A conversation with physicist Lynn Trainor
Metta Spencer: Our environment is full of radar, power lines, VDT monitors, microwaves, and heaven knows what other electromagnetic fields. We saw a video on “zapping” in which a scientist admits to having experimented in natural settings; he could influence people in restaurants to talk louder or more quietly, for example. For moral reasons, he says he’ll never do it again. But apart from psychological effects there are also health implications of electromagnetic phenomena, such as cataracts caused by microwaves. Should people be more concerned about the effects of electromagnetic forces in our environment?
Lynn Trainor: Since the structure of the human body is electrical, any field around it is going to affect it. Fields that can disrupt atoms or molecules are carcinogenic. But there are also biological effects even when you don’t disrupt the atom. For example, some frequencies cause bacterial cells to divide faster. Certain frequencies can be beneficial (electromagnetism can have healing effects) but more often, the effects are harmful.
There are laboratory studies of mice and other animals, but the basic mechanisms are the same, whether it’s pigs or mice or people. If electrical or magnetic fields can cause stress effects in mice, they probably can cause stress the same way in human beings. Ontario Hydro has tended to be “generous” about letting people use hydro right-of-ways for soccer pitches or what not. I think there are sufficient indications of hazards that we should stay away from power lines.
Spencer: Hazards as in cancer?
Trainor: The most definitive study anywhere was done by the New York State Public Services Commission. They concluded that there is a very high probability that being near power lines is a strong factor in childhood leukemia.
Spencer: Do you think work is being done on electromagnetic weapons to affect people psychologically?
Trainor: There is absolutely no question that such experimentation goes on in the larger countries. The military always assume that if you don’t do it, the other side will, so you have to get in on it too. I think mind control probably hasn’t worked out very well because it’s not specific enough. But just causing stress in people – it’s quite possible that it’s been used in a number of circumstances.
Spencer: We hear of the use of such a weapon against women protestors at Greenham Common in England.
Trainor: In the Greenham Common case, it would be very difficult to prove because, around military bases, it could always be argued that naturally a lot of electromagnetic activity’s going on. However, it wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Spencer: Would you guess that one type of radiation is likely to be proved more dangerous than other? For example, would you be more wary of microwave, than of, say, extremely-low-frequency radiation (ELF)?
Trainor: Microwaves are dangerous just because they heat tissues. But when you get into more subtle effects, such as stress, it’s not obvious that microwaves are more dangerous than ELF. Laboratory work has shown striking effects with much lower frequencies than microwaves. I wouldn’t single out microwave as the only problem.
Spencer: Microwaves are the same as radar, aren’t they?
Trainor: More or less. Even radio frequencies may turn out to have biological effects if they are strong enough, which is rarely the case. However, I happen to live near a police communication tower and there’s a lot of radiation from it, passing through my house all the time. We’re bathed in this and it may not be doing us any good.
Spencer: Countries limit how much electromagnetism people are allowed to be exposed to – especially microwaves. I understand the Soviets’ standards are many more stringent than ours in North America.
Trainor: That’s right. It’s better to have standards than not to. But many standards are a joke. What is often done is to determine how large a dose is lethal or clearly harmful, and then back off from that some. But it’s misleading to say what the safe limit is, because there is no safe limit.
Spencer: It’s scary that so much research is not published. The U.S. conducted a secret investigation called “Project Pandora” during the 1960s, after it was discovered that the U.S. Embassy in Moscow was being irradiated with microwaves. The intensity of this irradiation was well within the levels considered acceptable in the U.S. – and only about one-hundredth as intense as on certain American aircraft carriers. But even so, the Embassy personnel showed a 40 percent increase in their white blood cells.
Trainor: Yes, but there were no controls, so we don’t know what caused what. The elevated white blood count might have been caused by something in the food that the staff ate, for example. I’m sure I’m being irradiated far more by the police antenna near my home than the Embassy staff ever was.
Spencer: There’s also an extraordinarily powerful signal that annoys radio hobbyists, who call it the “woodpecker,” because of its hammering sound. They think it is over-the-horizon radar from the Soviet Union.
Trainor: Well, maybe, but not just the Russians are doing such things. All big countries are working to detect planes and missiles that fly close to the ground, to get in under the radar. All this affects the electromagnetic environment.
Spencer: And even if there is information about the negative health consequences, the military would not want to let it get out, lest it hamper their surveillance.
Trainor: Certainly, the public is kept in ignorance in many cases. If people knew what was happening to their own population, they would protest and the experiments would stop.
Spencer: There’s so much research that the public needs but can’t get. Universities could be studying these matters and publishing it. Why isn’t this happening? Do military interests try to keep independent researchers from getting funding ?
Trainor: I’m not sure. In the U.S. the military funds a lot of research, but natural scientists in Canada get their funds from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. There are traditions as to what is good physics, good chemistry, and so forth. It would be hard to get funded to study the electromagnetic effects on behavior because the research would be difficult to carry out and would be long-term. Scientists want studies that are definitive and immediately publishable. I suppose certain research could be discouraged subtly, and we might not even realize it was happening.
Spencer: How can the public demand and get the kind of information we need?
Trainor: Well, this New York State Power Authority research, which was extremely good, was done by a public agency that was under pressure because of public concern. I understand Ontario Hydro is going to do a study too. I hope it will be a good one.
Professor Trainor is a physicist at the University of Toronto.