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A French court has awarded disability payments to a woman who claims cell phones and Wi-Fi routers make her sick.
Marine Richard was granted renewable monthly payments of 800 Euros (about $1,200 CAD) over three years after the Toulouse court said she was unable to work due to a condition known as electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).
“It’s almost like they are being electrocuted, but very slowly,” said Lucienne Cendrier, spokesman of Robin des Toits, a French organization that wants EHS recognized, about the condition’s impact.
While an appeal has been filed and the payments are frozen until the case is heard, Richard’s lawyer said the decision brings hope to many in France suffering from the same problem.
“It doesn’t help the situation for the time being. But it’s a first and it gives hope to many people with electro-hypersensitivity that they will finally be recognized,” Alice Terrasse told the Star.
EHS is not formally recognized by the French government, and experts are divided over what causes the condition. Some believe exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) emitted from computers, mobile phones and cell phone towers, TV screens, radios, Wi-Fi connections, cordless phones and other technology are to blame.
While difficult to diagnose, the most common symptoms exhibited by individuals suffering from EHS are dermatological and include redness of the skin, tingling and burning. Other effects are headaches, fatigue, dizziness, nausea, digestive problems and heart palpitations.
As with chemical sensitivities, people with EHS suffer from “a range of non-specific symptoms that lack apparent toxicological or physiological basis or independent verification,” according to the World Health Organization. It says about 10 per cent of EHS cases are severe.
Robin des Toits wants EHS to be formally recognized and for the French government to establish national regulations to limit exposure to electromagnetic waves.
Cendrier said he estimated between 1 and 3 per cent of the French population suffer from some degree of EHS. “When they’re at home, people should use wired (Internet) connections. It allows them to be modern and in good health,” he told the Star.
“You have to be aware that for a small comfort you could have serious health problems. People need to be conscientious to adapt their consumption, knowing that in some cases it can make people hypersensitive.”
Terrasse said her client first noticed a problem in 2010 when she began having memory loss, vertigo, itchy eyes and fainting. Richard’s eventual diagnosis with electro-hypersensitivity, Terrasse said, “was a descent into Hell for her.”
First, the former radio journalist and playwright sought refuge in the secluded Pyrenees mountains. Richard now lives in a very modest home, several kilometres from the nearest village, Terrasse said.
But experts are unsure EMF can be directly linked to EHS.
The WHO says “research has not been able to provide support for a causal relationship between exposure to electromagnetic fields and self-reported symptoms, or ‘electromagnetic hypersensitivity.’”
The International Agency for Research on Cancer, a WHO-affiliated body, classified electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans in 2011.
Sweden officially recognizes electrohypersensitivity as a functional impairment. Between 230,000 and 290,000 citizens suffer from various symptoms of EHS in the country. In 2012, the Austrian Medical Association set out guidelines to help doctors diagnose EMF-related health problems.
Health Canada has set limits on exposure to electromagnetic radiation. The agency says the only adverse health effects come from acute exposure relate to tissue heating and nerve stimulation from exposure in the range of 3 kHz to 300 GHz.
Other acute, chronic or cumulative health problems, Health Canada says, “suffer from a lack of evidence of causality, biological plausibility and reproducibility” and cannot be used as a scientific basis for other measures.
Last December, Oakville MP Terence Young introduced a bill that would make companies put warning labels on cell phones. The labels, Bill C-648 reads, “will serve to increase awareness among Canadians of the potential health hazards linked to the use of radio apparatus.”