Environmental Health

Zap Your Knowledge of EMFs - Take Some Action

Most reputable health organizations that offer information about EMFs all agree that the best approach to reducing the potential hazard is to practice “no and low cost” avoidance. In other words, just think of simple changes you can make in your school to avoid some of the potential risks of EMFs. This strategy makes sense considering how little is known about the actual health effects. Why spend a considerable amount of time and money trying to reduce EMF exposure when that time and money can be used on more proven risks, such as lead exposure, indoor air pollution, toxic chemicals, and toxic pesticides?

OPT to reduce exposure in your school by remembering this acronym we developed to help you remember the simple improvements you can make! OPT to reduce the hazard!

O—stands for OUTSIDE rather than inside. According to the National Safety Council, the greatest exposure to EMFs is usually inside buildings, rather than outside. There is a common misperception that being inside is safer, maybe because people are most afraid of power lines as an EMF source. In reality, the appliances, lighting, and wiring in the walls create a greater EMF risk inside the school. Therefore, when you can, take your students outside for activities. Also, outdoor air pollution is generally lower than indoor air pollution according to the EPA, so you’ll be helping your students breathe better too!

P—stands for PROXIMITY. Always keep in mind the proximity of student activities to EMF sources, as well as the proximity of furniture to EMF sources. For example, if students congregate for a particular activity while in school, try to make that activity take place away from clusters of appliances such as copy-rooms or computer clusters if they don’t need access to those appliances. And if students play outside, make sure they don’t play near transformers or under power lines. One of the biggest improvements you can make is to evaluate and move the arrangement of furniture so that places where students sit for long periods of time are not in areas of strong exposure. For example, in computer rooms, re-arrange the desks and chairs so that chairs are not back-to-back with other computers emitting EMFs, or too close to adjacent computers emitting EMFs. Also keep in mind that EMFs can travel through walls, so the placement of chairs against a wall that has a computer, TV, or copier directly on the other side is not a good idea. As a general rule of thumb, organize rooms so that students and staff are as far away from appliances, lighting, and wiring as possible because according to the National Safety Council, doubling the distance from a source reduces exposure to one-quarter of the previous level. See table 1 on page 2 of this guide offered by the California EMF Program to see how much EMF exposure decreases with distance from specific appliances.

T—stands for TURN OFF. Turn off all devices that use electricity when they are not in use. It sounds simple, but when sources of EMFs are turned off, the magnetic part of electromagnetic fields is not emitted, only electric waves are emitted according to the WHO. This simple action will also help to conserve energy!

For more specific tips to help you with the OPT strategy, check out the following links…
· School Design Guidelines Checklist on Occupancy from the California EMF Program
· Hazard Locations and Solutions from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration