Should courts protect people who claim they're allergic to Wi-Fi?

A court win for an individual complaining of electromagnetic hypersensitivity could have repercussions for the wireless communications industry.

Wi-Fi allergy court case lawsuit
Credit: Thinkstock

A woman in France who says that she had to quit her job and go live in the countryside because she’s allergic to Wi-Fi won her court case in August.

A Marseilles court told the French government that it must pay Martine Richard, a former radio producer, about $900 a month for at least the next three years, according to The Times.

Richard says she’s allergic to electromagnetic radiation, including Wi-Fi, and the judge agrees with her. However, scientists say that electromagnetic fields do not cause medical problems.

‘Nocebo’ effect

“Research has consistently failed to find any association between electromagnetic field exposure and reported symptoms, or health more generally,” says The Age, an Australian newspaper writing about the court win.

So why are people complaining of symptoms? The Age says that one possibility is the “nocebo effect.” That involves “the influence of a person’s expectations or perceptions of how something might affect them,” the article explains.

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) is a “psychological phenomenon,” William Barr, a neuropsychologist at the New York University School of Medicine, told CBS News.

The victims “essentially establish a belief that something has the potential to cause a symptom, and then when they come in contact with the cause they develop those symptoms," Barr says.

Suffering

An article at Science Alert agrees that the individuals do display the symptoms. It “doesn’t mean that people like Richard aren't suffering from symptoms,” the article says. It simply means that scientists have found “no evidence linking those symptoms to electromagnetic fields.”

Manifestations displayed include “persistent headaches, nausea, mental fog, and dizziness,” Science Alert says. 

Oxides in cells

One Redditor provided a research paper abstract that says radio waves can cause an increase in oxides in cells, which damages DNA even when the waves are very low-power.

“So while there are crazy true believers that think Wi-Fi will melt their face off, there may well be actual effects from this radiation,” the Redditor Fauxgnaws says.

Mobile phone masts

Mobile phone towers have had their locations moved over NIMBY local complaints and perception.

And I’ve seen that first hand, in fact.

Near where I live, in Los Angeles County, 30 people showed up at meeting earlier this year to discuss a proposed public-safety broadband LTE radio tower to be erected at the local fire station—something one would think would be perceived as a community asset.

‘More ill’

I didn’t attend, but there were quotes in the Topanga Messenger newspaper indicating frenzied hysteria about the idea.

“I think it’s catching up with people,” one resident is quoted as saying about the perceived increase of electromagnetic fields. “In a few years, more people will be more ill."

“I got sick with cancer in 2009 and moved to Topanga to recover,” another said. “Now, with this tower, we are right in the path of it,” a fire station neighbor said in the newspaper.

That antenna was supposed to be completed by August. The mast has thus far not been built.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

Join the Network World communities on Facebook and LinkedIn to comment on topics that are top of mind.
Must read: Hidden Cause of Slow Internet and how to fix it
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.