Conventional wisdom, and years of scientific research, tell us that it isn't safe to build your house directly under a high-voltage power line. But how much further should we go to avoid the constant barrage of electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that surround us every day? Should we avoid talking on cell phones, place our beds far away from electric outlets, or stop using CFL light bulbs?
Those are just a few of the recommendations Ann Louise Gittleman outlines in her new book, “Zapped: Why Your Cell Phone Shouldn't Be Your Alarm Clock and 1,268 Ways to Outsmart the Hazards of Electronic Pollution” (HarperOne, $25.99).
Gittleman, author of more than two dozen diet and nutrition books — mostly in the "Fat Flush" series — found herself becoming concerned with EMFs after seeing what appeared to be its effect on many of her clients and the development of a benign tumor below her earlobe, which she attributes to spending too much time talking on cell phones.
As Gittleman sees it, we are surrounded by electronic devices, electricity, transmission signals and wireless devices. "We are affected 24/7 by an unprecedented number of frequencies and wavelengths," she writes. "By some estimates, we're exposed daily to as much as 100 million times more electromagnetic radiation than our grandparents were." She asks two important questions: What are the health hazards of this constant exposure, and what can we do to minimize the risks?
Unfortunately, Gittleman doesn't do her case any good when, as early as page 3, she brings up nonscientific concepts like chi and prana and claims, on page 9, that medicines heal us of illness because of the frequencies they emit, not due to their physical or chemical properties. Her adherence to the unproven concepts of traditional Chinese medicine puts the science she presents later in the book on uncertain footing.
And there is some science in this book. Of most value are the charts displaying the EPA's magnetic field measurements for all kinds of home, kitchen and office devices, such as hair dryers, electric shavers, air conditioners, ceiling fans, refrigerators, copiers and fluorescent lights. Knowing that some electric pencil sharpeners emit more EMFs than most copy machines is enough to help you change some of your office habits.
But Gittleman also presents many alternatives that are less than "green," and in fact may be more dangerous than what you are already doing. For example, she says we should throw out our electric alarm clocks or turn off that feature on our cell phones in favor of battery-powered clocks. Never mind that disposable batteries can leach chemicals into the Earth when they are thrown out, or that you can buy a perfectly good wind-up alarm clock for as little as $8 on the Internet. She also tells readers to use old-style incandescent light bulbs rather than CFLs because they emit "elevated magnetic and electric fields" and "dirty electricity" and contain hazardous amounts of mercury. But eating a tuna sandwich will likely expose you directly to more mercury than breaking a CFL bulb, and older bulbs use significantly more electricity, which is what she's trying to avoid in the first place.
True to her earlier books, Gittleman rounds out “Zapped” with 40-plus pages on "zap-proof superfoods" and recipes that will supposedly protect you from the dangers of EMFs. Her recipe for hearty beef stew is mouth-watering, but too much of the rest of this book left a bad taste in my mouth. If you're worried about the dangers of EMFs, wait for a more credible source than this one.
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