Electromagnetic hypersensitivity close to mobile phone base stations – a case study in Stockholm, Sweden

Authors: Lennart Hardell and Tarmo Koppel

From the journal Reviews on Environmental Health

https://doi.org/10.1515/reveh-2021-0169

Abstract

A previously healthy worker developed symptoms assigned to electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) after moving to an office with exposure to high levels of anthropogenic electromagnetic fields (EMFs). These symptoms consisted of e.g. headache, arthralgia, tinnitus, dizziness, memory loss, fatique, insomnia, transitory cardiovascular abnormalities, and skin lesions. Most of the symptoms were alleviated after 2 weeks sick leave. The highest radiofrequency (RF) field level at the working place was 1.72 V/m (7,852 μW/m2). Maximum value for extremely low frequency electromagnetic field (ELF-EMF) from electric power at 50 Hz was measured to 285 nT (mean 241 nT). For electric train ELF-EMF at 16.7 Hz was measured to 383 nT (mean 76 nT). Exposure to EMFs at the working place could be the cause for developing EHS related symptoms. The association was strengthened by the symptom reduction outside the working place.

 

Introduction

Exposure to extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic fields (EMF) and radiofrequency (RF) EMF is in most cases involuntary and unknown to people. Both ELF-EMF and RF-EMF have been evaluated by IARC to be possible human carcinogens, Group 2B [1], [2], [3]. In fact EMFs should be regarded to be environmental pollutants that do not smell, have no taste and are invisible.

Already in the 1970s the ‘microwave syndrome’ was described in the former Soviet Union [4]. Persons working with radar or radio equipment reported symptoms of fatigue, headache, dizziness, disturbed sleep, concentration and memory problems.

In the 1980s similar symptoms were reported among Swedish persons working in front of cathode ray tube monitors [5]. In Finns such symptoms were attributed to exposure to EMF [6]. This syndrome was termed electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), although still without an International Classification of Diseases (ICD-code) [7].

EHS consists of a wide range of different symptoms that may vary from person to person. EMF sensitivity varies among individuals from mild to severe. The prevalence has been reported to be 1.5% in Sweden [8], 3.2% in California [9], 5% in Switzerland [10], and 13% in Taiwan [11].

We report here on a person who developed symptoms consistent with those described among EHS subjects. The symptoms developed at a work place with exposure to EMFs. Our hypothesis is that the symptoms may be attributed to that exposure. We obtained informed consent by the person to publish the symptoms and work history anonymously.



Conclusions

This investigation established three possible reasons for developing health symptoms associated with the EMF exposure, including the following.

  1. The working room was right below the mobile phone base station antenna, located on the roof of the building. The close proximity to these antennas caused significantly high RF radiation exposure in the working area.

  2. The working room is also positioned close to lower radiofrequency transmitter (TETRA emergency services), located on the neighboring roof of the same building.

  3. The working room was positioned within 20 m from the electric train railroad. 16 Hz magnetic field from the railroad power cable was on some instances the highest ELF MF component in the room, exceeding even the power grid 50 Hz MFs. Also, railroad power cable induced a fluctuating magnetic field in the office due to the coming and passing electric trains. As trains come and go, this introduces a change in the electric power supplied by the railroad electric cable. Consequently the magnetic field also changes in great amplitude.

In conclusion, there are at least three types of electromagnetic fields present in the working room, which cause a long term exposure to the workers. Exposure to multiple source electromagnetic fields could be the cause for developing EHS related symptoms. However, the person had been exposed to ELF-EMF also at other locations in the building, so exposure to RF-EMF seems to be the most probable cause to her developed health problems.


Open access paper: https://www.degruyter.com/document/doi/10.1515/reveh-2021-0169/html

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