Energy Stressors and their Impact on Health and Comfort

This paper summarizes international and national research, industrial standards, and anecdotal evidence that address energy stressors noise, light, and electromagnetic exposure. Since reported symptoms associated with these stressors often overlap or exacerbate those of Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) issues, it is important to be aware of their influence.

This paper will briefly define the energy stressors and objectively report the current research and conclusions regarding the health effects. Existing industrial standards, though not applicable to most residential environments, if known will also be cited. In addition, case studies regarding findings and economical mitigation techniques will be discussed.

Note: this paper only focuses on the energy stressors that are classified as non-ionizing, man-made electromagnetic radiation (EMR): noise, light, power frequency – extremely low frequency (ELF) – electromagnetic fields, and radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RFEM).


All matter produces electromagnetic radiation differing in frequency and wavelength. When the frequency of a given radiation becomes so high that the released energy is sufficient to form ions in matter it is passing through, we speak of ionizing radiation. All other forms of electromagnetic radiation not capable of creating such ionization processes are classified as non-ionizing radiation. Visible light belongs to the latter group and starting with ultraviolet radiation marks the borderline between those two sections along the broad electromagnetic spectrum. [3]

The electromagnetic spectrum can be divided into four major sections. First, at low frequencies (up to 1012 Hz) electric charges typically are found as freely moving electrons in, for example, wires and antennas, or as free moving electrons, ions, in space. They give rise to power frequency fields, radio waves and microwaves. The higher frequencies include the infrared region; the optical region of visible light; and the most energetic radiation including x-rays, gamma rays and cosmic rays is generated when charges inside certain atomic nuclei are being transformed.

From the beginning of time, electromagnetic radiation in a variety of forms has sustained life on earth. Many different energy patterns engulf us and penetrate us in a very distinct relationship. Enveloped in its own magnetic field, the earth keeps a more or less steady beat essential to the rhythm of life.

All living organisms have evolved within and adapted to this distinct radiation climate of planet earth. This natural balance is being threatened now because humans have been very busy adding their own versions of energies without giving thought to the biological implications. More and more emitters of non-ionizing radiation (e.g. cellular phones, digital TV, home electronics) are produced daily, even though these pose a risk for human health. [3]


Each year there are 1000’s of papers published and to date there are three professional organizations with publications and annual conferences on the subject. Therefore, it is beyond the scope of this document to do a thorough research survey and the material provided is based on surveys done by others. [1-8]

The papers in support of the associative link between high EMR and adverse health effects are written by researchers in the biophysics, biomagnetics, bioelectric, biology, and faith-based. Those that recognize that the human body is a complex system that possesses an internal energy force that interacts with external energy sources.

The papers that question the link are written by power utilities, communication companies, and chemical pharmaceuticals, which have a financial interest in disproving the link. They depend on the research of physicists, chemists and engineers who describe the human body as a chemical machine, where one cause leads to one disease and has one cure.
Biological Effects

Traditionally, the body’s communication system was thought to be only through ionized (electrical) current driven by pulsed signals from the heart; however, now through the use of more sophisticated visual and measuring tools, we know the human communication system is also semi-conductive (electronic). [5]

This is accomplished through a highly complex fibrous membrane of connective tissue, called the cytoskeleton, or living matrix. Semi-conductors are highly influenced by external electromagnetic fields, so our communication systems are highly susceptible to external energy stressors. [5]

In short, electrical activity can be found everywhere in our body. In addition, our bodies communicate at a cellular level through vibration, with various cell-types vibrating at different frequencies ranging from 0-35Hz. This range corresponds to the earth’s magnetic fields.

When a body is exposed to abnormal frequencies from energy stressors, the body will attempt to become in tune reaching coherence or resonant frequency (tuning fork effect), which disrupts the body’s communication and cell division. Alternating magnetic fields cause eddy currents (induction effect) and cause nerve, bone and muscle stimulation. [2, 5]

Biological problems associated with electromagnetic stressors fall into two major categories [2]:
1. Brain (behavioral abnormalities, learning disabilities, altered bio-cycles and stress responses)
2. Growing tissue (embryos, genetics and cancer)

The extent of the external fields surrounding a person determine whether overall health is enhanced or the central nervous system, endocrine or immune system become impaired, and subsequently lead to the initiation or promotion of many disorders, especially chronic conditions. Plants, animals or humans enjoying general good health, with a strong immune system, are less likely to be disturbed by external fields. [3] Some scientists suspect that at the root of many modern diseases, whose causes and upward trends are as of yet inexplicable, are energy stressors. The following diseases seem to be particularly susceptible to these environmental factors: cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer, autism, behavioral disorders, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. [2]

Dr. William Rae, Director of the Environmental Health Center in Dallas suggests that our bodies are like a rain barrel. Every day we dump in pollutants in the form of the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe. Over time, we will eventually “overflow” and have allergic reactions. For 18% of the population, during their lifetime a sensitizing event occurs – such as trauma, chemical exposure, illness, etc. that leads to a fissure in the rain barrel. This fissure, or crack, lowers the body’s tolerance for pollutants and leads to an allergy response (a leak) at a much lower level. [6]

Environmental Illness (EI) is a general term for an abnormal state of health where minute amounts of chemicals or low levels of electromagnetic radiation in the environment (food, water, air, home, workplace) cause severe adverse reactions in susceptible and sensitized individuals. [4]


The two kinds of health effects of noise are non-auditory effects and auditory effects. Non-auditory effects include stress, related physiological and behavioral effects, and safety concerns. Day and night, at work and at play, noise can produce serious physical and psychological stress. People appear to adjust to noise by ignoring it but the ear, in fact, never closes and no one is immune.
Current conditions expose tens of millions of people to sound levels capable of causing hearing loss, but also are known to induce tinnitus, hypertension, vasoconstriction and other cardiovascular impacts. Vasoconstriction can also be contributory to erectile dysfunction. Beyond these effects, elevated noise levels create stress, increase workplace accident rates, and stimulate aggression and other anti-social behaviors.1

Other proven effects of high noise levels are increased frequency of headaches, fatigue, stomach ulcers, vertigo and headrush. A U.S. EPA study establishes suggests a correlation between low birth weight babies and high sound levels, and also correlations in abnormally high rates of birth defects, where expectant mothers are exposed to elevated sound levels, e.g. typical airport environs.


There are two elements of indoor light that are of primary concern regarding biological effects: over-illumination and glare, or spectra. The reported health effects are as follows: increased headache incidence, worker fatigue, medically defined stress, decrease in sexual function, increase in anxiety, certain carcinomas, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular disease. Fluorescent lighting in offices and schools are often sufficient to elevate blood pressure by about eight points. Several published studies suggest that due to suppression of the normal nocturnal production of melatonin, there is a link between exposure to light at night and risk of breast cancer. Some of these effects are under further study to understand the exact causes.
Generally speaking over-illumination occurs when light levels exceed 500 lux for incidental lighting, exceed 800 lux for general office use or exceed 1,600 lux for special purpose use such as microchip etching quality control (Note, the midday sun provides about 60,000 lux). The desired spectrum is that of natural light, which the body is expecting and which is used to set the circadian rhythms of all higher forms of animal life. 2

Electromagnetic fields (ELF)

AC electric and magnetic fields (ELF) occur wherever there is electricity. AC electric fields are most commonly found in the vicinity of wiring — either running inside a wall or mounted on its surface, and especially around two-wire extension cords. Household appliances, fluorescent lighting, building wiring and external power lines can also create problems. The field strength and subsequent health impact decreases with distance.

Symptoms and diseases often associated with elevated electromagnetic fields (EM): [1-6]:
• Nervous system symptoms (e.g. headache, depression, fatigue, stress, sleep disturbances, sudden infant death, dizziness, nausea)
• Behavioral disorders (e.g., ADD, ADHD, learning disabilities)
• Skin symptoms (e.g. facial prickling, burning sensations, rashes)
• Neuromuscular symptoms (e.g. pain and ache in muscles)
• Eye symptoms (e.g. burning sensations)
• Ear, nose, and throat symptoms
• Digestive disorders
• Cancer, leukemia, lymphoma, genetic mutations
• Heart palpitations
• Change in cell division, DNA synthesis, hormonal alterations

Even the overly conservative, now acknowledge that Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS or ES) is of concern. The National Health councils of two countries, Sweden (2000) and the United Kingdom (2005) have recognized it as a syndrome. The World Health Organization (WHO) released this statement (Dec 2005):

“EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms, which afflicted individuals attribute to exposure to EMF. The symptoms most commonly experienced include dermatological symptoms (redness, tingling, and burning sensations) as well as neurasthenic and vegetative symptoms (fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation, and digestive disturbances)…
The symptoms are certainly real and can vary widely in their severity. Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual.”

While the extent of the carcinogenic effect of such electromagnetic emissions is still inconclusive, the U.S. EPA recommends “prudent avoidance” to avoid excess exposure over long periods of time.
And others, who report: “The severity of the symptoms varied greatly. In some cases they were sufficiently severe to prevent the EHS individual from carrying out normal life activities.” [6]

“In one pooled study that combined nine well-conducted studies from several countries, including a study from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), a twofold excess risk of childhood leukemia was associated with exposure to magnetic fields above 0.4 µT. In another pooled study that combined 15 studies, a similar increased risk was seen above 0.3 µT.”

“A questionnaire survey of 2,072 people in California found that the prevalence of ES within the sample group was 3.24% with ES being defined as “Being allergic or very sensitive to getting near electrical appliances, computers, or power lines” (Levallois 2002, response rate 58.3%). A similar questionnaire survey from the same year in Stockholm County (Sweden), found a 1.5% prevalence of ES amongst the sample group, with ES being defined as “Hypersensitiviy or allergy to electric or magnetic fields” (Hillert 2002, response rate 73%). A more recent survey of prevalence of ‘annoyance’ relating to visual display units, fluorescent tube lighting and other electrical equipment among the general Swedish population reported the prevalence of ‘much annoyance’ relating to these devices to be 0.8%, 1.4% and 0.4% respectively.”
Electromagnetic fields (RF)

The higher the frequency of the electromagnetic radiation, the more the electric and magnetic field components meld together. At these frequencies it becomes almost impossible to measure those fields as separate entities. We speak of electromagnetic waves or radio frequency radiation (RFEM). This kind of field comes from radio, TV, police, fire, military communications, microwave, radar, and cellular phones. The energy level is billions of times stronger than the natural high frequency energies from the cosmos that existed during our biological development.

Research shows cataracts, blood composition changes, hormone alterations, and chromosomal abnormalities are induced at high frequency energies. The power levels involved were one hundredth of the standard now set by the US government. Research on close to the head pulsed digital wireless communications signals show them to increase non-malignant tumors of the auditory nerve, increased brain cancer, cause chromosome damage, and DNA breaks in brain tissue. [2] Problems are these are often high exposure with a short distance to humans, such as with cell phones. When a signal is being transmitted between your phone and the tower, the signal strength requirement is dependent upon the distance and obstructions between the two. If more power is needed than the tower can provide for the “link,” the cell phone power will increase to meet the requirements. Thus, the further you are away from the tower, the more power your phone will produce, and the more radiation will be transmitted into your head. However, be aware that all times your phone has RF output; it is just a matter of how much and how near it is to your head. It is known that 20-80% of the cell phone radiation is deposited into the head of the user, and that multiple individuals have reported ill effects from using cell phones. [3]


The following are some myths that are often referenced and publicized, though scientific evidence, both in laboratory research and epidemiological studies disprove them.
? Myth: No biological risk for non-ionizing EMR
The belief that low-level electric, magnetic and other electromagnetic fields, such as those emanating from electric home wiring systems and common appliances, have biological effects is an established scientific fact. The “only” question that remains is how great and how harmful those health effects are, especially in the long run. There is more evidence, both epidemiological and laboratory testing, to support a causal associative link between energy pollution and adverse health, than there is for the link for smoking and lung cancer. [2] ? Myth: Sources of energy stressors are external, not part of the indoor environment
Light and noise penetrate the building envelope and are often constant stressors in the indoor environment. Based on the survey of 1000’s of homes, the primary source of high magnetic fields was building wiring, household appliances, distribution lines and current on the water pipes. High voltage transmission lines are only an issue if located closer than 200ft. [3, 8] [Chart 1] ? Myth: Industrial/Governmental limits are based on scientific and field research
Community noise is a combination of a variety of exposures simultaneously: number of noise events over time; time of day; equivalent level and maximum level of the noise event; therefore occupational levels do not apply. There is also considerable variation in people’s tolerance to noise levels and types of noise, making it difficult to quantify direct health effects, or to set acceptable limits. [1] Industrial limits for exposure to ELF magnetic fields are based on thermal risk, and set to an arbitrary amount of 200mG right-of-way edge limit in some states . Since 3mG has been established to be dangerous, with a standard safety factor of 1/10th, the limit should be 0.3mG, which by the way is within the range of the mean background of 0.2-0.5mG. [3] Physicists claim exposure to RFEM is not dangerous unless thermal damage is suspected, thus, the American National Standard Institute sets a cautionary not regulatory, limit of 5000?W/cm2, though adverse biological effects are observed above 0.0001?W/cm2. [3] [Chart 2]

Case Studies


Health impact: severe vertigo, initially requiring hospitalization followed by months of recovery (adult female)
Suspected Trigger: short-term exposure (1 week) to excessive noise during a quilting class where several quilting machines were operated in a non-noise reduction environment – vinyl floor and concrete block walls
Mitigation: avoid the original environment and when quilting, wear hearing muffs, place the machine on thick-pile carpet and walls “decorated” with quilts for noise reduction
Result: fewer and less severe experiences with vertigo


Health impact: headaches and increase in blood pressure, both requiring medication (adult female)
Suspected Trigger: long-term exposure to over-illumination within a classroom – problems were exacerbated 2 months into the school year
Mitigation: turn off the classroom lights as often as possible – use full spectra floor lamps as needed
Result: reduction in headache severity and frequency, no reported change in blood pressure

Magnetic Fields

Health impact: hyperactivity, night terrors, and bedwetting (juvenile male)
Suspected Trigger: excessive magnetic field exposure while sleeping emanating from a television located in an adjacent room
Mitigation: moved the television
Result: no more night terrors and improved behavior

Electric fields

Health impact: insomnia, sleep apnea (adult male)
Suspected Trigger: excessive electric field exposure while sleeping from building wiring
Mitigation: de-energize the circuits while sleeping – using a remote relay from
Result: improved sleep


Energy stressors are very much a part of the Indoor Environment and should be included in any indoor environmental survey. Human bodies are a complex structure and any stress that impairs the immune system, can trigger a variety of symptomatic responses. Many of these responses could often be mistaken for allergic reactions to biologicals, but in fact are, triggered or at least exacerbated by energy stressors. For a healthy environment, all elements should be considered, “mold-free” does not necessarily mean healthy.

1. Basrur, Sheela, MD. “Health Effects of Noise”, Toronto Public Health, Toronto, ON, March 2000.
2. Becker, Robert O. Cross Currents. New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 1990.
3. International Institute of Bau-Biologie? & Ecology (IBE), Clearwater, Florida.
4. Nordstrom, Gunni. The Invisible Disease. New York: O Books, 2004.
5. Oschman, James. Energy Medicine. London: Churchill Livingstone, 2000.
6. Rae, William, Environmental Health Center, Dallas, Texas.
7. U. Bergqvist and E. Vogel Arbete och Hälsa, 1997:19. Swedish National Institute for Working Life, Stockholm, Sweden. ISBN 91-7045-438-8
8. Zaffanella, L. E., and G. B. Johnson “EPRI SURVEY OF RESIDENTIAL MAGNETIC FIELD SOURCES (MEETING ABSTRACT).” Annual Review of Research on Biological Effects of Electric and Magnetic Fields, 31 Oct to 4 Nov, Savannah, GA, U.S. Dept. of Energy: 24, 1993.
All pictures are included with approval from Dr. James Oschman.

Vicki Warren is an electrical engineer. She is a council Certified Indoor Environmentalist through the American Indoor Air Quality Council and certified by the International Institute for Bau-Biologie? and Ecology (IBE) as a Building Biologist Environmental Consultant (BBEC). For over 20 years Ms. Warren has worked in the power industry, teaching courses, testing high voltage equipment, and designing products. Because of her awareness that “buildings are making people sick,” Vicki has recently joined the staff of Wings of Eagles Healthy Living (WEHL) as an indoor environmental consultant. WEHL is a non-profit organization dedicated to educating people how to create healthy homes. Ms. Warren currently serves on the Board of IBE and WEHL.

Table IX-1. Transmission Line Designs (1993 Maryland EMF Status Report)
Magnetic Fields
(milligauss) Electric Fields
Under/Above 40’ 200’ Under/above 40’ 200’ Layout
Base case
230kV, 300A, 125MW,
Wooden H-frame, 19-ft spacing 59.6 29.7 1.5 2.5 1.9 0.4
Vertical delta 27 11 0.6 1.9 0.7 0.04
Horizontal delta 28.9 9.8 0.5 1.5 0.7 0.03
Decreased voltage 91.5 34.4 1.9 1.0 0.6 0.01
Increased voltage 24.4 18.9 1.2 5.5 5.3 0.1
Double circuits/split phase 14.5 4.8 0.1 1.7 0.5 0.02
Single-Circuit steel pole 36.2 22.1 1.5 2.7 0.8 0.1
Underground 14.7 0.6 0.03 0 0 0
Measurements made directly under or above the power lines, 40 ft away and 200 feet away.

Chart 1. Transmission Line Designs
Chart 2. Reported Biological Effects of RF Radiation

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