Electrical Sensitivity

Arthur Firstenberg and Susan Molloy

The 750,000-watt Doppler weather radar at Fort Dix, New Jersey, overlooks the Township of Brick. Why is that of interest to anyone but meteorologists? It’s not, except that eight out of every 1000 children born in Brick since the radar station was built in 1994 are autistic.

The Brick Township Autism Investigation (1), conducted in 1998 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, uncovered 60 cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) among children aged three through ten in this town of 77,000 residents. As in much of the rest of the world, autism is increasing here. But the prevalence of both ASD and classic autism in Brick Township were found to be dramatically higher than normal in the 3-to-5-year-old age group, i.e., those born since 1994.

Forward-thinking educators and parents have done a good job in recent years of tackling the difficult issues involved in protecting sensitive children from chemical contaminants, dyes, preservatives, and allergens in their food, medications, classrooms, and homes. However, an additional burden has been overlooked and even ridiculed as untenable as a factor in many children’s profound neurological and behavioral problems. Some readers may react with disbelief to our suggestion that the Fort Dix Doppler might qualify for a place on the “radar screen” of those scientists who are puzzled by the local epidemic of autism. (2) The authors of this article are adults who are made extremely sick, sometimes incapacitated, from exposure to “normal” amounts of electromagnetic energy.

We’ve seen some children respond as we do, as their well-meaning parents and teachers equip them with newer, faster, more powerful “safety” and communication devices, oblivious to the potential consequences for their children’s health and development. We’re not oblivious to these consequences because we ourselves respond directly and immediately, with debilitating pain, confusion, and neurological symptoms, to cell phones, cordless phones, computers, televisions, and other normal elements of today’s home, work and school environments. And we are in increasingly good company. Gro Harlem Brundtland is director-general of the World Health Organization. A medical doctor with a master’s degree in public health, as well as former prime minister of Norway, she has recently been speaking in public about her own sensitivity to computers, cordless phones and cell phones.

Not only has she warned parents against allowing their children to use cell phones or microwave ovens, but she said that she herself has become so sensitive to the radiation that she does not allow anyone to enter her office with a cell phone turned on. “If you enter my office, you are invited by me. No one who is invited would like to give me headaches,” she said at a news conference in Oslo on July 1, 2002, where she was attending an international conference on cancer.

Awakening to the potential of electricity to affect children’s health and development can be initially disheartening, because electromagnetic pollution is so inescapable, and its sources so often are “conveniences” for which we’ve eagerly expended considerable resources. It can also be empowering, because it gives parents and practitioners an additional tool and offers a new range of potential factors that may be influencing seemingly intractable health or behavior problems. Both of us went to school and were graduated from college before personal computers, cell phones, the Internet, and everything that goes along with them even existed. As environmentally sensitive people, we feel lucky to have grown up before today’s conditions became the norm.