'It's Definitely Real' Those With
Electrical Sensitivity Defend The Diagnosis
Journalist: David Mirhadi
January 27, 2004
To many in the medical
community, the electrical sensitivity that drove Downieville's Kaput
family out of the suburbs is a mysterious and questionable
These vocal activists have established such groups
as the Cellular Phone Task Force and published books on the
perceived danger of cellular phone towers and power lines. Backers
of the ES theory have opened electricity-free medical clinics in
Dallas and researched the condition at the University of
Those who feel they
are afflicted by the ailment say electromagnetic exposure - such as
driving a car or watching television - leaves them nauseated, dizzy
Medical Association hasn't recognized electrical sensitivity, known
as ES, as an established organic disease.
The Milwaukee-based American Academy of Asthma,
Allergy and Immunology has issued no position statements nor
conducted research on electrical sensitivity, academy spokeswoman
Erin Hareng said.
stopped a small band of doctors, authors and citizen activists from
espousing the dangers of being exposed to microwave radiation,
electromagnetic fields and electrical currents.
Their mission to
educate a skeptical public is a daunting one, and yet, they forge
Arthur Firstenberg, a
Mendocino resident, has experienced electrical sensitivity since
1980, when he was a student in his third year of medical school at
the University of California in Irvine.
After undergoing a series of X-rays, Firstenberg
said he soon became sensitive to common appliances, such as
dishwashers or televisions.
described the sensation as "a jangling of the nervous
your hand in a light socket every time you went by an appliance," he
thousands of copies of an ES-centered newsletter all over the United
States. A recent issue of the newsletter contained a profile of
World Health Organization's former Director-General Gro Harlem
Brundtland and her sensitivity to cell phone and computer
Firstenberg, who has met
ES sufferer Don Kaput and his family, said his own condition is such
that he can drive a car, but he can't watch television or use a cell
He questions those who
believe electrical sensitivity is a psychosomatic problem.
"It's definitely real," he said. "If
people are allergic to chocolate, milk and paint, why not one of the
marvels of the 20th century?"
Firstenberg said Don Kaput's condition is far
worse than his own. The father of seven outside Downieville lives so
far from civilization, Firstenberg said, "because he doesn't have a
Rand Malone, a
Florida-based allergist and member of the American Academy of
Asthma, Allergy and Immunology, said the syndrome probably is an
acute sensitivity to chemicals, smells, detergents or paints that is
called vaso motor rhinitis.
Electrical sensitivity, Malone said, "is not a
medical diagnosis that M.D.s recognize."
Malone, an allergist with 12 years of experience,
serves as president of Florida's Allergy, Asthma and Immunology
Society and sees many clients who avoid going to malls, church,
restaurants that allow smoking, or the perfume aisle in a drugstore.
In most cases, he works with them to overcome their
"I help them
understand how intense their problem is," he said.
Research on syndromes like ES have
proved inconclusive, because there haven't been any successful
double-blind tests where the tester and the subject are unaware
they're being exposed to the environment making them sick, he
There have been
conflicting reports suggesting cell-phone users are at a greater
risk for certain health problems. The federal General Accounting
Office, in a May 2001 report, concluded that radio frequencies
emitted from mobile phones did not prove to be a serious health
risk, but there wasn't enough data to indicate they pose no risk to
Rough and Ready receptionist is convinced her office environment
contributes to her rash, frequent headaches, "brain fade" and bouts
The woman, who
asked to remain anonymous, said that when her friends are confronted
with this, they simply laugh. "They look at you and say, 'Yeah,
The symptoms have
been present since the woman began her job earlier this year. Her
previous job had her going outside often, thus minimizing the effect
of the symptoms of electrical sensitivity, she said.
The condition causes her to pick up
low sounds from Beale Air Force Base in neighboring Yuba County, she
said, and she can hear garbled voices or sounds, "like a faint
radio," when her house is quiet.
Medication doesn't always make the problem go
away, she said.
"I'm not one
to believe in any kind of medication that suppresses the symptoms,"
she said. "I need to find out what the problem is."