ALLERGIC TO ELECTRICITY
(Daily Mail Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge) AS THE chief executive of a high-tech food company with a turnover of GBP500m and 5,000 staff, you would expect Brian Stein to have all the latest electronic gizmos. But he doesn't even watch television or listen to a stereo system, much less use a mobile phone or computer.
He cannot travel by electric train, take a long-haul flight or drive a modern car, and long ago traded in his GBP50,000 BMW7 series for a Nissan that is now 12 years old and has 235,000 miles on the clock. For the past seven years, says Brian, he has been electrosensitive, which means he reacts to the electromagnetic radiation - sometimes known as electrosmog - given off by electricity systems and appliances.
Five minutes near a mobile phone mast is enough to cause sharp pains in his head. Longer exposure produces aching muscles, heart palpitations and stomach cramps. On occasion, he says, it has caused him to bleed internally. But every doctor he has seen has told him categorically there is nothing wrong and that his symptoms are all in his mind.
Officially in the UK, electrosensitivity does not exist.
Sufferers of the condition, meanwhile, claim that as many as five per cent of the UK population could be affected.
Electrosensitivity is becoming an issue in schools, with many parents concerned that their children are exposed to more electronic gadgets than previous generations - and that we don't know enough about the effects of the radiation emanating from them.
While there is no scientific evidence to suggest radiation from wireless technology poses any immediate health risks, there has been little research into its long-term effects, something sufferers are clamouring for.
People who claim to be electrosensitive say they suffer disturbing symptoms such as stomach pains and palpitations whenever they are in close proximity to a mobile phone mast or a wi-fi network 'hotspot'.
Yet most doctors say their symptoms are psychosomatic. So is this very modern-sounding malaise the ME of the Noughties?
Brian, 57, believes his symptoms began as a result of using mobile phones.
'I had used one since they came on the market about 20 years ago,' recalls Brian, who runs Samworth Brothers, a Leicestershire company that supplies chilled foods to supermarket chains.
'Then seven years ago I started to experience a tingling sensation in my face and right ear, a bit like earache. It happened only while I was using the mobile phone. At first, I could use it for 20 minutes without a problem, then only for 15 minutes.
'Then one day, about a year later, as I put the phone to my head, it felt as if my eardrum had burst - there was a sharp, stabbing pain. I swore I would never use a mobile again and never have.'
UNFORTUNATELY for Brian, that was not the end of his problems. Soon after, he began to experience head pains when he sat in front of his computer or drove his car.
Convinced he had a brain tumour, he visited his GP, who told him that his symptoms were not consistent with a tumour.
But his fears were not allayed and he asked to be referred to a neurologist who - at Brian's insistence - arranged an MRI scan, which was clear.
Over the next few weeks the symptoms spread to include a sore throat, frequent chest pains and palpitations.
'I wondered what the hell was happening to me,' he says.
'It was my wife who went on the internet, just over a year after I first started having problems, and found out about electrosensitivity. As I read through the list of symptoms, I ticked all the boxes.
It was like a jigsaw fitting together.' Brian began conducting a series of 'experiments'. Driving the car made him feel unwell, but getting out of it made the symptoms subside.
From the internet he learned that old vehicles with fewer electrics are less likely to cause problems for people with electrosensitivity than more sophisticated models, so he began driving his wife's old Nissan, which he still uses.
He also found that being near the washing machine caused a pain in his chest and watching television resulted in headaches.
Some rooms in his home caused him no problems, but in others his symptoms would flare up.
By this time Brian had made contact with Alasdair Phillips, scientific director of Powerwatch, an organisation that researches electromagnetic fields.
Alasdair's company, EMFields, sells electrosmog detectors - devices that convert electromagnetic radiation into noise.
Using one of these, Brian discovered that some rooms in his home had higher levels of radiation than others.
He concluded the radiation was coming from a mobile phone mast about half a mile away, as the rooms affected were those positioned closest to it.
DELIGHTED to have identified the cause of his illness, Brian again visited his doctor - and was shocked at his response. 'He told me that electrosensitivity did not exist and said now that the brain scan had given me the all-clear, he thought my symptoms were psychosomatic. I knew they weren't but it is intimidating when a doctor says that.' Things were getting worse. Within two years of first experiencing head pains, Brian found that merely sleeping in a room with an electricity supply for more than a few nights caused him to develop pains all over his body and ringing in his ears.
At first he switched off the house electricity supply every night, but as this caused the fridge-freezer to defrost, he had a special extension built, using a silver-plated insulating material that screens out virtually all radiation. This is where he now sleeps.
Although neither his wife nor his three grownup children suffer from the problem, they try to be sympathetic.
'The children get exasperated that they cannot watch the television when they come to visit,' he says, 'but they are very understanding. It does make our home life challenging.
'One of the biggest problems is staying in hotels when I am in London on business. If the room has wireless internet access, I wake up at 1am trembling, with ringing in my ears.' All electrical appliances have been removed from his office and his secretary handles his emails. 'Instead of doing presentations from a laptop, we use slides and overhead projectors.
'If somebody needs to get hold of me, they leave a voicemail message which I collect from a land line. I have never lost a contract through being out of touch.
'Because I am the chief executive, I can modify my environment. However, as a trustee of the EM Radiation Research Trust, which lobbies for more research on electromagnetic radiation, I have met many people who are severely electrosensitive like me.
Everyone apart from me has had to give up work.' Nobody knows how many people in the UK suffer from electrosensitivity because the symptoms vary from person to person and the condition is not recognised by most doctors.
A review carried out by the Government's Health Protection Agency in 2005 estimated that somewhere between a few people per thousand and a few per million are affected by symptoms they believe to have been caused by electromagnetic radiation.
But others put the figure much higher.
Professor Olle Johansson, from the Karolinska Institute's department of neuroscience in Sweden, where electrosensitivity is recognised as a disability, estimates the prevalence of the condition in his country at three per cent.
In the capital, Stockholm, sufferers can have their homes adapted to screen out sources of electromagnetic radiation. They can even rent council-owned cottages in areas of low radiation.
And according to a report published by the Swiss Government in 2005, 'electricity supply systems, appliances and transmitters for various wireless applications generate electrosmog that can be harmful to our health'.
In contrast, the British Health protection Agency report investigated various symptoms attributed to electrosensitivity, including fatigue and headaches, but decided that there was no proven link between them and exposure to electromagnetic radiation.
The World Health Organisation came to the same conclusion: 'It has been suggested that symptoms experienced by some individuals might arise from environmental factors unrelated to electromagnetic fields.
'Examples may include "flicker" from fluorescent lights, glare from VDUs and poor ergonomic design of computer workstations.
'Other factors that may play a role include poor indoor air quality or stress in the workplace.
'There are also indications that these symptoms may be due to pre-existing psychiatric conditions as well as stress reactions as a result of worrying about electromagnetic health effects, rather than the exposure itself.' 'With most diseases, sufferers have roughly the same symptoms, but people who have this condition show a variety of responses,' says Professor Lawrie Challis, chairman of the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, which, though funded by the Government and the mobile phone industry, is independent of both.
'The symptoms are real but we do not know what they are caused by.' For the past five years, the research organisation has been investigating the short-term effects of mobile phones and masts and is due to publish the summary of this work in May.
'We have looked at a range of possible effects on memory, blood pressure and inner ear function,' says Professor Challis.
'We have taken blood samples and measured hormones. These are high-quality studies and the signs are that they do not show any short-term effects from exposure to mobile phones.
'What we have found is that when extra-sensitive people are placed in conditions where they do not know whether a mobile phone is on or off, they are unable to tell more often than you would expect.'
Brian Stein believes the Government is reluctant to acknowledge the danger posed by mobile phones because the industry generates around GBP13 billion a year and brings large amounts into the state coffers through taxes and the granting of licences.
Those who, like him, are convinced that electromagnetic radiation is detrimental to health have suggested various theories as to why this should be the case.
Some believe an allergic reaction is at work. Others argue that pulsed radiation from mobiles or laptops using wi-fi interferes with the body's internal electrochemical signalling systems.
The Reflex study, funded by the European Union, reported in 2004 that electromagnetic radiation caused DNA damage to cells in the laboratory, but it said that this did not prove that mobile phones could cause cancer.
Recently, however, more serious concerns about mobile phones have begun to surface.
Some studies, including one published in the International Journal of Cancer last month, suggest that there may be a correlation between using mobile phones for ten years or more and an increased risk of brain tumours, though the authors stress the link could be due to chance or to bias in the research.
'This needs further investigation,' says Professor Challis.
'Cancer takes more than ten years to appear: we have seen that with cigarettes, asbestos and the atomic bomb.
'We have no evidence so far of harm coming from mobile phones, but that does not mean that there is no harm. We cannot sit around and do nothing for the next ten years. Short-term experiments do not tell us much about long-term effects. The only sure way of finding out whether there are long-term effects is to study people's health over a long period.'
Brian disputes that there is no evidence of harm from mobile phones so far.
He has received sheaves of letters from other sufferers through his involvement with EM Radiation Research and the electro-sensitivity support group ES-UK, and says there is plenty of research to back up his belief.
'I don't doubt my sanity, but I am concerned about the sanity of the rest of the world,' he says.
'Scientists used to say the earth was flat. I have no doubt that I will eventually be proved right.'
FOR further information contact: ES-UK www.electrosensitivity.org.uk 01353 778 151. Powerwatch, www.powerwatch.org.uk.
EMRadiation Research Trust www.radiationresearch.org
Copyright 2007 Daily Mail. Source: Financial Times Information Limited - Europe Intelligence Wire.