GREEN BANK, WV (WUSA9) -- When cell phones first hit the U.S. market
in the mid-1980s, there were only a few thousand subscribers. Today,
there's more cell phones in this country than there are people: 322
On top of that, 20 million Americans now use
wireless-enabled laptops, tablets, and modems, and that number has
jumped 50 percent in just two years, according to The Wireless Association.
The invisible electromagnetic radiation that these wireless devices emit
are all around us, and most of us can't get enough. But a growing
number of people are moving to Green Bank, West Virginia to get away
"To come to Green Bank, it's leaving the shopping malls, the theaters,
the cultural events. Here, I don't have my family, I don't have my
friends. But at least now I have some hope and a future," said Diane
Schou, a Green Bank resident.
Schou is one of about 30 "wireless refugees" now living in Green Bank.
"I was a police officer in Toronto," said Martin Weatherall.
"I was a professional pianist and singer in California," said Deborah Kooney.
"I was working as an architect in Hawaii," said Jennifer Wood.
They've left their families, jobs, everything because they believe they
have a condition called "Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity," or EHS. Think
of it as an allergic reaction to wireless technology.
"It's horrible when something is emitting and your body is having reactions," said Schou.
"I felt like I had some kind of radiation suit on and my muscles were getting all bound up," said Kooney.
"It just feels like pins and needles all over my face and head. I felt
dizzy, violently ill to my stomach. I just felt poisoned," said Wood.
Weatherall said his symptoms started with heart problems and heart arrhythmia.
"Just more recently, I found that the cancer has come back and I know
that if I'm going to survive this, I really need to go somewhere I can
be safe. So that's the main reason that I'm here," he said.
Here, wireless technology is strictly outlawed because of the Green Bank
Telescope. It's protected from any interference by the only Radio Quiet
Zone in the country. There's no cell phone towers and no microwaves.
It's a radio dead zone.
"It's not perfect here, but it's the only place in the world I know that's protected where people live," said Schou.
Before you write these people off, think about the electromagnetic
spectrum. The radiation that comes from things on the long-wavelength
end of the spectrum, power lines and AM/FM radio, are harmless. But the
radiation that comes from things on the short-wavelength end -- Gamma
Rays and X-Rays -- can hurt us.
Wireless technology sits right on the
threshold of what's safe for us and what's not. So, what if some people
are simply more sensitive to it than others?
In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified radio frequency
electromagnetic fields as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." But the
report stopped short of recognizing EHS as a real medical condition. It
said the symptoms are certainly real, but "there is no scientific basis
to link EHS symptoms to electromagnetic field exposure."
Dr. Andrew Marino, a neurology professor at Louisiana State University, disagrees with the World Health Organization.
"You're talking about an area that hasn't been studied," said Marino.
Last year, Marino published a study in the International Journal of
Neuroscience titled, "Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Evidence for a
Novel Neurological Syndrome." It concluded that EHS can occur as a
environmentally inducible neurological syndrome.
"There's no question in my mind that exposure to environmental electromagnetic fields produces acute responses," said Marino.
But there's also no question in the mind of Bob Park, a physics
professor at the University of Maryland. He says there's no scientific
evidence that EHS exists.
"There's not only no science, there's science showing that there's no science," said Park.
There's been dozens of studies, but the scientific community is split.
"If you're talking to a physicist, you're talking to the wrong guy in terms of background," said Marino.
"Oh, I think he's wrong," said Park.
What do the wireless refugees of Green Bank have to say when told their EHS isn't real?
"I don't worry about that because, I know it's happening. It's happening
and it's getting worse, and I would suggest that we are probably near
the end of the wireless age. Wireless will become a technology that
can't be used any more," said Weatherall.
The National Institute of Health is not
funding or conducting any studies on EHS, but other countries are.
Sweden has fully recognized EHS as a physical impairment. Meanwhile, the
Canadian government has started funding treatment of EHS and there's
currently a nine-month waiting list to get in.