FEB - The Swedish Association for the ElectroSensitive


This is a translated information document from the Swedish FEB-association. Copyright (C) 1994 FEB


FEB - The Swedish Association For the Electrically and VDT Injured

FEB was founded in 1987 with 10 members. At the beginning of 1994 the membership had increased to over 1.800 and new members are enrolling all the time. The association's main task is to:
  • support the injured and to create understanding for their problem.
  • disseminate information on the subject.
  • influence society to invest in research and development in order to help those already afflicted.
  • prevent others from becoming afflicted.
  • organize people who will support the associations work and goals.
  • publish a quarterly Swedish magazine called "Ljusglimten" (Glimpse of light).
The individual and support membership is 170 Swedish Kronor per year. Company and institutional rates are 500 Swedish Kronor per year or 1.000 Swedish kronor of which 500 is a donation to research.

Payment is via Postal Giro 67 84 45-8 or Bank giro 788-2970, or by international money order. .

Warning Signs

If you begin to show any of the following symptoms with VDT usage, then you run a risk of becoming electrically hypersensitive:
  • An unnatural warmth or burning sensation in the face.
  • A tingling, stinging or pricking sensation in the face or other areas of the body.
  • Dryness of the upper respiratory tract or eye irritation.
  • Problems with concentration, dizziness and loss of memory.
  • Swollen mucus membranes resulting in nonviral/bacterial swelling of nose, throat, ear and sinuses

The development of VDT problems and Electrical Hypersensitivity

Initially warmth and tingling sensations

The first signs of electrical hypersensitivity are often experienced as a minor irritation when working with VDTs. A frequent symptom is that of warmth or a burning sensation in the face, not unlike a strong sunburn. Some people develop a reddish skin blemish or rash at the same time. These can also be accompanied by tingling sensations in the skin, both facially and/or over the whole of the body. In addition eye problems can occur. You might get the feeling that the mucus membranes have dried out.

These initial symptoms must be regarded as a serious warning. With these initial symptoms there is still a chance to prevent the development of a more serious electrical hypersensitivity. At this stage the symptoms are usually alleviated when the VDT is switched off or if the distance to the VDT is sufficiently far away from the user.

For some individuals the problem becomes gradually worse. The symptoms are sustained for longer periods. In the beginning it takes an evening and night for the symptoms to disappear, but as the damage gets more progressive, it takes ever longer. It might take a weekend for the symptoms to disappear, later several weeks.

The discomfort with VDT use becomes worse. Many describe the warmth and tingling as though the face was boiling. New symptoms occur. The whole body is affected including the nervous system. This might include:

  • difficulties in concentration
  • dizziness
  • headache and nausea
  • teeth and jaw pains
  • ache in muscles and joints and
  • cardiac palpitations.
Some describe symptoms such as memory loss, coordination problems etc., a feeling of impending influenza that never quite breaks out.

Difficulties with electric equipment

When the symptoms have become this severe at the VDT, the same symptoms appear at other times as well. The injured soon realise that there is a relationship between different kinds of electrical apparatus and the severity and duration of the symptoms. Both domestic TV-receivers and fluorescent lights (strip lights) generally cause intense symptoms.

A person with these symptoms has developed a general oversensitivity to electricity. Those who are extremely oversensitive can also react adversely to daylight and must stay indoors in darkness during daylight hours.

Severe problems for the injured

The majority of locations in our modern society have electrical environments that give rise to problems for those with electrical hypersensitivity. It doesn't require much imagination to see how restrictive life can become. Those that are severely oversensitive can feel ill in a work environment, and even at home. Everyday life is now full of obstacles. Even the simplest of household tasks can give rise to symptoms: One cannot be nearby house wiring or apparatus, one must avoid being too close to lamps and especially avoid being under fluorescent light fittings. It becomes impossible to use electric cookers/stoves, vacuum cleaners and other household appliances.

It can be difficult to go outside. Electrical cables abound, both overhead supplies and those below the surface. To shop for the most essential items means rushing through the shop. Watching TV is impossible, many cannot even use a radio and their families live by candlelight and paraffin lanterns. Relocation at the working place is usually impossible when one has severe problems with fluorescent lightning, office equipment and electrical wiring at the office. The outcome is often extensive periods of sick leave. FEB has members who have been off work on sick leave for years. The estimated annual cost to society of this sick leave exceeds 100 million Swedish Crowns.

What the electrically sensitive react to

Persons who are electrically hypersensitive can react to most types of energy within the electromagnetic spectrum: Electrical and magnetic fields in the ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) and VLF (Very Low Frequency) bands, electromagnetic fields in the radio broadcast bands, infra-red radiation, daylight and sunlight.

These fields occur everywhere in our modern society. Magnetic fields permeate both walls and floors in buildings and are difficult to eliminate. The following list gives some examples of what can cause symptoms:

  • VDTs,
  • Television,
  • Fluorescent lights, low-energy-, mercury and sodium lamps,
  • Trains, underground trains, buses and cars,
  • Electrical distribution panels and ventilation fans,
  • Copying- and telefax machines
  • Telephones and answering machines
  • Refrigerators, freezers, electric cookers, vacuum cleaners and other domestic applicances
  • Clock radios, lamps with integral or separate transformers, thyristor "dimmers" (light regulator)
  • Electrical supply cables both indoors and outdoors in the ground, overhead Medium- and High voltage distribution cables
  • Transformer sub-stations and switchgear
  • Water, gas and district heating pipelines. Due to phase-imbalance, leakage currents in a 4-wire 220V 50 Hz system
  • Data and alarm cables for data networks, fire alarm, burglar alarm, cable-TV etc.
  • Hearing-aid induction loops are commonplace in public buildings, theatres. They generate strong fields.

Not Imagination!

The medical symptoms cannot be explained away by suggestion, "fear of computer work", expectation effects, techno-stress or similar theories.

Measurements in the homes of people with electrical hypersensitivity have shown that there exists a higher level of electrical or magnetic alternating fields in those spots where the afflicted feel worse.

Most of our members have had changes in symptom intensity that can hardly be explained by anything other than electrical hypersensitivity. For example, they can be adversely affected near an inside wall if a computer or TV is on the other side. This is to be expected since magnetic fields travel through walls. Later they might be told that yes, the neighbour had the TV on at that particular time.

Social Isolation

VDT-injury causes social isolation of the injured. They cannot readily visit friends, go to the cinema, theatre or travel by train, underground or bus. A person who is severely sensitive can, at best, travel short distances in a modified car or use the telephone for a few minutes per day. Many expose themselves to electrical fields in order to break their isolation. The situation worsens with protracted pain and heightened sensitivity. A feeling of hopelessness can occur when a small improvement that took months to achieve can disappear within an hour.

Those seriously affected can, in extreme cases, be forced to flee from our electrified society. A solution for some has been a refuge in an isolated cottage or camper/caravan. Others have taken to sleeping in their cars to avoid electrical fields at home. It is not uncommon for those people to have an oversensitivity against daylight. They must live in darkness behind closed curtains.

Severe difficulties

It's not only the physical aspect that the injured suffer. They can suffer economic consequences. These occur when the problem is not recognised by the authorities. The consequence is that the social security system does not support you.

Since the medical profession in the beginning were unfamiliar with these symptoms, the injured were met with incomprehension, disgust or scorn because of the nature of the disorder and the symptoms that arise are largely unknown in medical circles. Many have been shunted round the health service for diverse examinations only to be wrongly labelled as mentally disturbed.

Existence is coloured by adversity with the authorities in many cases:

  • Refusal of industrial injury claim/workers compensation
  • Housing agencies who fail to help with relocation to accommodation with an acceptable electrical environment.
  • Difficulty or impossibility with measurements or technical help
  • No subsidy for electrical field reduction (electric sanitation)
  • Refusal of subsidised transport
  • Demands that the injured return to work with VDT-screens with the risk of a relapse.
The economy is further eroded due to the need of suitable accommodation away from towns and the need to purchase a car for access to the new housing.

What was once a skin complaint can become a difficult illness and handicap. The handicap can be distressing both for the immediate family and relations. Not everybody can tolerate the demands required for living with an person with electrical hypersensitivity. This can lead to a temporary or permanent rift in the family.

Very high sensitivity

Those affected react to very weak fields that were previously regarded as insignificant. FEB, in conjunction with local electricity supply companies, has measured the levels of alternating magnetic fields in the homes of many hypersensitive people. The results show that they react to field strengths as low as 20-30 nT (Nano-tesla). This level corresponds to field strengths at a distance of several hundred metres from a 400 kilovolt power line.

FEB's own measurements indicate that the threshold for magnetic induction can be as low as 0,01 mT/s (millitesla/seconds), approaching one thousandth of the emission from a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube in VDTs and TV-sets).

Electrically hypersensitive people react to a wide range of frequencies: those documented include household current power at 50 Hz, railway overhead cables at 16 2/3 Hz, Data communication networks at 2 KHz - 10 MHz, radiofrequencies in the high Megahertz regions.

Electrical avalanche

The electrical environment has changed radically during recent years. The amount of electrical apparatus in the home is on the increase. For example: Household appliances, lamp dimmers, video, cable-TV, microwave oven, fluorescent lamp fittings, low-energy lamps and telephones with increasingly advanced electronics.

Many people sleep 8 hours a night with a clock-radio beside the pillow, some on an electrically warmed waterbed. Even cars contain ever more electronic devices. In shops and stores, there are data cash registers, alarm loops and extensive fluorescent lighting.

There soon will be a computer and VDT for every office worker (here the magnetic fields pass undiminished through walls so that a colleague's apparatus contributes to your local environment). There are Low Energy lamps above the desk, laser printers, copying apparatus, electronic locks and ventilation fans in the general office environment. The devices all have cables, often jumbled together beside the desk and many have transformers built into the main plug.

This computerisation of the working place is nearly a total one. Even the processing industry has VDTs for monitoring.

It's understandable that more and more people become hypersensitive to electricity and also understandable that they feel better when in electricity-free environments.

Remove the myths

Certain myths have arisen due to statements by a few dermatologists. FEB would like to therefore point out the following facts:
  • VDT damage and electrical hypersensitivity exists on a much larger scale than many people suppose. FEB has over 1 600 members. In addition there are probably in 1993 at least 10.000 people in Sweden with VDT problems and electrical hypersensitivity.
  • The problem is global in as much as FEB continually gets requests for information from other countries, in particular within Scandinavia. FEB has reports from Norway, Denmark, Finland, USA, Switzerland, Estonia, Germany, Austria and Australia.
  • The injured are from all ages: FEB gets reports from parents and schools where children have become electrically hypersensitive. FEB has several children who are members. They have difficulty with their studies since they cannot attend school.
  • All occupations have reported problems which affect both sexes. The diversity of occupations is illustrated by examples from the FEB membership register: Economists, engineers, students, heads of computer departments, secretaries, journalists, post- graduates and small businesses. In the latter case it can be very difficult for "one-man firms" to exist without a computer. Many injured have key positions and the employers have spent much effort and money on "electrical sanitation" to keep them on the job.
  • Many of those affected are very interested in their work and are of the opinion that it is enjoyable and rewarding working with computers. They are people with computers as a hobby or as a profession, for example, system designers and programmers. It is therefore highly improbable that the cause of the symptoms would be a fear of computers.
  • Electrical hypersensitivity is a neurological condition rather than just dermatological. Thus treatment by dermatologists only is not advisable.
  • Some of those who are affected exhibit symptoms such as reddish blemishes and ulcerated skin. The majority however have "internal" symptoms.
  • There are resemblances between the pathology of those injured by VDT's but also individual variations. The reactions are different both in effect and rapidity. There are also variations in recovery time.
  • The symptoms often change over a period of time. Those who have been electrically hypersensitive a longer time often have delayed reactions and are less sensitive to light.
  • Not all those affected have been VDT users. FEB has members who have worked with electrical welders and radiotransmitters. In many cases one can suspect heavy metal toxicity.

What causes it?

The precise cause of VDT injury and electrical hypersensitivity is unknown to date and the little research done leaves much room for speculation. What is clear however is that VDTs emit several types of electromagnetic radiation: electrostatic field, electrical and magnetic alternating fields and radio frequency emissions (the high frequencies are suspected culprits). In cases of electrical hypersensitivity it is natural to first look at substantial exposure to these fields.

Until proved otherwise, all electromagnetic fields must be regarded as potentially injurious.

FEB's opinion is that one cannot exclude any of the potential causes of electrical hypersensitivity that have been proposed to date:

  • The different fields that surround VDTs, keyboards, computers and cables give rise to dermatological and neurological damage,
  • The ionisation of the air. Certain people experience a reduction in symptoms when the working place air was ionised.
  • Disturbances in the immune system or hormone balance. The symptoms of electrical hypersensitivity have a resemblance to rheumatic reactions connected with the auto immune system. There exist indications that the auto immune system itself becomes disturbed.
It's difficult to know why certain individuals become hypersensitive. It can, as in many situations, be that certain people are especially sensitive. It's conceivable that everybody receives injury after a certain degree of exposure. It's also possible that certain VDTs are extra virulent or that certain environments have a combination of several high-risk factors. The fields from VDTs can for example cooperate with another factor.

The symptoms surrounding electrical hypersensitivity have similarities to those of amalgam-related illnesses. A study by engineer Per Hšgstedt and orthodontist Dr Thomas …rtendahl at Chalmers University of Technology shows that certain VDT's cause an increase in the release of mercury from dental amalgam. This indicates mercury toxicity must be given serious consideration.

Electrical hypersensitivity is probably a very complex phenomenon that cannot be coupled to a simple field, field strength or induction effects. It can be assumed that the phenomenon more depends on frequencies, curve forms or possibly a combination of fields with different frequencies. In addition, the reaction patterns can be individual.

Preventative measures

While the precise reason for these injuries is unknown, the following advice cannot be claimed to be anchored scientifically.
  • Keep the number of electrical appliances in the workroom to a minimum. Move laserprinters, telefax, copiers etc. as far away as possible from your work area, preferably to a separate room.
  • Turn off the computer, VDT and printer when they are not used. Make sure that colleagues sitting adjacent do the same. (Check with a fluxmeter that the VDT is in reality switched off when the on/off switch is in the off-position. The fields around certain VDT's and terminals are present even when they are supposedly off. Actually they are in a "stand-by" state. Here the power cable should be drawn out from the outlet.)
  • Purchase VDTs that fulfil the most stringent emission requirements in the country in question. (In Sweden there is MPR II (1990:8) and the union TCO's interpretation of these standards.)
  • Measure the magnetic alternating field in the working place. Values that exceed 0,2 mT (microtesla) are uneccessarily large. There can exist stray or "vagabond" currents in water pipes etc.
  • Measure the electrical alternating field with for example, an Elfix. (Elfix is a simple Swedish measuring device to detect electric currents.) These fields can be shielded by a grounded metal casing around, for example, electric wires. Lamps, VDTs and grilles below fluorescent light can also be earthed/grounded.
  • Replace fluorescent lights and low-energy lamps with incandescent bulbs. This is a must where a worker has the initial signs of VDT-problems. In general, electrically hypersensitive people have significant reactions with fluorescent lights and other discharge lamps.
  • VDTs should be fitted with filters of sufficient quality that reduce the electrical alternating fields. Earthing of this filter is essential as a poor filter can generate larger field strengths than no filter at all. The computer must be connected to an earthed outlet, because otherwise unnecessary electrical alternating fields can occur around the computer, display screen and keyboard.
  • Try using a Liquid Crystal Display screen (LCD), preferably without background illumination. These screens are however not emission-free as is sometimes claimed, but they have field levels considerably lower than cathode Ray Tubes in a normal VDT. A filter should be fitted on a LCD-screen to reduce the electrical alternating fields.

If someone is affected

The most important thing to do is to take the symptoms seriously! It is essential to do the following changes if anyone exhibits the characteristic VDT-related symptoms described earlier:
  • Those affected should stop VDT-usage immediately
  • Measure the alternating electrical and magnetic fields both at the office and at home
  • Reorganize the home electrical environment.
  • Organize work in a reduced-field environment.
At its simplest the improvements include screening and earthing of light-fittings, apparatus and metallic fittings in the workroom. Fluorescent and low-energy lamps should be replaced by incandescent bulbs both for room lighting and desk lighting. Unnecessary electrical apparatus should be moved out of the workroom. See the advice under section "Preventative Measures".

It is extremely unwise after sick leave to go back to work using the same VDT that caused the injury. FEB has several members that became even worse as a consequence of this kind of rehabilitation attempt.

Do not only reduce the temperature. This can reduce the symptoms somewhat but there is a definite risk that the damage continues and that the hypersensitivity can increase if VDT-work continues.

If those affected are to continue working with VDT's then it's worth trying a LCD-screen. This attempt should stop immediately if this screen also gives problems. There is otherwise a risk that the problems could become more severe. The Liquid Crystal screen (LCD) should be fitted with a good quality earthed filter to reduce the electrical alternating field, and the whole apparatus should be earthed, of course.

Learn from experience

There are many examples of phenomena where the risks became apparent only after a period of time. For example: Asbestos toxins such as DDT and PCB, tobacco smoking, X-rays and other ionising radiation.

Those who are amongst the first affected, bear a heavy burden, before the risks have been generally acknowledged.

Don't repeat the mistake again -- listen to people now!

Society must act!

The community at large must take responsibility for the VDT-injured.

Firstly, the problem of VDT-symptoms and electrical hypersensitivity must be recognised as a real problem. There now exists a sufficient amount of research and experience to justify effective action from the authorities, employers and similar bodies. Action is most important in the following areas:

  • Adequate medical services and rehabilitation
  • Housing in non-electrical environments
  • Work in electrically reduced sanitised working places
It is most important for those with symptoms to have a dwelling where they are not continually suffering from their symptoms. Today many people are forced to live in caravans or in solitary and primitive cottages far away from their families.

Those whose illness occurred at work must be able to receive compensation for industrial injury. This doesn't remove the injury of course, but it gives a degree of economic security.

Many different sections of society need to be involved in the problems that sufferers of electrical hypersensitivity have.

Society must act in the right way so that those affected can return to work and without running a risk of becoming worse.

The Government

The Government must above all recognise that the problem with VDTs and electrical hypersensitivity exists and greatly increase the funding of inter-disciplinary research. In addition the Government must find out how the different authorities can help those already affected and prevent further injury.

The Medical Services

Information must be more comprehensive. Doctors must live up to their responsibilities and gain a deeper knowledge of the problem. At the current stage whilst information is insufficient, the most important requirement of the medical profession is to instruct the injured to stop VDT-work.

This is the only thing we know that can help those affected from getting worse. A person who has recently developed symptoms of electrical hypersensitivity must not be allowed to get worse because doctors lack knowledge.

Skin specialists have so far had a strong influence on the medical debate. They must also realize that electrical hypersensitivity technically has many components that lie outside their expertise. The medical profession must make sure that neurologists contribute to the treatment of those injured by VDTs.

The hospital system must eventually be able to diagnose electrical hypersensitivity. The hospitals, today, should prepare special rooms for such people who need an electrically reduced environment. There are so many fluorescent lights and electrical devices in a modern hospital that many are very worried about being a patient in a hospital for other illnesses than their electrical hypersensitivity.

Rehabilitation of Electrically Hypersensitive People

Is there a cure?

Even though one has become hypersensitive, it shouldn't be regarded as a hopeless situation. The greatest progress occurs when information and the experiences of others is used. The cornerstone of all rehabilitation is the avoidance of electrical and magnetic alternating fields.

Since the mechanism behind electrical hypersensitivity is not fully known, rehabilitation is not fully developed. FEB, however, is successively gathering information on this subject. Those working with the topic of rehabilitation soon realise that it is mainly a matter of technical improvements. These in turn require specialist knowledge and special measuring instrumentation etc.

Those who have come off best have a sympathetic employer and doctor that have been progressive enough to accept electrical hypersensitivity as an actual phenomenon. There is a way to live a decent life with this problem and it is possible with a certain degree of rehabilitation.

Thanks to their own knowledge or good contacts some electrically hypersensitive have managed to organize their lives fairly comfortably by installing gas stoves, shielded wiring or direct current, rebuilt telephones, electrically modified cars etc.

People have been able to move back home again in the cases where the local electricity board has satisfactorily reduced the alternating magnetic fields near the home.

All those affected should benefit from these technical solutions. Society as a whole has to pull its weight and take responsibility here.

Other devices than VDTs can provoke electrical hypersensitivity, but in 90 % of FEBs members, it was precisely the VDT that is stated as the cause.

The employer

The employer must take immediate and appropriate action when an employee begins to exhibit VDT-related symptoms. It is important that those who notice that they have the typical symptoms suspend VDT-work -- at least for the time being.

New tasks should be arranged by the employer but an attempt to work with a conventional VDT (with a cathode ray tube) is most inadvisable. A flat LCD-screen can possibly be tried, sometimes it has helped, but sometimes the situation gets worse. The working place must be inspected for improvements in EMF-levels as soon as possible. (See sections "Preventative Measures" and "If someone is affected".) Those who are severely electrically hypersensitive require that the employer organise a specially built room and manual tasks. Rooms with low alternating magnetic fields can often be found in the corner of buildings. If that does not give the required result, it is important that the employer can devise work that can be carried out in a (electrically field- reduced) home or other suitable place. FEB has members that work in summer cottages or in caravans (campers).

To those who wonder about the VDT-risks

  • Take warning signals seriously! If you don't feel well in front of a VDT, avoid this kind of work. Too many keep quiet and suffer.
  • Inform the employer and the company medical services about your problem. Insist on a serious attitude.
  • Ensure that your injury is reported as an industrial injury.
  • Reduce exposure for the different fields elsewhere. Avoid fluorescent lights, don't sleep with clock-radios near the pillow etc. Pull out plugs on apparatus not in use.
  • Join FEB. There are several local organisations throughout the country. You can get the address from us, we also have addresses for similar organisations all over the world. You can get together with others and start a local organisation if there isn't already one near you. The more our numbers are, the more the problem is visible. This in turn means that we can press for information, changes in attitude from authorities and companies, and for intensified research programs.
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