This is a translated article from the TCO Newspaper
No. 18 June 18, 1993 by Gunni Nordström. Translated by Leif Södergren
IN A SPECIAL TAXI
Per Segerbäck is forced to live apart from
AN IRON-CLAD ROOM
Per Segerbäck, 37, is one of the technicians
who helped create Ericsson's world reputation. He works with custom-made
integrated circuits for telecommunication. He loves his work but has paid
a high price for it. Since 1989 he has been gravely electrically hypersensitive.
Segerbäck's workplace is in Ericsson's and
Swedish Telecom's development company, Ellemtel, outside Stockholm. Here
he can exist in only one single room. It is clad in iron sheeting. At home
in his house in Vällingby, his employer has also clad one room in
iron sheeting to make his room as electrically free as possible.
Between these two iron-clad rooms, one in which
he works, the other in which he lives, Per travels in a special taxi, an
older, longer model that allows him to position himself far from the electricity
generated by the car motor. The driver even turns off the electric fare-meter.
About 50 other highly educated young technicians
at Ellemtel experienced, in the late eighties, more or less serious symptoms
of electromagnetic allergy while operating VDT's. Several had to take sick-leave.
For this reason Ellemtel applied for and received 8.9 million Swedish kronor
(1.25 million USD) from the State Working Life fund in order to investigate
various methods of helping the electrically hypersensitive.
HE HAS LEARNED TO LIVE WITH HIS PROBLEM
Now everyone is back to work. Ellemtel even recently
announced at a press conference that electrical hypersensitivity is no
longer a problem at their company. But shortly after the press conference
the TCO Newspaper met with Per Segerbäck in his workroom and found
that even though he is back at work, the electrical hypersensitivity is
still a considerable problem in his life. A problem he has been forced
to live with.
Behind the iron sheeting surrounding his room
is a layer of seamless, welded aluminium but it is still electrically difficult
for him at one side of the room. "Since I moved in here I have had problems
with this part of the room. A month ago they made some changes and it was
found that some mistakes had been made with the grounding which caused
magnetic fields. However, I did not know it at that time but only felt
uncomfortable in that part of the room.
Since Per Segerbäck is the head of a group of
circuit designers he cannot remain in his shielded (electrically sanitized)
room the whole time. He is required to make frequent visits to another
room which is also electrically sanitized though not so extensively as
his own. In this room, which is shielded with copper sheeting, are some
of his electrically hypersensitive co-workers. It is impossible for Per
to be in any other part of the building because remaining only two or three
minutes in the corridors his skin begins to sting followed by a burning
sensation like a bad sunburn. He also experiences great fatigue during
which time, says he, "I only want to lie down and sleep."
Segerbäck's shielded room has its own entrance
so he no longer has to pass through the building's corridors.
THE INJURED, SILENCED
There has been a great deal of secrecy around the
Ellemtel Electrical Hypersensitivity project and it is known that the company
has more or less silenced the injured. This does not seem to affect Per
Segerbäck who speaks openly about his problems though present at the
interview is administration manager, Torbjörn Jonsson, who heads the
company's Electrical Hypersensitivity project report (due for publication
June 30 1993).
As it developed, Jonsson and Segerbäck had
never met to discuss Segerbäck's present condition and Jonsson is
now informed that as soon as Per is exposed to the slightest amount of
electricity he reacts with pain and his skin is sometimes so sensitive
that he cannot stand the slightest touch.
A few days later we meet at Per Segerbäck's
house in Vällingby where he lives with his wife and three children.
The house looks like most houses except for a window on the top which has
something that looks like bars. The bars are aluminium blinds on the window
of the shielded room where Per lives. The room is shielded with 1100 lbs
of iron sheeting containing silicone in two layers "screwed on with thousands
of screws so there is no danger -- my wife was a bit afraid in the beginning
that they should fall down...".
FRIDGE AND WASHER
Per can only spend very little time in the other
part of his house which contains the fridge and washer etc. Explains Segerbäck:
"the family must lead a reasonably normal life. It is bad enough the way
Per Segerbäck has been to work earlier in
the day and is rather tired after having been exposed to quite alot of
electric-magnetic fields but we speak for three hours about the events
that led to this strange illness which came to change his and his family's
life and for which no one has yet found a definite cure. He explains how
electronics became his great interest, about his engineering degree and
university studies in Uppsala and how his department head sent him to Silicon
Valley in America to learn more about the construction of micro-processors.
While in America he worked with semiconductor manufacturers. He was also
one of the first in Sweden to use high-resolution colour VDT's from England.
When these were installed he began to experience stinging and burning sensations
in his face. "I had my first symptoms at the end of 1988 and at the beginning
of 1989. They came at the end of the week after I had worked several hours
at the VDT. When you like your job you spend more hours at it than you
really should. I had not the faintest idea it could be harmful."
COULD NOT STAND THE CAR
The symptoms grew worse and soon Segerbäck discovered
that he was also sensitive to fluorescent lights and to other kinds of
electric machines besides VDT's. When, in the summer of 1989 he made a
journey with his family, he discovered he was sensitive to the electromagnetic
fields of the car. When he came back to work after his vacation he and
his co-workers lined their VDT's with grounded aluminium foil. By now several
others had the same problems. When Segerbäck, their manager, spoke
of the problems he had struggled with, the others dared to tell of their
own problems. Says Segerbäck: "It was we, the enthusiasts who worked
weekends, who got sick." "Were you stressed?" "Sure. We were in a rush,
we were busy with two rather complex circuits and it was important that
the job be finished quickly. But we are used to this and I, myself, find
it only stimulating. We have had blood tests but we do not have higher
than average levels of stress hormones. We are no more stressed than anyone
else in this company.
In January, 1990, Per Segerbäck had had it.
He reacted strongly to electrical environments, he burned and had red patches
all over his body. He went on sick leave but he had no place to recover
since he got sick in his own house too. This meant endless walks in the
surrounding countryside near his house and spending nights in his car (with
the ignition off!) "It sure was cold" he remembers but would rather not
talk about this period. "I have repressed it" he says.
SLEPT IN CAMPER
The company doctor, Anders Bayard, was understanding
and had compassion for Segerbäck as well as with the other electrically
injured but neither he or anyone else could tell them how to be rid of
The Ellemtel management now had to deal with problems
they had never before experienced. The first measure was to park a camper
made of aluminium outside Per Segerbäck's house so he would have an
electrically-free place to sleep.
Yngre Hamnerius, at Chalmers Technical University
in Gothenburg, was then called in to measure the electric-magnetic fields
and the so called "vagabond" magnetic fields and Segerbäck's whole
house was electrically "sanitized". After this, a similar rebuilding of
his work room at Ellmentel was begun. It was finished in 1991 and Segerbäck
moved in. Before that he had attempted to work in a worker's portable hut
but that was not very successful perhaps because, he thinks, of several
nearby subterranean electrical lines.
Today he uses an LCD overhead display unit which
is placed in a metal, grounded box with a grounded Sunflex filter in front
of it. An incandescent light bulb supplies the background lighting. This
is a specially constructed VDT unit by Ellmentel. But Segerbäck still
feels something he thinks might be high frequency signals from the electrical
cable which runs from the computer which is about thirty feet away from
his workroom and VDT. It makes no difference whether the VDT is on or not.
The VDT itself does not give off any fields. "When my computer broke recently",
said Segerbäck, "I had to use another which was temporarily placed
closer than the ordinary one and I felt it right away. It means that there
is alot of direct radiation from the computer itself.
Per Segerbäck's fatigue is apparent. He is rid
of his light-sensitivity which plagued him two years ago -- it disappeared
-- but his sensitivity to electricity remains. "My skin still hurts when
I am exposed to electricity" he says, "It does not show in any other way
except that I get blotchy red. It is terrible and hurts alot more than
it might appear to."
In spite of his difficulties Segerbäck has
kept his enthusiasm. He plans to study by correspondence. How does his
family take his electrical hypersensitivity? He replies: "My oldest son,
who is twelve, is often sad but Anna, two, has never experienced anything
but my illness so she takes it naturally. When we are together she runs
ahead and turns off electricity everywhere."
The Segerbäcks have considered applying for
a local community subsidy to rebuild the rest of the house but they have
been told that it is difficult to obtain such subsidies. The local communities
refer to Federal precedents and usually deny applications. Those who appeal
usually lose. The Housing Board has asked for guidelines and have been
told that "Electromagnetic allergy does not exist today as a defined and
limited illness from a traditional medical point of view." This argument
is also used by other agencies when denying workers compensation claims.
ELECTRICAL SANITATION HELPS
Skin doctors Mats Berg and Sture Liden and stress
researcher Bengt Arnetz, who participate in the Ellemtel project, have
at various times recommended not to carry out electric sanitation (since
they do not believe that electricity has anything to do with the problem.
"But we technicians at Ellemtel know that electric sanitation is the only
thing that helps" says Per Segerbäck.
Written by Gunni Nordström
Translation note: Electrical Sanitation means reducing
electric and magnetic fields. Electric fields are reduced by using shielded
and grounded wiring. Magnetic fields are very difficult to shield against.
It is best for the affected person to move as far as possible from the
source of the magnetic field. If this is not possible only the use of metal
as described above will be effective.
TCO Newspaper No. 18 June 18, 1993
Translated by Leif Södergren