Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Fear, but Few Facts, on Hybrid Risk / Health Risks of Hybrid Cars Have Been Misrepresented by the Media

Hi All
Like many people who are electrically hyper-sensitive, I have great difficulty finding a modern vehicle which does not make me ill from the electromagnetic fields (EMFs). In recent years I have had to sell a Subaru Outback and a Mitsubishi Endeavor, both which were good quality cars but had to go because they caused adverse effects to my health.

My 'modern vehicle' is a 2007 GMC Sierra full sized pick up truck. I purchased it because it has fairly low EMFs and does not affect me too badly. Older cars are much better for EMFs. I have a 1985 BMW 635 CSI and my wife has a 1991 Toyota Cressida, both of which have modern luxury refinements yet have low EMFs and do not harm me. Of course driving 17 and 23 year old cars, there are reliability and maintenance challenges. It is ironic that while new vehicles have improved their crash ratings, most cars have become dangerous inside. This is because of cheap non-shielded electrical wiring and badly designed electrical systems.

Modern cars are becoming a significant health risk because of high electro magnetic fields. For people who spend long periods in their vehicles, this should be a major consideration when they purchase a vehicle. Vehicle manufactures must make every effort to lower the levels of electro magnetic fields in their new vehicles and make them safer for customers.

The following stories from the New York Times and from Dr. Mercola are mostly about hybrid vehicles but you need to be very cautious about buying any modern vehicle without testing it for EMFs.
Martin Weatherall
Motoring The New York Times

Fear, but Few Facts, on Hybrid Risk

Published: April 27, 2008

ALMOST without exception, scientists and policy makers agree that hybrid vehicles are good for the planet. To a small but insistent group of skeptics, however, there is another, more immediate question: Are hybrids healthy for drivers?

Mary DiBiase Blaich for The New York Times

Driving a hybrid made Neysa Linzer drowsy.

There is a legitimate scientific reason for raising the issue. The flow of electrical current to the motor that moves a hybrid vehicle at low speeds (and assists the gasoline engine on the highway) produces magnetic fields, which some studies have associated with serious health matters, including a possible risk of leukemia among children.

With the batteries and power cables in hybrids often placed close to the driver and passengers, some exposure to electromagnetic fields is unavoidable. Moreover, the exposure will be prolonged — unlike, say, using a hair dryer or electric shaver — for drivers who spend hours each day at the wheel.

Some hybrid owners have actually tested their cars for electromagnetic fields using hand-held meters, and a few say they are alarmed by the results.

Their concern is not without merit; agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute acknowledge the potential hazards of long-term exposure to a strong electromagnetic field, or E.M.F., and have done studies on the association of cancer risks with living near high-voltage utility lines.

While Americans live with E.M.F.'s all around — produced by everything from cellphones to electric blankets — there is no broad agreement over what level of exposure constitutes a health hazard, and there is no federal standard that sets allowable exposure levels. Government safety tests do not measure the strength of the fields in vehicles — though Honda and Toyota, the dominant hybrid makers, say their internal checks assure that their cars pose no added risk to occupants.

Researchers with expertise in hybrid-car issues say that while there may not be cause for alarm, neither should the potential health effects be ignored.

"It would be a mistake to jump to conclusions about hybrid E.M.F. dangers, as well as a mistake to outright dismiss the concern," said Jim Kliesch, a senior engineer for the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "Additional research would improve our understanding of the issue."

Charges that automobiles expose occupants to strong electromagnetic fields were made even before hybrids became popular. In 2002, a Swedish magazine claimed its tests found that three gasoline-powered Volvo models produced high E.M.F. levels. Volvo countered that the magazine had compared the measurements with stringent standards advanced by a Swedish labor organization, not the more widely accepted criteria established by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, a group of independent scientific experts based near Munich.

Much of the discussion over high E.M.F. levels has sprung from hybrid drivers making their own readings. Field-strength detectors are widely available; a common model, the TriField meter, costs about $145 online. But experts and automakers contend that it is not simple for a hybrid owner to make reliable, meaningful E.M.F. measurements.

The concern over high E.M.F. levels in hybrids has come not just from worrisome instrument readings, but also from drivers who say that their hybrids make them ill.

Neysa Linzer, 58, of Bulls Head in Staten Island, bought a new Honda Civic Hybrid in 2007 for the 200 miles a week she drove to visit grocery stores in her merchandising job for a supermarket chain. She said that the car reduced her gasoline use, but there were problems — her blood pressure rose and she fell asleep at the wheel three times, narrowly averting accidents.

"I never had a sleepiness problem before," Ms. Linzer said, adding that it was her own conclusion, not a doctor's, that the car was causing the symptoms.

Ms. Linzer asked Honda to provide her with shielding material for protection from the low-frequency fields, but the company declined her request last August, saying that its hybrid cars are "thoroughly evaluated" for E.M.F.'s before going into production. Ms. Linzer's response was to have the car tested by a person she called her wellness consultant, using a TriField meter.

The TriField meter is made by AlphaLab in Salt Lake City. The company's president, Bill Lee, defends its use for automotive testing even though the meter is set up to test alternating current fields, whereas the power moving to and from a hybrid vehicle's battery is direct current. "Generally, an A.C. meter is accurate in detecting large electromagnetic fields or microwaves," he said.


Testing with a TriField meter led Brian Collins of Encinitas, Calif., to sell his 2001 Honda Insight just six months after he bought it — at a loss of $7,000. He said the driver was receiving "dangerously high" E.M.F. levels of up to 135 milligauss at the hip and up to 100 milligauss at the upper torso. These figures contrasted sharply with results from his Volkswagen van, which measured one to two milligauss.

Mr. Collins said he tried to interest Honda in the problem in 2001, but was assured that his car was safe. He purchased shielding made of a nickel-iron alloy, but because of high installation costs decided to sell the car instead.

A spokesman for Honda, Chris Martin, points to the lack of a federally mandated standard for E.M.F.'s in cars. Despite this, he said, Honda takes the matter seriously. "All our tests had results that were well below the commission's standard," Mr. Martin said, referring to the European guidelines. And he cautions about the use of hand-held test equipment. "People have a valid concern, but they're measuring radiation using the wrong devices," he said.

Kent Shadwick, controller of purchasing services for the York Catholic District School Board in York, Ontario, evaluated the Toyota Prius for fleet use. Mr. Shadwick said it was tested at various speeds, and under hard braking and rapid acceleration, using a professional-quality gauss meter.

"The results that we saw were quite concerning," he said. "We saw high levels in the vehicle for both the driver and left rear passenger, which has prompted us to explore shielding options and to consider advocating testing of different makes and models of hybrid vehicles."

In a statement, Toyota said: "The measured electromagnetic fields inside and outside of Toyota hybrid vehicles in the 50 to 60 hertz range are at the same low levels as conventional gasoline vehicles. Therefore there are no additional health risks to drivers, passengers or bystanders."

The statement adds that the measured E.M.F. in a Prius is 1/300th of the European guideline.

The tests conducted by hybrid owners rarely approach the level of thoroughness of those run by automakers.

Donald B. Karner, president of Electric Transportation Applications in Phoenix, who tested E.M.F. levels in battery-electric cars for the Energy Department in the 1990s, said it was hard to evaluate readings without knowing how the testing was done. He also said it was a problem to determine a danger level for low-frequency radiation, in part because dosage is determined not only by proximity to the source, but by duration of exposure. "We're exposed to radio waves from the time we're born, but there's a general belief that there's so little energy in them that they're not dangerous," he said.

Mr. Karner has developed a procedure for testing hybrids, but he said that the cost — about $5,000 a vehicle — had prevented its use.

Lawrence Gust of Ventura, Calif., a consultant with a specialty in E.M.F.'s and electrical sensitivity, was one of the electrical engineers who tested Mr. Collins's Insight in 2001. He agreed that the readings were high but did not want to speculate on whether they were harmful. "There are big blocks of high-amp power being moved around in a hybrid, the equivalent of horsepower," he said. "I get a lot of clients who ask if they should buy hybrid electric cars, and I say the jury is still out."


Health Risks of Hybrid Cars Have Been Misrepresented by the Media

A New York Times article published earlier this year raised questions about the health risks of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in hybrid or electric vehicles.

EMFs have been linked to serious health matters, including cancer and a potential risk of leukemia among children, so limiting exposure is in your best interest.

However, a safety report by Stan Hartman, an environmental health consultant in Boulder, CO, specializing in electropollution, found that hybrid vehicles are not a problem for your health.

"There were a lot of misleading statements in the recent NY Times article, including claims of 100 mG fields, which are causing alarm," Hartman said.

"It's next to impossible to get accurate readings in a moving vehicle. Since there was no lift available to simulate road resistance to the drive train in a constant external EMF atmosphere, the results of this testing are only approximate at best."

Dr. Mercola Dr. Mercola's Comments:
There's no disputing that hybrid cars are good for the environment. But lately another issue has been raised: Are hybrids healthy for the drivers and passengers?

It's a legitimate question. I've written extensively on the dangers of electromagnetic fields (EMF) myself, and have previously warned you about the potential dangers these hybrid vehicles might pose.

The flow of electrical current to the motor of a hybrid vehicle produces magnetic fields, which studies have associated with serious health risks, including a heightened risk of leukemia among children.

Additionally, since the batteries and power cables in hybrids are often placed close to the driver and passengers, it's likely that some exposure to electromagnetic fields is unavoidable. And the exposure is a prolonged one as many drivers spend hours each day at the wheel.

So, should you buy a hybrid? Or are you gambling with your health while making an effort to go green?

Electro-Pollution Specialist Weighs in On the Potential Dangers

Stan Hartman is an environmental health consultant in Boulder, CO, specializing in electro-pollution. He believes the article featured in The New York Times contains many misleading statements that may frighten people unnecessarily.

"There's no more difficult a situation to try to get accurate EMF readings in than a moving car, and the errors will almost certainly be to exaggerate toward the high end, he states.

With instruments that tend to do that already, and don't claim high accuracy to begin with (6 decibels compared to less than 1 for a good professional meter), they end up scaring people unjustifiably."

Hartman, who conducted his own EMF safety test of a 2007 Toyota Prius Hybrid, offered the following corrections and explanations to the Times article above:

  1. Trifield meters are useful, but it's important to be aware of their sensitivity to high frequencies when trying to determine ELF levels, and of the fact that standard Trifields, unlike most gaussmeters, are frequency-weighted. Higher frequencies read as higher magnetic fields. So a 120 Hz field will read twice as high as a 60 Hz field, a 180 Hz field three times too high, etc., and they have significant sensitivity as high as 100 kHz, and some residual sensitivity to 100 MHz – on the magnetic, not radio/microwave setting. This can result in wildly high readings if they're interpreted as ELF when higher frequencies are present (like near the floorboards of cars with electronic ignitions, which include many more vehicles than just the Prius and other hybrids).
  2. AC magnetic field readings were consistently higher on the rear seats than on the front seats. Measurements in the rear passenger compartment were made in the center of the seats, away from the doors, to avoid confusion with the ELF magnetic fields from the magnetized, revolving steel wires in the tires. Tire fields are too low-frequency to be detected by most gaussmeters, which have 30 or 40 Hz low-frequency filters to keep them stable while moving in the earth's field, but they're present in most if not all vehicles, even those with "polyester-belted" radials, which still have significant steel in them. They're usually confined to within a few inches of the back doors.
  3. ELF magnetic fields were highest when both the gasoline engine and the electric motor were running – when the vehicle was warming up, accelerating, climbing even slightly, or charging the battery. During hard acceleration, they could reach 6 or 8 mG at seat level on the rear seats, diminishing higher up from the seats.
  4. Operating on the electric motor alone, the readings in the back were usually less than 3 mG at seat level, diminishing upward to about 0.4 mG at head level. Average readings on the seats in the back under different driving conditions were around 2.8 mG.
  5. At the surface of the back seats, the highest AC magnetic fields were found to be oriented perpendicular to the ground, but this may have been simply because the pickup coils could be held closer to the seats in that position.
  6. At 60 Hz (actually between 54 and 66 Hz), levels were less than 1 mG at the places of highest exposure, on the rear seats.
  7. For VLF magnetic fields (2-300 kHz), there was a regular fluctuation between approximately 0.6 and 12 mA/m (0.0075 – 0.15 mG) when the gasoline engine was engaged. Levels were 4-6 mA/m (0.05 – 0.075 mG) when operating on the electric motor alone.
  8. There was a less than 0.3 mG, constant, approximately 6 Hz pulse coming from the bottom of the door frames, on the left side only.
  9. There was an area of low-to-medium power density (depending on your point of view – it was less than 1 uW/cm2) high frequencies (> 10 MHz), apparently originating from the smart key slot, on the dash to the right and below the steering wheel. It extended 14 or 15 inches toward the driver's seat, where it diminished into the low nanowatt range. The driver's knees and right hand would be exposed to it. It might affect Trifield readings, and may be similar to readings for smart-key systems in other types of vehicles.
  10. There was an approximately 8 kV static electric field on the driver's door arm rest.
  11. The NY Times article's statements about Trifields and other AC gaussmeters not measuring DC fields is misleading – that "the meter is set up to test alternating current fields, whereas the power moving to and from a hybrid vehicle's battery is direct current." Direct current motors, when they're spinning, put out alternating fields as well as DC fields, which are detectable on an AC gaussmeter when their rpms are within the meter's frequency range. I'm not sure what the rpm ranges are on hybrid electric motors, but when testing it's important to test with a meter that at least goes into the low VLF range (2 kHz), and with a VLF meter as well.
  12. Toyota's statement that the 50-60 Hz fields in the Prius are comparable to conventional gasoline-powered vehicles appears to be correct, but fields are higher at other extremely-low-frequencies on the back seats.


Hartman's recommendation for Prius owners is to provide some kind of comfortable elevation above the back seats for long trips, and avoid seating children in the back for very long unless they're in a car seat that significantly elevates them above the seat – preferably the center seat, which is already slightly above the side seats and safer from side impacts.

It's also best to avoid hard acceleration. There's a general reverse correlation between fuel economy and magnetic field exposure – the higher the mpg at any moment (which can be constantly displayed on the center touch screen), the lower the magnetic fields.

Additionally, he notes you may also receive less high-frequency exposure if you keep the smart key inserted in the slot on the dash while driving, instead of in your pocket or purse, so the system doesn't have to keep "looking for it." However, he was unable to confirm this during his testing, and it's not certain that the high frequencies around the smart key slot were in fact from the smart key system.

Some May Be More Sensitive Than Others

All of that said, I still believe you need to use your own best judgment and not ignore the issue if you find that you are sensitive or "allergic" to electromagnetic fields – a health concern that is on the rise and gaining more attention.

And some of the concern over high EMF levels in hybrids comes straight from drivers who claim that their hybrids make them ill.

One such case is Neysa Linzer, who concluded that her new Honda Civic Hybrid caused her elevated blood pressure, and that EMFs were the reason for her falling asleep while driving on three occasions.

Naturally, if you've already been diagnosed with Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS), or experience pain or other symptoms while exposed to electrical appliances, computers, wireless internet or cell phones, you will likely need to pay particular attention to potential exposures in your car as well, no matter how low.

For others, however, Hartman's findings may offer some reassurance that choosing a hybrid is still a viable option, although other alternatives that may be far better are showing up on the horizon, such as cars that run on compressed air. No word yet on whether or not they too produce questionable levels of EMF…