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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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To navigate, bees use cryptochromes, magnetically sensitive genes in their eyes, that can sense the Earth's electromagnetic energy fields. Exposure to EMR emitted by cell towers disrupts cryptochrome-based navigation.

Consider insurance underwriters' assessment of man-made EMR: A.M. Best and Lloyds of London advise insurance companies not to ensure against damages to health caused by wireless devices. Swiss RE rates exposure to man-made electromagnetic fields higher than any other emerging risk, including fracking, GMOs and the re-emergence of asbestos.

In 1996, the year that Congress passed the Telecommunications Act, and a year after Congress stopped funding the EPA to study EMR exposure's effects on our health and environment, Gary Olhoeft was diagnosed with Parkinson's. This neurodegenerative disease associated with several likely causes, including exposure to pesticides like those Roy Olhoeft sprayed in the family's yard, and solvents like gasoline, which Gary used to wash his hands.

For 13 years, to contain symptoms, Gary took pharmaceuticals. Eventually, the medicines' side effects created more problems than the Parkinson's. He considered getting a deep-brain stimulator--a DBS. He was especially concerned about how other electronics might interfere with such a medical implant, but he knew of no better alternative.

Generation 4 for Gary's tech education and regulation starts in 2009, when he acquired a deep-brain stimulator. The DBS includes a battery-powered pacemaker in Gary's chest, near his heart, eight 24" wires bundled into a cable that runs from the pacemaker up through his neck, over the top of his head and down to electrodes inside his brain behind his eyes.

After Gary's surgery, Medtronic--the implant's manufacturer--published an extensive list of electronic devices that may interfere with a deep-brain stimulator. Besides lessening the symptoms of Parkinson's, a DBS works as an antenna. Of course, any metal object can act as an antenna, though it won't be efficient unless it's designed to work like one.

Gary learned that to keep his implant functioning properly, he needs to keep his head and body at least 20 inches from cell phones and other mobile devices. Closer proximity can reprogram or shut the implant off. Some exposures can heat the wires in his brain; such heat could damage his brain or cause his death.

Electronics became Gary's savior and his bane. He realized that walking through theft detectors at a mall or the public library can shut off his DBS. Metal detectors at airports and government offices, MRI diagnostics, surgical electrocautery tools and many electric and hybrid cars can also reprogram or shut off his implant. When this happens, has seconds to reset it--or he shakes so badly that he can't reset it without help.

At the start of each school year, School of Mines geophysics faculty gather at a retreat center on Lookout Mountain. This mountain also houses TV, radio and cell-phone service antennas for the Denver area. Gary realized that being at the Lookout Mountain retreat for more than 90 seconds could heat the wires in his implant and damage his brain.

If you're thanking your lucky stars that you don't have a DBS or a cardiac pacemaker or an insulin pump or a cochlear implant, consider your dental work: a metal crown or tooth filling can also work as a radio receiver.

Gary doesn't live far from here, but he could not attend this talk because, like many parks, Colorado Chautauqua has Wi-Fi, and we could not predict how many cell phones would be in the audience. The combination of Wi-Fi and an auditorium full of cell phones could reprogram his deep-brain stimulator or shut if off.

In year 2000, NIH estimated that 8 to 10% of the American population had some kind of medical implant. Besides cardiac pacemakers and neurostimulators, insulin pumps and cochlear implants are increasingly common. In 2013, President Obama committed $100 million to expanding use of deep-brain stimulators for people with pain, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Consider the implications: I've known people whose insulin pumps shut off when they're in a crowd of cell-phone users. I know of a man whose cardiac pacemaker kept malfunctioning when "smart" meters were installed his neighborhood. The pacemaker didn't function properly until analog meters were restored to his home and his neighbors' homes.

I know of a man who had a cardiac pacemaker and a deep-brain stimulator. Then, he got a cochlear implant. The signals from these implants interfered with each other, causing this man--who happens to be an MD--tremendous discomfort. His surgeons suggested repairing his home's electrical system. They did not believe that implants could interfere with each other. They can.

I know a diabetic who was hospitalized for ketoacidosis, excess blood acids. Her blood pressure did not normalize until the wireless heart monitor clipped to her robe was removed and replaced with a corded one.

I'm not saying that the wireless monitor kept her sick. I'm saying that we need to take a pause: No new deployment of an EMR-emitting device until it is proven harmless for pregnant women, infants, children, people with medical implants, 200-pound males and bee colonies--whether exposure lasts for a few seconds per day or continues 24/7.

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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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