Blog Update!
For those of you not following me on Facebook, as of the Summer of 2019 I've moved to Central WA, to a tiny mountain town of less than 1,000 people.

I will be covering my exploits here in the Cascades, as I try to further reduce my impact on the environment. With the same attitude, just at a higher altitude!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dirty electricity and CFLs

I was at the podiatrist's office yesterday, getting casted for some new orthotics for my stupid foot, and we were chit-chatting about my book on environmental toxins. My doctor brought up the fact that he's always been concerned about electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) such as radio frequency and the effect on the human body.

Having an engineering degree, in addition to a medical degree, made him a little more educated on the matter than the average person. However, when I mentioned to him some studies about the effect of dirty electricity (from a variety of sources including compact fluorescent light bulbs) on blood glucose levels in diabetics, he was unaware of the impact. Which isn't too surprising since the research done is relatively little and most likely something not in the purview of a foot doctor.

According to one study done, in an environment free of EMFs, Type 1 diabetics needed less insulin and Type 2s had lower blood glucose levels. The researchers also noted that diabetes testing done in a high EMF environment can lead to false positives. While the research so far done on diabetics is somewhat dubious, I'd like to see some more work done to either confirm or dispel this theory.

Most people are unaware of the unseen and (mostly) unheard bombardment of low and high levels frequencies being generated all around us from our microwaves to our cordless and cell phones to the computer monitor you are currently staring at. More recently is the concern of the type of electricity generated from CFL bulbs. Not all CFL bulbs generate the same level of dirty electricity, but it is something to be aware of.

The big deal is that high-frequency voltage transients, aka "dirty electricity", is a by-product of modern energy efficient electronics and appliances which reduce the amount of electricity they use. By tamping down the current, these electronics create a wildly fluctuating electromagnetic field that not only radiates into the immediate environment but also can back up along your home or office wiring all the way back to the utility, affecting every energy customer in between. So, even if you unplug all your electronics and are "going Amish" at home, your next door neighbor could be impacting you from afar, unless you've unplugged yourself from the grid.

Dr. Olle Johansson, a Swedish neuroscientist claims that:
"The human body, whose cells, nerves and organs function with electrical impulse, have difficulty adapting to 60-Hertz cycles, let alone transient high frequencies that last milliseconds. We are dealing with amplitude-modulated or pulsed microwaves in the 2.45 Ghz range (or nearby), in a form that has only been around to any extent for the last 10-15 years.

Compared to the natural background fields, in which living cells have developed during the last 3.8 billion years, these electromagnetic fields are actually very, very strong. It is thus wrong to believe that evolution has furnished us with a safety protection shielding layer against such WLAN (wireless local area network) signals. It has not."

Whether or not you think dirty electricity is a problem (and, for the record, the CDC and the WHO are following research done on this), some suggestions for reducing exposure include limiting wireless Internet, avoiding dimmer switches, limiting CFLs and using LEDs instead, using a landline phone rather than a cordless phone, avoiding Bluetooth headsets, avoiding cell phones when the signal is low, charging your laptop when it's not on your lap and unplugging everything when you aren't using it (which we should all be doing anyway). If you do think your home has high EMFs, you can get an EMF capacitor filter that you plug into the electrical outlet to help reduce it.

I know this sounds all conspiracy theory, but what do you think about EMFs? Do you think it's something to worry about or that it's not a big deal? Has the issue of dirty electricity stopped you from buying CFLs?

More reading (caveat emptor - I am in no way endorsing the content of these):
Dirty Electricity: Electrification and the Diseases of Civilization
Is Dirty Electricity Making You Sick?


Bucky said...

You say conspiracy theory as if that is a bad thing?

Robj98168 said...

LOL I am a type II Diabetic and I have never heard of this. Shit now I gotta swith to all LED's to lower my glucose levels? Damn you G.E. Damn you to hell!

Chile said...

Been so busy I haven't kept up well here so I'm not sure what's up with your "stupid foot." But, as another with custom orthotics (on my 5th pair - none paid by insurance), I can empathize. Hope they help!

Pam said...

Dirty electricity is a new one on me, but I've wondered for a long time why I feel so much better outdoors rather than inside. Maybe that has a role.

I had custom orthotics for plantar fasciitis. The soft ones worked once; later a podiatrist custom made some plastic ones and the problem got worse. I was plagued for a long time, and bought an awful lot of shoes. I finally came across a brief mention of MBT's- an overpriced and not-very-pretty line of shoes. The second I put them on, I couldn't believe the difference. I wore them exclusively for several months and eventually my feet recovered so that I rarely ever wear them anymore. They may be expensive, but they were cheaper than my orthotics and worked a LOT better.

Jonalynn said...

I heard of this 4 years ago when my mom was undergoing a trial cancer treatment for her brain tumor. We met with a nutritionist who gave me a very detailed list of EMF's that needed to be removed from her environment. At the time, we didn't know if this concern was legit, but it wasn't worth the risk so we did as much as possible. What is scary, which you mention, is that we have so little control over our exposure. I have forbid wireless internet in our home and pitched the microwave. Still, I can't imagine life without my cordless phone.

EngineerChic said...

I am too busy learning about the risks of walking though weak x-ray fields (courtesy of TSA) to add this to my list of worries. Excuse me as I go put my head in the sand for now ...

Chile said...

Thanks for the mention, Pam, of the MBTs. Someone told me about them ages ago and I never followed up. I'm going to check them out today. (I also found eliminating dairy helped my plantar fasciitis a lot; some people benefit from that, but not all. Sure wish someone had suggested I try it before having surgery on one foot!)

Sorry, Crunchy, that we've gone off-topic. I didn't know about the CFL electricity thing but it makes sense. Wonder if that's part of my enormous dislike of CFL lighting. I know the noise is a factor - I hate electrical noises!

Mary said...

Please excuse another off-topic comment, but I suffered badly from chronic plantar fasciitis for two years, then I tried a pair of classic Birkenstock sandals and it was like magic how fast the pain went away. I wore only Birkentstocks for a while and my feet seemed to completely realign themselves. Now I don't need the Birkenstocks but I like them for comfort and stability.

Rev. Peter Doodes said...

Your microwave can also emit radiation. Test it by putting your mobile phone inside and ringing it. If it rings you have a leak, check the door for dirt/dust that may stop it closing properly, if it still rings - you have a problem.

Crunchy Chicken said...

I've had plantar fasciitis in the past (back when I was marathon training 10 years ago) and it's a huge pain.

This time around I have sesamoiditis. It's been going on for almost a year now. I have old running orthotics, but am having them make me new orthotics to treat this problem so I can merely walk around.

Regarding the MBT, the list of recommended shoes from the podiatrist included the Skechers Shape-Ups - they are the same theory as the MBTs (a rocker shoe), just a lot cheaper. I'll be getting some of the ones for running as they are more motion control than the regular Shape-Ups. I just won't be running in them :)

Gary said...

If anyone has radiant ceiling heat (popular in the Northwest some years ago), be aware that you are subject to relatively high electro-static fields (60Hz)- especially when the heat is turned OFF! This is because the thermostats are almost always single pole types so one leg of the AC is applied to the wires in the ceiling all the time. Do these fields do anything harmful?? who knows! You can solve this problem by installing dual pole thermostats.

Chile said...

Thanks, Crunchikins. Anything to help the budget is appreciated. Hope your condition improves with your orthotics! I'm tentatively considering training to walk a half-marathon again next winter so I've got to get good shoes!

Anonymous said...

Wow! Had no idea. Microwave passed the cell phone test, but I switched to wireless internet in the house when the girls came home from college and I've been suffering from low grade headaches for a while. I think I'm going to switch back to see if it diminishes the headaches. Thanks for giving us food for thought. Debbie C in MA

Bucky said...

Timely news article:

Talks about wifi having a negative affect on vegetation. No word on what it does to human brains.

I suspect, however, that the recent widespread outbreak of Teabaggerism might be the first signs of an harmful effect on people.

Something must explain all that crazy.

Still ... life without wifi??? WTF? How will we live?

Greenpa said...

And I'm not sure I'd give them there LEDs a free pass, neither.


Exactly what kind of lectricity are they running through them, these days? I don't know, but I have suspicions.

They're basically run on fairly low voltage DC current. My impression is, you can't run them on AC; so, you gotta take your AC, and shove it into DC.

Probably, you can take 110 AC and get it into whatever volts DC with a minimum of fooling around, but; you can also do it WITH a lot of fooling around, changing AC voltages first, etc- mostly decisions about "how" are made based only on "how much" - does it cost the manufacturer. And if the maker just happens to have a couple hundred thousand old cheap surplus transformers sitting on the shelf, they can get used first.

This is not very high on my urgent worry list. But it's not entirely a slam-dunk that LEDs are EMF free. I want somebody who actually KNOWS; about actual manufacturing processes, not theory, to speak up.

If you want to start wondering about it; read here:

There are so many "yeah, but..." aspects that in order to deliver consistent light and consistent life span, the final power supply circuitry is going to be a good deal more complex than we are lead to believe.

Adrienne said...

Uuuugh... this is something I don't even want to think about. I'm surrounded by wireless internet pretty much at all times and can't control it at all when I'm at work.

What worries me is that one of my cats tries to bury the power pack thing on the charger cord for my computer. What can he feel/smell/?? coming off of that that he feels the need to bury it?

Dmarie said...

aaahhh, not my wireless internet. I use the internet now for my daily reading fix. If I go back to just books, I'd miss out on great posts like this. oooOh...

Lane' said...

I had to ask someone about this and do some of my own research as I saw a video a few months ago that spoke of Dirty Electricity.

The World Health Organization, in line with many international organizations and national goverment health institutions, has stated that EMF exposure is not a health risk. The academic literature supporting the lack of any ill effect extends to around 25,000 articles and studies published over the past 30 years (a WHO guide to the topic is available online at

I do know of several health care professionals who don't agree with this stance and have done their own (limited) studies. Unfortunately, none of these studies have been case-controlled (aka when participants who were affected and those who were not affected are interviewed further to determine if another cause is possible). Thus, the findings are largely discounted by the medical community given the expansive literature on the opposite side of the debate.

I do know EMF levels dissipate quickly with distance. At 3 feet away from a CFL bulb, EMF levels drop by approximately 99%. As you've pointed out, many other devices expose us daily to EMF (from our computers and TV screens, to blenders and hair dryers; all of which we tend to use much more closely to ourselves than a lightbulb). Almost anything with electronic components will create some level of EMF.

So, while I would always welcome further research (especially more studies that might specifically examine CFL EMF radiation and health effects rather than EMF in general), the current evidence strongly supports CFLs as a safe lighting technology.

I'm still a supporter of CFL's - I have no problem with them (noise, flicker, etc.) and believe strongly that they (in particular) are still far better than incandescents (which are far "dirtier").