Janice Tunnicliffe, 55 has become allergic to electromagnetic fields and electricity after a course of chemotherapy for bowel cancer. Fortunately, despite the size of the tumor, her cancer had not spread, but it was decided that she should have chemotherapy after the surgery as a precautionary measure.
Hers is a rare condition called electrosensitivity, which causes severe reactions to the electromagnetic fields given off by electrical appliances. At present she has to avoid switching on lights or using fridges, freezers, computers and mobile phones.
Over the last three years since she developed the illness, Mrs. Tunnicliffe has suffered headaches, chest pains, nausea and tingling in her arms and legs whenever she is close to any device that emits electromagnetic fields.
She feels relieved when a power cut struck her village of Wellow, Nottinghamshire. The windows of her three-bedroom cottage are shielded by metallic insulation to deflect electromagnetic waves, and she spends weekends camping in the countryside with husband Carl, 43, to give her a ‘complete break’ from electrical signals.
She added, “Wi-fi makes me feel like I have a clamp at the back of my head which is squeezing the life out of me. It’s completely draining and a home hub can totally immobilize me – I’m left unable to move my arms and legs.” She used to be an accounts manager in the cosmetics industry, moved to the countryside from Nottingham after divorcing her first husband ten years ago. She said her allergy developed three years ago following treatment for bowel cancer. At the time, Carl, a contracts manager, had just bought a photocopier, and the couple had installed their first Wi-Fi router. Mrs. Tunnicliffe explained she noticed how much better she would feel when walking in the countryside, then quickly deteriorate again upon returning home.
The couple became aware of electrosensitivity, or ES, when Carl began researching her symptoms on the internet. Gradually, they removed electrical items such as their Wi-Fi hub, microwave, toaster and kettle from their home in an attempt to reduce her symptoms.
She added that she was shown little sympathy by her GP and thereafter she has learned to manage the condition by herself. She was refused NHS funding for treatment at a private hospital which specializes in electro- sensitivity. While authorities in countries such as Sweden and Switzerland recognise the condition, the UK Health Protection Agency says scientific tests have failed to establish a link between radio waves and ill health. Many doctors believe the condition could be psychosomatic.
Graham Lamburn, from Powerwatch, an organisation which researches the effects of electromagnetic fields, said 3 to 4 per cent of the population report some susceptibility to ES, but few suffer to such a degree. He added, “This kind of case is rare, but certainly there have been some people who have had to give up their houses and jobs because of ES. With wireless internet and mobile phones, we’ve got something here that no one really knows about and no one has considered it might be a problem.”
The Council of Europe Committee on Monday called for a dramatic reduction in exposure to phones and other wireless devices.