Sheena Symington, the director of the Electro Sensitivity Society made a presentation to Carlow Mayo Township council on April 13, revealing what electro hypersensitivity is, what causes it, its effects on those suffering from it, and how to counteract it with measures like replacing wireless WiFi connectivity with fibre optic cables. Carlow Mayo resident Trudy Bruyns also spoke, giving a personal view of living with EHS. Council took Symington’s presentation under advisement and thanked her for the information.
Symington began her presentation on April 13 by saying she was there to help those who suffer from electromagnetic sensitivity, and environmentally induced disability. She said that 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 (IEI-EMF).
“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,” she says.
Symington outlined 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.
“These precursors really set you up for becoming electro hypersensitive if you have some of them. Some people only have one or two symptoms, while others have many of them depending on their immune system’s ability to respond to it,” she says.
According to Symington, 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.
Symington told council that as of 2025, it will be required to have a fully accessible Ontario for people with disabilities including environmentally induced disabilities like EHS.
“So, the Women’s College Hospital [in Toronto] diagnoses EHS and this medical diagnosis really affords them to be accommodated within hospitals, schools, workplaces, that kind of thing,” she says.
There are a few key issues that affect people with EHS, according to Symington. It is challenging to find a doctor knowledgeable about it and its treatment, and she pointed out that they need more doctors who know about EHS. She did note that in January, 2021 there was the EMF Medical Conference (hosted by the Electromagnetic Safety Alliance Inc.) with over 800 participants and 350 doctors for continuing educational credits, so there are more doctors who are becoming aware of EHS.
Symington said that sometimes an obstacle to supporting or accommodating EHS is the belief that it’s a psychological issue and not a physical one. To the question, “do electro magnetic fields cause a biological response?” she presented information on heart rate variability monitoring in the form of a Global TV news clip on the subject.
“Many people with EHS complain about heart palpitations resembling a heart attack, and so part of the research that Dr. Magna Havas, professor emerita at Trent University does, is she looks at the heart rate variability of people with EHS,” she says.
In the Global news TV clip, Dr. Havas monitors the heart rate of her patient, Martin, as she turns a wireless modem on and off in a blind study. Martin’s heart rate accelerates dramatically when the modem is on, but slows down when the modem is switched off.
Symington revealed that in Canada, three to five per cent of people with EHS are severely affected by it. This three to five per cent figure works out to about one million people across Canada and in Carlow Mayo, 26 people. However, she did point out that more suffered with a lesser severity of symptoms, some 35 per cent being moderately affected by EHS.
“Another issue is safe housing, with low EMF friendly and mould free space being critical. We need to encourage telecommunications industries to create low EMF, cell tower free areas. To maintain these tower free areas, tech access can be accomplished through fibre optics networks with no wireless components. This will provide choice to those of us wishing or really needing to live in a low EMF exposure region,” she says.
Some individuals with EHS are currently using mobile housing as a living space, and the benefit of that, according to Symington, is that if a cell tower comes into the area, they can move to a safer location. When first diagnosed, EHS sufferers are essentially homeless, as they can’t live in their homes anymore due to their sensitivity to EMF. This has been exacerbated by COVID-19 and its restrictions as many EHS sufferers used campgrounds and their amenities, but many of these are now closed.
Some institutions have stepped up to help those with EHS and toned down their EMF fields from WiFi and cell phones. Hospitals in Kingston, Bancroft, Belleville, Guelph and Barrie have accommodated those with EHS by disconnecting their WiFi and turning off their wireless devices, opting instead to use fibre optics and ethernet cables. Schools have powered down their WiFi routers to function at only 16 per cent, which had led to lower exposure within the school and better connectivity. Some libraries and health food stores offer WiFi free access for shopping opportunities while Sobeys supermarket has WiFi free Wednesdays.
According to Symington, some restaurants and hotels are starting to offer digital detox opportunities to their patrons. She says that she is in discussion with two resorts in Ontario to offer week long low EMF retreats.
“This accommodation is achieved by working with ethernet cabling and fibre optics and turning off cell phones and WiFi. It’s very similar to how there’s a non-smoking component. It’s accommodating it in a similar way,” she says.
For those suffering from EHS, there are also field meters to gauge EMF and radio frequencies so they can find an area or home that is very low or free from this type of exposure. Bruyns said after the presentation that there are a whole variety of these meters and it does take some education to get to know how to use them. She says she has meters that measure both radio and EMF frequencies and that they cost around $500 a piece.
“Safe Living Technologies Inc. in Guelph also specializes in assessing homes for radio and EMF frequencies. They also provide building materials for your home to reduce or block off these harmful frequencies,” she says.
Symington pointed out that there was a list of resources on how to achieve these low EMF areas and that there are provincial and federal advocacy groups for EHS. This information can be found on her website at www.electrosentitivitysociety.com
Symington told council that the take home message is that some people are very sensitive to wireless technology from cell phones and other wireless devices and that currently there are no designated areas for those with EHS.
“As a community, we need to work together in order to create these low EMF spaces so that those with EHS have a safe place to live and thrive. I know the solutions with the use of fibre optics, this can be achieved. So I would like to offer my expertise and experience to work with you as part of a working group in order to make this happen,” she says.
At that point, Symington turned the floor over to Trudy Bruyns, a Carlow Mayo resident who has EHS.
She told council that not only did she have EHS, but she was in the three to five per cent who are severely affected by it.
“I was diagnosed at Women’s College Hospital by Dr. Riina Bray, the director of the Environmental Health Clinic, which is no longer accepting patients as it is so overloaded. Professionally, my background is a clinical nurse specialist. I had to stop working because of these environmental illnesses. I was completely debilitated; muscle, heart, eyesight was affected. I was not able to walk or drive or leave my home,” she says.
Bruyn said she ended up selling her home and it took her two years to find her current place of residence in Carlow Mayo. Prior to that, she had to live in a tent in a conservation area for a number of weeks because she was so ill from EHS.
“Thank goodness I had a few people to help me out. And I definitely need your help in finding a protected area and to maintain this as a protected area. And thank you so much for this time,” she says.
Symington thanked Bruyns for her words and asked the council if they had any questions. Councillor Dan Hughey inquired what distance a cell tower would need to be from someone with EHS to be considered a safe zone.
Symington replied that it was a good question and that it would vary depending on the tower and the type of EMF emitting hardware it carried.
“For some towers, it would be two kilometres while for others it would be four or five kilometres to ensure there’s no EMF exposure,” she says.
As a final point, Symington brought up Peterborough-Kawartha MP Maryam Montsef’s push for fibre optics in rural communities, as 5G wireless would not be as good a service as the fibre optics to people’s doors.
“She’s really arguing for fibre optics in those rural settings and that’s what we should be supporting and make happen,” she says.
Mayor Bonnie Adams thanked Symington and Bruyns and brought up a point of information, revealing that Carlow Mayo was advocating for fibre optics to improve their WiFi and cell service.
“Thank you for your presentation today. It was very informative and we’ll take this information under advisement,” she says.
Bruyns said after the presentation in an April 17 phone call that she felt that Carlow Mayo council was interested in what they had to say and made accommodation for her when they started at 9 a.m. as her time on Zoom phone was limited due to EHS.
“I think our goal was to get the information to people and to make them aware of EHS, but I think we may need to come back again because it’s a lot of information that people are not familiar with,” she says.
In an April 16 email, Symington said she was happy to have had the chance to present to Carlow Mayo council. She thought they were interested in the information she gave them, as it was important to educate communities about the need to accommodate those with the environmentally induced disability, EHS.
“There is a segment of the population that is dramatically affected by wireless technology and electromagnetic fields. I was pleased to learn that Carlow Mayo Township is encouraging the installation of fibre optics to provide internet access to their community members,” she says. “Pure fibre optics to the premises is critical for superior access to the internet for these rural communities, and at the same time provides low EMF/EMR exposure which will provide choice to those who are in desperate need for a low EMF/EMR living space.”
Michael Riley, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Bancroft Times