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Electromagnetic Controversy

Macworld devoted much of its July, 1990 issue to the health hazards of computers. Most of the articles actually focussed on the side-effects of working at video display terminals (i.e. monitors for the rest of us) for a long period of time. A number of studies have shown that prolonged exposure to VLF (very low frequency) and ELF (extremely low frequency) magnetic fields can cause cancer and harm fetuses. Unfortunately, none of the studies have been conclusive and many scientists refuse to accept the current evidence as valid.

The article was written by a journalist named Paul Brodeur, who also wrote a three-part series of articles for The New Yorker and a book on the subject. His research uncovered not only the evidence for health problems such as cancer, but also what appears to be an industry-wide cover-up of the entire problem. That is a nasty way of saying that the industry doesn’t see electromagnetic radiation from monitors as a problem. IBM and The New York Times both denied that there could be a problem with monitors, perhaps in part because of the number of monitors already present in the workplace. A recall would seriously hurt business for computer manufacturers and admitting there could be a problem would open many companies up for lawsuits. Similarly, no manufacturers have admitted that working on a standard keyboard can cause carpal tunnel syndrome, a nerve disorder that can render one’s hands almost useless.

We cannot begin to summarize the extensive research done by Brodeur for these articles, but the Macworld article marks the first time a major publication has publicized the issue and actually tested some popular monitors. In response, MacWEEK devoted an editorial section to electromagnetic radiation, and National Public Radio’s All Things Considered program did a piece on the article as well. Our feeling is that if you spend a significant amount of time in front of a monitor, you owe it to yourself to read the articles listed below and make an educated decision. The reality likely falls somewhere between the two poles. And remember, when researchers were first working with radioactive substances, some even tried fertilizing crops with them.

Information from:
Adam Engst — TidBITS editor

Related articles:
Macworld — Jul-90, pgs. 23, 71,136
MacWEEK — 26-Jun-90, Vol. 4 #24, pg. 16
Discover — Dec-89, Vol. 10, #12, pg. 62
The New Yorker — 12-Sep-89, pg. 51
The New Yorker — 19-Sep-89, pg. 47
The New Yorker — 26-Sep-89, pg. 39

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