The title "Current Risks: Experts finally link electromagnetic fields and cancer"
("Body Politics," May/June) makes a claim that is not supported by the text of
the article. It states that "a panel convened by the National Institute of
Environmental Health Sciences decided there was enough evidence to consider the
invisible waves called electromagnetic fields...a possible human carcinogen."
The asserted linkage is still tenuous. A direct cause-and-effect relationship
between electromagnetic fields and cancer has yet to be demonstrated. Ellis Lapin
"Current Risks" by Liza Gross raised the well-studied issue of potential health
risks from electromagnetic fields (EMFs) created by household appliances and
wiring. Although it does a good job describing this phenomenon in simple terms,
the article does a poor job of informing readers about the real nature of the
extensive debate on EMFs' effect on health. It could cause needless anxiety and
worry to an already-fearful public. Ignoring a great bulk of scientific evidence,
the author focuses on one study by the National Institute of Environmental Health
Sciences, implying some sinister collusion in its decision not to continue
further research on EMFs.
The EMF controversy has been extensively studied by dozens of individual
scientists and health professionals as well as distinguished panels in the past
15 years. The great majority of them found no evidence linking EMFs to human
health problems. After three years of study by the National Research Council, the
National Academy of Sciences issued a 300-page report in October 1996. It found
"no conclusive and consistent evidence" that ordinary exposure to EMFs in the
home can "produce cancer, adverse neurobehavioral effects, or reproductive or
developmental effects." In another study, the National Cancer Institute and
childhood leukemia experts reported in The New England Journal of Medicine that
"EMFs are not a major and probably not even a minor cause of cancer." The editors
called for an end to EMF research, saying that it has "produced considerable
paranoia, but little insight and no prevention." Steven Hegedus
A great deal of research on the biological effects of EMFs has been done in
Russia, and forms the basis of that country's restrictive regulation of human
exposure to EMFs. For more information on Russian and American research, and the
politics restricting American research in this area, see The Body Electric by
Robert Becker, M.D. Brooke Jennings
Salt Lake City, Utah
Liza Gross replies: The study of EMFs and cancer has long elicited contentious
debate. Since the subject first emerged in 1979, there have been more than 50
epidemiological studies. While some of the studies are negative, when scientists
examine them as a whole-which is what the National Institute of Environmental
Health Sciences did-many researchers conclude that there is evidence of a cancer
risk. That's what the NIEHS panel concluded last June.
Neither the negative findings of the National Research Council nor scientists
who argue there is no risk can explain the positive results found in previous
studies. Meanwhile a study by the University of Toronto and the Toronto Hospital
for Sick Children published this June found that children exposed to high levels
of EMFs are 4.5 times more likely to develop leukemia than those with low
As for the National Cancer Institute recommendation to end EMF research because
it has produced "little insight," scientists have been studying this phenomenon
for only 20 years. It took almost 50 years to explain how cigarettes cause cancer.
In its report to Congress on EMFs this June, the NIEHS cited "lingering concerns"
about cancer risk and said efforts to reduce exposure to EMFs should continue.
That's prudent advice. If you're not sure whether something might cause harm,
common sense suggests avoiding it until you have more information. Rather than
suffer "needless anxiety," people should be relieved to know that reducing risk
is so easy.
In "Earth's Eye" (May/June), Edward Hoagland writes, "But fish don't touch me as
much as animals, perhaps because they never leave the water." People use the word
animal when they mean to say "mammal." While our furred relatives are certainly
animals, so too are fish, birds, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans, insects,
arachnids, and mollusks. Many in this society seem to attach a hierarchical structure
to the status of different creatures, placing fish or frogs below raccoons or bears.
Life is a web, not a ladder, and each species is vital for its contributions. It is
important to remember that humans are animals, too-the only ones smart and stupid
enough to threaten the very existence of those processes that give us life. Mike Pedde
TRY TAP WATER
I was hoping "The Hidden Life of Bottled Water" (May/June) would explicitly state
that small plastic bottles are an inefficient way of getting this vital resource
to consumers. People choose to drink bottled water to obtain purity and fail to
consider the huge impact the production and disposal of all those bottles has on
the environment, and of course on the water supply itself. I hope others will
reconsider this choice, and, unless there is a pressing health concern about the
municipal water supply, go straight to the tap. Michael Barth
La Jolla, California
Bravo to the Sierra Club for joining with Amnesty International ("The Sierra Club
Bulletin," May/June). We are natural allies.
In Houston, we are forming a coalition of environmentalists and justice
advocates. A draft of our mission statement says, "We realize that our
social, economic, environmental, and spiritual problems are related."
I long for a future where we have time enough for love. Where we work harder
on healing than dominating. Where the army can redefine peace as something
other than the absence of war. Where we are more expert at intimacy than technology. Nan Hildreth
Editor's note: For more information on the Sierra Club and Amnesty International's
Defending the Environmental Defenders campaign, e-mail email@example.com or
visit our Web site at www.sierraclub.org/human-rights.
I read with considerable interest Bob Schildgen's "Unnatural Disasters" in your
May/June issue. He adequately described the problem of inappropriate uses of
areas subject to flooding, but left readers with little guidance in how they can
address the problem. Two excellent guides are available from the Federal
Emergency Management Agency: Protecting Floodplain Resources: A Guidebook for
Communities (Publication 268) and Addressing Your Community's Flood Problems: A
Guide for Elected Officials (Publication 309). They may be obtained by calling
James M. Wright
The Floodplain Management Group
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