So there’s a British woman who’s been in the news recently for diagnosing herself with a sensitivity to electromagnetic radiation. She sleeps in a $500 EMF-blocking sack and has reportedly stayed in the sack, from time to time, for 30-hour stretches.
The woman— 70-year-old Rosi Gladwell of Totnes, Devon—helps lead a small advocacy group on the issue of EMF-related health issues, and she even got the mayor of the Spanish village where she now lives to look into ways to limit Wi-Fi access for residents.
She fears that the introduction of 5G mobile networks will kill her.
Now seems like a good time to remind readers that there is no evidence to support the idea of “electromagnetic hypersensitivity.” The World Health Organization calls it “idiopathic environmental intolerance with attribution to electromagnetic fields,” or IEI-EMF.
Nevertheless, many people believe themselves to be afflicted. A 2007 survey in the UK found that 4% of people felt they were sensitive to radio-frequency EMF. And, as Ars has reported before, “electrosensitives” have flocked to the EMF dead-zone around the National Radio Astronomy Observatory’s Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope in West Virginia. Federal and state laws restrict transmissions in a 10-mile radius that might interfere with the observatory’s sensitive radio telescopes, creating a haven for those in fear of low-frequency radiation.
A small study in 2017 suggested that sensational media reports seems to amplify the idea that EMF sensitivities are real. The German and Belgian researchers behind the study determined that being exposed to sensational reports “enhanced perception of tactile stimuli in healthy participants.”
Overall, they concluded:
Receiving sensational media reports might sensitize people to develop a nocebo effect and thereby contribute to the development of IEI-EMF. By promoting catastrophizing thoughts and increasing symptom-focused attention, perception might more readily be enhanced and misattributed to EMF.
Fear and nocebo effects likely spread in recent years as reports came out about cellphone radiation-causing tumors in rats, including a massive, $25-million US government study. But, as Ars reported, the studies were riddled with problems. The US government study, for instance, found that rats exposed to cellphone radiation—far more than smartphone-addicted humans would encounter, by the way—lived than unexposed, control animals. The control animals also had unusually low rates of cancers, skewing the data analysis. And female rats inexplicably were not affected by the radiation.
Overall, while results of observational and cohort-studies have been mixed, large-scale, high-quality studies that are not funded by the cellphone industry largely find no increased risks or spikes in cancers and tumors linked to cellphone use.
Moreover, there remains no biological explanation of non-ionizing radiation could cause health effects. The low-frequency radiation from phones, televisions, Wi-Fi, radios, computers, and remote controls is too weak to blast ions off of molecules. That’s in contrast to ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays and X-rays, which can remove electrons. This is what leads to cellular and DNA damage that, in turn, can lead to illnesses and cancers.
Some researchers have suggested that non-ionizing radiation could affect cellular functions without damaging cells, but there’s no evidence to substantiate that concern.
Meanwhile, Gladwell and others have become convinced that our modern world is killing us.
Since diagnosing herself years ago, Gladwell has taken to sleeping in a sack woven with silver and copper and wraps herself in a protective sheet, according to several Britishnews outlets. (You can find similar sleep sackproducts on Amazon.) She says that exposures to Wi-Fi and other EMF make her weak, short of breath, and give her pins-and-needle feelings in her face. She spends much of her time in a remote Spanish vacation home where her exposure to EMF is reduced.
Physicist and Ars associate writer Chris Lee noted that “the copper lining is probably a pretty effective shield to keep the naughty Wi-Fi out.” But he also added:
I’m afraid that an allergy to Wi-Fi is most likely a psychological problem rather than anything due to Wi-Fi radiation. That does not mean we should not take the suffering of the people involved seriously, but we should look elsewhere for solutions… In the end, it’s a very expensive comfort blanket.
Still, Gladwell is holding firm in her thinking. Two years ago, she even reportedly got the mayor of the Spanish village Polopos to consider limiting the village’s Wi-Fi access.
“I am immensely impressed with our local mayor and how seriously he is taking this,” Gladwell told the Olive Press at the time. “When talking about the dangers of Wi-Fi technology, he came up with the idea of limiting the hours of access in the village by putting timer switches on the routers in the school, Town Hall, and doctor’s surgery.”
It’s unclear if the town enacted the restrictions.
Gladwell has since become concerned with the introduction of 5G networks. While some researchers have called for more work into possible health effects, there’s still no evidence or reason to believe that 5G is harmful—apart from the fact that it may interfere with weather forecasts.