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EMF (Electromagnetic Field) Irritants

EMF Worst Offender (Electric Fields),
Harmonics, Faraday cages, and Grounding


There is a desire by those in the sensitive community to reduce their sensitivities, and become more tolerant of "normal" environments. Absolutely justified. However, there are some "consultants" and "experts" whose qualifications do not match their titles, yet who are able to influence the direction that these sensitives pick and choose for what should be right for their needs. What has resulted is a well-intentioned campaign of misinformation by those who think they know what they claim, to the disservice of the sensitive community at large.

I would like to help correct this great error, and help that community, knowing that there is a possibility, however small, that I may be among them sometime in the distant future. Many sensitives claim Chemical or EMF sensitivity exclusively. However, the reality is that anyone with an impaired immune system (by whatever reason) will be sensitive to some extent to both chemical and electrical issues. So if you are "chemically sensitive," but Not "electrically sensitive," and wonder why you are not healing, read on, as in this monologue only electrical issues will be explored, and "sensitives" will imply anyone with any sensitivity, of any form.

There is a normal electromagnetic system exists within and around our planet that, despite scoffers' comments, is necessary for our survival. It produces unidirectional voltage and current, mostly. These steady-state components produce Electric and Magnetic fields, respectively, that have been our normal everyday setting, from before recorded history until the late 1800s. The planetary Magnetic field, and the gently changing Electric field have connected us to the Earth's periodic rhythms. All of the following EMF irritants are Alternating in character.

Some of the more common questions / comments I receive are: "How many milliGauss (mG) are bad?," or "I read 0 mG on my meter, yet I still react, to something . . ." or "there's a cell tower nearby," or there's a power line nearby, or "they want to install a smart-meter." However, EMF (Electromagnetic Fields) implies there may be something Electric, something Magnetic, or an interplay of the two, at one or many frequencies. The last two words place most common Trifield meter outside of scientific circles. In addition to being insensitive to Electric or RF fields, they are too sensitive to Magnetic fields (especially when Harmonics are present), and they are sensitive to electrostatic phenomena, in that dry air will make their "detected" values bogus. These meters reinforce the myth, and limited understanding of the users, and some "consultants," that EMFs (electromagnetic fields) means Magnetic fields exclusively. In my more than 20 years doing Environmental work, the culprits stand clear, and they are as follows:

1) The quickest and most profound EMF irritants by far are Alternating Electric Fields, Not Magnetic fields.

2) Second in relevance are Harmonics (whole number multiples of 60 Hz (not some oddball presence in the frequency spectrum at 15 or 50 kHz that is there all by its lonesome)) , or what some people designate as "dirty" electricity. I will not use the latter term, because it implies that I have a filter to sell you. I don't.

3) Third in relevance are Radio Frequencies (RF), and specifically pulsed RFs.

4) Last, but not least, are Alternating Magnetic Fields.
But because it's the simplest and cheapest to measure, it seems to stand alone as "the" culprit.

The order just described can change if a field type is much greater in extent than the others, relative to the threshold of interaction. To make matters more confusing, the threshold of interaction will vary with several qualities of the exposed individual, among which are: age, sex, genetics, general state of health, and other lingering disease such as Lyme.

Alternating Electric Fields

To place matters in perspective, more than 90% of North America is wired in a type of wire, commonly referred to as "Romex," that emanates Alternating Electric Fields through the plastic jacket. This predisposes that percentage of the population to disease. Some "experts" have gone so far as to state that twisting the Romex will reduce the EMF (because of their use of the above named meter, which reinforces their lack of understanding) . . . but it will Not. E fields They are ignorant, but they have a forum on the Internet, and an audience, so they propagate an ongoing lie, with the appearance of truth. The twisting of wires is employed in digital data (Ethernet) cables, such as Cat3, Cat4, Cat5, etc. where the wires within the plastic jacket are twisted so many turns per inch (increasing the number of turns for the higher Cat numbers). The intended effect is that if they travel past a Magnetic field, and if that field has a large footprint, the influence on the respective wires will be of opposite polarity from one twist position to another along the cable, causing Electromagnetic Interference (EMI) cancellation. Unfortunately, the inverse does not hold true. That is, twisting Romex (which is a Source of Electric Fields) will simply twist the emitted Alternating Electric Field into a Helix, but will not diminish it (Even if we were all so naive as to think that the EMFs emitted only consisted of Magnetic (mG) fields, twisting the wiring will still Not reduce that field.). So about 90% of North America has Romex installed, some "experts" recommend Romex as superior to Armored / Shielded wire (the latter which eliminates the Electric field), and claim that just twisting the cable will make its emissions all better, when in fact they are only considering Magnetic fields, which are self-canceling when wiring is done correctly. Sorry boys, you got it all wrong.

A common MPE (Maximum Permissible Exposure) is 5000 V/m (Volts per meter), based on short-term exposure (albeit with a safety factor thrown in for good measure). However, some sensitives react to common residential long-term levels of less than 50 V/m.

Harmonics

Harmonics, second in order of importance, have been grossly misrepresented by various entities fighting for an uninformed public's moneys. Harmonics are caused by nonlinear / non-smooth usage of Current. That's right, Current (which causes Magnetic fields, and with wiring done properly, there should be no wide-area sources of Magnetic fields). The amount that the Current wave shape deviates from the wave shape of the provided Voltage will determine the Current's level of distortion. The proper designation for that deviation is THD (Total Harmonic Distortion). Current can have THD from 0 for a totally Linear load (like an Incandescent lamp, and yes, they still make them) to perhaps 50% for something nonlinear (like a dimmer switch). Other devices that have large THD are Fluorescent lighting (of any shape / size), most LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) when fed off of 50/60 Hz, and SPS / SMPS (Switching / Switch Mode Power Supplies), such as used for anything Digital. SPS are also used for fluorescent lighting (replacing older Ballast systems), for low voltage lighting (such as under-cabinet lighting), LED lighting, and computers.

The THD of Current defines how you are using it in your living space. Since Current is directly proportional to Power, more current used, more power used. Within the design capacity of your local (indoor residential) power system, you should be able to use Current as nonlinearly as possible, with no impact on the supplied Voltage. That is mostly true, in that Voltage may depict THD of 0 to 2%, for Current THD of 0 to 40%. Unfortunately, since most homes have a pervasive Electric Field environment, the Harmonics are now also available in free space, riding on the electric field. This has led some entities with questionable ethics to name this phenomenon "dirty" electricity, and of course with their solution being a capacitive filter, which peculiarly addresses the THD in Voltage, Not Current (where the real problem lies). At least three entities market such filters: Stetzer, Greenwave, and Quiet Island. There are likely others, but not as visible as these three.

Of particular technical interest is that Stetzer has developed a meter to allow the user to determine that his filters are doing "something." He has produced a unit of measurement, the Graham Stetzer Unit (GSU), which only exists in the Stetzer universe, and does not relate to any legitimate measurement metric, to measure this electrical "dirt." Greenwave has taken the challenge of downplaying Stetzer's GSUs as not legitimate, and instead promoting its own metric of mV (milliVolts) for Harmonics, and of course, their own unique meter. But in reality, Harmonics are not legitimately measured in GSUs or mV.

Harmonics are legitimately measured (by standardized convention) on a spectrum analyzer's frequency display as a % of the available Voltage. Find any Harmonics greater than 3% of 120V, and the THD is out of spec. Find the aggregate of the Harmonics as greater than 5% of 120V, and the THD is out of spec. So what, if it's out of spec? This is the same criteria that electric utilities employ to penalize large power consumers who severely distort their Current usage, causing the utilities to have to compensate. Accordingly, most large consumers have in-house power conditioning systems, to preclude hefty utilities' punitive fines. Justifiably, a consumer that finds their input power THD out of spec, should similarly be able to take the utility to task, to provide clean power.

Harmonics
Harmonics (External) on the ESG (Electrical System Ground), relative to an IEG (Isolated Earth Ground), with power OFF.

Harmonics
Harmonics (Internal) on a bus voltage (different home than previous sketch, note the different vertical scales).

Why you might ask, is it relevant to see what is on the ESG? Because some sensitives react even with all power turned off, and no other detectable EMF background. So it's not necessarily the abundance of many EMF contributors that may ail you, but the mere presence of certain frequencies, akin to your biological tuned forks being made to ring on cue.

To confuse things further, Stetzer has gone on to state that Harmonics faster than 4 kHz (4000 Hz) are those that are relevant. Unfortunately for Stetzer's "subjects," reality contradicts him, in that the Harmonics closest to 60 Hz are usually those most energetic (as most noticeable from the lower of the two sketches above), and thus most biologically relevant. Note that in both sketches the 60 Hz peak (the first, all the way to the left in each sketch) is way off scale and is clipped off (realize you are looking at Voltage, and the display is greatly zoomed in vertically, to show the wide-band presence of Harmonics). While some might look at the first sketch with the dinosaur backbone and possibly agree with the 4kHz criteria, what happens when the situation is as in the second sketch, where most of the harmonics energy is concentrated below 4 kHz? Additional food for thought is that the upper of the two sketches above is of the ESG (Electrical System Ground) relative to Earth ground. If the ESG is intended as the drain / sink for the "dirty" energy, what happens when that ESG is "dirty" to begin with? Installing any of these capacitive "filters," will make the "dirt" flow in both directions, either from the energized buses to the ESG, or vice versa, if your energized buses are "clean." A group of consultants from the Building Biology school have bought into the Stetzer criteria, because that was what they were taught, because their instructors did not know how to quantify Harmonics, or refused to instruct what they may have felt was an incapable audience. That is, with the exception of a small group of Building Biologists from the Eastern Seaboard, who've received special mentoring. The situation is unfortunate, because depending on the consultant you hire, you may get filter promotion BS, or real data . . .

There is no MPE for human exposure to Harmonics. Nonetheless Harmonics are biological irritants due to their wide spectrum energy content, and because many portions of their frequency span trespass on frequency ranges our bodies are sensitive to. Harmonics irritation is similar to tones triggering resonance in tuned forks, only needing a vanishingly small trigger input.

Harmonics & Biological relevance
Some of the perceptions or possible biological reactions are: tinnitus, hot flashes (men also), perception of earthquake phenomena when near cabling, extremity burning sensation when using digital devices, sleep disruption, sleep deprivation, frequent urination, incontinence (these latter two most likely during sleep), epileptic seizures. The type of impact will mostly depend on the frailty of the individual’s immune system. And of course, you've heard this before, as with any irritant, those most sensitive are children, then the elderly, then the injured, then women, then men, in that general order. Women especially, are more vulnerable due to their subtle chemical changes.

On Faraday cages

There is a common myth in the sensitive community that Faraday cages will block EMFs. In a perfect world, maybe, but not here. A perfect Faraday cage is an electrically conductive sphere, which by definition has a sealed surface. That alone should immediately clue in most readers that Faraday cages are not something one might want to live in. But in the real world, those well-meaning consultants will install doors, windows, wire and plumbing penetrations, and shape it to look like a "home." Depending on the physical dimensions, and the dimensions of the openings, external energy can / will leak in, and cause localized EMF / RF echo effects that are stronger than if the structure was not conductive / metallic. This is due to a secondary antenna effect peculiar to any alternating frequency, but for our interests, from 50/60 Hz to the GHz region.

The premise of a Faraday cage is also that you will Not bring into it any device that can cause emissions of any form. Doing so voids the intent and application of having isolation, albeit imperfect, to begin with. All power cords must be shielded. Time and again, I've found the very opposite of these necessary precautions. It seems that because someone "sold" them an electrically "safe" environment, they can go on and use all sorts of electrics, and then wonder why they perceive irritation . . .

It is outright deplorable, when homes are marketed across the country as "safe," when in fact they may be to some extent, but chemically only. That leaves out one half of reality. When a new tenant arrives at one of these "safe" houses (after a years-long waiting list cycles through), and cannot cope with the abundance of Harmonic content from adjoining structures, and has to live with his / her power turned off to survive, we have relegated the tenant to the stone age in a modern world. Are we any better off than snake oil sales people, when we have no clue what we're doing, and yet promote ourselves as if we do?

On Faraday cages AND Grounding

Depending on what field sources are nearby, may dictate that such a Faraday cage attempt, be grounded.

The previous paragraphs clearly indicate that you would NOT want to ground the metallic / conductive structure to the ESG, due to its harmonics signature. Grounding it to anything else, and excluding contact with the ESG, as difficult as it may seem, is doable, with a caveat.

Un-grounded Metal Structure
Single Point Grounding
Multi-point Grounding
Another myth common to the sensitive community is similar to what electricians also believe, and that is that overzealous grounding never hurt, anyone. Really? Too many grounds are as bad as, or worse than, not enough grounding. Pick your poison?

On Grounding

When America was electrified, somewhere around the late 1800s / early 1900s, there was a mix of grounded and ungrounded systems. Interestingly, grounded systems would produce lethal shock hazards, while ungrounded systems did not. The difference hinges on a single concept. Electricity needs a complete loop to flow through. A grounded system's live wire(s) coming in contact with a human / animal would energize the human / animal, and since both were grounded, a complete loop existed, causing death. An ungrounded system's live wire(s) coming in contact with a human / animal would energize the human / animal, but since the system was not grounded, the human / animal might feel a shock, but not death. The electric utility, however, had a lot of money invested in transformers, and they realized an equipment failure rate that they wanted to reduce. The failure rate was due to Lightning, which occurs at the extremes of some of the more common laws of electricity. A study was undertaken, and it was found that if they installed a bunch of lightning arresters along the circuit path, the equipment was protected. It was also found that if the circuit was operated with one leg grounded, the number of lightning arresters could be reduced, with the same result.

Be that as it may, there is now, still, a scattered mix of grounded and ungrounded systems. The issue of grounding presents some inherent problems. That is because, in our physical universe, electrical conductors are not perfect, and any current flow will cause a voltage difference from one end of a conductor to the other. This occurs on both the supply, and return wires. If the supply wire has 120 V on it, the source end may have exactly 120, but the moment current begins to flow, the load end will no longer have 120 V, but something less because of that voltage difference, which I'll call a voltage drop. What happens on the return wire? Well, the same, right? Almost. If we talk about a long extension cord, the return wire (also called the Neutral) will now have a voltage difference, which I'll call a voltage rise, at the load end when current flows. Or rather the return wire at the load end will no longer be at exactly zero volts, like it might have been at the source, but will have some voltage higher than zero (it couldn't be a "voltage drop," because a voltage drop lower than zero cannot exist in our physical universe). That should not be a problem, because we are not supposed to come in contact with any conductor carrying current, ever.

Resistive Voltage Difference

If we connect the source and load end of the neutral to the earth and call it the Electrical System Ground (ESG), as the electric utility does, then any return current will attempt to build a voltage difference from one end of the neutral to the other. Since both ends are grounded, the earth applies a restraining force to the buildup of any voltage difference. This restraining force causes some current to flow through the soil. I'll call this "grounding" / Stray current. Additionally, the ESG is now part of a current-carrying metallic system that is accessible for human / animal contact, in contradiction to the basic tenet of insulation and isolation.
Resistive Voltage Difference, Grounded

Enter the National Electric Code.

To protect us from ourselves, we are going to connect anything and everything metallic to the ESG. A water spigot is now connected to a current carrying conductor, the neutral, which at the source and point-of-use is grounded. If a barefoot human / animal touches the water spigot, and there is current flow in the system, the human / animal will feel a "tingle voltage" shock, because that Voltage on the ESG (I'll call this Stray Voltage) will see that human / animal as another parallel path for current to flow through, to ground. When is a tingle Voltage a problem? Wisconsin has acquired some fame, of sorts, because of the suits against electric utilities brought by farmers whose cattle experience behavior modification, from tingle voltage contact, and I strongly suspect, more so if that tingle voltage is rich in harmonics. Behavior modification you say? Well, what about my kids? Can't they also be susceptible? Nah, they're immune. Really? I have seen the ESG as high as 25 V relative to an IEG. How high is yours?

If the current used is nonlinear, the voltage drop or voltage rise (= Stray voltage), will have a voltage signature that will have Harmonics in it. Connect a Faraday cage to the Stray voltage, and any sensitive individual will not be able to tolerate it. But who in their right mind would think of doing this? Someone promoting a "safe" house with a Faraday feature, of course! There is an outfit on the West Coast that built such a structure, that refuses, out of apparent stupidity, or perhaps fear of liability, to acknowledge that they screwed up. Their claim to infallibility: They had a Building Biology Electrical Engineer that told them to do it that way. They suggested that any issues were only related to the cell tower located nearby. However, I verified that the nearby cell tower was located beyond a hill, and with the additional dense tree buffer the RF signal vanished in the background noise level (so a nearby cell tower, with all details factored in, may be irrelevant). The Stray Voltage on the ESG, however, became progressively worse as the day wore on, because it became greater, and had more Harmonics in it, due to the increasing neighborhood usage, counter to their statements. Sensitive home buyer beware!

A sidelight on RF (Radio frequency)

This discussion will only hint at RF or its effects, as most exposures are mediated by the Electric Field when the exposure is from the Far-field. That is, more than one wavelength away. RF exposure in the Near-field is a whole different ball game. While Far-field exposure to RF usually only involves minimal flesh penetration of perhaps a few mm (millimiters), exposure to Near-field RF is mediated by the separate Electric and Magnetic field components. The human body is almost transparent to Magnetic fields. Almost transparent . . . except for the biological interaction. Now, there are many questions about cause and effect, but as research findings were beginning, and are now continuing, to show, long-term exposure to near-field appears to cause tumors that have been dubbed "benign." However, I fail to see how a tumor can be benign, if you have to be cut open to extract it. So don't worry, keep using those fancy electronics that include that idiotic message at the end of each e-mail saying "sent from my iPhone,""sent from my iPad," or "sent from my Android doo-dad with all the bells and whistles, ha ha" while asking why you should be concerned. Because when you use a wireless device, you are at or above established MPEs (read your manual to verify same), as well as having thorough energy penetration in your body. If that is your life, I feel for you, should you become a statistic, because you brought it on yourself.
For someone with sensitivities, there is an urgent need to eliminate all Near-Field exposure inasmuch as possible.

So, what is an EMF "safer" home?

  1. A properly EMF "safer" home should have exterior walls made of Cementitious materials, panels, or blocks, which will suppress (not eliminate) Electric and RF field from outdoors.

  2. A properly EMF "safer" home should have Armored wiring, eliminating the inherent Electric field with every other type of wire, even "twisted" ones.

  3. A properly EMF "safer" home should Not have any cabling, armored or otherwise directly underneath the living spaces, but should be laid under partition walls.

  4. A properly EMF "safer" home should have a minimum (or none) conventional fixture / appliance cordage near any long stay time areas, such as the bed, or an office. Standardized Shielded cordage is available that eliminates Electric field emissions, and which can easily be retrofitted into these devices, when they are necessary.

  5. A properly EMF "safer" home should be the only one being fed off of its power transformer.

  6. A properly EMF "safer" home should not have any voltage on its ESG, relative to the soil more than 10' away. Realistically there will always be some voltage, as long as any current is used.

  7. A properly EMF "safer" home should have nothing resembling a Faraday cage configuration, anywhere.

  8. A properly EMF "safer" home should Not have any variable frequency drives, unless appropriate filtering is employed, such that it/they is/are not detectable at the electric panel.

  9. A properly EMF "safer" home should have no digital electronics. Hard to believe this is still possible, in the present "digital" age, but it is. Not wanting to constrain sensitives to the stone age, some digital devices may be tolerable during daytme, but must be completely shut down during sleep hours.

The extent to which these are employed will determine the extent to which the home is properly EMF "safer."
Sorry if these seem drastic, but I do not have, nor is there anywhere, or from anyone, a pill that will magically make these issues go happily their merry way, away from us. But if that's what you're looking for, there are several pendants, chips, plug-ins, magnetic cling-ons, etc., that resonate, harmonize, or otherwise render innocuous the ambient EMFs. To date I have not been able to substantiate any of their claims, which fall into faith-based / snake oil (or ostentatious BS) claims. So, if that's the path you choose, you're on your own.

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