Sheena Symington, the director of the Electro sensitivity Society made a presentation to Carlow Mayo Township council on April 13, advocating for those who suffer from electromagnetic sensitivity and environmentally induced disability, like Carlow Mayo resident Trudy Bruyns. Pursuant to this, there was a presentation by Symington and Dr. Magda Havas called “Can you BRAG about your city?” on May 7 that through data accumulated through citizen scientists identifies EHS hot spots and cold spots in cities around the world, to help EHS sufferers find cold spots to spend time in.
Symington, her husband Doug Symington and Dr. Magda Havas, professor emeritus at Trent University, chaired the Zoom meeting on May 7, which included participants from around the world who had taken their own Electromagnetic frequency readings in their home cities and towns. This meeting on May 7 revealed the results of these citizen scientists’ collected data on EMF rates around the world.
Havas said it was the failure of governments to do their job to protect those with EHS that motivated this project.
“Governments are establishing guidelines for radio frequency radiation. Some of these guidelines are excellent and some are terrible. But most governments do not regularly monitor exposure. So it’s like having a speed limit when you’re driving a car but no one is stopping you if you go over the speed limit,” she says.
Havas said she realized that the time was right; there was enough interest in EMF and there were enough meters around to form a group to measure EMF themselves in cities. From an email she sent out in March 2021, the response was amazing, with a lot of volunteers and subsequently a lot of collected data. According to Sheena Symington, these volunteers also include building biologists who do this type of monitoring on a regular basis but often inside someone’s home or workplace.
So, what is EHS? According to the World Health Organization, EHS is a phenomenon where individuals experience adverse health effects while using or being in the vicinity of devices that emit electromagnetic fields. EHS is known in medical literature as idiopathic environmental intolerance attributed to electromagnetic fields. According to Symington, EHS is a real and sometimes debilitating problem for the affected person and their responses are often several orders of magnitude below international accepted standards. The causes of EHS; physical trauma to the central nervous system, chemical exposure, electrical exposure, biological trauma and immune system impairment. The symptoms include; headaches, body pain, lethargy, tinnitus, nausea, burning sensation, heart palpitations, anxiety, poor memory, reduced concentration and clarity of thought and dry sinuses, throat or eyes. Some people will only have one or two symptoms while others may have more depending on their immune system’s ability to respond to it.
The International Classification of Diseases formally recognized EHS in 2015, while it was recognized as a functional impairment in Sweden, the USA and Canada in 2000, 2002 and 2007 respectively. As of 2025, Ontario will be required to be fully accessible for people with disabilities, including EHS. At the moment, Women’s College Hospital in Toronto diagnoses EHS and that diagnosis allows sufferers to be accommodated in different settings like hospitals, schools and workplaces.
With the expansion of WiFi around the world in the past 15 years, was well as the addition of smart metres and 5G, Havas said that the planet is being inundated with EMF radiation. They had 150 volunteers from 16 countries within two weeks, and more people are signing up every day asking to volunteer to measure EMF radiation in their communities.
“So I think it will grow a lot in the coming months,” she says.
With the EMF monitoring the volunteers did, they used several options; they monitored one city once or over a period of months or years, they monitored over a period of five to seven days or they did so over a 24-hour period. This was done to get a sense of data variability, to differentiate between random noise and real change.
“In order to do that, you have to know how variable your numbers can be,” she says.
The volunteers selected a city, identified north, picked the downtown core, measured the main street at five intersections at each corner and did the figure eight three times facing in all four cardinal directions.
“Then you recorded your data on the sheet provided, transferred it to a Google form and then you sent it to us and we analyzed it,” she says.
From the numbers recorded, Havas and her team symbolized each set of numbers with a corresponding colour, from low to high EMF rates. So, for low, the colour was green, amber was intermediate, red was high, and black was very high. That acronym read backwards is BRAG, as in “Can you BRAG about your city?”
“A lot of people feel uncomfortable looking at numbers or discussing numbers so by converting everything to this colour code, we got rid of that discomfort. So anyone can look at this and determine if they want to spend time in a particular environment,” she says.
With a lot of work on Doug Symington’s part throughout the month of April, they also came up with an interactive map, which through a myriad of features like full screen or partial screen, street view, zoom in and out, satellite view, a reset button and a search feature through city or zip or postal code that lets someone search and find the EMF rates in places around the globe. The map went active on their website, globalemf.net, on May 12.
Symington encouraged everyone to get in and look at the map and play around with it.
“We’d like to hear from you if we’ve made some errors with what you’ve sent in with regards to the data. We’ve been pretty diligent and hope that we’ve done a good job in recording the data you submitted. However, we’d love to hear from you if corrections are needed. And once again, thanks to each of you for your contributions,” he says.
Havas says that in the end, they had data collected from 13 countries, 240 cities and had 113 volunteers participate. She says they would like to raise that to 50 countries, more than 1,000 cities and have several hundred volunteers.
“The more data we can collect, the more we can understand how this radiation is exposing us,” she says.
Havas said they used two meters to measure the EMF radiation. The Acoustimeter and the Safe and Sound Pro RF meter. She said the two metres show a lot of promise, but they have to do more testing under controlled conditions.
Overall, Havas thinks the study is off to a great start. In conclusion, she said that generally a smaller population centre coincides with lesser EHS issues, so someone suffering from it should look to live in a place with a population under 10,000 people. She said the two meters used give comparable results when they used the BRAG classification, but more testing was needed to make sure they can both be used. Day to day changes are quite common in the communities they’ve monitored so far and those places seem to have a diurnal pattern that may be cultural.
Up next, for the month of May, Havas asked the volunteers to focus on communities that are smaller than 10,000 people.
“So we can find places for people who have EHS who want to live in a community rather than out in the middle of nowhere,” she says.
Havas also asked for some of them to measure the EMF radiation in capital cities around the world too.
“And that’s the way we can share information with a large audience. Obviously with more people in larger cities there are more people potentially affected by the higher levels of exposure,” she says.
At that point, Havas concluded her presentation, and they went into a question-and-answer session with the volunteers.
In an email prior to the presentation, Sheena Symington explained that few people are aware of the problem of EMF exposure and even fewer realize that a small but growing percentage of the population reacts adversely to radio frequency and microwave radiation.
“Consequently, one purpose of this project includes raising awareness. But it is much more than that. This citizen scientist network is providing useful information from a research perspective, from an educational perspective and from a health perspective. It is empowering volunteers and training them on how to do this type of monitoring,” she says. “The real value lies not only in the final product, an interactive map of exposures, but in how volunteers are empowered to take control over their own environment.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times