Keith Gascoigne



Ecological living: Electrical Smog

(Correctly called ElectroMagnetic Fields – EMFs)

(I originally wrote the basis of this article in the late 1990s but in my travels the article and all the citations, sources, etc., were lost so I had to start again. This is why there are few, if any, citations, links, etc. but the information is out there if you want to look for it.)


I trained in electrical engineering and worked as an electrical engineer for 30 years. I still retain an interest in things electrical but mainly from an ecological perspective (low voltage DC supplies for ecohouses).

While at the Findhorn Foundation, Spiritual Community in Scotland, working and helping to focalize the maintenance department, I researched what was called, in Germany at the time, ‘Electrical or Electronic Smog’ which covered all electrical radiation from anything electrical or electronic. I realized that engineers and other concerned people in Germany were (and possibly still are) much more aware of this problem than in other countries, including the UK.

My observations

My grandparents didn’t have electricity in their home for lighting until they were quite old. Many towns and villages in the UK didn’t have electrical supplies until the 1920s and many much later. In other words electricity for heating, lighting and power wasn’t readily available until my parents’ generation. In evolutionary terms this can be classed as very recent.

In high-powered radio transmission, maintenance engineers cannot work on live antenna (for national broadcasting) because the electrical radiation at those powers is harmful to health. Normally, the masses of us do not get close to high powers of electrical energy but we are all constantly bombarded by many different types of electrical energy even though at much lesser powers.

Sources of these EMFs are radio and television waves, mobile phone transmissions, radar, the high-power communications networks used in many cities now, high voltage overhead national grid cables, the ever-increasing use of electronic equipment in the home, places of work, entertainment etc., etc., etc..

As a nation of people (in the so-called ‘developed West’) we seem to be suffering from more and more health problems – cancer, leukaemia, et al. Is that simply our diet or our lifestyle or is it electrical radiation?

The point is that no-one can say with absolute certainty that using electrical energy and equipment at 240 volts AC, and all producing EMFs, is not harmful to our bodies because we haven’t been exposed to this electrical smog for much more than a few generations, so a healthy concern about our use and abuse of electricity seems sensible.

In the late 1980s I went on a Buddhist retreat to a remote hunting lodge on the moors above Sheffield. It had no electricity and there were no overhead power cables for miles. We all noticed the feeling of relaxation there, which became more marked as we settled in during our first full day there. When I returned to Sheffield a few days later, I felt ‘pummelled’. It wasn’t simply the audible noise in the city; it was something else unseen and quite possibly the never ending bombardment of EMF noise.

Of course the ‘experts’ - those few with access to all the known facts and probably unknown ‘facts’ as well – inform us, expertly, that electrical wiring, equipment, mobile phones, etc., are all safe – like the Titanic, like drinking water from lead pipes, like a little radio-active compound introduced into your body to cure your illnesses, like all the chemical cides (poisons) sprayed on our food, like asbestos and many more expert-produced untruths, on and on and on...

What I found many years ago - and tried to tell people in the community about - shocked me but the people there, in the main, simply did not want to know. ‘If I can’t see it then it isn’t harmful.’ was probably their mantra, so I gave up wasting my time trying to alert people to the potential dangers.

A few years ago I went to another community in England where one of the members lived in a small house very close to a large mains transformer (to reduce the voltage from around 10,000 volts to 240 volts for all the buildings). She developed leukemia. Children living in homes with the electrical mains distribution units in wood cabinets in their bedroom developed leukaemia, people living in houses beneath high-powered national grid overhead power cables developed leukaemia and far too many of them died. (I don’t know if the research is still available on the WWW – I found much of this many years ago.)

It should be obvious, to intelligent people, that electrical smog could be damaging our health. To me, the sensible thing is to reduce my exposure to it as much as is possible.

To do this I realised that AC voltages (which ‘change polarity or ‘direction’ many times a second) are probably more harmful – produce more electromagnetic fields - than DC, which is ‘static’ or unchanging. I designed a low voltage, DC system for ecohouses - but no one was interested.

Some years later, as I developed an interest in living ecologically, I updated my design for low voltage DC installation for an ecohouse. I think this will still give adequate lighting and power in an ecohouse with greatly reduced emissions of EMFs. Of course, the extra protection needed to reduce EMFs even further will cost a little extra money but I think it well worth the extra cost.

There are quite a few people who have a bad reaction which can be attributed to close proximity to electromagnetic fields. The latest term is ‘ElectroSensitive’. In Scandinavia, Norway and Sweden the authorities recognise that there are people with high sensitivity to electrical smog. They are classed as electrohypersensitive or EHS and some beaches are mobile-phone-free. Well, it is a start.

I found that quite a few people in America had formed a community in a desert somewhere to be well away from electrical equipment - some of them stating that the EMF radiation made them feel anxious, disturbed and ill. There must be sensitive people in the UK as well, who live in isolated communities to escape the EMFs produced by local sources but, unfortunately, everywhere now is saturated with EMFs from cell-phone networks, radio and TV signals, radar, surveillance equipment, satellite communications, etc.. Of course, most electronic equipment in the home produces EMFs. Keeping this is mind, it is still possible to reduce our exposure to EMFs.

One way to insulate ourselves from this constant stream of EMFs from outside is to have a house which shields us from them as much as is possible. A fairly thick earth and turf roof is a good insulator, thick cob or masonry walls will help, building underground would help a lot but this would be far too extreme for most people. There are other ways but they would have to be incorporated at the time of building. Then we need to reduce the amount of electronic equipment and wiring inside the home. This will be challenging at least.

Asking a simple question might help people to see more of the problem:

Why do we need 240volts AC electricity?

The answer has little to do with people but more to do with old, out-of date practices and money. To carry electricity long distances from the generating station to houses it is cheaper to use high voltages and relatively small cables so it is a distribution solution to save money for the producers (and eventually, the consumer?). However, the National Grid distribution system wastes 50% of all the electricity generated in the form of heat in the overhead cables so a sensible solution is to produce electricity locally and produce lower voltages more suitable for ecohomes today – not for the situation around 80 years ago.

We now have access to low voltage lighting and low voltage equipment which was unavailable a few decades ago. It is possible to design a house electrical installation running off 12, 24, 50 volts DC. We now have the technology but few use it - at the moment.

Another cause for concern, of course, is the increase in global warming and the ‘green house’ gas problem caused by oil and coal fired generating plants. We can’t afford to dismiss what we are doing by default. If we do, the future looks bleak for all of us: human beings and animals.

There is research that EMFs are harming bees and birds by disrupting their navigational skills, which evolved well before we humans built our Electronic Smog blanket over their and our world. There is ample proof that bees (which pollinate many food crops) are dying out and without bees (and insects) our food supply will dwindle even more.

There are a lot of dubious statements on the www about EMFs – some recommending burning candles or putting plants around to absorb them. While nice, it won’t stop EMFs coming from all directions. Don’t be alarmed, be sensible, be intelligent.

However, after stating that I have to admit to being only mildly affected by EMFs. Some people find them intolerable and their lives have been disrupted because of this. It seems sensible, to me, to keep an open mind.