GREEN BANK, WV (WUSA9) -- When cell phones first hit the U.S. marketin the mid-1980s, there were only a few thousand subscribers. Today,there's more cell phones in this country than there are people: 322million subscribers.
On top of that, 20 million Americans now usewireless-enabled laptops, tablets, and modems, and that number hasjumped 50 percent in just two years, according to The Wireless Association.
The invisible electromagnetic radiation that these wireless devices emitare all around us, and most of us can't get enough. But a growingnumber of people are moving to Green Bank, West Virginia to get awayfrom it.
"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 myfriends. But at least now I have some hope and a future," said DianeSchou, 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 theyhave a condition called "Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity," or EHS. Thinkof 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 feltdizzy, violently ill to my stomach. I just felt poisoned," said Wood.
Weatherall said his symptoms started with heart problems and heartarrhythmia.
"Just more recently, I found that the cancer has come back and I knowthat if I'm going to survive this, I really need to go somewhere I canbe safe. So that's the main reason that I'm here," he said.
Here, wireless technology is strictly outlawed because of the Green BankTelescope. It's protected from any interference by the only Radio QuietZone 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 electromagneticspectrum. The radiation that comes from things on the long-wavelengthend of the spectrum, power lines and AM/FM radio, are harmless. But theradiation that comes from things on the short-wavelength end -- GammaRays and X-Rays -- can hurt us.
Wireless technology sits right on thethreshold of what's safe for us and what's not. So, what if some peopleare simply more sensitive to it than others?
In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified radio frequencyelectromagnetic fields as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." But thereport stopped short of recognizing EHS as a real medical condition. Itsaid the symptoms are certainly real, but "there is no scientific basisto 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 ofNeuroscience titled, "Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity: Evidence for aNovel Neurological Syndrome." It concluded that EHS can occur as aenvironmentally 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 physicsprofessor at the University of Maryland. He says there's no scientificevidence 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 happeningand it's getting worse, and I would suggest that we are probably nearthe end of the wireless age. Wireless will become a technology thatcan't be used any more," said Weatherall.
The National Institute of Health is notfunding or conducting any studies on EHS, but other countries are.Sweden has fully recognized EHS as a physical impairment. Meanwhile, theCanadian government has started funding treatment of EHS and there'scurrently a nine-month waiting list to get in.