Electrical Fields Generate Health Problems

LONDON, UK, July 31, 2007 (ENS) - Electrical fields generated by everyday electrical equipment such as computers, and excess static electricity created by many modern materials, could be bad for your health, according to new research published by scientists at the Imperial College London. The study found such risks are far higher than previously thought, but simple actions can be taken in home, office and hospital to help reduce them.

The study, published in the August issue of the journal "Atmospheric Environment," indicates that prolonged exposure to the electrical fields generated in everyday indoor environments may cause increased risk of respiratory diseases and infection from small airborne particles such as allergens, bacteria and viruses.

Keith Jamieson of Imperial's Centre for Environmental Policy, lead author of the paper, says, "Many of the factors that can cause high electric fields and increased deposition and contamination are often found in hospital ward environments and in buildings where incidents of sick building syndrome are noted.

Electrical fields that surround computers can cause bacteria and viruses to be deposited on skin and in lungs. (Photo credit unknown)
Electrical fields also have been shown by the authors to "significantly reduce" localized concentrations of charged molecular oxygen, a type of small air ion, that enhances biological functioning and kills harmful microbes.

Over 90 percent of airborne particles are in the size range which is affected by these electrical fields - less than one micron in size, 80 times smaller than a human hair.

While they can remain airborne almost indefinitely, the deposit of these tiny particles in people's lungs and on their skin can be greatly increased by electric field effects, particularly when they are close to oppositely charged surfaces, the study found.

The deposit of these particles in the lungs can be increased as a result of the electrostatic charge they hold. This causes "mirror" charges of opposite polarity to be induced on the neutral surface of the respiratory tract, the scientists said.

Electric field levels can also vary with the humidity levels of indoor air. Levels below 20-30 percent humidity cause marked increases in the level of electrical fields that can be generated, increasing incidents of particle deposition in people's lungs and on their skin, resulting in infections.

Temporary incidents of excess charge, which occur through frictional charging of materials - such as when a hospital worker makes up a patient's bed - can further increase likelihood of contamination.

Static charges build up when hospital beds are made. (Photo credit unknown)
Increased deposition of these particles increases the toxic load that the body has to deal with, raising the risk of contamination, bacterial infection and incidence of conditions such as asthma.

Surface contamination can prove harder to remove, as particles' deposition speeds are increased under high fields, making them stick harder to the surfaces they land on.

But Jamieson says there are a number of simple actions to take at work and at home that can help reduce the toxic load our bodies have to deal with and the risk of illness and infection being transmitted in this way.

"In the case of electrical equipment, particularly laptops, ensuring they are earthed [grounded] can often greatly reduce fields," he said.

"In terms of the electrostatic charge generated by people themselves," he advises, "careful selection of materials and humidity levels can significantly reduce problems as can balanced bipolar air ionization."

"Trying to avoid spending time in areas where high fields are created, and unplugging electrical equipment when not in use, are also good options."

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2007. All rights reserved.