Shun Wireless Internet
Some Claim to Have a Physical
Aversion to Wireless Internet
By RADHA CHITALE
ABC Medical Unit
May 28, 2008 —
In the modern word, people
migrate toward areas with wireless Internet,
or Wi-Fi, to try to stay plugged in. They
sit, hot coffee at hand, for hours on end in
cafes with signs proclaiming to be wireless
But some people have the
opposite reaction to the wireless movement.
Instead of seeking out the freedom to log on
anywhere, anytime, they run away.
"If I walk into a room or
building that has Wi-Fi, my most immediate
sign is that the front of my right thigh
goes numb," said Arthur Firstenberg, 57, of
Santa Fe, N.M. "If I don't leave, I'll get
short of breath, chest pains and the
numbness will spread."
Firstenberg is one of a
small group of people who believe they have
Hypersensitivity (EHS), a condition
in which they are highly
sensitive to electromagnetic fields and
experience pain or other symptoms when they
People with electromagnetic
hypersensitivity claim to experience a
variety of non-specific symptoms, including
headache, fatigue, nausea, burning and itchy
skin, and muscle aches. These symptoms are
subjective and vary between individuals,
which makes the condition difficult to
"There are those who believe
that the various and sundry electronic
devices have these magnetic waves that
affect the nervous system," said Dr. James
Toole, professor of neurology and public
health sciences at Wake Forest University
School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.
But experts are divided
about the validity of such claims.
The issue of EHS has been
contentious enough in recent years to
warrant more than 30 studies to determine
what if any link the condition has to
exposure to electromagnetic fields from
sources including radar dishes, mobile phone
signals and, yes, Wi-Fi hotspots.
WHO Study Finds No Link
In October 2004, the World
Health Organization (WHO) conducted a
workshop in Prague to take a closer look at
these studies. What researchers found was
that the most reliable studies showed that
EHS symptoms did not appear to correlate
with exposure to electromagnetic fields.
Furthermore, the studies
indicated that most of those who claimed to
have EHS could not detect
any more reliably than those who did not
"There are also some
indications that these symptoms may be due
to pre-existing psychiatric conditions as
well as stress reactions as a result of
worrying about believed EMF health effects,
rather than the EMF exposure itself," the
editors of the WHO workshop wrote.
But, they added, "Whatever
its cause, EHS is a real and sometimes a
disabling problem for the affected persons."
Catch a Wave
exist all around us,
emanating from power lines, televisions and
microwaves. Wi-Fi is a type of radio wave,
operating at either 2.4 or 5 gigahertz.
These wave frequencies are slightly higher
than the radio waves on which appliances
like cellular phones or televisions operate.
This allows for the transmission of large
amounts of data, but as a result Wi-Fi radio
waves emit greater electromagnetic fields
than things like televisions and microwaves.
Experts argue back and forth
on whether these waves are harmful or
benign. Studies on cell phone use over time
and brain tumor growth which have thus far
proved no connection between the two are
just one example of this relationship.
"People have studied whether there are adverse effects from living
in a vicinity of high tension wires & There
is none," said Dr. George Newman, chairman
of neurosensory sciences at Albert Einstein
Medical Center in Philadelphia.
But limited research, both
physiological and psychological, on exposure
to electromagnetic fields has shown that
some people report varied physical reactions
when they encounter electromagnetic fields.
Firstenberg says his
responses to electromagnetic fields, and to
Wi-Fi networks in particular, are immediate,
almost like an allergic reaction, and can
last for several hours.
But lack of concrete
evidence to explain a mechanism for these
reactions leaves most experts unconvinced.
"It is still in the realm of
suspicion rather than proof," Toole said.
"Research should be encouraged in a
scientific way rather than hearsay."
Still, Firstenberg and his
group, the Santa Fe Alliance for Public
Health and Safety, are working to prevent
the local government from installing
wireless Internet access in several public
buildings, including libraries and the city
hall. The Santa Fe City Council will be
discussing and voting upon the issue in
Learn how to protect yourself from harmful radiation