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Last Updated: Friday, 21 April 2006, 16:05 GMT 17:05 UK
Radio wave detector for the home
Spencer Kelly
By Spencer Kelly,
Presenter, BBC Click

Electrosmog detector
The electrosmog detector measures pulsing radio waves
Working in technology, you get used to people telling you it is not good for you.

All those hours hunched in front of a flickering screen doing your eyes in, the RSI from the constant tap, tap, tap on a keyboard, not to mention the bacteria underneath it.

Then there are our mobiles, slowly frying our brains too, or so some experts tell us.

Now get ready for the latest horror on the block.

We are apparently being exposed to harmful emissions of microwave radiation from all our wireless devices around the home: phones, baby monitors, even Bluetooth devices.

And now there is a piece of kit which claims to pick up those harmful emissions.

Simply point the "electrosmog detector" in front of a wireless device and it makes a sound related to the intensity of microwave radiation it can pick up.

The louder the sound, the greater your exposure and risk.

It sounds pretty straightforward. But does wireless radiation really harm us?

No evidence

Patrick Lo, from the wireless manufacturer Netgear, says: "So far there is no scientific evidence to prove that all the radio frequencies that are around actually have a harmful effect on humans.

The overwhelming consensus of scientists and medics about radio waves and their harm is that there isn't evidence of harm from radio waves
Dr Mike Clark, Radiological Protection Board
"Actually there is quite a lot of research in universities and hospitals to try and see if there is any effect from mobile phones on peoples' brains - is it causing cancer? - and all that.

"So far no conclusive evidence could point to such a correlation.

"As I have seen in many countries, like in Asia where people live in very small apartments with a lot of wireless devices inside like Bluetooth, wi-fi, TV and all that, it doesn't seem to have any effect on people."

Disagreement

The inventor of the electrosmog detector, Alasdair Philips, describes it as effectively a very simple radio.

"It's a very sensitive crystal set detector that detects anything that's pulsing in the microwave region and allows you to hear the pulsing."

But a radiological expert Dr Mike Clark, from Britain's Radiological Protection Board, says: "The overwhelming consensus of scientists and medics about radio waves and their harm is that there isn't evidence of harm from radio waves."

So does Alasdair's entire business model go out of the window?

Maybe you'd like to know what you could to reduce your exposure
Alasdair Philips, electrosmog detector inventor
He doesn't think so, and disagrees with Dr Clark: "There is a consensus among establishment scientists that they can't think of any reason why these things might be affecting people.

"But there's now good evidence, in my opinion, from many studies published in peer-reviewed journals and by doctors showing that people living near mobile phone masts, for example, are exhibiting adverse health symptoms: headaches, tiredness, irritability, things like that.

"So the sensitivity of the electrosmog detector is set at the level at which a number of good studies have shown that there seems to be an effect.

"What we're saying is that maybe you'd like to know when that was, and do what you could do to reduce your exposure."

Proximity concerns

Mobile phone masts are much higher power radio transmitters than mobile phones or other wireless devices. Does that mean that the masts could potentially be dangerous, but that lower power transmissions that we get in our homes are not?

Alasdair says: "Not really because generally the masts are tens or hundreds of metres away from you whereas actually these things are often right next to your head or on your bedside table.

"We found with the prototypes we had in the field that loads of people threw their phones away.

"They had been worried about masts a hundred metres away and when they got [the electrosmog detector] they discovered actually the biggest source of pulsing microwaves in their house was their digital cordless phone."

As Dr Clark points out, mobile phone masts are still relatively low power compared to TV and radio transmitters, which are the most powerful transmitters in the environment.

He says: "We've done measurements of fields near mobile phone masts and radio masts and TV masts. Actually it's FM radio masts that give the highest exposure to members of the public."

'Pulsing' question

Of course, there are fewer of these around, and people do not tend to live around the bottom of TV or radio masts.

Alasdair adds: "Also, they're not pulsing. We've had FM radio transmitters around for years and there isn't the evidence that FM radio is a problem.

"If you take the electrosmog detector near an FM radio you won't hear anything. It isn't pulsing on and off, and we believe it's the pulsing on and off that matters.

"If you take an uncooked egg and lay a hammer on it, it doesn't break; but if you tap it gently it smashes, and we think that the tapping is interfering with the body's internal communication systems."

Dr Clark says: "That's the hypothesis. This is new technology so we can't speak with absolute certainty, but I would say that at the moment this is being looked at by impartial, expert groups in this country and abroad, and they all come to the same conclusion: there's no hard evidence that pulsed fields are any different from other radio waves.

"If you talk to some engineers they will just say it's another wave form.

"Science and medicine has to work on hard evidence. It is tough and it is critical and Alasdair often doesn't like the results and some of the criticisms, but that's the process by which we learn what goes on in the world."



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