Friday, 4 March 2011
Easing That Electromagnetic Anxiety
Building biology students are taught to test for a checklist of hazards — volatile organic compounds, benzene, chlorine, BPA plastic, electromagnetic radiation — the names of which are increasingly familiar as pollution has become a domestic issue. In fact, the president’s latest cancer report, released this month, noted drinking water, cellular communications and electricity as particular areas of concern.A few weeks ago, I invited a “building biology” consultant into my East Village apartment to evaluate the place for toxic elements — lurking in the water, the air and under the refrigerator — and offer a diagnosis, which led to my article today in The New York Times. “Building biology” is a European import that originated in postwar Germany, where in the flurry of new housing construction, the inhabitants of new dwellings began to suffer from what would become known as “sick building syndrome.”
One area that building biology consultants test for, and that the president’s report highlighted as well, is electromagnetic radiation, which was of particular concern to me because I live across the street from a small forest of cellphone antennas.
Matthew Waletzke, the consultant who evaluated my apartment, reported readings of “2,000 microwatts per meter squared,” whatever that means. He said that under building biology tenets, all readings over 100 are potentially hazardous. But standards in this country are set by the Federal Communications Commission, and a spokesman for the agency, Bruce Romano, assured me in an e-mail message that my readings were “.04 percent of the F.C.C. guidelines” for safety. Still, panic set in.
A visit to a “safety superstore” revealed all manner of “shielding” devices, from kinky-looking silver-plated nylon mesh underwear and balaclava hats to bed canopies that looked like mosquito nets. Mr. Waletzke suggested that I could paint my bedroom, where the readings were highest, in a carbon-based paint that is pitch black and costs about $400 for five liters.
A third option was to ignore the towers and reduce my family’s electromagnetic radiation exposure in other ways. I asked Louis Slesin, editor of the online journal Microwave News, for his recommendations.
1. Don’t ever use an electric blanket.
2. Make sure you know where your fuse/electric service box is and don’t let anyone sleep near it.
3. Don’t spend a lot of time within a yard of any appliance that’s plugged in (move the clock radio away from your bed).
4. Don’t let your kids watch food cook in a microwave oven.
5. Keep the Wi-Fi router as far away from your family as possible. “Tuck it in a corner or a closet,” Mr. Slesin said.
6. Embrace the landline and get rid of the cordless phone.
7. Don’t give any child a cellphone.
8. Get a wire — as opposed to a Bluetooth — headset for your cellphone.
I’m reconsidering the balaclava.