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Electromania 4

Three years ago, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asked the National Academy of Sciences to recommend what research might be needed to deepen our understanding of the biological effects and “adverse health outcomes,” if any, caused by wireless communication devices. The Academy was not asked to evaluate whether these weak emanations actually cause harm. Independent reviews of the existing literature by scientific organizations in Canada, France, Sweden, the UK, Switzerland, the Netherlands, the United States, and elsewhere have concurred that there is no cause for alarm. But they also agreed that there are gaps in our knowledge waiting to be filled.
Radio Plaza on Marcy Street

Radio Plaza on Marcy Street

After conducting an expert workshop, the Academy called for further investigation on five fronts: exposure and dosimetry, epidemiology, human laboratory studies, physiological mechanisms, and animal and cell biology. Overlooked, however, was a category that might shed the most light of all: psychology and sociology. It would be fascinating to know how much overlap there is between “electrosensitives” — like those still trying to block wireless technology from Santa Fe — and people who believe they suffer from multiple chemical sensitivity, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, sick house syndrome, and other symptoms in search of an explanation. To what extent do these, alone or together, constitute a psychiatric illness?

District Court Judge Sarah Singleton touched on that point this week when she denied anti-wireless activist Arthur Firstenberg’s request for a preliminary injuction barring his neighbor, Raphaela Monribot, from using her iPhone, cordless phone, iPhone charger, wifi modem, laptop computer, desktop computer, scanner, dimmer switches, and compact fluorescent lights — all of which the plaintiff believes are making him ill. (Ms. Monribot does not have a television, but Mr. Firstenberg has indicated that he would sue over that too.)

Judge Singleton’s order makes for interesting reading. In contending that Mr. Firstenberg’s problems are caused by electromagnetism — and specifically by Ms. Monribot’s — his lawyer is relying on a legal concept called differential diagnosis: “identifying the cause of a medical problem by eliminating the likely causes until the most probable one is isolated.” But that, the judge noted, requires proving “that the allegedly harmful agent is capable of causing harm” and “ruling out other possible causative factors.”

Mr. Firstenberg has failed on both counts, she ruled, and then went on to confront the elephant that has been sitting ignored in the room: “One of the alternative potential causes for Plaintiff’s problems is a psychiatric condition.”

There is no shame in that. But given this legal setback, it seems likely that the case will be quietly settled with Ms. Monribot the one receiving compensation. If not we can look forward to what has the makings of a Scopes-like monkey trial.

While Santa Fe struggles to join the 21st century, San Ildefonso pueblo is charging ahead with plans to expand cellular telephone coverage. In this case, the environmental threat is real: not imaginary electrosmog but the visual pollution that will result from four large cellular towers — one will be 500 feet high — junking up one of the most beautiful regions of northern New Mexico. An 80-foot tower will be perched “on top of a mesa overlooking Santa Clara and Española.” Presumably not San Ildefonso’s sacred Black Mesa, but who knows? Because it is a sovereign nation, the pueblo does not have to obey county height restrictions or any other zoning laws.

George Johnson
The Santa Fe Review