Zapped!

It might not have been heaven. But to Virl Olga, Croftonbrook was at least a haven. When her name came up for the subsidized seniors' housing, she was ecstatic.Located within sight of Salt Spring Island's Ganges Harbour [Victoria, BC], the cul de sac community was handsomely laid out, with flower beds and friendly neighbours who always had time for a chat.Even before she finished moving in last June, though, Virl learned of a high-voltage utility room adjoining her suite. Warning flags unfurled in her head. When she got a key to the power room that distributes electricity to the centre's 20 housing units, one look at the five wall-to-ceiling switchboxes was enough."I knew exactly what I was seeing," Virl says.Salt Spring [BC] resident Chris Anderson, a veteran antenna-installer trained to measure electromagnetic fields, "read" her place with an EMF meter. Unlike strict European standards, Canadian building codes contain no limits on electromagnetic fields. But one Canadian Labour Congress guideline suggests that any field strength over one milligauss makes for a "hazardous work area." Hair dryers, coffee grinders, electric blankets, cell phones and computers put out more than that at close range.Anderson handed Virl a sketch that showed readings of 10 to 16 milligauss taken in the bathroom and kitchen, on the other side of the utility room wall. He added that these electrical emanations would spike much higher in the fall and winter, when Croftonbrook's residents turned on baseboard heaters and extra lights.After Anderson had gone, Virl Olga wept. She'd already suffered a run-in with a sick building after moving into a coveted housing project in Holland. Her hair had turned grey. She had gotten headaches and dizzy spells. She couldn't drive a car. She could hardly walk. When blood tests turned up nothing, she was labelled a hypochondriac, a complainer and a crank.Then government inspectors found levels of urea formaldehyde in the wallboard at six times safe levels.After emigrating to Canada in 1991, Olga felt "electrocuted" in a basement suit in Richmond. In Victoria, she says, the electromagnetic radiation pouring in invisible waves from office computers made her so ill she had to quit her job as a home support worker.By then she was reading everything she could find on electromagnetic fields. Virl learned that our biggest atmospheric pollutant is not car or coal exhaust, but "electrosmog". Sources ranging from orbiting satellite radars to more than 250,000 microwave and TV transmitters now zap the inhabitants of North America's biggest cities with up to 100 million times more electromagnetic radiation than our forebears absorbed from natural sources up to 100 years ago.Dr. Harris Bush, an oncologist and editor of the "American Journal of Cancer Research", testified in a U.S. court that a standard alternating current's back-and-forth movement causes the molecules in a person's brain or body to be twisted 60 times a second."These fields go through glass. They go through concrete. They simply are not stopped by anything in the environment," Bush testified. Such cellular calamity is especially likely "during pregnancy, early brain growth and old age," explains another EMF expert, Dr. Robert Becker, in his book "Cross Currents".Some research also indicates that electromagnetic fields may interfere with the brain's electro-chemical switchboard, as well as the endocrine system, which regulates vital bodily and immune processes."There is often no direct relationship between dose and effect," Becker notes. "Lower power is sometimes worse than high power."And as appears to be the case with chronic chemical exposure, some people are more sensitive to EMF than others.Overnight, Virl's cozy Croftonbrook home turned hurtful. "Just when I'd gotten my sanity back, my joy for life," she says. Invisible electronic emissions began making her confused, tired and dizzy. Whenever she went into the bathroom, the 61-year-old grandmother experienced hot flashes racing from her toenails to the top of her head.Luckily, distance makes a difference. The power of electromagnetic waves radiating from overhead power lines, toaster ovens and TVs falls off exponentially as you move farther from the source. Virl's bed is six metres away from the "hot" wall. Readings on her pillow measured only 1.5 milligauss.Not owning a computer also helped. On other EMF-reading calls, Anderson has turned apoplectic after finding hard-drives placed at womb or testicle-level. "Stay back!" he urges: keeping one-and-a-half to two metres away from computer components and other common electric appliances is usually enough to provide protection, he says.(Microwave ovens are an exception, Anderson says. He has measured what he considers to be dangerously high EMF readings blasting through walls up to four metres away from newer model microwaves. The EMF tech says he'd like to jail parents who allow small children to peer through the glass door of the family microwave as food cooks inside.)Back at Croftonbrook, Virl could still get a good night's sleep. But she couldn't stay out of her kitchen or bathroom, and as weeks went by, a peculiar numbness began spreading from the sinus cavity above her right eye down through her right cheek. Fortunately, her concerns are being heeded. The committee in charge of Croftonbrook is moving Virl to another suite. They are also looking into shielding the offending wall with transformer-grade steel before someone else moves in.The steel cladding could reduce EMF levels by one-third. But there are other, possibly better options for those worried about EMFs and health. "Mu metal" is a more expensive alloy used to shield electrical components. Coating an offending wall with radar-absorbing "stealth" paint might also help. All these solutions have the same effect on incoming electrical waves. "[It's] like trying to run fast through waist-deep water," one EMF specialist explains. "You'll eventually get there, but with far less remaining energy."For more information on how to protect yourself from electromagnetic fields, contact the Planetary Association for Clean Energy, Inc., at (613) 236-6265."

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