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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 4/21/15

"Aiming to First Do No Harm: The Education of Electronics Users"

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Just before World War II, Roy Olhoeft married the assistant to the president of Goodyear Aircraft. After the war, Roy and Helen had two children, and Roy worked as the last master miller for the Quaker Oats Company. In 1966, he patented Quaker Instant Oatmeal, those breakfast packs that only require hot water. Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which illuminated pesticides' harmful effects, was not published until 1962; and so before family barbeques, to get rid of mosquitoes and flies, Roy used an electric "fogger" to spray his backyard with pesticides.

Gary had a knack for taking things apart. In high school, he repaired cars and televisions. To remove the engine grease on his bare hands, he rinsed them with gasoline. In 1967, after Gary showed his father that he could repair a Ford Mustang, he had his first car.

While at MIT, where he received two degrees in electrical engineering, Gary got computers from a surplus yard, took them apart and reassembled them. NASA hired him to work on the Apollo program while he was still an undergraduate. He received a PhD in physics from the University of Toronto, then worked for the U.S. Geological Survey for 20 years, supervising, among many other things, cleaning soil polluted by harsh chemicals. After that, for two decades, Gary taught electromagnetic exploration geophysics at the Colorado School of Mines.

Let's take a look at one electronic regulation after World War II.

In 1958, the first cardiac pacemaker was installed in a person. Almost immediately, people with these implants complained to Congress and their doctors that nearness to a microwave oven could shut off their pacemaker.

In 1971, after 13 years of complaints from diners with pacemakers, the FDA ruled that restaurants had to post notices if a microwave oven was on the other side of a wall.

In 2015, we have many more kinds of medical implants besides cardiac pacemakers. No agency tracks or regulates their use.

Interference, Gary explained to me, is any unwanted effect--like someone playing music loudly when you want to hear a phone conversation.

Electromagnetic interference is when electrical or magnetic fields produce an unwanted effect, typically at lower frequencies, by induction.

Radiofrequency interference is when electromagnetic fields produce an unwanted effect, typically at higher frequencies, by radiation.

Electromagnetic signals make devices like motors, power lines, radio, TV and cell phones work. Geophysicists might consider these same signals noise and interference, especially while they study earthquakes, environmental contamination, or infrastructure problems like corroding pipelines with extremely sensitive meters that measure changes in electromagnetic fields.

What's a desirable electromagnetic signal?

What's an unwanted noise?

The answers depend on the situation--and on your perspective.

Back to regulations after World War II. In 1969, under President Nixon, Congress formed the Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA. One division studied the effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

In 1971, the President's Office of Telecommunications Policy reported that "The consequences of undervaluing or misjudging the biological effects of long-term, low-level exposure (to electromagnetic radiation emanating from radar, television, communications systems, microwave ovens, industrial heat-treatment systems and many other sources) could become a critical problem for the public health, especially if genetic effects are involved."

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Katie Singer works on public policy with the Electromagnetic Radiation Policy Institute. A medical journalist, her books include The Garden of Fertility; Honoring Our Cycles, and An Electronic Silent Spring: Facing the Dangers and Creating Safe Limits. 

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