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EMF notches up another health-scare

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Armed with one small study and a wire-service media release, a group from the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research has frightened the living daylights out of half the western world with the claim that exposing pregnant women to “everyday household items” can lead to an increased risk of their children developing asthma.

The study can be read at Junkscience.com here, and is getting the full “I told you so!” treatment all the way from tabloid to broadsheet - courtesy of newswires who seem to want the study to be true.

Hence Reuters managed just one lame caveat (“Study needs to be replicated by other teams”), and even that was too cautious for AAP.

Reuters thinks prior studies "have failed to consistently show" that there's a danger from EMFs from common appliances, while AAP is quite certain that “previous studies have linked exposure to magnetic energy - known as magnetic fields - generated by power lines and electrical appliances to miscarriage, poor semen quality, immune disorders and cancer.”

The AAP wire story also gets the methodology wrong, saying that the researchers measured the “daily” exposure, rather than measuring the exposure from a single day.

To carry out the study, the researchers fitted a dosimeter to around 800 pregnant women, measured their exposure to electromagnetic fields between 40 Hz and 800 Hz for a period of 24 hours, used that single-day dose as a proxy for the women’s entire dose throughout pregnancy, and 13 years later, checked the number of their children that had developed asthma.

The original data was, in fact, collected for a study published in 2001 that asserted a link between EMF exposure – particularly to strong fields – and miscarriage. A flavour of that decade-old controversy can be found here.

The authors of Maternal exposure to magnetic fields during pregnancy in relation to the risk of asthma in offspring, published in the Archive of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, are also keen to associate their work with the dangers of radiofrequency exposure (even though they only measured low-frequency fields), writing that “the buildup of increasingly stronger [sic] wireless networks … and the proliferation of cell phones and other wireless devices have led to human populations being surrounded by EMFs of increasing intensity.

“This parallel increase in both EMF exposure and asthma prevalence in the past decades warrants examination.”

Professor Rodney Croft of the University of Wollongong told Australian publication The Conversation that “there are too many issues with this paper to make it more than a hypothesis-generating exercise”.

At this point, I think I might simply cry havoc and let slip the commentards of war… ®

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