By now most people are aware of the controversy surrounding extended use of video display terminals. Some people, most notably author Paul Brodeur, claim that VDTs emit harmful levels of extremely low frequency (ELF) electromagnetic radiation. Others, led by the companies that have much to lose, claim that no health risks are associated with VDT usage (Yeah, right. I wonder how many of them have used a computer for six or seven hours and not felt tired and dry-eyed). The truth, as usual, probably lies somewhere in the middle. Sigma Designs has reacted to the controversy by offering shielded versions of its monitors, and Fairfield Engineering has come up with a device that fits over the neck of the cathode ray tube of 9" Macintosh monitors ($80) or 13" color monitors ($90), thus limiting the ELF radiation. Nanao also just released 16" and 20" Flexscan monitors that are supposedly low radiation displays.
That’s all fine and nice on the technological front, but recently a battle was won on the far more bloody political front. Mayor Art Agnos of San Francisco recently signed a law requiring employers with more than 15 employees to provide those who perform repetitive keyboard work for more than four hours at time with adjustable workstations and seating, anti-glare lighting, 15-minute breaks every two hours, and other safety products such as screen guards, wrist rests, and copy holders. I gather that the legislation was fought tooth and nail the entire way because of the expense involved, if nothing else.
The law calls for the creation of a seven-member committee to keep track of the controversy and inform the government of developments and issues in the field, including not just the health problems mentioned by Brodeur, such as an increased rate of miscarriages, but also problems such as muscular and skeletal damage (including the dreaded carpal tunnel syndrome) and vision impairment.
In my opinion, it’s about time that such legislation became widespread. Many people would happily pay another $80 for a shielded Macintosh screen, and in the volume that Apple would sell them, that price would rapidly drop. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has finally entered the fray with a study suggesting that the 60-Hz magnetic fields from electrical devices and power lines might cause cancer (ever notice how laboratory studies cause wishy-washyness in scientists?). The EPA will even send you a copy of a draft of the study – check the phone number below. Of course, the EPA could be more effective, but ex-President Reagan cut all its funding for electromagnetic radiation in 1986. (His opinion was that he had watched television for a long time and even been on it, and he hadn’t been affected by no electro-whatever-it’s-called radiation :-)).
Fairfield Engineering — 515/472-5551
EPA ORD Publications Office — 513/569-7562
Nanao USA — 213/325-5202
PC WEEK — 21-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #3, pg. 19
MacWEEK — 08-Jan-91, Vol. 5, #1, pg. 173
PC WEEK — 07-Jan-91, Vol. 8, #1, pg. 137
InfoWorld — 24-Dec-90, Vol. 12, #52, pg. 5