Magazine article The Nation

Screen Test

Magazine article The Nation

Screen Test

Article excerpt

Screen Test

An article exposing the risks of video display terminal radiation published in the trade publication Macworld has prodded the Apple company, which makes the Macintosh computer, into announcing that it supports the development of industrywide safety standards for electromagnetic emissions from computer screens. That the magazine would run the remarkable nine-page investigation, "The Magnetic-Field Menace" by Paul Brodeur, was highly unusual. Trade magazines are not noted for challenging the industries on whose advertising they grow fat $(see "Beltway Bandits," July 2$). But Macworld did, and Brodeur, noted muckraker of the asbestos industry and author of the recent book Currents of Death: Power Lines, Computer Terminals, and the Attempt to Cover Up Their Threat to Your Health, made a compelling case that the hundreds of thousands of people who work daily at computer screens worldwide may face serious cancer risks, forcing Apple to call for the industry radiation emission standards.

Brodeur writes that by 1986 a link between exposure to low-level electromagnetic waves from power lines and the development of cancer in children was established in a number of Swedish studies, as well as in a major study by the New York State Department of Health. The strenght of the 2 to 3 milligauss current (a gauss is a unit of strength of a magnetic field) emitted by the power lines was similar to the strength of the same type of emission measured at a distance of twelve inches from VDTs, according to 1982 studies by Dr. Karel Marha of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety. Brodeur also cites more recent studies of people and laboratory animals that support the finding that the doses measured by Marha are associated with cancer (especially brain cancer and leukemia) and pregnancy problems ranging from fetal damage to miscarriage.

With the assistance of the editors at Macworld, Brodeur tested ten common monitors used with Macintosh computers, with unsettling results. At twelve inches electromagnetic radiation ranged from a low of 1.11 milligauss (but was generally higher than 2) at the front of the screen to a high of 15.86 milligauss at the side of a color, high-resolution monitor. (The sides and backs of monitors emit the highest levels of radiation.) They found that only at a distance of twenty-eight inches -- "arm's length" -- was it "sensible" to sit at the front of the screen. Four feet was their recommended distance from the sides and back.

Until the Brodeur article appeared Apple did not acknowledge the potential seriousness of the problem. After it appeared, Apple did announce it supported the development of industrywide safety standards for electromagnetic emissions, but it did not call for any protective guidelines in the meantime, and it continues to contend that there is no scientific proof of how electromagnetic radiation affects the body. …

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