This is an article written by Leif Södergren
(c) copyright Leif Södergren
ELECTRICAL HYPERSENSITIVITY IN SWEDEN
UNCOVERING THE COVER UP
- Electric sensitivity in Sweden -
by Leif Södergren
Electric sensitivity like asbestos, follows the same
pattern of other work-related injuries. That asbestos was harmful to humans
was known early this century. It took decades, however, for this to be
definitively recognized. With recognition, regulatory bodies quickly prohibited
or regulated asbestos. During this whole process, many experts doctors
and industry, until the very end, emphatically declared asbestos to be
harmless. With Electrical sensitivity, we see the same pattern repeat itself.
We hear endless assurances mainly from special interests and certain doctor
activists that VDTs and electromagnetic radiation are harmless. Meanwhile
a growing number of people using VDTS and other electronic devices develop
problems such as -Electric sensitivity ( which this essay deals with.)
- Cancer which takes between 10-20 years to show up (The recent Birgitta
Floderus report shows increased breast cancer rates for secretaries and
other e/m related occupations. Soon there will be epidemiological cancer
studies on VDT workers with possibly chilling results.) -RSI, repetetive
strain injury which actually could be called radiation strain injury. The
fact that fingers move around on and touch a keyboard that emits high frequency
electric radiation up to the microwave range, could explain RSI. Nerves
lie a few hundred of a millimeter from the skin surface. With electric
sensitivity, mucus membranes and joints can swell up and in RSI, the carpal
tunnel ( the close passage in the wrist where nerves go to the hand) also
swells up. There are alarming similarities.
2. How it started....
ALARMING HEADLINES IN 1986
In an issue of the TCO (The White Collar Union's
Central Organization) newspaper No 16 May 23, 1986 we find several alarming
headlines about VDT injuries. We see coloured photos of severe facial burns.
We read: "They have facial injuries from work with VDTs. Only the top of
an iceberg." Nine colour photographs show eight women and one man, all
with facial burns. Another headline reads: "Attempts to silence the debate
about skin injuries." The article deals with a world famous histo-pathologist
(an expert in examining skin samples), Dr. Bjorn Lagerholm, who during
his many years at the skin clinic at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm,
had examined tens of thousands of skin samples. He had in 1985, told the
same newspaper of a strange combination of skin injuries in people working
with VDTs. The injuries Lagerholm had observed had one thing in common:
they could have come from UV or X-ray radiation. Lagerholm was not the
only one to observe this. In New York, a skin specialist, Dr. Alexander
Fisher was equally perplexed at his similar findings. From Canada, Bob
de Matteo in his book TERMINAL SHOCK, reported that the same VDT-problems
existed in North America, England, Holland and Switzerland. (He also reported
extensive industry cover up attempts. In California at this same time,
Dr. Charles Wallach a neurological specialist, lectured extensively on
this problem and coined the name VODS (Video Operator Distress Symptoms).
His work describes how the central nervous system is affected by VDT exposure.
This was a perfectly correct observation. Though skin injuries, among the
electrically sensitive, have received the most attention, neurological
problems from VDT use are actually more common.
With this apparent global proof in 1986 that VDTs
were harmful to humans, one would have thought that the injured might have
received acknowledgement of their injuries and that they would have been
offered help. One would have expected that governments and regulatory bodies
would have been alarmed. But this was not to be. Something else happened.
3. A COVER UP
THE ELECTRICALLY SENSITIVE BEGIN TO ORGANIZE
In Sweden and elsewhere, a concerted effort of like-minded
interests sought consciously to trivialize the symptoms of the injured.
The facial burns and the lost elasticity of the skin caused by VDT use
was declared by skin doctors not to be at all unusual. The skin loses its
elasticity in old age they claimed. But it is very unusual that it happens
to young people, as was the case with the young VDT-injured. But this was
ignored. From the beginning, it seems that it was important to declare
the VDT "innocent". A typical comment, was uttered in 1988, by Bernard
Frankenhaeser: "It is electrophysiologically completely out of the question,
that electromagnetic fields from VDTs and high power lines, can in any
way have an effect on health". Other commentators talked about mass psychoses
all being exceedingly sure of themselves. It is easy to intimidate the
weak, ill and disorganized. What do you do as a patient if your doctor
tells you that what you suffer from does not exist? How can you fight for
yourself if you cannot live in your house due to the electromagnetic fields?
How can you fight if you cannot work and make a living? The electrically
sensitive in Sweden were appalled at the treatment they were given. They
were told that it was mass hysteria and that they were only out to get
workers compensation. Having been hard workers and respected within their
professions, they were treated in a way they had never thought possible.
In 1987, they decided in the Swedish tradition, to form a group, FEB, The
Association of the Electrically and VDT Injured. In 1995, the association
had 1800 paying members (but there are more like 10 000 electrically sensitive
in Sweden). Similar organizations have formed in Denmark, Norway, Germany
and the US. An INTERNATIONAL NETWORK of associations of electrically sensitive
individuals was formed (and issued a common statement) September 26, 1994.
"KILL THE MESSENGER". BJORN LAGERHOLM
It was easy to intimidate the patients in the mid
1980's but the messengers of the bad news, in particular Dr. Bjorn Lagerholm
who stood fast at his findings was a problem. He must be dealt with. Mats
Berg, a young doctor under the auspices of professor Sture Liden, worked
at the same hospital as Lagerholm. Berg was writing his doctoral thesis
and used Lagerholm's skin samples from a recent large study of VDT-injured
in his thesis and "reinterpreted" them. He also very superficially examined
the injured patients at their work places and he could, for this reason,
not see that the VDT burns also, in some cases, covered their bodies. When
Berg presented his thesis there were no significant findings at all. The
patients with facial injuries were not injured. It was all very normal.
Like magic. Lagerholm protested but was ignored. Bjorn Lagerholm who had
always been highly respected for his vast knowledge and unique skills in
examining skin samples, a skill that neither Mats Berg nor Sture Liden
possessed, was clearly perplexed. Suddenly his words, his findings did
not mean anything. What was this? When he realized that strong forces were
at play he withdrew, not choosing to become an "activist" scientist which
would have been necessary to defend his findings. He had been effectively
neutralized. Until he retired last year he lived a very secluded life at
the skin clinic at the Karolinska hospital where his collegue Professor
Sture Liden has built up a power base.
DIRTY BUSINESS CHRONICLED
This whole dirty business has been described in great
detail in a recently published book FALTSLAGET OM DE ELOVERKANSLIGA (The
battlefield of the electrically sensitive) by Gunni Nordstrom and Carl
Von Scheele ISBN 91-550-4083-7 Publisher: Tiden. One entire chapter is
devoted to Bjorn Lagerholms medical affidavit to one patient who later
became the pilot case in the workers' compensation case. (The patient later
developed skin cancer). The affidavit leaves no doubts as to the strange
skin injuries he had found. It is written with extreme care and with an
aim at being extremely precise. This statement seems almost like an attempt
by Lagerholm to leave a historical record. He had felt the pressure and
knew what was up.
MORE CLEAN-UP. OLLE JOHANSSON
The only other scientist who actually had proof that
a VDT/TV had negative effects on human skin was the scientist Olle Johansson
at the Karolinska Institute not far from the Karolinska Hospital. He had
presented some perplexing preliminary findings from skin samples taken
from people exposed to TV (which has the same effect as a cathode ray VDT).
He had found that the immune defence cells in the skin had become deformed
or had disappeared altogether after exposure. When his findings were presented
his research funding dried out (Sture Liden has been accused of being behind
it and when questioned on television, has not denied it). Olle Johansson
is the only scientist who has come close to proving a relationship between
electromagnetic radiation and the symptoms of electrical sensitivity. That
is why he is being fought tooth and nail. It is amazing that he has not
given up. A close study of the goings on at the Swedish Work Environment
Fund (which hands out most reseaerch funds in this area) resembles the
goings on in a byzantine court. The meagre funds Johansson received in
1993 and 1994 due to FEB pressure, had not been paid in early 1995 due
to "bureaucratic" holdups. Why?
4. Cover up tactics.
WHAT'S UP DOC ?
At present, Sture Liden, and Bengt Arnetz are tireless
activists in Sweden. One would expect doctors and scientists to work quietly
with patients and their research but these men behave in an odd manner,
more like public relation men. Why? A vague term "techno-stress" (which
originated in Japan) is frequently used by Arnetz who until recently worked
at the Institute for psycho-social environmental medicine. He now works
with occupational medicine at the Huddinge hospital in Stockholm. His explanation
that the electrically hypersensitive have been conditioned to be afraid
of their VDTs (technostress) is not convincing. It flies in the face of
facts. The electrically sensitive long for harmless VDTs they can use.
They miss their efficient friend, the computer. (Only one manufacturer,
the Finnish Company, NOKIA has responded to their problem and are today
actively working on a no-radiation VDT for which they have been criticized
by other manufacturers. But there are others such as LIBEREL AB, a company
specializing in electric sanitation. They have recently developed some
hand built, extremely low radiation VDTs for the electrically sensitive).
The techno-stress interpretation however, does not solve the electric sensitivity
problem. It only obfuscates the issue and it makes life much harder for
the electrically sensitive to bear. Some doctors have, as a result of the
heavy marketing of the psycho-social speculations, forced therapy on electrically
sensitive in heavily electromagnetic environments. A few documented cases
resulted in suicide. One FEB member is, at the time of this writing, forcibly
kept in a psychiatric ward. The reason is that the patient is suffering
from "the delusion of being electrically sensitive". But Arnetz has not
seemed to be too concerned about the possible consequences of his psycho-social
GO TO WHERE THE MONEY IS
He has very skilfully managed to obtain an important
position in the priority committee at the Work Environment Fund which hands
out research grants. It is for this very reason that the relatively small
psycho-social group has received such a pronounced profile. Large amounts
have been procured to projects that Arnetz and Liden participate in. They
openly deny that the electric sensitivity exists. Cognitive therapy is
the only thing offered. Another research group, at the Huddinge hospital
where Arnetz is active at present, stated openly in their application to
the Work Environment Fund, that they regard their electrically sensitive
patients as "hypocondriacs". The research group was given large research
One of the projects, for which Sture Liden has
received funds from the Work Environment Fund in Sweden, concerns "treating"
electrically hypersensitive individuals with cognitive therapy. The selection
of participants is peculiar. Electrically sensitive with severe problems
and who are out of work are excluded. Only people able to work full time
and people with with minor VDT-problems were selected. This group cannot
be said to be electrically hypersensitive. Those who really need help are
excluded. Again one must question what is happening here. Does Liden want
to help the electrically sensitive or does he want to manufacture results
to fit his point of view? Liden, as late as last year, suggested on a TV-program
that the whole problem with electrical sensitivity should be given the
silent treatment. He has been showered with more research funds than any
other scientist working in this field.
COURTING THE MEDIA
A further explanation of why the small psycho-social
group has managed to get such a strong profile, is possibly the winning
personality of the handsome Bengt Arnetz. A good fund raiser, he appears
to have won over two medical journalists Inger Atterstam and Anna-Lena
Haverdahl, at the conservative SVENSKA DAGBLADET newspaper. They have the
last couple of years reported only his speculations and have, for example
avoided mentioning Olle Johansson. They appear genuinly convinced that
the psycho-social theories are supported by most researchers in Sweden.
This is not the case. They are probably also equally unaware of the consequences
of their one-sided reporting. It has been an added and heavy burden for
the electrically sensitive.
DRESSING UP OLD AS "NEW"
Sometimes the strangest thing happen.. A four year
old, not yet published provocation-test on electrically sensitive individuals,
has twice been resurrected and marketed as "new findings". Once, one of
the Swedish wire services (TT) was fed the old report as "news" and proof
that electrically sensitive individuals are not able to pick out the instances
when exposed to electromagnetic fields. The "news" was widely reported.
A year later the same four year old study (from which one cannot draw any
conclusions at all except that the researchers were not succcessful), received
front page coverage in the daily newspaper GOTEBORGS-POSTEN and the reporter
Madeleine Sahlman wrote : "New findings show that skin problems do not
come from VDTs". Why does a supposedly serious newspaper make a front page
coverage of such false news? And why has the paper not made a correction?
When confronted with the proper facts, the reporter said that the newspaper
was not going to make a correction. The matter would be silenced to death,
was her reply. Where have we heard those word before? And who is behind
these attempts to market a not yet published and perhaps questionable study?
The strong presence of the psycho-social element
in the Work Environment Fund, together with the media support from Atterstam
and Haverdal, might very well have had an intimidating effect on scientists
who do not share the psycho-social viewpoint. Those scientists and researchers
who early on were outspoken have become more careful and toned down. They
often have a lot of first hand experience of meeting the injured, measuring
fields in their homes and at work, and seeing the cause and effect. But
it seems they feel they must "behave" or else. They know what happened
to Olle Johansson.
UNITED WE STAND?
Industry and regulating bodies got unexpected company
in white collar unions which in Sweden are organized under the TCO umbrella.
TCO consists of 18 different white collar unions and it is very sad indeed
that they seem to have found the subject so complex and depressing and
disturbing that they hopefully unconsciously, remained inactive when they
should have been the most active. White collar unions, have not been accustomed
to workplace injuries, but the electrically sensitive were very surprised
when the person responsible for environmental problems at the workplace,
Monica Breidensjo, herself a secretary from the beginning, was far from
comforting to her mostly female electrically sensitive members who came
to TCO for help in the beginning. This was in the early eighties and close
observers were and are still surprised at her and other high TCO officials
lack of interest in the growing number of electrically sensitive members.
If they do not listen to the members, who do they listen to?
It was very unfortunate that TCO's representative
on the board of The Environmental Fund happened to be Monica Breidensjo.
When there were several applications for psycho-social research projects
which involved Liden, Arnetz and others, she was asked by FEB a few years
back, to intervene on behalf of TCO's electrically sensitive members and
try to stop the funding of these destructive projects. She could have done
something, but did not. She could not be bothered.
Kjell Fransson at TCO is the person foremost responsible
for the question of electric sensitivity these days. He mentioned in an
interview recently in the STATSTJÄNSTEMANNEN magazine, that there
is no particular need to invetigate the higher frequencies. A very peculiar
statement. Why exclude some frequencies when searching for an explanation?
There is so much talking for an investigation into the higher frequencies
that one wonders why a union spokesman feels that way. Who do they listen
IN THE COLD
The workers' compensation pilot case was supposed
to receive the full and competent legal backing from TCO, but Marianne
Berg, the injured person in question, said that TCO let her down and it
was up to her own (TCO-affiliated) union, which had less legal capacity,
to tackle the difficult question (chapter 8).
But what about the TCO-VDT guarantee? Is this not
positive? Unfortunately not. The TCO norm, initially a well intended project,
does not keep people from getting electrically sensitive. Instead it gives
a false sense of security that a TCO-VDT is a low-radiation and safe VDT.
There is a small disclaimer but who reads the small print? The TCO norm
as well as the MPR2 guidelines, have been worked out in conjunction with
manufacturers. The norm is what reasonably can be done with existing manufacturing
techniques. What better situation than a white collar union "guaranteeing"
safety. This might actually make the manufacturer less inclined to make
possible improvements. Also, the manufacturer can charge in some cases,
twice as much for the TCO VDT but the extra manufacturing cost is said
to be around three dollars.
The TCO newspaper however has been a strong support
and advocate of the injured and this is largely due to the indefatigable
reporter Gunni Nordstrom who early realized that this was indeed a problem.
She has gathered an immense amount of information and has written two excellent
books on the subject. The TCO newspaper coverage has been welcome and important
especially since the major newspapers with a lot of advertising from industry,
have, largely kept a low profile and rarely written supportively about
6. Government bodies.
LOOKING OUT FOR YOU?
The Liden and Arnetz interpretation of electrical
hypersensitivity must in a way have been most welcome by regulatory bodies
who were not ready to cope with the possibility that VDTs and electromagnetic
fields can be harmful to humans. Thus the interest of the regulatory bodies
merged strongly with the interest of industry. Acceptance would have meant
action which would have meant utter chaos in a computerized society at
a time when there was no viable alternative to the CRT (cathode ray tube)
VDT. The phrase "no scientific proof" has often been used to avoid the
subject, like tobacco manufacturers used for years against their lung-cancer
critics, but the question has not been asked why there is no such proof.
If forces within The Swedish Work Environment Fund keep acting as they
do, promoting psycho-social research and "fighting" scientists like Olle
Johansson, we shall never get any results, only obfuscations. The Fund
must end its selfimposed limitations. The debate and investigations in
the area of electrical hypersensitivity have, so far, concerned the lower
frequencies up to 400 KHz. It is the experience of the hypersensitive and
FEB that it is also the higher frequencies which cause the problems. Why
has there been no research in this area? Most research funds come from
the Work Environment Fund but by choosing not to give funds to investigations
into the higher frequencies, the Work Environment Fund circumvents the
real problems and avoids a controversial and sensitive area, namely microwaves
and microwave telephones (cellular telephones).
Another government body is the WORK ENVIRONMENT INSTITUTE
(NIOSH). Bengt Knave, originally an eye doctor, and in the distan past,
a consultant to the electronics industry, is most well known for the multi-factor
interpretation of electrical hypersensitivity. It de-dramatizes the importance
of electromagnetic fields in that the personality of the electrically sensitive,
the work environment, allergies and chemicals are presented as "equal"
factors in causing electrical sensitivity. This theory is not very convincing
to the injured who, almost all have become sensitive working with a VDT.
Within the VDT lies the culprit. So many have become ill when using a VDT,
in particular a new one. Certainly this is very puzzling and the detective
work should be focused on the VDT. It has been declared innocent far too
readily. It is very important to listen to the injured and their experiences
and not get flustered by the lack of scientific facts available. The multifactor
theory is palatable since it pleases everyone, but it is in a way a subtle
kind of cover up by trying to make electromagnetic fields less important
in explaining electrical sensitivity. When considering the fact that Bengt
Knave as the head of the Work Environment Fund priority committee has allowed
so much money to psycho-social research, and has not protested the treatment
of Olle Johansson, and the fact that the priority group has refused funding
to research in the higher frequencies, then one must question the intentions
of Mr. Knave and this government institution. This also goes for another
government institution, THE RADIATION PROTECTION INSTITUTE. They have a
representative on the proirity committee at the Work Environment Fund,
Lars-Erik Paulsson, and he has participated in the same questionable descisions
Bengt Knave and Bengt Arnetz have
SEEK AND YOU SHALL FIND?
FEB wrote to the SWEDISH NATIONAL BOARD OF HEALTH
AND MEDICINE (Socialstyrelsen) last year when they made an inventory of
existing knowledge on electric sensitivity. Their findings would be extremely
important as to how the electrically sensitive would be treated in the
future in Sweden and abroad. FEB wrote that the present area of investigation
which concerns only the lower frequencies up to 400 KHz, should span the
entire spectrum from 50 Hz up into the microwave area. This was ignored.
In the same letter FEB wrote about sixty power companies in Sweden who
are greatly concerned about "harmonics" in their distribution systems.
"Harmonics" come from high frequency electronics such as computers, tyristors,
dimmers and low energy lamps etc., the very things that greatly disturb
the electrically sensitive. The power companies have come together and
are spending 5 million Swedish crowns to combat the problem of the harmonics
which disturb other machines causing unwanted breakdowns. Harmonics also
heat up the distribution lines. The power companies lose up to 5% of all
energy this way. This is by no means only a Swedish problem. FEB pointed
out in the same letter that now when machines were disturbed, maybe it
is time to realize that humans could be affected too.
"WHAT DO YOU REALLY WANT?"
FEB was also allowed a presentation to the expert
group and was greeted by a very influentional member of the group, professor
Jan Wahlberg, a colleague of Sture Liden (!) who asked: "What do you really
want?" A pleasant greeting from a government agency investigating the problems
of the injured! In 1989, Jan Wahlberg as an advisor to the Work Environment
Fund, recommended that Olle Johansson not get any funds, since electric
senstitivity he felt, was psychological and there were more important things
to research. Maybe this attitude explains his rude greetings to the two
FEB representatives who represented 1800 members. FEB pointed out that
the group should make an inventory of the practical experiences that FEB
had gathered, and also the vast experience gathered from electric sanitation
that has been made all over the country. If you go strictly by existing
scientific evidence, there will not be much to find, because there has
been precious little serious research done, FEB explained. It appears they
did not want to find. They did not listen to, or ever contact FEB again.
The regulatory body was examining a phenomenon, electric sensitivity, but
stayed away from the injured who suffered from it. They not only stayed
away from FEB, they did not investigate higher frequencies, they worked
PREDICTABLE AND DEPRESSING
The result was depressing. And predictable. "The
range of symptoms, and the reported effects of treatment, of the electrically
sensitive can best be understood within a psychological explanatory framework
- which neither denies the existence of the symptoms nor claims that they
are feigned". A nice bit of doubletalk that had the effect that everyone
thought that electric sensitivity is psychological in origin. It gave the
impression that there were scientific facts behind this statement. There
are not. Only speculations. And a government agency should not speculate.
But the government and Socialstyrelsen were barraged with protests. People
were particularly upset that the same Socialstyrelsen a few months earlier
had carried out an electric sanitation in their own office. They had discovered
high magnetic fields in the floor!
The Swedish (government appointed) HANDICAP OMBUDSMAN,
wrote to Socialstyrelsen, pointing out the negative effects their statment
could have for the electrically sensitivit, and asked if they had made
any "consequential analysis" of their statement. No they had not, Socialstyrelsen
replied sheepishly. Due to the many protests the government asked Socialstyrelsen,
in May 1995 to investigate the effects of electric sanitation . The problem
cannot be ignored the government felt even if there is no scientific evidence.
Let us hope that it is not the same "blind" that will investigate this
8. How companies cope with electrical sensitivity.
In almost every Swedish company of any size and in
every government department, there are electrically sensitive individuals.
It is not only secretaries who use VDTs these days. Virtually every office
worker in Sweden from top to bottom has a VDT of a fairly new model (which
is important since the newer models have higher frequencies and could be
problematic). The injured are both men and women. A recent survey by the
SIF union in Sweden showed that young men around 25 were the ones to complain
most of the symptoms from VDTs. Companies cannot afford to lose their valuable
employees and they usually do what they can do to help those who have developed
problems when working with their VDT. The Swedish law requires the employer
to rehabilitate those injured at work so it is important to take the proper
measures quickly. Some enlightened companies have a policy on electric
sensitivity , instructions how to deal efficiently with electrical sensitivity
should the problem arise.
One company that had to act decisively was ELLEMTEL,
a company jointly owned by Swedish Telecom (TELIA) and the microwave telephone
(cellular) manufacturer ERICSSON. As many as 49 very highly skilled, mostly
men developed electrical hypersensitivity of various degrees. The possible
cause was very intense use of high resolution VDTs and three microwave
transmitters on the roof top of the building. In order for the company
to go on and not lose its intellectual capital, it had to make changes
so the injured could go on working. Ellemtel embarked on a most advanced
"electrical sanitation". Special rooms with magnetic shielding metal in
several layers were constructed at great expense. Grounded, shielded wiring
was used, air-hose telephones invented, VDTS rebuilt and constructed. This
enabled the injured to work in an environment that did not make them worse.
They were still sensitive but could work, which was the aim of the company.
The company also helped to rewire and rebuild the homes of some of the
injured. Swedish taxpayers helped by paying 1.2 million dollars to this
partly private company.
It would seem that Ellemtel, having taken all these
measures, would have recognized that electromagnetic fields had been harmful
and had injured their workers. This was difficult to admit officially,
especially for a company producing electronics. Ericsson, a part owner
and maker of cellular telephones have been very displeased at the publicity
of the electrically sensitive at Ellemtel. They themselves tend to "hide"
their own cases. At Ellemtel it seems that the truth had to be "sanitized"
and some psycho-social projects headed by Bengt Arnetz were carried out.
Sture Liden was also engaged in the project but it is not clear what his
role was. The picture emerges of Arnetz and Liden as possibly something
like an Eastern block thought-police, allowing only an approved version.
The doctor, Anders Bayard who treated the 49 electrically sensitive patients
, did not write a section in the official Ellemtel report. Instead a doctor
that had not treated the patients, a doctor from out of town, wrote a section
on how to deal with electrically sensitive patients. This doctor, Ralph
Nilsson who like Arnetz, works with occupational medicine, promotes the
Arnetz psycho-social point of view and tells employers not to help their
employees with electric sanitation. Today Ellemtel officially states that
they cannot say what really helped their workers, the extremely costly
electric sanitation or the psycho-social program. Why did not Ellemtel
save their shareholders and Swedish taxpayers three million dollars on
electric sanitation if the Arnetz psycho-social activities could have done
the same thing? And why do other private companies in Sweden spend millions
every year on electric sanitation? The workers at Ellemtel know. They know
that had it not been for the electrical sanitation, they would not be able
to work today.
Not all companies are enlightened and helpful. It
can be very difficult for those who dare not tell their boss or co-workers
since they fear that they can be dismissed if they tell. The recent SIF-union
survey showed a great number of people having beginning VDT problems which
is worrying. It is a terrible feeling to discover that one is electrically
sensitive - the world as one has knows it is upside down. Where one found
pleasure and solace, one can be no longer. It is hard to accept it oneself,
but there is no choice. To have ones symptoms denied by others only adds
to the heavy burden. A career is out of the question in most cases. Instead
of offering assistance, some employers refuse to help and try to find some
way to be rid of the injured (and disabled) electrically hypersensitive
individuals. The employer can find ample support for their actions in arguments
supported by Bengt Arnetz and Sture Liden.
8. Workers' compensation
When worker's compensation was awarded in 1985 to
Marianne Berg an electrically hypersensitive bank employee with severe
facial and body burns, this was later explained as a "mistake." It has
been fairly easy to get workers compensation in Sweden if one has been
able to show reasonably well that the injury was work related. Marianne
Berg had an excellent medical testimony from her doctor, Bjorn Lagerholm,
showing a direct correlation between her problems and her VDT work. After
her injury was approved as a work injury, it was appealed by the Swedish
National Insurance Board. After almost ten years of appeals, her own hard
work and living on bank loans she received the verdict in October 1994.
The National Insurance High Court rendered its negative verdict. The court
was convinced, it wrote, that many suffered from these problems but there
was no "scientific proof" they felt. One of the experts they based their
ruling on was Sture Liden. This was clearly a decision not on medical but
on political and economic grounds and a Swedish disgrace. The fact that
the patient had developed skin cancer was ignored. In view of the apparent
need to cover up facts of electrical hypersensitivity, the outcome is not
surprising. The Berg case was of tremendous importance. If Marianne Berg
had been awarded worker's compensation, this would have opened a flood
of similar cases in Sweden (rightfully so) and abroad, including all the
RSI (repetetive strain injury) cases in the US. It would have meant, finally,
a recognition of the harmful effects of VDT (cathode ray tube) radiation
and it would have been the first crack in the massive world wide stonewalling
of VDT injuries. It is apparent that in Sweden and other countries there
is a willingness to sacrifice injured individuals and deny them their lawful
right to worker's compensation in order to keep the cover-up intact.
9. Outside help
THE SWEDISH PARLIAMENT MAKES AN IMPORTANT STATEMENT
On the fifth of May, 1994, the Swedish parliament
unanimously supported a statement by the Housing Committee on the subject
of Electrical Hypersensitivity. The democratically elected members of Parliamant
came to rescue. Parliament sent a strong message to the Swedish government
to deal urgently with this very important issue. The statement also said
that it was important to utilize the experience of the electrically sensitive;
that they must be listened to. This was at the time seen as a most welcome
statement and was reagarded as, hopefully, the beginning of the end of
many meaningless and pain-causing obfuscations. But all we got eight month
later was the miserable psychological interpretation of electric sensitivity
from Socialstyrelsen and after protests, a promise to investigate the effects
of electric sanitation.
10. Recent developments
But something very positive happened in early summer
SVENSKA DAGBLADET, a conservative business orientated
newspaper devoted three articles on an entire page, to a very intelligent
examination of electrical sensitivity. This time it was not the predictable
biased praise of the Bengt Arnetz psycho-social message that two female
medecine reporters, Atterstam and Haverdahl, have been so fond of presenting
the last few years.
SANITY AT LAST ?
The senior award-winning science journalist Harry
Bokstedt had reported some important findings. The front page news was
"High frequencies can cause problems. VDTs and other new electronic equipment
said to contribute to electric sensitivity." Some of the subjects he mentioned
were the experiences of LIBEREL AB, a very experienced electric sanitation
company. Their Mr. Martin Andersson was qouted: "It is not the strength
of the electromagnetic fields that create the problems but the high frequencies
created through harmonics, in VDTs and other equipment with modern technique".
The company is well known for their electric sanitation at the Stockholm
stock exchange and many other companies and government agencies. Another
important subject was mentioned by Bokstedt, namely cellular telephones
and the GSM (digital) in particular. People experience problems with the
pulsating digital telephones. The GSM system is characterized by high frequency
fields turning off and on 217 times per second. A German scientist, Lebrecht
von Klitzing, was mentioned . He maintains that he can observe a change
in the EEG pattern after 20 minutes exposure to a digital cellular phone.
This change in EEG pattern can remain up to 24 hours or more. Finally he
mentioned the work and hard tribulations of Olle Johansson, his work with
mast cells and his observations how immune defence-cells are affected negatively
by exposure to VDTs. Bokstedt reported the good news, which does vindicate
Johansson somewhat, namely that Olle Johansson had received the newly created
CANCER AND ALLERGY FUNDS' ENVIRONMENTAL MEDICINE PRIZE for his work on
mastcells. Let us hope, that Bokstedt's writing is the beginning of an
intelligent and sensible discussion of a very serious subject.
COVER UP CONSEQUENCES
A good ten years have been lost by cover-up attempts,
improper research fundings and an unwillingness to address the issue. By
not addressing the issue of VDT injuries and electrical sensitivity, we
have allowed something far worse to happen. In the shadow of the cover
up activities, we have built microwave transmitters in our cities ( for
cellular phones). The microwave transmitters are on roof tops, on apartment
buildings, on water towers, on hills, in the depth of forests, on islands
in the archipelago. Soon they will be in every block, in tunnels, in shopping
centers, in offices. This has been done without thoroughly investigating
the long term effects on human health of micro-waves. Research in this
field (high frequencies), has been ignored, discouraged and even stopped.
This is by far the biggest environmental threat to humans. Soon there will
be no place on earth where you can be without being enveloped in the invisible
electro-smog. Had we listened to the electrically and-VDT-injured we might
have learned someting and paused, before smothering ourselves in microwaves.
Copyright (c) 1995 by Leif Sodergren
Document last updated 950915.