Technology

Gadget 'allergy': French woman wins disability grant

Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) sufferers say radiowaves affect their health Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) sufferers say radiowaves affect their health

A French woman has won a disability grant after telling a court she suffers from an allergy to electromagnetic radiation from gadgets.

Marine Richard, 39, was told she may claim €800 (£580) per month for three years as a result.

She said it was a "breakthrough" for people affected by electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).

The condition is recognised by the World Health Organisation (WHO), though it says the causes are unclear.

Ms Richard had resorted to living in a remote area in the mountains of south-west France - in a barn that has no electricity.

She said she had been affected by everyday gadgets such as phones.

Typical symptoms reported by those who say they suffer from EHS include headaches, fatigue, nausea and palpitations.

The disability allowance was granted by a court in Toulouse, though the ruling did not formally recognise EHS as an illness.

School sued

In a case in the US, the parents of a 12-year-old boy who they say is hypersensitive to his boarding school's WiFi have decided to file a lawsuit against the establishment.

The parents say their son, a day pupil, has been diagnosed with EHS.

They say he began suffering from headaches, nosebleeds and nausea after the Fay School installed new WiFi in 2013.

The school asked the communications technology firm Isotrope to assess the electromagnetic emissions on campus.

"Isotrope found that the combined levels of access point emissions, broadcast radio and television signals, and other RFE emissions on campus comply with federal and state safety limits by a wide margin," the school said in a statement.

The statement also quoted from the Isotrope report, which said that levels of emissions both in the school and on the grounds "were substantially less than one ten-thousandth (1/10,000th) of the applicable safety limits (federal and state)".


Understanding electromagnetic fields

By Philippa Roxby, BBC News Health Reporter

Electromagnetic fields are all around us but most cannot be seen.

In recent years a lot of research has been carried out into man-made sources of these fields, such as electrical power supplies and appliances in the home.

X-ray machines, TV and radio transmitters, mobile phones, WiFi and microwave ovens are all everyday sources of electromagnetic waves.

Those who are sensitive to them talk of experiencing headaches, sleeplessness, ear pain when using a mobile phone, skin tingling and problems with concentration and memory.

For them, the only solution at present is to avoid objects that emit radiation in the home - not easy in the modern world.

In the UK, electromagnetic hypersensitivity is not a recognised condition.

That's because Public Health England says there is no scientific evidence that electromagnetic fields damage people's health.

The WHO agrees and believes more research on long-term health effects needs to be done.


Difficult case

Although some countries, notably Sweden and the US, have officially recognised EHS as a condition, there is still much debate over whether a legal case on the condition would be worthwhile in certain other states.

In the UK, for example, members of the public who are worried about exposure to mobile phone masts tend to challenge their construction on a planning basis, according to research group Powerwatch.

"The health issue is close to a no-win in this country at the moment," Graham Lamburn, its technical manager, told the BBC.

"You really need to win on things like 'it's devalued my property because it's outside my window' or 'there's an irregularity in the way it's been put through with planning'."

Electrosensitivty UK (ES-UK), a charity that campaigns for wider recognition of EHS, said it welcomed the French court's decision.

"Several people in the UK have been diagnosed with electrosensitivity and received help for the disability but any financial allowance usually refers to a different name for the condition or a related condition," it said in a statement.

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