in some participants, psychological factors may have an important role in causing this condition.” The King’s College researchers in 2010 concluded it was a “medically unexplained illness.”

“The scientific data so far just doesn’t help the electrosensitives,” says Louis Slesin, editor and publisher of Microwave News, a newsletter and website that covers the potential impacts of RF-EMFs. “The design of some of these studies, however, is questionable.” He adds: “Frankly, I’d be surprised if the condition did not exist. We’re electromagnetic beings. You wouldn’t have a thought in your head without electromagnetic signals. There is electrical signaling going on in your body all the time, and the idea that external electromagnetic fields can’t affect us just doesn’t make sense. We’re biological and chemical beings too, and we know that we can develop allergies to certain biological and chemical compounds. Why wouldn’t we also find there are allergies to EM fields? Shouldn’t every chemical be tested for its effects on human beings? Well, the same could be said for each frequency of RF radiation.”

Dr. David Carpenter of SUNY, who has also looked into electrosensitivity, tells me he’s “not totally convinced that electrosensitivity is real.” Still, he says, “there are just too many people with reports of illness when chronically near to EMF devices, with their symptoms being relieved when they are away from them. Like multiple chemical sensitivity and Gulf War Syndrome, there is something here, but we just don’t understand it all yet.”

Science reporter B. Blake Levitt, author of Electromagnetic Fields: A Consumer’s Guide to the Issues, says the studies she has reviewed on EHS are “contradictory and nowhere near definitive.” Flaws in test design stand out, she says. Many with EHS may be simply “too sensitized,” she believes, to endure research exposure protocols, possibly skewing results from the start by inadvertently studying a less sensitive group. Levitt recently compiled some of the most damning studies of the health effects from cell towers in a report for the International Commission on Electromagnetic Safety in Italy. “Some populations are reacting poorly when living or working within 1,500 feet of a cell tower,” Levitt tells me. Several studies she cited found an increase in headaches, rashes, tremors, sleep disturbances, dizziness, concentration problems, and memory changes.

“EHS may be one of those problems that can never be well defined – we may just have to believe what people report,” Levitt says. “And people are reporting these symptoms all over the globe now when new technologies are introduced or infrastructure like cell towers go into neighborhoods. It’s not likely a transcultural mass hallucination. The immune system is an exquisite warning mechanism. These are our canaries in the coal mine.”

Swedish neuroscientist Olle Johansson was one of the first researchers to take the claims of electrosensitivity seriously. He found, for example, that persons with EHS had changes in skin mast cells – markers of allergic reaction – when exposed to specific EM fields. Other studies have found that radiofrequency EMFs can increase serum histamine levels – the hallmark of an allergic reaction. Johansson has hypothesized that electrosensitivity arises exactly as any common allergy would arise – due to excessive exposure, as the immune system fails. And just as only some people develop allergies to cats or pollen or dust, only some of us fall prey to EM fields. Johansson admits that his hypothesis has yet to be proven in laboratory study.

One afternoon not long ago, a nurse named Maria Gonzalez, who lives in Queens, New York, took me to see the cell phone masts that irradiate her daughter’s school. The masts were the usual flat-paneled, alien-looking things nested together, festooned with wires, high on a rooftop across from Public School 122 in Astoria. They emitted a fine signal – five bars on my phone. The operator of the masts, Sprint-Nextel, had built a wall of fake brick to hide them from view, but Maria was unimpressed with the subterfuge. She was terrified of the masts. When, in 2005, the panels went up, soon to be turned on, she was working at the intensive care unit at St. Vincent’s Hospital. She’d heard bizarre stories about cell phones from her cancer-ward colleagues. Some of the doctors at St. Vincent’s told her they had doubts about the safety of their own cellphones and pagers. This was disturbing enough. She went online, culling studies. When she read a report published in 2002 about children in Spain who developed leukemia shortly after a cell phone tower was erected next to their school, she went into a quiet panic.

Sprint-Nextel was unsympathetic when she telephoned the company in the summer of 2005 to express her concerns. The company granted her a single meeting that autumn, with a Sprint-Nextel technician, an attorney, and a self-described “radiation expert” under contract with the company. “They kept saying, ‘we’re one hundred percent sure the antennas are safe,’” Maria told me as we stared at the masts. “‘One hundred percent sure! These are children! We would never hurt children.’” She called the office of Hillary Clinton and pestered the senator once a week for six months – but got nowhere. A year later, Gonzalez sued the US government, charging that the Federal Communications Commission had failed to fully evaluate the risks from cell phone frequencies. The suit was thrown out. The judge concluded that if regulators for the government said the radiation was safe, then it was safe. The message, as Gonzalez puts it, was that she was “crazy … and making a big to-do about nothing.”

I’d venture, rather, that she was applying a commonsense principle in environmental science: the precautionary principle, which states that when an action or policy – or technology – cannot be proven with certainty to be safe, then it should be assumed to be harmful. In a society thrilled with the magic of digital wireless, we have junked this principle. And we try to dismiss as fools those who uphold it – people like Gonzalez. We have accepted without question that we will have wi-fi hotspots in our homes, and at libraries, and in cafes and bookstores; that we will have wireless alarm systems and wireless baby monitors and wireless utility meters and wireless video games that children play; that we will carry on our persons wireless iPads and iPods and smart phones. We are mesmerized by the efficiency and convenience of the infotainment appendage, the words and sounds and pictures it carries. We are, in other words, thoughtless in our embrace of the technology.

Do you like enterprising journalism on the environment like this? Make a contribution to our investigative fund.

Because of our thoughtlessness, we have not demanded to know the full consequences of this technology.
Perhaps the gadgets are slowly killing us – we do not know. Perhaps they are perfectly safe – we do not know. Perhaps they are making us sick in ways we barely understand – we do not know. What we do know, without a doubt, is that the electromagnetic fields are all around us, and that to live in modern civilization implies always and everywhere that we cannot escape their touch.

Christopher Ketcham has contributed to ORION, Harper’s, and GQ, where portions of this reporting appeared previously. Find more of his work at


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Thanks for all the great info. 

Sharing some of these amazing comments on the Ontario Smart Meter Awarenss Website.

By Janice on Tue, June 18, 2013 at 7:37 pm

The New York City nanny that went crazy and stabbed to death 2 young children lives in a building right across the street from a cell tower installation on Riverside Drive. This is just one case of a person flipping out that had major exposure to cell radiation on a continuous basis for a number of years.

By Robert on Mon, October 29, 2012 at 11:18 am

People would learn much by looking at this:

By brian on Mon, October 08, 2012 at 9:02 pm

more information and supreme courts judgments are required against cell phone receiving towers dangeorus for health

By syed khalid jamil shah on Sat, March 17, 2012 at 11:14 am

Dear Readers,
Punish these perveyers of the Poisonous Electric Smart Meters. If you still have an Analog Meter as have I, just lock your Electric Meter Box with a Stout Padlock and post a Legal High Court Notice on your front fence which strictly forbids Trespassers on your property. My Legal notice by the Australian Constitution Act ( 1900-01) is still effective and trespassers are liable for a $167,000.00 fine.
Then send the C.E.O of your Electric Power Company a Registered Letter by Post for Legal Reasons, stating that you refuse to have a now proving to be by the World Health Organisation a very Dangerous Electric Smart Meter at any time. Tell them that you will Join the Common Class Action to Sue if they try to force an Electric Smart Meter on your property.  This has worked for me.

Yours faithfully,

Richard Leschen

By Richard Leschen on Thu, March 08, 2012 at 4:33 pm

Hi Nancy,

I used one 12-by-8 inch sheet of aluminum foil and folded it neatly around the phone like gift wrap over a Christmas present. I’m not sure how close the nearest tower is to where I live.

By GDiFonzo on Wed, February 01, 2012 at 9:39 pm

HI GDiFonzo

Thanks for attempting the experiment.  I have an old flip phone.  I live two miles f rom a tower.
How many layers of foil did you wrap around the phone?

By Nancy on Wed, January 25, 2012 at 8:11 pm

I tried the aluminum foil experiment again, twice with my flip phone and once with a friend’s smartphone. Neither phone rang while wrapped in foil and there was no missed call notification. Actually, both said “Searching for service” on the front screen as soon as they were unwrapped. Could it be that you live closer to a cell tower than I do? Just wondering.

By GDiFonzo on Tue, January 24, 2012 at 10:16 pm

Sandy B., There is a ton of information out there. Try < etudes antennes.pdf> for low level effects from infrastructure, and www/

By B. Blake Levitt on Sat, January 21, 2012 at 11:28 am

@Sandy B:

> Is there some listings of what frequency bands the offending devices are using and the radiated power levels?

For most of the time cellular phones have been part of popular culture, they have used 800-900 MHz, with smaller 1800-1900 MHz cells in crowded cities. Transmit power is actively controlled by feedback from the corresponding receiver, with limits of 3 Watts for early car phones, and 600 mW for most pocket phones. Maximum power is only used at the maximum range distance from the tower; typical power levels in cities are exponentially lower.

> I have actively worked in land and ship radio stations for over 50 years and to my knowledge never been seriously affected by any of the radiation.

The only rational argument is that cell phones are pressed up against one’s brain in use, while you probably didn’t spend much of your work time resting your head against your antennas. But the people who get upset when living across the road from a cell tower yet ignore the thousand to million times higher power level of commercial radio or TV stations (the new 700 MHz cellular bands used to be dedicated to UHF TV) are clearly defying logic.

As I admitted in my earlier comment, not everything operates according to our current understanding of “logical”. But there will be no relief for people who fear microwaves unless the technologists who create them can understand logically what the harm mechanism is, and change the technology. The world will not give up its gadgets.

Thanks for an intelligent question!


By Loren Amelang on Fri, January 20, 2012 at 8:04 pm

Is there some listings of what frequency bands the offending devices are using and the radiated power levels?  I have actively worked in land and ship radio stations for over 50 years and to my knowledge never been seriously affected by any of the radiation.  Can anyone steer me to links about this problem and what was actually found and suspected of the cause of the claimed maladies?

By Sandy B on Fri, January 20, 2012 at 3:50 pm

Nancy—After I read this article, I tried wrapping my phone in Reynolds Wrap just out of curiosity. I completely covered the whole phone in aluminum foil, dialed from a landline, and it did work. On the other hand, I have a five-year-old flip phone, so maybe smartphones are different. I’ll try the experiment a couple more times (what the heck!) with both my phone and a friend’s smartphone, and post what happens on this page.

By GDiFonzo on Wed, January 18, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Did you actually try the experiment:
(This works – wrap a cell phone in foil and it will kill the signal.) ??

I did try and it doesn’t stop the ring of the phone.

By Nancy on Fri, January 06, 2012 at 6:46 pm

‘Electro-oversensitive’ man in mobile phone blackout threat

Ontario Parents Pull Children Out of School to Protest WiFi

India police raid Bharti, Vodafone in telecom probe

By brian on Wed, December 28, 2011 at 5:33 am

for the interested: this site: monitors the cellphone hazard debate

By brian on Wed, December 28, 2011 at 5:27 am

welcome to the world of Dr Frankenstein! A technology with its impact on people and nature virtually unknown unleashed by corporate entities with little concern for our wellbeing..the result should make people question just where we are being led by this ‘civilisation’

By brian on Wed, December 28, 2011 at 5:24 am

thank you so much for writing this article.  please continue to research and report…

By jane barnett on Thu, December 08, 2011 at 4:52 pm

Thank you for writing this, Chris. I wrote about this subject for Earth Island Journal over a decade ago (“Microwaving Our Planet”, Summer 1997 issue; “Radio Waves: Invisible Danger”, Winter 2000 issue).

Fellow Santa Fean Steve Stockdale has posted a “rebuttal,” directing people to his blog. Let me take a moment to respond to what Steve Stockdale says about me and others in his blog, and to tell people who Steve is. He has posted his resume here: Briefly, Steve has worked for Texas Instruments Defense Systems and Electronics Group, Raytheon Systems Company, and Rockwell Collins Government Systems—giant corporations that manufacture and sell radar and microwave communication equipment to the military. Stockdale says on his website that he himself has been involved in multi-billion dollar military sales to the U.S. Army and to various NATO countries.

To respond to the inaccurate comments on Steve’s blog:

I was in fact homeless and living in back of my car at the time I met Chris Ketcham. I presently live approximately a mile from the Plaza in Santa Fe, in a house that I own. Mr. Ketcham met, in person, all of the electrosensitive residents of Santa Fe whom he describes in his article. I introduced them to Mr. Ketcham during the two weeks that he spent in Santa Fe. Rebekah Azen did quit her job as chief librarian at Southwestern College several years ago when they installed WiFi—only to be forced to work in another WiFi field at the Santa Fe New Mexican, where she was the archives librarian. She killed herself on October 20, 2011 because she was in constant pain and could find no relief.

Arthur Firstenberg, President
Cellular Phone Task Force
PO Box 6216
Santa Fe, NM 87502
(505) 471-0129

By Arthur Firstenberg on Mon, December 05, 2011 at 12:00 pm

Thanks to Earth Island Journal for publishing this; I subscribed because of it!

What I find interesting about this subject is that all the “shocking new research” demonstrating the biological effects of microwaves (such as the Volkow study published a little while ago in JAMA) is actually just corroborating work done almost 50 years ago by hundreds of different scientists.  For a sampling of some of this older research, see:

As others have noted in this thread as well, the Soviets studied the bioeffects of microwaves quite extensively. Ketcham has pointed out some of this older research in his coverage of this issue, and is to be commended for that.

The point is that we’ve known for a long time that microwave radiation and life aren’t entirely compatible, and yet we went ahead and deployed massive amounts of microwave-based telecommunications infrastructure anyway.  To me, the real question is why that happened; I can’t say, but I sure can’t think of a more profitable form of population control than making sure everyone on the planet was carrying a microwave transmitter with them every waking moment and living in close range to transmission facilities.  Microwave-based communications infrastructure controls the population problem at both ends; it increases the likelihood of people dying of cancer and also reduces their chances of successfully reproducing.  Add that to the fact that it is so useful that it’s practically indispensible and so can be made to rapidly drain people’s bank accounts, and it adds up to the perfect capitalist solution to the population problem. 

There may be another explanation for why we proceeded with deploying this infrastructure even after learning what the likely consequences would be; perhaps there is nothing more going on here than the twin characteristics of greed and shortsightedness that shape so much of human endeavor once again rearing their ugly heads.  Merchants of death lying to protect their profits is an old, familiar story; global population control, if that is indeed what is happening, is something entirely new.

By Josh on Sun, December 04, 2011 at 7:12 pm

A bit of history & current reports are called for:

——-Electro-hypersensitivity or Electromagnetic Sensitivity (EHS,) also called Radiofrequency or Radiowave Sickness by the Russians, is associated with symptoms including headaches, sleep problems, ringing in ears, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, dizziness, irritability, increased stress and agitation, heart palipitations, tingling sensations, heaviness in chest and lungs, flu-like symptoms, and joint and muscle weakness/aches, tremors.

——-The syndrome was first called Neurasthenia in 1868 to describe a new illness experienced by telegraph and later telephone operators. The condition appeared more often upon the use of radar during the World War II era. Currently, this functional impairment is recognized internationally, though America still lags in awareness despite the previously established environmental link.

——An excellent ongoing series of current interviews of individuals “Sensitive and Inside Bie Technology” (technology workers with Radiofrequency Sickness) can be found at If we refuse to belief these reports as more wireless proliferates, we truly have our heads in the sand as a culture.

——A move to compile nation/world-wide reports of smart meter harm, such as Ms. Hertz experienced, has begun at
What kind of culture will force individuals to have devices on their homes that they say are making them sick? Just because science doesn’t have ALL its ducks in a row(despite thousands of studies showing harm) does that mean this culture should ignore what THE PEOPLE say, and the PEOPLE’s rights concerning their health and own property or apartment? This is just sick.

By Charyl Zehfus on Sat, December 03, 2011 at 7:05 pm

10 years ago I wrote an article, the Statistician (in Swedish, published in the Medical Journal Medikament, on a Swedush risk denier concerning radiation from rf-emfs, Anders Ahöbom, recently criticized for conflict of interests. In that article I told about a Russian experiment with a mobile phone above a hatching box for hen’s eggs, most of which didn’t hatch!  I also told about a bunch of Swiss cows going aggressive and bad tempered after a mast was raised close to their field. The cows were moved and valmed down, returned to the otiginal field, again showing bad temper, there was also a story on cows giving less milk… Of course we all know that an anecdote is n’t a proof. But what about reality confirming a controlled experiment? Just two anecdotes? Why should yoy need experts if not to deny the observable!?? You can find lots of interesting material on rmfs from mobile phones on Microwave News!

Best greetings from Sweden
Bo Valhjalt

By Bo Valhjalt on Sat, December 03, 2011 at 3:42 am

Commenter Wayne Caswell : “Cell towers use different, and arguably safer,”

By what argument?

Why is it so hard for so many to get that it is not all about power levels?

I can whisper someone’s name very quietly over and over again, without the hearer getting it; I can raise my voice to an extreme shout, to the same uncomprehending effect. When I say the name within a fairly audible range, the message gets through. It is NOT all about power levels, the most common basis for pooh-poohing about the dangers of wireless.

A curse shouted at one very loudly, say, for a short restricted period daily, perhaps that can be handled or ignored, if not eliminated. But imagine a constant, non-stop very quietly whispered curse into one’s ear, all day all night—that can be devastating. Just so with cell towers.

Acoustic metaphors are very useful in conveying what’s wrong with our exploitation of the spectrum. And study of properties of water will also likely yield insight into the EM insult, in its bio- dis-/mis-informational qualities. And joining closely with biological paradigms from afar, e.g. traditional Oriental medicine in its mapping of energy pathways, is likely to be very helpful in mapping pathways of EM harm.

By Daryl Vernon on Fri, December 02, 2011 at 12:02 pm

Except for individuals who are especially sensitive to it, the carcinogenic health effects of contamination from radio frequencies and chemicals like Arsenic (used for decades as a pesticide and defoliant in cotton farming) can take decades to show up and even then be extremely difficult to track back to the ultimate cause. That’s why this article is so important.

Much of my wireless background is with wireless LANs like Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11b/g), which operates at 2.4 GHz. Microwave ovens use that same frequency but at much higher power (wattage) since it’s a natural harmonic of water molecules, and it’s by vibrating those molecules that heat is generated. Now we know that Wi-Fi, even at low power levels, can penetrate walls and cover a whole house. It penetrates the body too, just like the microwave, and it’s not clear what it does to living cells.

Bluetooth also operates at 2.4 GHz, but still many people wear those wireless headsets next to their brain. I’m not sure the added convenience of a wireless versus wired headset is worth the risk, so I don’t use one.

Cell towers use different, and arguably safer, frequencies, but they transmit with much higher power to cover many square miles.

Even the 110v alternating current of house wiring can be a problem since the electrical wiring has no twists or shielding and acts as a long radio antenna, enveloping us with even more radio energy.

By Wayne Caswell on Fri, December 02, 2011 at 11:32 am

Good to see Ketcham still on the case, having already put out maybe the best English piece to date in mainstream N.A. media,  ( ).

But when the matter of human abuse of the electromagnetic spectrum is duly considered as the surpassing health & environmental issue of our time (e.g. what use attenuating climate volatility, for a world of addled brains?), how can one not be on the case?

A useful graphic to ponder can be found at . What makes one think that human messing with atmospherically non-opaque sector at all, is not contraindicated for everything alive down here? Microwave madness is so obviously sickening enough people, that it should be an entry into re-consideration of the (in-)appropriateness of all such (ab-)use.

Carpenter is quoted about the unconvincing reality of ‘electrosensitivity’. It is hoped the reference is merely to isolable syndrome; that electromagnetic insult is a necessary condition is not reasonably challengeable, highly problematic provocation attempts notwithstanding. The term, maybe in English especially, is unfortunate for several reasons. It might be better for some purposes to say rather, ‘electroreactive’, ‘sensitivity’ can wrongfully evoke a sense of non-virile pitiful vulnerability. The term also seems to imply something contrary to how Slesin is quoted above, “We’re electromagnetic beings”—in some way, everything with cells in its body must “sense” the artificial electromagnetic onslaught, it is a question of paying attention, of the reaction. An even apparently impermeable tough guy (maybe along the lines of those used as subjects for early testing re military radar), can assure us day after day, “I’m okay”, “I’m okay”, “I’m okay”, then one day say, “Who am I?”

By Daryl Vernon on Fri, December 02, 2011 at 7:58 am

I moved to my off-grid land in Anderson Valley thirty years ago, when my former employer decreed I would no longer be allowed to turn off the fluorescent lights over my desk and provide my own lighting. I’m the last person to suggest that sensitive individuals are not adversely affected by electromagnetic emissions. But I would like to add some technical facts to the debate over wireless communication.

1. In the scheme of modern emissions, those from Wi-Fi are minuscule. The local FM radio station radiates 3400000 milliwatts, a handheld cellular phone radiates up to 600 milliwatts when it is as far from the tower as it can reach, while typical consumer Wi-Fi radios generate somewhere between 28 and 63 milliwatts.

2. Radiated power drops off exponentially with distance. My Wi-Fi access point, about 30 feet away in the next room, is currently providing 0.001 milliwatt of signal to the computer I’m writing this on. If you are a mile from your neighbor’s Wi-Fi node, you probably see around 0.00000000125 milliwatt of its signal - which could still provide a usable connection if there is a clear line of sight!

3. Your microwave oven is allowed to leak up to 5000 uW/cm^2 measured at 5 cm from the oven surface. To guarantee reducing that to the 0.003 uW/cm^2 background level reported in cities in 1990, or -41 dBm typical of a Wi-Fi node on the other side of a wall, you need to stand back 211 feet from the microwave door while it is operating.

The main issue missing from the Ketcham article and most discussions of electrosensitivity is the different modulation types of radio signals. In modern wireless data systems, traditional amplitude, frequency and pulse modulations have been replaced by complex modulations devised to be almost indistinguishable from random noise. If there is any obvious pattern to the modulation, some carrying capacity is being wasted.

In the 1990s, all mobile phones were either analog FM or TDMA. These signals are easily detected at ten feet or more of distance by a $30 “Spy Store” “bug detector”.

TDMA operates by assigning each user a time slot, into which all of their information is crammed. Depending on system loading, each phone transmits intensely for perhaps 1% of the time, and is idle the other 99% (during which other users get to transmit). The average power may be the same as modern signals, but the maximum instantaneous power is _much_ higher.

The only noisy TDMA signals still in use are the GSM format used for voice calls by AT&T and T-Mobile in the US - and by most of the rest of the world (except for Japan and Korea).

CDMA (code division multiple access) cellular signals, like “3G” EVDO and “4G” LTE (Verizon, Sprint 3G, US Cellular), transmit continuously at smooth low levels. They are undetectable without the precise timing codes used to distinguish among individual users. You can put your “bug detector” right on top of an operating CDMA phone and it won’t notice a thing!

Unfortunately, I have yet to see any research which controlled for this blatantly obvious technical distinction among different phone systems! It does seem that most of the papers finding significant dangers in cell phone use are from Europe where GSM is totally dominant.

Since some sensitive people report effects that have no possible technological basis, perhaps the obvious technical difference between TDMA and CDMA is not as important as it seems likely to be. But until researchers control for it, or at least report what system they were testing with, so later meta-research can evaluate the difference, we’re likely to accumulate more confusing and contradictory findings.

The good news is that the upgrade path for the world’s GSM networks is LTE, a CDMA format. It will take many years for the current burden of GSM phones to expire from use, but eventually I suspect we will see far fewer reports of health effects from cellphones.

By Loren Amelang on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 10:33 pm

We need to pray for a Coronal Mass Ejection big enough to wipe out all this B.S. technology that will hurl us back into the stone ages where we can appreciate peace of mind and simpler living.

By Umberto Fonte on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 4:39 pm

A rebuttal from Santa Fe here: , where you can follow the trust-fund-funded Electrically-Sensitive Trail of Arthur Firstenberg back to 1996.

By Steve Stockdale on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 1:02 pm

The problem is we don’t want to live without all these conveniences.While that may be true we can limit our exposure but that will not be enough for the next generations unless there is change. Government must also limit the use of no essential wireless industry . Good luck on that one but do what you can for yourself and children.

By Serge on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 10:04 am

There are hundreds of electro sensitives here in Europe - many of us resident in the UK avoiding built up urban areas where everyone has a cell phone switched on, Cordless DECT phones at home, WiFi internet connections, smart utility meters, is a great place to start and they provide advise to those who find themsleves sensitised and unable to commute to work any longer.

There are several doctors in Europe who can diagnose and treat the condition.

By Angela Luke on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 4:41 am

Your Rall farm case is a typical one. I also recommend the Swiss and German ‘cell tower next to farm’ -cases: Doku Klberblindheit 100506.pdf

(you might need German language or Google Translate. Please, check those figures&tables;.)

(They have made a two hour DVD document about the Sturzenegger farm case and other cases. The film also explains the research done by University of Zurich, Animal Hospital.

Collection of cows (animals) related research papers:

BTW, I have collected critical citations about the WHO International EMF Project and the ICNIRP. Just to understand how these organisations/entities operate:

Thank you Earth Island Journal for the article. Excellent journalism, Christopher! Good points Blake about non-thermal effects: ICNIRP guidelines o-n-l-y protect from acute, thermal effects.

I wonder how long The Spin Machine can operate and maintain these all-life-threatening ICNIRP guidelines?

By PhD Mikko Ahonen on Thu, December 01, 2011 at 1:04 am

Thank you Chris for this important article.  I learned some new things from it.  However, you have mischaracterized the history between my employer and me.  I was prevented from installing a Lindgren Faraday cage in my office because it would have blocked the fire sprinkler, which is a valid safety issue.  I chose to cut back on my hours because I could not handle those EMFs full time.  I now also do part time consulting work for people who want lower EMFs in their homes.

Also, while CTIA has often issued statements that there is no conclusive evidence that cellphones are harmful, that’s not the same as saying they are safe.  According to this CTIA VP, they’ve never claimed cellphones are safe:

By Bill Bruno, Ph.D. on Wed, November 30, 2011 at 10:39 pm

Great combination of visual and commentary: “Who doesn’t keep at their side at all times the electro-plastic appendage for the suckling of information?”
Thanks for this article. My comment is to add to this sentence near the end of Mr. Ketcham’s article:
“What we do know, without a doubt, is that the electromagnetic fields are all around us, and that to live in modern civilization implies always and everywhere that we cannot escape their touch.”
I would like to make it clear that the electromagnetic fields aren’t merely “all around us” and touching us ... they do penetrate into our brains and into more or less any part of our bodies. It isn’t that electromagnetic fields merely touch our skin. And for most of us in the developed world, it isn’t that EM fields only touch us occasionally; many people are being “touched” by it constantly day-and-night non-stop. Everywhere the EM fields touch us (standard clothing is no protection, no matter how thick), they penetrate into brain and body parts that absorb the EM fields and react to them biologically. There is no controversy about this penetration and absorption—everyone agrees (scientists, cell phone manufacturers, WiFi/WiMax providers, radar providers, telecommunications corporations, medical professionals, governments, military, health agencies, etc.). The basic controversy is only around (1) whether or not the effects observed as biological reactions (in humans, flora, and other fauna) resulting when penetration by and absorption of EM fields occurs are effects that are considered detrimental to health, behavior, and/or wellbeing of a living individual and (2) how the effects vary from individual to individual and for any individual in varying electromagnetic environments. For example, the Volkow study results published earlier in 2011 demonstrated a change in the way glucose was used in the brains of live humans during their exposure to EM fields radiating from cell phones; I suppose there’s a possibility that for some specific individuals this alteration to brain activity might be in some way a good thing, however, for otherwise healthy well-functioning brains, altering normal successful brain activity could be detrimental to those individuals’ health and wellbeing.

By Barb Payne on Wed, November 30, 2011 at 8:01 pm

I’ll bet that the switching power supply in the cell tower that changes the grid AC to DC was generating dirty electricity (high frequency transients) which   run back to the substation in the grid, and gets into the earth, and house wiring.I studied a school with a cell tower on campus, and the kids were hyperactive and unteachable, and cancer was epidemic in the teachers.Smart meters also generate dirty electricity and are making a lot of people very ill. I talked to a man who sleeps in his garage since the bedroom wall-mounted smaart meter stops his pacemaker. I’d love to visit the Rail house and farm to make measurements of ground currents and dirty electricity in the house. If it’s not too late, I’d testify that the tower was the cause of all their probems. Check out my website: I’d be glad to talk to Chris Ketchum and explain exactly what happened.  Best,  sam milham (760 775-5878)

By Sam Milham MD on Wed, November 30, 2011 at 6:44 pm

Excellent piece, Chris, as usual. You hit all of the highspots. And thanks to Earth Island Journal for giving the subject decent word count. One thing though… the paper that Dr. Henry Lai and I co-authored on infrastructure exposures, entitled “Biological effects from exposure to electromagnetic radiation emitted by cell tower base stations and other antenna arrays,” appeared in 2010 in Environmental Reviews, one of the peer-reviewed publications of Canada’s now-privatized National Research Council Press, not as stated in the International Commission on Electromagnetic Safety’s publication. I have no doubt that EHS exists. Too many people now report identical symptoms from low-level exposures that are not supposed to be happening according to standard physics models. But then standard linear physics models do not take non-linear effects into consideration. An allergy is a classic non-linear reaction, i.e. a small amount of a substance like bee pollen will cause a seemingly out-of-proportion reaction such as anaphylactic shock. (In fact, all biology is non-linear, including the weather.) No one knows why some people develop allergies to specific things. But Olle Johansson’s work that found changes in skin mast cells are a good indicator of both how and why EHS might be occurring and verified, if not treated. As the body’s largest organ, skin is our first contact with the world. The elephant in the room re: our increasing ambient exposures to EMF/RF is that biology is far more complex than simplistic physics models can or ever will encompass. The wrong profession has been traditionally in charge of this. Plus, any safety standards in place at regulatory agencies are for high-intensity, short-term acute exposures, not the low-level chronic ones common today. In addition, no one takes cumulative effects into consideration from the myriad wireless products embraced by so many today. It is no wonder that some people’s immune system reach a tipping point. We have a biological problem now, not a physics one. And as with us, so with other species. We are not the only ones being affected. Some species are fantastically sensitive to low-level EMF and in fact rely on the earth’s natural fields for migration, mating, etc. Environmentalists, please take note—there is a wealth of information on adverse affects to wildlife. Please consider some of it before continuing to microchip pets, which can develop deadly sarcomas around the chips, or attaching radio collars to everything that moves…
B. Blake Levitt

By B. Blake Levitt on Wed, November 30, 2011 at 1:24 pm


Concepts and theory sounds great, but upon closer inspection:

A. Utility bills are increasing where smart meters are installed, not decreasing.

B. Customer information from smart meters is NOT formatted for customers and does NOT change customer behavior towards conservation.

C. The cost - benefit of smart meters is horrendous (for us people) and is being promoted to profit the utility companies and their suppliers, not customers or our society or our environment.

D. The Smart Grid does NOT use or require a smart meter on each home.  The necessary smart information can be gathered much more efficiently and timely and inexpensively at energy distribution points.  (The smart grid does not care or need to know how much power any one home uses.)

E. The vast amount of unnecessary and nearly useless information to be handled and stored may actually raise energy usage.

F. This massive Billions-of-dollars (taken from us) smart meter program will leave NO funds for programs that would truly bring energy saving solutions and the public will not be receptive to real solutions after being burned by these Smart meters.

By Robert Williams on Wed, November 30, 2011 at 12:44 pm

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