If you look around, no matter where you are, you’ll no doubt see electronic devices. You might use a laptop or mobile phone and there’s probably a phone mast in the vicinity too! Most of your neighbours will have WiFi routers. But if you consider yourself to be electrohypersensitive, it means that you’re unable to be close to equipment which emits radiation.
TV sets, laptops, mobile phones, microwave ovens, fridges, coffee makers… all of them are dicey for people with electromagnetic hypersensitivity. Exposure to EMF (electromagnetic fields) make them feel so unwell that they are unable to live a normal life. We wrote about EHS here, so if you’d like to learn more about it, check out our earlier article. We have also talked about this problem with Gunilla Ladberg, an author of a book “Forced to Disconnect”, which is the real story of electrohypersensitive people in Sweden. You can read this interview here.
Electrohypersensitivity is not as unusual as you may think.
There are a lot of cases of people who suffer from symptoms of this so-called allergy, some of whom are officially recognized as disabled. EHS is considered to be a disability in a few countries, the reasons for this is that it essentially excludes people from modern society and renders them unable to work in an environment where electronic devices are used. Unfortunately, it is very hard to find a job which doesn’t require using a laptop or smartphone. We wrote about Marine Richard from France who received a disability grant after her case went to court. She proved that her electrohypersensitivity made her life so hard that she could not work or live in the city.
In most cases, EHS is not officially recognised as a problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) listed electromagnetic hypersensitivity as an impairment, stating that there is not enough scientific evidence for it to be considered as a medical diagnosis or disease. People who believe they suffer from the effects of electromagnetic waves usually diagnose themselves. They base their self-diagnosis on symptoms which occur only when they are in an area with obvious electronic devices. Symptoms tend not to occur when electronic devices are out of sight.
We could mention not only laptops, WiFi routers and mobile phones but also microwave ovens, and fridges. All of these make electrohypersensitive people feel tired, disorientated and they also cause some physical symptoms, such as red eyes, dry skin and even a rash on their body when they are exposed to radiation. They tend to notice EHS when a source of radiation starts to affect their well being so intensely that it is impossible to explain it in any other way than by as an impact of EMF. Moreover, when at a distance from the suspected electronic device, these people start to feel better. It is said that 3-10% of people affected by EHS, some of whom are not even aware of their condition.
How do you know if you are affected by EHS?
The Internet is full of examples of how people have discovered they are electrohypersensitive. One of the EHS sufferers, Jeromy Johnson, used to be a successful engineer in Silicon Valley. He started to feel bad (he experienced headaches, heart palpitations, tinnitus and insomnia) when he got back home from holiday. It turned out that close to his house there was a smart meter installed and that triggered him. He soon found it hard to use a laptop or smartphone. He said that after one hour spent using a WiFi connection in the morning, he had a strong headache for the rest of a day.
He is still affected by electromagnetic sensitivity but he worked out some useful habits which help him live a regular life and continue to work in an environment full of electronic devices. Not everyone suffering from EHS is so lucky. Jeromy said that EHS people are like the canaries of modern times.
“Just as miners would take canaries down a coal mine to alert them of dangerous gases, electro-sensitive people are alerting society to the profound health consequences of our collective addiction to wireless technology. We should welcome their message and thank them for showing us something that would otherwise harm the entire society over the long-term”, he added.
Nowadays, he professionally helps electromagnetic hypersensitive people find solutions to their problems and improve their everyday life. You can contact him via his website here.
But what if electrohypersensitivity makes it
unable to live in society?
When you think of refugees, you might imagine pictures of people escaping their countries because of war, famine and political oppression. Their living situation made them leave their homes to start over in a new place. People who suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity are often called EMF refugees. As we’ve mentioned, if you are electrohypersensitive, you can’t live close to any electronic devices which emit radiation. No WiFi routers (even in the neighbours’ houses), no smart meters and no cell towers. The EHS sufferers have no influence on these kinds of devices in their neighbourhood. So when the devices make them feel unwell, it is the electrohypersensitive people who have to leave.
There are a few places known worldwide as ‘quiet zones’. One of the most written about is Green Bank, a small town in West Virginia. Wireless is banned there across 13,000 sq miles (33,000 sq km) in order to prevent transmissions interfering with a number of radio telescopes in the area. Green Bank is a part of the US Radio Quiet Zone which is owned by the National Radio Astronomy. Scientists are able to listen to low-level signals from the universe there without any interruption emitted by other electronic equipment. The population of Green Bank is about 150 people and most of them are EMF refugees.
They found a safe place where they can easily go outside their houses and walk around without being bothered by radiation emitted from any devices. To be there, they have to have changed their whole lives. They’ve moved out of the cities, quit their jobs and have had to learn how to live without the Internet or a phone connection.
In Switzerland, on the outskirts of Zurich, there is a block of flats built by the Swiss Healthy Life and Living Foundation for Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) patients. Multiple chemical sensitivity very often goes with electromagnetic hypersensitivity. People with MCS are affected by commonly used chemicals, such as pesticides, plastics and synthetic fabrics.
There are 15 apartments there and the inhabitants have to follow instructions. It is forbidden to use mobile phones there and there are also no smoking and no perfume rules. The building has a built-in shield against electromagnetic radiation which blocks mobile reception and there is no WiFi connection to the Internet (although you can use landlines or hardwired connections). This is the first building of its kind in Europe and it took 20 years to make it happen. People who are ‘allergic’ to radiation and rent apartments there are happy they have found a place for themselves after years of living as campers.
Most people dealing with EHS have to find alternative living solutions. Being a camper is one of them. EMF refugees very often move to camps which are prepared for electrosensitive people. We were surprised how many EMF Refugee Zones are in the world, most of them in Europe, USA and Canada.
We have listed some of these places below. These are three most popular zones worldwide.
Forest Hill Retreat, Nova Scotia, Canada
This is the place where a lot of EHS people from Canada and the USA come for a retreat. They can spend a few days or even whole months there. The hosts say it is affordable for most people because of the different living conditions it offers. If someone doesn’t want to have an apartment there, it is possible to rent a piece of land and put a mobile home on it, a caravan or a trailer. Tents are also allowed, which is not common in other zones. Each inhabitant can create their home (and a yard close to it) in any way they’d like. Forest Hill Retreat is a community of people who love nature and are open-minded. It isn’t a completely ‘quiet zone’ with no radiation at all, but there are no additional sources of radiation which could harm EHS people.
The EHS Refuge Zone, Drôme, France
This is a low-radiation camp designed especially for electrohypersensitive people and organized by an environmental association called Next-Up. It is completely free of charge. Almost all radiation is blocked there so guests only ever receive very low doses of background radiation, levels of which vary from less than 0.01 μW/m² in the insulated caravans to 0.01/0.02 μW/m² in protected areas outdoors. There is only one requirement for guests, they need to have an approved campervan or caravan with metal bodywork. With most places like this, tents are forbidden. If someone visits the EHS Refuge Zone for the first time, they stay there for a maximum of three days, as a trial. They should announce they are coming earlier so that a caravan space can be arranged for them. There is also a specific discharge unit which can help electrosensitive people cure their physical problems caused by radiation exposure. For the most affected there’s a Faraday cage in which they can rest and retreat.
Snowflake Community, Arizona, USA
A rural area arranged in 1988 by Mormons is now intended for people with EHS and MCS. It’s the oldest community for people sensitive to radiation or chemicals and about 30 of them live there now. They have houses which are specifically built or modified and all of them are placed on a large area. Houses are built from so-called ‘healthy’ materials, such as ceramic tiles, glass, steel, concrete and aluminum, all of which are additive-free. Additionally, some of the houses are shielded against radiation from cell towers. Hosts say that in the community there are people of all generations, faiths and political beliefs. They don’t like to be called allergic because MCS and EHS are not based on the allergy mechanism. As it is not a widely known condition the media often trivialize it by giving the false impression that it is just a simple inconvenience. This is important, because the Snowflake Community have been present in several articles and news stories over the years. Nowadays, they are not keen to invite journalists. The community is open to visitors but only ten a year, they can visit to check if Snowflake is a good place for them to live. Before entering any house, it is important for them that the body is washed (using only natural cosmetics), clothes are changed and any electronic devices should be turned off. Snowflake is for people who suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity so they can live a normal and more importantly sociable life.
Being an EMF refugee makes you change your life drastically. To avoid constant headaches and the feeling of tiredness, you need to leave your home, family and friends. People suffering from EHS who have lived in the city, remember how they struggled. One of the electrohypersensitive people complained that other people always wanted to prove her wrong. They turned on the WiFi router in her presence, hoping she wouldn’t notice but she claims to have felt it.
Electrohypersensitivity needs to be taken seriously. People dealing with the condition are truly excluded from modern life. The growing number of places where electrohypersensitive people can retreat or move out shows that for them, the issue is real.
- EMF Refugee: What is an EMF Refugee?
- Refugium: Sanctuaries
- Radiation Refuge
- WiFi Refugees: A documentary about EHS
- Are the ‘Wi-Fi Refugees’ Really Sensitive to Radio Waves?
- EHS Human Rights
- I Am an EMF Refugee
- This West Virginia Town Has Gone Radio Silent
- Refugees of the Modern World
- ‘Wi-fi refugees’ shelter in West Virginia mountains
- IUCAF’s Map of World Radio Telescopes And Radio Quiet Zones
- EHS in Sweden
- Creation of the first EHS Refuge Zone in Italy
- EMF Refugee About
- EMF Quiet Zones
Some of these sources do not necessarily reflect the views of the author but are listed in order to show further examples of the ways in which electrosensitivity affects certain people.
Chazan, D. (2014) Telegraph: The Swiss flats where smoking, painting and mobile phones are banned [Online] http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/switzerland/10748109/The-Swiss-flats-where-smoking-painting-and-mobile-phones-are-banned.html (Accessed 08/09/2017)
Clementi, A. (2010) First allergy-proof houses to be built [Online] https://www.swissinfo.ch/eng/first-allergy-proof-houses-to-be-built/28536704 (Accessed 08/09/2017)
The EI Wellspring (2010) The EHS refuge in southern France [Online] http://www.eiwellspring.org/multiunit/French_EHS_refuge.htm (Accessed 08/09/2017)
The EI Wellspring (2012) Snowflake MCS/EHS community [Online] http://www.eiwellspring.org/Arizona/SnowflakeCommunity.htm (Accessed 08/09/2017)