Articles

Part 1Indoor Air Quality, Mold & Moisture, VOCs
Part 2 Renovations and New Building Construction
Part 3 Electrical and Magnetic Fields in the Home and Office | This page -- See below.
Part 4 Radio Frequencies (Cell Phones and Cordless Phones)
Additional Articles:
USA TODAY in MS Word format
Essential Wellness September 2005
Kansas City Wellness September 2005

Note: To view a PDF version of the slides presented at Oram's lecture on Steps to Minimize Exposure to Electro-Magnetic Fields, click here.

Note: To view a Text Only version of the slides presented at Oram's lecture on Steps to Minimize Exposure to Electro-Magnetic Fields, click here.

Healthy Homes: Part 3
Electrical and Magnetic Fields in the Home and Office

by Oram Miller, BBEI

Note: This is Part 3 of a four part series on healthy homes from a Building Biology perspective published in Living Well, a monthly magazine providing health-related topics to the Fairfield, Iowa community. Part 1 covered Indoor Air Quality and was published in the March 2004 issue. Part 2 covered Healthy Renovations and New Home Construction and was published in the April issue. A fourth article discussing Radio Frequencies (Cell Phones and Cordless Phones), is expected to be published in autumn 2004.

This month's article discusses the Building Biology approach to Electrical and Magnetic Fields, their identification, health effects, remediation, and how to avoid them in remodeling and new construction by following a healthy electrical wiring protocol (which is easier than you think).

Turning to today's topic, our bodies have evolved over thousands of years in a natural environment that contains low-level background radiation from the cosmos and the earth. We have adapted to these naturally occurring sources of ambient electro-magnetic radiation. They generally do us no harm and some are even considered to be healthful.

Over the past century, our bodies and brains have been bombarded by a steadily increasing stream of background electromagnetic radiation from technology and in our homes, offices and other buildings we visit. This has seriously challenged our health as we try to cope and adapt to this ever-increasing man-made electro pollution.

These health effects are well established in research that is not well publicized in this country, conducted by, among others, the New York State Power Lines project, showing an increased incidence of childhood cancer, behavioral problems and nervous system effects in children living near transmission lines; by the US Navy, showing elevated triglyceride levels (a study they later claimed never took place); and by Ahlbom and Feychting in 1993 in Sweden with 500,000 children showing a significant relationship between magnetic field exposure and leukemia. A 14 page review written by one of my Building Biology faculty of the scientific literature on the health effects of electro pollution is available upon request.

Nighttime melatonin levels were shown to be reduced by electrical and magnetic fields in several generations of minipigs in 1988 by Phillips for the Batelle Pacific Northwest Laboratories in research funded by the Electric Power Research Institute. This effect has been corroborated in humans in other research and its implications are discussed later in this article, but they include the promotion of chronic fatigue, immune system deficiency, allergies and cancer. Phillips was the original director of the study and reported her findings independently. The official report by the laboratory, on the other hand, claimed there was no harm. There is additional evidence that research showing electro pollution-induced damage to health has similarly been suppressed by the federal government and the electric utility industry, which is detailed in the scientific literature review paper mentioned above.

Man-made electromagnetic pollution comes from electrical transmission lines and electrical wiring found inside homes and offices. It also comes from radio frequencies, called "RF," which penetrate into buildings, a topic that will be covered in the fourth and final article and lecture in the series.

Non-radio frequency electromagnetic pollution comes from two sources, electrical fields and magnetic fields, which are related but are not the same. We will limit our discussion primarily to AC (Alternating Current) electric and magnetic fields since that is what is typically found in buildings.

AC Electric fields are produced by voltage differences and emanate from the wires in walls, floors and ceilings (unless wires are installed in metal conduit). This is true even if every lamp and appliance in your room is unplugged. These fields are not the same as AC magnetic fields that come from outside utility lines, from indoor wiring that is unbalanced due to "wiring errors," or from point sources such as motors and transformers. Magnetic fields have their own effects, which will be discussed shortly.

The health effects of elevated AC electrical fields are most serious in our sleeping environment because that is where we allow our bodies to rest and rejuvenate. Children are particularly susceptible to this influence but all of us are affected even when we are not aware of it. We know in this community that rest is the basis of activity. The deeper the rest, the more profound the activity.

The levels of electrical fields from AC electric current normally found in the sleeping area cause an agitation that prevents us from fully settling down and getting the level of rest we need at night. When this electrical field is eliminated or substantially reduced, people experience a much more profound sleep that supports activity and promotes better health.

As noted above, studies have shown that melatonin, a hormone normally produced at night by the pineal gland, is suppressed in the presence of both electrical and magnetic fields. Suppressed melatonin levels can cause chronic fatigue, hyperactivity, headaches, hormone imbalance, depression, and even cancer. Allergies are aggravated. Healing is impaired and some people may not respond as fully to traditional or alternative medical therapies. Suppressed levels of melatonin also prevent the liver from detoxifying at night, worsening chemical sensitivity.

Many of these symptoms are greatly relieved and even prevented when electrical fields are eliminated and the depth of sleep is increased. People respond better to medical and alternative therapies. Clients of the Building Biology approach remark on how well they sleep after these fields are eliminated, even if they thought they slept well before.

For existing homes Building Biologists show the client, which specific circuit breakers need to be shut off at night. The breakers involved need to be carefully determined for each home. This last point is very important because the "body voltage" level of electrical fields, discussed below, can actually go up if all of the circuits causing the increased levels are not identified and shut off at night.

When the electric field cannot be lowered enough by shutting off specified circuit breakers alone, a "sleep shield" is also used. This is a fabric that shunts electrical fields outside through a grounding wire. Whatever level we can bring the electrical fields down to by shutting off specific circuits, a further ten-fold reduction in the "body voltage" level can be achieved with the additional use of a sleep shield.

Building Biologists are trained to measure electrical fields in any room in a home by using a technique called "body voltage." This is best shown in a live demonstration, which will be done at the lectures on May 17 and 19. The "body voltage" test gives a more accurate reading than the "electrical field" mode found on tri-axial gauss meters.

Having a shut-off switch for the bedroom, as is now common in new home construction in our community, is a step in the right direction and a good protocol. It does reduce electrical fields but not nearly enough. My evaluations show that these switches reduce the electrical field anywhere from 50 to 80% depending upon how they were wired, however this leaves the "body voltage" still in the "Strong biological risk" range of several hundred milliVolts. Bau-biologie in Germany considers this to be an "Unacceptable biological risk for all people, especially if multiple stress factors are acting together. Remediation must be done as soon as possible." Most people start off with levels of 1,000 to 3,000 milliVolts, considered in the "Extreme biological risk" range and certainly high enough to produce many of the health problems I mentioned earlier. Bau-biologie calls readings in this range, "A critical biological risk to all people. Remediation must be done quickly even without the presence of multiple stress factors."

In existing homes shut off switches can be installed using 24 volt "low voltage" wire connected to relays at the main electrical panel that turn off the specific breakers there so you do not have to go into the basement every night and morning. Existing shut off switches can also be rewired to this configuration.

The Building Biology recommendation is to reduce the "body voltage" level to at least below 100 millivolts, which is still considered within the "Weak biological risk" range (10-100 millivolts). The goal is to get as close to the "Ideal level" of 10 milliVolts as possible. We prefer to reduce the level to at least 30-40 milliVolts, but further reduction is ideal. Electrically sensitive people need to have even lower levels than 30-40 mV.

Reducing the levels of electrical fields can easily be accomplished when you remodel your home or build a new one by running all electrical wiring in, around, above and below every bedroom in metal conduit (called MC, or "metal clad," cable). This eliminates electrical fields. Plastic jacketed wire, called "Romex," which is typically used in residential construction, does not. We also recommend doing the same in any other room in which people spend a good deal of time during the day, such as a home office.

These protocols are spelled out in the chapter on electrical wiring in the Building Biology-Based New Building Construction manual that I have written. Metal clad wire costs about three times what plastic jacketed "Romex" wire costs, so the entire house does not need to be wired with it. It is sufficient to use metal clad wiring where people sleep and where they spend a good deal of time in the day. It is worth the extra cost to do this to promote better health and the difference is noticeable.

As an aside, I wholeheartedly endorse the electronic filter devices provided by Dr. Geoffrey Golner and would like to point out that they do exactly what they are designed to do; that is, filter out unwanted high frequencies coming into your house from the utility on the 60 Hertz Alternating Current (AC) 110 volt power line. These devices do not, however, protect people from the harmful health effects of any of the electrical and magnetic fields that I am discussing in this article. Separate evaluation and remediation procedures from a Building Biology standpoint are necessary to find and remedy these fields.

Regarding magnetic fields, the usual indoor sources are "point" sources, including your electric meter, main electrical panel, compressor motors (as in the refrigerator), those little black boxes you plug into the wall, and electronics with transformers, such as computers and home entertainment systems. The good news is that these types of magnetic fields drop off rather quickly. Increasing your distance from them is a simple remedy. Shielding is needed in rare cases.

The real magnetic fields one needs to guard against, however, are caused by inadvertent crossing of neutral wires with other neutral or ground wires during installation or remodeling, so-called "wiring errors." Twisting of wires will not shield against magnetic fields produced in this way and these fields can run all over the house. You can even have low level magnetic fields from current running on water pipes and gas lines due to current on the electrical grounding system.

These inadvertent "wiring errors" will create magnetic fields that come up through the floor and out from walls wherever the wire with the error happens to run and can be strong enough to affect the health of occupants, particularly in the sleeping area and in other parts of the building. Magnetic fields from these "wiring errors" do not drop off as quickly as those from point sources. They need to be checked for and corrected before occupancy of any new building, no matter how careful the installation, to be sure that unintentional errors did not occur. This is a standard part of the Building Biology recommended protocol.

There are procedures that can be done with electricians to find and correct these problems and I currently do this in existing homes with two local electricians. Building Biology also has important recommendations on where to locate electric meters, main electrical panels, and other considerations in new home construction and remodeling that, if followed, can result in an "electrically clean" house.

Magnetic fields, like electrical fields, affect us most when we sleep by inhibiting the production of melatonin in the pineal gland. For that reason, make sure the head of your bed and that of your children is not on the other side of a wall from the electric meter, the main electrical panel, the refrigerator, or a television set or stereo system. Also don't sleep right over the main electrical panel if it is located in the basement.

Twisting of wires will reduce ambient, or background, magnetic fields on electrical wiring but it does nothing to protect people from electrical fields. Only installing the wire in rigid or flexible metal conduit does this. Twisting of wires also does not protect against ill effects from the levels of magnetic fields caused by "wiring errors," the most common source of magnetic fields from wiring.

Spark Burmaster, a Certified Building Biologist, Electrical Engineer and one of my teachers, originally taught builders ten years ago in a workshop in Fairfield to twist all electrical wires to reduce magnetic fields. In the past decade Spark has reversed himself and now teaches the opposite, saying this does not help in any significant way. This is because the ambient magnetic fields you are trying to reduce are relatively small and twisting plastic jacketed wire may break it.

He goes on to say that if a new home is wired without "wiring errors," this source of magnetic fields will be eliminated and is not remedied by simply twisting the wires. Any "wiring error" needs to be found and eliminated.

Magnetic fields can also be produced by current flowing on the grounding system of the house from such sources as metal water pipes connected to the municipal water system at the street. Small currents come in from other homes on the street, which can run throughout the house on your water pipes and on your grounding system in the electrical wiring. This can be investigated and eliminated by installing a foot or so of plastic pipe, where allowed by code, at the main water feed from the street. System grounding wires to the main water feed should also be eliminated wherever possible provided there is a suitable system ground from the electric meter or panel to the earth, a subject that is beyond the scope of this article.

Finally, Direct Current (DC) electrical fields can be generated primarily around computers and television sets from static electricity. You can make your computer work station more electrically and magnetically clean by creating as much distance between you and your monitor, the tower under the desk, and all power strips and transformers. Purchase extension cables and move all of these items out from under your desk away from your knees and push the monitor as far back on the desk as you can while still reading text comfortably. Consider switching to a lower screen resolution, such as 640 X 480 pixels, so the text is bigger on your screen and you can sit further back. If you have a laptop, you can purchase a separate keyboard since even laptops have magnetic fields in them. There are also protection devices available from such sources as Less EMF (www.lessemf.com) and Technology Alternatives Corporation (www.safelevel.com).

To contact the author, Oram Miller, Certified Building Biologist, call 952-412-0781 or email info@createhealthyhomes.com.