by Alastair Bland on Jul 13, 2011
Winifred Thomas and her cat, Toby, began experiencing mysterious ailments soon after a PG&E SmartMeter was installed on their home. (Photo by Felipe Buitrago)
Late last year, Winifred Thomas quit taking her weekly hike around the three-mile Stanford Dish loop. Her health had been deteriorating for months, she says, until shaky limbs, physical weakness and persistent headaches made her unfit for most activity beyond household tasks.
Then, in January, Thomas’ health crashed entirely, with insomnia, loss of leg mobility and chronic dehydration essentially crippling her. She says she began experiencing spontaneous burning and peeling of her skin and violent beating of her heart “so loud that other people could hear it.”
“I was pretty much bedridden for all but about two hours of the day,” Thomas recalls.
Thomas says she did not know at the time that a SmartMeter—one of PG&E’s new wireless power-reading devices—had been installed on her home by the energy provider in early 2010. As far as she is concerned, that is what sparked her symptoms. Only in February, after being struck, she says, by an invisible force field while walking across her front yard, did Thomas inspect her home and take full notice of the device, as well as the SmartMeter on her neighbor’s home.
“I started doing some research, and I found that other people were having similar problems,” says Thomas, who quickly packed her cat and a few of her belongings into a van. Thomas says she began living out of her vehicle, sleeping every night in neighborhoods free of SmartMeters, which PG&E is now installing statewide. Her symptoms, she notes, cleared up.
Thomas believes she suffers from a condition called electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). This slightly understood disorder is generally associated with symptoms like headaches, ringing in the ears and insomnia, and its victims believe it is caused by exposure to electromagnetic radiation, the sort emitted by SmartMeters, cell phones and WiFi routers.
When Thomas first began experiencing symptoms, she saw a doctor who could not identify what was going on. She has never received an official diagnosis of electromagnetic hypersensitivity—which in fact is not recognized as a physical disorder by any established American medical body.
Many of the people who complain of EHS are widely believed to be hypochondriacs. In a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, psychologist Stacy Eltiti found “no evidence” that individuals suffering from EHS could detect the presence of radiofrequency-electromagnetic fields. The same report concluded that “exposure from mobile phone technology is not related to levels of well-being or physical symptoms in [electromagnetic hypersensitive] individuals.”
Nevertheless, worldwide, many people are increasingly reporting pain and irritation that they believe is traceable to the presence of wireless devices. Numerous agencies, groups and surveys dedicated to the issue seem to have settled on a number: They say that about 3 percent of all individuals are electro-hypersensitive.