Couple adds Faraday cage to reduce electromagnetic fields
By Mark Collins
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
Marc Plinke, along with his wife Rohini Kanniganti and their two children Sitha Plinke, 6, and Roan Plinke, 4, plant mint outside of their "green" home in Boulder. Because of wire mesh, known as a Faraday cage, placed inside the walls, the home has a very low electromagnetic field, the family believes helps with their sleep.
When patients leave family physician Rohini Kanniganti's office in Boulder, they receive a high five. It's a friendly slap of hands, but also Kanniganti's way of reminding the patient of what she believes are the five keys to great health: sleep, hydration, diet, elimination and play.
In her own home, Kanniganti and her husband, Marc Plinke, gave attention to the first item on the high-five list in an unusual way.
The couple recently finished a nearly two-year renovation on their home on Sumac Avenue in Boulder. It's a net-zero home -- it creates as much or more energy as it uses due to green-design elements, such as solar heating, soy foam insulation, thermal mass construction and water-conserving systems and landscaping.
The home's most unique feature, however, is a rarity in residential building: It has a Faraday cage.
With the exception of one room in the 3,000-square-foot home, the walls, floors, ceilings, windows and doors have a system of connected wire mesh, similar in consistency to the wire mesh on a typical screen door. The purpose is to drastically reduce the home's electromagnetic fields.
Electromagnetic fields have been the subject of much research and controversy during the past 35 years. The invisible fields occur naturally as the result of the Earth's magnetic pull, and are created in abundance from electric devices and pathways. We're inundated with electromagnetic fields daily from electrical wiring, power lines and dozens of electrical devices.
Some believe prolonged exposure to high-level electromagnetic fields can cause cancer. But Michael Dubson, a senior instructor in the CU physics department says, "(Low-frequency electromagnetic radiation) is harmless unless the intensity is so high that you begin to start heating. But there's no chance that kind of radiation can cause cancer. There's no evidence of that."
Cancer wasn't Kanniganti and Plinke's concern, though.
"For us it was just a quality of sleep issue," says Plinke, an environmental engineer. "I didn't want to inundate our sleep with a lot of electromagnetic fields because it would just energize the brain. At least that made sense to me."
The Faraday cage was discovered by 19th century physicist Michael Faraday. A Faraday cage essentially blocks external electrical fields from an enclosed space. It's the same principle that keeps passengers safe from lightning strikes when they are in an automobile. The lightning won't penetrate the metal enclosed car.
Plinke got the inspiration to create a Faraday cage through most of his home from an experiment in a high school physics class he took years ago. Project manager Olivier Goedert, of Simply Remodeling, had to figure out how to install the caging.
During the research phase, Goedert discovered governments use Faraday cages for privacy purposes. And universities have begun outfitting rooms with Faraday cages to curb would-be cheaters, as cell phone texting is disabled in a Faraday environment.
Information about residential Faraday cages was minimal, however, and Goedert had to figure out how to make it work in the home.
Workers installed the wire mesh between two sheets of drywall on the walls and ceilings in the home. The wire mesh was laid in the cement-like flooring material, too. Installing the caging was relatively inexpensive, since the remodel was already underway, Plinke says.
Plinke estimates it cost less than $2,500 dollars to outfit the home with Faraday caging. "It really wasn't a lot of trouble to include it in the project," Goedert adds.
One of the unintended consequences of the Faraday caging has been limited cell phone reception in the home. Most of the house is a cell phone dead zone. It's not a bad thing, Plinke discovered, at least according to friends with chatty children.
"A lot of parents have said, 'Just for that purpose alone, it's worth doing this,'" Plinke says. "'If my daughter wasn't locking herself in her room and talking to her friends forever (on a cell phone), I would pay any money.' I just had to laugh."
Visitors to the home -- a warm, inviting dwelling with rounded walls, painted with earth tones and bathed in light -- have called it a quiet space, Plinke says. It's not without noise -- the couple's two children, Sitha, 6, and Roan, 4, often fill the home with laughter and loud noises children make. But there's something peaceful about the home, people say.
That resonates with the home's official name. A plaque bearing the words "Ahimsa Platz" adorns the entryway. It comes from the couple's different traditions -- Kanniganti is from India, Plinke from Germany -- and translates to "peaceful place."
But does minimizing a home's electromagnetic fields with a Faraday cage have any real affect on a human? Does it really make a quieter home? Can it make for a better sleeping environment?
"The basic answer is that we don't understand the effects of electric magnetic fields very well, as far as what they do to biology at what level," says Frank Barnes, a professor of electrical engineering at CU.
Kanniganti and Plinke both have scientific backgrounds, and both understand any evidence of creating a quieter environment with a Faraday cage is anecdotal. But that's fine by them.
They point to the fact the day they moved into the home, Sitha and Roan slept through the night for the first time, and have continued to do so since.
"I feel it when I come back into this house," says Plinke, of returning from travel. "Whenever I come back and sleep here, I wake up in the morning and think, 'That was a good night's sleep.'
"But I'm a scientist, too. It's anecdotal evidence. Who knows what is real and what is not real? It's real to me anyway."
Kanniganti, too, says it's difficult to test how vastly reduced electromagnetic fields in their home may or may not affect the family. At some point, though, it's not about empirical evidence; it's about enjoying the experiment.
"You have to take an evidence-based approach, but even in the lack of evidence, you go for the quality of life," she says. "Beyond that (reducing the electromagnetic fields with a Faraday cage) was really fun."
Contact Mark Collins at 303-473-1369 or BDCTheater@comcast.net .
E.W. Scripps Co.
© 2006 Daily Camera and Boulder Publishing, LLC.
Men's Health June 2009: Hanging mobile
By Mirza Malik
Convenience comes at a price: "The cells in the body react to electromagnetic fields in mobile phones just like they do to other environmental toxins, including heavy metals and chemicals," says Martin Blank, PhD, a professor in bioelectromagnetics at Columbia University.
As a result of this, you are at an increased risk of infertility, hearing problems and even sleepless nights. Find out how to beat the odds.
Future Dads, Beware
Using a mobile phone may harm your sperm, report Cleveland Clinic scientists. They found that men who talked on their mobiles for two hours a day shot 31 per cent fewer swimmers.
Keep it out of your pocket. As long as your mobile phone is turned on, it emits radiation that enables it to communicate with base stations, according to Lou Bloomfield, PhD, professor of physics at the University of Virginia and author of How Everything Works: Making Physics Out of the Ordinary. "The radiation emitted, however, is stronger and more frequent when you're talking or messaging."
Mobile phone users are twice as likely to develop malignant brain tumours called gliomas, according to a study that analysed the effects of mobile phone use of over 10 years or more published in the journal Occupational Environmental Medicine
The further you are from a base station, the more radiation your phone must emit to get a signal, which causes your phone to heat up when you have low reception. So reduce your exposure - make calls only when you have a strong signal, hang up before your phone heats up and store your phone away from your body when it's not in use.
Hear You Go
Having trouble hearing the guy on the other side? Don't be quick to blame your mobile service provider, because it's probably your mobile harming your hearing, Indian researchers say. In a study of 100 cell users, the scientists found that four years of heavy usage (an hour a day) diminished the users' ability to hear high frequencies, making it hard for them to distinguish between certain sounds.
Always use a headset. "The electromagnetic waves emitted by handsets can affect your inner-ear mechanics over time," says Dr Naresh Panda, the study's lead author. Using a headset moves your mobile away from your ear.
Text It Up
Good news: exposure to radiation from your mobile phone diminishes slowly for the first six to eight centimetres from your body, and then it falls dramatically, says Bloomfield.
Sending an SMS is actually a safer way to communicate, says David O. Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany. When you key in an SMS, you hold your phone away from your body. This exposes you to less radiation than when you have the mobile to your ear.
The longer you hold a mobile phone to your ear, the worse you'll sleep, say scientists from Wayne State University. (They found that three hours of exposure to mobile signals significantly cuts the time you later spend in deep sleep.) Guard your grey matter using a Bluetooth headset - it emits only a minuscule amount of electromagnetic energy.
More talking, more problems: 'Cell phone elbow' damages nerves
* Story Highlights
* "Cell phone elbow" caused by a nerve damage from keeping elbow bent
* Holding phone to ear for long time can choke blood supply to nerves
* If fingers feel numb while on phone, change hands, get a headset or hang up
By Madison Park
(CNN) -- If your pinkie and ring fingers tingle or feel numb, you might not want to pick up that cell phone to call the doctor.
Too much cell phone use can lead to overextending nerves, causing what doctors call "cell phone elbow."
Orthopedic specialists are reporting cases of "cell phone elbow," in which patients damage an essential nerve in their arm by bending their elbows too tightly for too long.
When cell phone users hold the phone to their ears, they stretch a nerve that extends underneath the funny bone and controls the smallest fingers. When talkers chat for a long time in that position, it "chokes the blood supply to the nerves. It makes the nerves short-circuit. The next thing you know, there's tingling in the ring and small finger," said Dr. Peter J. Evans, the director of the Hand and Upper Extremity Center at the Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.
When that happens, the advice is simple: Switch hands -- before it gets worse.
People who have this condition, called cubital tunnel syndrome, can feel weakness in their hands and have difficulty opening jars or playing musical instruments.
"It could impede your typing ability, your writing ability," Evans said. "People get very unintelligible writing if it gets severe."
Donna Malloy, 66, noticed the numbness in her hands when she spoke on her cell phone for hours.
"Mainly when I was holding something, I noticed, 'Geez, they're tingling,' " Malloy said about her ring and pinkie fingers. "It got progressively worse. If you walk around holding the cell phone, after a while you're not sure you have it in the hand anymore."
She started dropping things in her left hand, and needlework became too difficult.
"I thought: 'I'm turning old and falling apart,' " Malloy said.
Constant cell phone use could "stress out the ulnar nerves," said Dr. Leon Benson, an orthopedic surgeon and spokesman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. The ulnar nerve, which travels through the forearm and branches into the hand, can become weakened and scarred after being stretched repeatedly.
"The more you bend it, the more it stretches," Evans said. "It diminishes the blood supply, and the blood is not flowing through the nerves."
While the nerves are designed for stretching, "it's not normal to be in a position to be stretched for an hour," Benson said.
People with severe cases of cubital tunnel syndrome, like Malloy, require surgery. But most cases require simple behavioral changes. The condition is not as common as carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects nerves in the wrist.
This doesn't mean that cell phone use is dangerous, doctors said.
"It's like anything else, any sporting activity," Benson said. "You can hit balls at the driving range -- just don't hit 300 of them, because you'll be sore. So common sense would dictate not to talk on the phone for hours if your small and ring fingers go numb."
After surgery, Malloy said her hands are "fine now. It doesn't bother me." She still talks on her cell phone, but she uses a Bluetooth headset.
Cubital tunnel syndrome doesn't affect only cell phone addicts.
* MayoClinic.com: Pinched nerve
* MayoClinic.com: Carpal tunnel syndrome
Elderly people who rest their elbows on the arm of a chair can develop the syndrome, as can truckers and people who use wheelchairs who lean on their elbow, Evans said. Some people who sleep curled in a fetal position with their elbows overly bent can develop the syndrome. Another factor could be occupational. People who type in front of a computer, with their elbows bent tighter than 90 degrees, could damage their nerves.
Bending the elbow tighter than 90 degrees for an extended period of time will stretch the ulnar nerve by 8 to 15 percent, Evans said. The remedies are simple.
# Avoid activities that require the elbow to be bent tighter than 90 degrees.
# Fix workstations so the elbows aren't overly flexed.
# Don't lean on your elbows for an extended period of time.
Ticehurst councillor questions safety of new wireless masts in schools
Friday, May 29, 2009, 12:00
FEARS that telecommunication masts being built at schools across the county may pose a health hazard to pupils and local residents are unfounded say East Sussex County Council.
The authority issued a statement this week reassuring the public after Ticehurst parish councillor Rod Rigby raised questions about ESCC's next generation network.
The project will see fixed wireless access (FWA) antennae installed in 148 schools and ESCC offices over the next three months as the council seeks to meet government targets for internet access in schools.
Flimwell resident Mr Rigby has researched the effects of electro-magnetic waves from wireless devices and phone masts and believes there is evidence they can harm people.
He said: "This is not crackpot: It's based on real concern by scientists that is not being reflected in the advice or action of governmental agencies. "It breaks down links in the blood brain barrier; it stops the DNA working properly; it allows your immune system to be compromised."
He added: "My partner has been long-term affected by electro-magnetic waves to the degree where she can't work any more.
"My dog almost died because of it – that's proven and I've got a vet who can back that up."
Responding to Mr Rigby's concerns, ESCC spokeswoman Hannah Russell said: "The safety, health and welfare of young people is our top priority and the county council would not install a system that it was not completely satisfied was safe.
"This technology meets or exceeds all UK, European and international regulations and health and safety standards. We have taken advice from the Health Protection Agency which has also carried out specific tests on our behalf."
ESCC says the FWA signal differs from common blanket wifi as it uses a focused point-to-point beam.
Measurements of FWA transmissions found they are 95 per cent lower than those taken from a mobile phone.
But Mr Rigby, 54, said: "It is technology that has not been tested and people need to be informed so that they can make informed choices.
"It's unreasonable for innocent people to be irradiated when they have not said 'yes, I would like that to happen to me'."
Miss Russell responded: "We have been in close discussion with schools about the introduction of this technology.
"All schools have been offered the chance to have the NGN team attend a meeting with parents and governors to address any questions people may have."
For further information on the next generation network scheme visit the council's website at