14 March 2015
West Virginia: Green Bank Residents Fear 'Quiet Zone' Protected from Electromagnetic Radiation Under Threat
by North America correspondent Ben Knight, staff, abcnews.com Australia, 10 March 2015
A group of people in the United States who believe that electromagnetic radiation from modern gadgets is making them sick fear their protected sanctuary may be under threat.
They call themselves 'electrosensitives' and live in the town of Green Bank in a remote part of West Virginia to avoid exposure to frequencies emitted by devices such as mobile phones and computer modems.
The area is the epicentre of the only legislated 'quiet zone' in the US and may well be the last inhabited place in the US without a mobile phone tower.
Married couple Diane and Bert Schou — both PhD scientists in industrial technology and biology — moved to Green Bank in 2002 after Diane got sick and experienced severe headaches.
The couple were convinced Diane's illness was caused by radio frequencies.
They collected years worth of data, carrying a spectrum analyser around, and connected her symptoms with spikes in electrical radiation.
Bert tracked down what they believed was the cause of her pain — a mobile phone tower near their home in Iowa.
"We were faced right away with, what do you do? Our doctor said, move. That was a first step. But where to?" Bert told ABC's Lateline.
After years of searching, they found the answer in Green Bank and refitted a house for Diane to move into.
"After travelling into Scandinavia, and Nicaragua, and not finding a place in the US, I decided this is the best place to be," Diane said.
"When I have a headache ... then there's something there. I can't tell you whether it's a cell tower or a cellphone, or an iPad, or a computer, I don't have that gift. But when I do have a headache there is definitely something around."
Diane said the move had helped.
"It's not perfect, but I can be more of a normal person. I'm not living in a Faraday cage, and I have freedom," she said.
"I can go out and see the sun. I can see the rain. I can see the stars at night."
Others with similar ailments have come to her door in search of help.
"I try and help others because I have been through this before," Diane said.
"One person calls me and she just discovered a week before that [she was] electrosensitive. I said 'come here'. She was here three months. Another person was ... near death."
Electrosensitivity is not a recognised medical condition. There is plenty of anecdotal evidence - but a lack of clinical research.
No-one doubts Diane Schou and others like her are ill, just that it has been caused by things like Bluetooth, wi-fi, or fluorescent lights.
But like any small town, the wave of newcomers has caused friction.
After they arrived, Diane and Bert held a community meeting to explain electrosensitivity. It did not go well.
"It's what I call the tarring and feathering of me. They said a lot of negative things about me, and they also said a lot of false things about me," Diane said.
"I didn't respond to them, maybe I should have, but I just wrote it down and left. I went back once or twice but I don't go there any more."
Fears quiet zone may be revoked
The quiet zone - in which radio transmissions are strongly governed — was enacted in the 1950s. At that time, controlling unwanted radio interference was a lot simpler.
Green Bank is also home to the Robert C Byrd radio telescope, which can operate in the restricted area due to the lack of interference from other radio transmissions.
The telescope can see billions of years into the past — to the very dawn of the universe.
"The sensitivity of this telescope is such that it could detect the equivalent energy given off by a single snowflake hitting the ground," the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Mike Holstine said.
"So with that type of sensitivity, you can imagine that any man-made interference is certainly going to blow away any of the astronomical observations.
"In the last 10 or 15 years, the technology has exploded with wireless communications. So that has been a huge, huge problem for us trying to maintain that radio atmosphere."
The Observatory's Chuck Nyland — whose job it is to track down rogue electrical signals — says certain frequency bands have become difficult to observe.
"The move to digital TV over the air, broadcast digital TV, has pretty much wiped out being able to observe in those frequency bands," he said.
But the National Institute of Science's budgets are stretched. Last year, a committee recommended the Observatory be closed. A decision is expected in 2017.
If that happens, it would not only the end of this observatory — but it could also mean the end of the Green Bank quiet zone.
Once the first mobile phone tower goes up, there would be no going back.
"It's almost like a national park. Let's say Yellowstone in Wyoming. If Yellowstone were to disappear, you would never get Yellowstone back," Mr Holstine said.