Diseases of Civilization?

It is well known that life expectancies increased significantly during the 20th century in the U.S. While this was certainly a positive development, highly aggregated statistics such as life expectancy can mask problems that become apparent when you look beneath the surface. In particular, the marked decline in mortality from infectious diseases greatly boosted life expectancies, and more than offset the impact of the gradual but large increase in the incidence of various deadly conditions (cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide). These latter conditions are sometimes referred to as “diseases of civilization”.

To understand why this would be the case, consider an illustrative example. Infectious diseases took a greater toll on younger people. A person who might have died at, say 10 years old, but instead survived and lived to say, 75 years old, contributes an extra 65 years of life to the overall life expectancy calculation. Now consider someone who is a victim of the increase in cardiovascular mortality and dies from a heart attack at age 65. He may otherwise have only lived to age 75, so this extra death only reduces his contribution to life expectancy by 10 years. If there were equal numbers of people saved from infectious disease and killed by cardiovascular disease, each affected pair would add 55 years to the life expectancy calculation for the population.

Time to buy old US gold coins

Up until recently, there was not a satisfactory explanation for the rise in the diseases of civilization. The prevailing wisdom is that these diseases are due to changes in diet, sedentary lifestyle, increased crowding in cities, cigarette and alcohol consumption, and disintegration of societal and family support. While these explanations sound plausible, there was little hard evidence that these factors were to blame.  In 2009, Samuel Milham, a medical doctor and epidemiologist who worked for many years for the Washington State Department of Health, wrote a compelling paper which attributes the increases in these diseases (and the corresponding mortality) to electrification. He also wrote a book called Dirty Electricity: Electrification and the Diseases of Civilization, which provides an overview of the research (his own and others) which led to this groundbreaking discovery. In this article, I will provide an overview of his findings and discuss some of their implications.

Milham’s paper built upon earlier research which implicated electrification in childhood leukemia. He thought, could electrification be contributing to adult cancers or other afflictions? To answer that question, Milham compiled a historical record of when electrification took place, in both urban and rural areas in the U.S. The cities were electrified earlier, starting in the big cities in the 1880’s and the rural areas were electrified later, though the process was not uniform, and electrification was not completed until the mid-1950’s. He also looked at the vital statistics data for 1930 and 1940, for both cities and rural areas, to determine the rates of death for different causes. The results?

“Urban death rates were much higher than rural rates for most causes… Rural death rates were strongly and significantly correlated with the level of electric service by state for most of the causes examined. The all-cause mortality rate was similar in urban and rural areas of states with high levels of electrification (above 96%), while states with low levels of electrification (below 50%) had all-cause death rates at levels twice as high in urban as rural areas”.  (see his paper for the details)

By the mid-1950’s, the U.S. no longer had a control group to measure the impact of electrification, except for the Amish. As noted by Milham:

“By way of contrast, the Amish in the United States and Canada, who live without electricity, have a current pattern of morbidity and mortality remarkably similar to that of United States rural residents in the early part of the twentieth century. Their type 2 diabetes prevalence rates are about half those of the non-Amish, even though their obesity rates are comparable. Also like the early rural residents, the Amish have lower rates of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and suicide. The life expectancy of the Amish is above seventy years and has been stable since 1890. At the turn of the twentieth century, when almost all United States cities were electrified, urban residents had an average life expectancy below fifty years”.

“If the rest of the U.S. population had the disease incidence and prevalence of the Old Order Amish, the U.S. medical care and pharmaceutical industries would collapse”.

“Remediating the problems that electrification has caused would reduce demand for medical services and would be a meaningful step toward solving the seemingly intractable problem of the ruinous growth in health care costs in the U.S.”

Why has this information taken so long to come to light? According to Milham:

“The health and mortality effects of electrification happened so gradually, and on such a wide scale, that they went virtually un-noticed, and the major illnesses that can be attributed to them came to be considered “normal” diseases of modern civilization”.

Milham attributes most of the harm to high-frequency voltage transients (called dirty electricity, by the utility industry), which is caused by interruption of current flow and arcing and sparking. Ambient dirty electricity couples capacitively to the human body and induces electrical currents in the body, producing chronic stress.

While electrification (as it exists today) clearly poses risk to the general population, studies by Milham and others of occupational and geographical risk indicate that there are certain jobs and locations where the risks are especially high. Below I will discuss a couple studies that Milham worked on that highlight this issue.

In 2004, Milham investigated a concern by teachers at the La Quinta Middle School in California that there was a cancer cluster there, as many of the teachers had been diagnosed with cancer, and a few had died. The school brought in an epidemiologist to allay their fears, but he presented no evidence to support his assessment that there was no excess cancer. Milham studied the cancer rate of the teachers and compared it to the expected cancer rate, based on the age, sex, and duration of employment of the teacher population, and found that it was markedly elevated. He got no support from the administration of the school. Milham and a colleague visited the school and used a special device called a Graham/Stetzer (G/S) meter to measure the level of dirty electricity. Their findings: “While most homes or businesses typically read under 100 G/S units, the school buildings averaged around 700 G/S units. Ideally, readings should be under 50… Thirteen of the 51 classrooms had dirty electricity levels above 2,000 units”. Eventually, a peer-reviewed study was published which conservatively estimated that 64% of the cancers were attributable to this exposure. In the end, the school ended up shielding one room from high magnetic fields. But as Milham pointed out, for about $5,000, they could have filtered the whole school and removed the dirty electricity hazard.

In 2010, Milham was asked by a science teacher at Vista Del Monte elementary school in Palm Springs, CA, to investigate a possible cancer cluster at her school. Since 2005, there has been a cell phone tower located within a few feet of a classroom wing in the school courtyard. The teacher tested the classrooms for dirty electricity and found very high levels, an average of 1,300, even higher than at La Quinta. The cancers were over-represented in the wing of the school closest to the cell tower, and the G/S readings were highest in the classrooms closest to the cell tower base.  There were 12 cancers in the 75 employees. But the harm clearly went beyond cancer risk, as reported by Milham:

“A fourth-grade teacher complained that her students were hyperactive and un-teachable. The outlets in her room measured over 5,000 G/S units. On a Friday afternoon after school, I reduced the measured dirty electricity in the wiring from over 5,000 to less than 50 units with five plug-in filters. With no change in either the cell tower radiation or the lighting, the teacher reported an immediate dramatic improvement in student behavior in the following week. They were calmer, paid more attention and were teachable all week except for Wednesday when they spent part of the day in the library. Later, the teacher told me that she could change the behavior of the children by removing and reinserting the filters. The change took between 30 and 45 minutes. This young teacher also became the 13th cancer case in this small teachers’ cohort.”

The school board contested his findings. Milham offered to filter the school at no cost to the district, guaranteeing an improvement in student test scores and attendance. His offer was refused.

The experience of the 4th grade class at Vista Del Monte might be an extreme case, but these are not the only students whose performance is suffering as a result of EMF exposure. Milham reports that a pediatric group practice, in Jasper, Indiana, which cares for more than 800 Amish families, has not diagnosed a single child in this group with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Critics of our school system often attribute its problems exclusively to socio-economic factors and the schools themselves, while ignoring elements of the physical environment which may be having a big impact upon student performance. This is a mistake. Likewise, as we saw earlier, suicide rates went up after electrification. Psychologists attribute mental health problems only to psycho-social factors, but clearly elements of the physical environment may be contributing to them in many cases.

Milham concluded with respect to the Vista Del Monte school: “Government has really failed. It has let the people down. Why on earth would governments allow cell towers to be put on school grounds?”

I agree, but we should recognize that government’s failure to protect people’s health goes well beyond the way that these two schools have responded to concerns about cancer clusters among teachers. “Public health” measures have gone completely off the rails in the 20th century and, if anything, are getting worse in the 21st century. Cities have poisoned our water supply with their fluoridation program. The USDA has given us patently bad nutritional advice which may also be contributing to our health epidemics. Despite the massive reduction in mortality from infectious disease, the CDC has dramatically ramped up its unnecessary and dangerous vaccine program. It has completely ignored the massive, and growing, dangers related to electrification. Instead, government has become preoccupied with a vague, distant threat that at some future date, rising temperatures just might cause harm to some people, in certain locations.

It is abundantly clear that government cannot be relied upon to protect our health and that we must take responsibility for ourselves and our families. Those so inclined can share this message with others, so that one day a critical mass of people will come to realize that government cannot protect our health and, more generally, it cannot protect us against the whole range of threats which it purports to defend us.

As Milham states, in connection with dirty electricity: “The very good news is that there are reasonable ways to eliminate or reduce this hazard if society chooses to do so, in ways that can make modern life far safer without requiring us to live in the dark.”