A new cell tower erected last month on Maple Way in North Port Alberni has caught the attention of a local woman who experiences sharp pains in her head along with nausea whenever she is near anything that emits radiation.
Benita Schluschen suffers from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or EHS. Whenever the former Alberta Telecom (now known as Telus) employee is exposed to Wi-Fi or cellular phone radiation she immediately needs to get away from it.
“I was surprised to see that in the area and with a medical centre nearby,” Benita said about first seeing the new cell tower when she and her husband drove by. “Marcus stopped the car to go in to tell them about the dangers of cell phone towers.
“I waited in the car and started to feel really [ill]. I was hoping Marcus would come back soon.”
Port Alberni Medical Clinic co-owner Dr. Marc Puts declined to comment.
Even in the Schluschens’ home, which is free of CFL lightbulbs, microwaves and cordless phones, Benita says she can still feel the effects of electromagnetic radiation as Wi-Fi waves are prevalent in her neighbourhood.
The smart meter is boxed and covered with material to lessen the radiation she says seeps into her home. Looking out her backyard, she can feel the emissions from the antennae towers located on a hill some distance away.
Benita started experiencing EHS four years ago. It was triggered during a driving trip with her husband to visit their kids in Victoria.
“It started with a blast of pain in my head,” Benita recalled.
“I then saw this cell tower on College Drive and the main highway going to the university, a big cell tower, and that’s when I made the connection because as we drove away, the sharp pain disappeared.”
Benita thought nothing of it at first, but the pain and nausea became recurring and she started experiencing hypoxia (oxygen deficiency) as well.
Last November, she and Marcus moved from Qualicum Beach to Port Alberni after searching for an area that has as little cell, Wi-Fi and radio radiation as possible, but in proximity of work opportunities for Marcus, who is a photographer, and accessible to their kids.
However, technology is constantly expanding its reach.
“I’m limited as to where I can go,” Benita said, explaining she no longer visits shopping malls or restaurants and even had difficulty visiting city hall recently to pay their property tax.
“The cellphone radiation is like having a clamp on my head. It squeezes, builds pressure and it doesn’t leave you until you are away from all these elements.”
Even visiting a hospital is problem because of all the wireless technologies they have, Benita explained.
To cope, Benita wears a hoodie made partially with silver threading and a hat that she lined with a fabric and copper mesh material when she goes out. It looks like normal clothing and seems to block out cellphone radiation, but not Wi-Fi as that’s a different kind of radiation.
Marcus demonstrated how the material worked by holding up a radio frequency meter towards the antennae towers which can seen from their back deck. The meter emitted a loud, screeching sound and the number on the screen jumped.
However, once a sheet of the mesh material made partly with copper was placed in front of the meter, the screeching and number dropped.
Dr. Joanna Oda is the public health and preventative medicine resident for Vancouver Island Health Authority. She sympathized with Benita’s ailment, but explained there is no universally agreed upon definition for EHS in the medical community.
“I am sure her symptoms are real and I don’t want to dismiss her symptoms,” said Oda, who has never met Benita. “But unfortunately there is no way to attribute her condition to electromagnetic activity.”
Oda said blind tests have been done to people suffering with EHS, but they failed because people felt the same when exposure to electromagnetic radiation was taken away and then put back. She also said there is no evidence that fabrics that are supposed to shield people from radiation actually work.
The Schluschens disagree. They said medical doctors in Europe are increasingly agreeing that EHS is real and on the rise, citing a paper by the Austrian Medical Association and various papers by doctors in Sweden and Germany.
“Wi-Fi was used as a stealth weapon in the Cold War,” Marcus said, citing information he found from his research.
“The problem is you can’t see it, you can’t smell it and you can’t hear it and if the government says it’s safe then people think it must be safe. But they forget that Health Canada has dropped the ball so many times. Asbestos, DDT, formaldehyde, they were all deemed safe before.”
Benita and Marcus are members of a group called Citizens for Safe Technology. The website provides information and contacts for EHS.
“It just changes your life,” Benita said. “It can come later in life and once it does, you’re paralyzed with it.”
Last Monday, Marcus went to city hall to speak about the negative effects of cellphone and Wi-Fi radiation to city council.