15. MEDIA'S VDT RADIATION STORIES THAT STILL DON'T
The fact that display monitors emit significant
and dangerous radiation was known more than eight years ago. In October, 1982,
Dr. Karel Marha, a biophysicist at the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health
and Safety (CCOHS) in Hamilton, Ontario, warned that there was scientific evidence
to suggest that pulsed electric and magnetic fields could be more harmful than
nonpulsed fields and recommended that workplaces be redesigned so that VDT operators
do not sit close to their display monitors or to neighboring monitors.
warning was ignored by government health officials in Canada and the United States
and the CCOHS press releases were not picked up by any major newspaper in the
United States or Canada. In fact, a year later, the medical director of the New
York Times told a congressional subcommittee that he was aware of "no medical
evidence of serious VDT-related health effects." By then, of course, newspapers
everywhere had become highly dependent upon computer technology.
is not surprising that, according to a July 1990 article in the Columbia Journalism
Review (CJR), it is only in recent months that the press has gotten around to
paying attention to the VDT radiation story but "the context - research delays,
bad information, government complacency - continues to go uncovered."
Further, research from Sweden, Spain, and Canada adds that the magnetic
fields are most harmful during the very early stages of pregnancy. This
suggests that there is little point to a proposed policy of alternative
work during pregnancy because by the time a woman knows, or can prove
to her employers, that she is pregnant, the period of greatest risk
has already passed. More than ten years after the reproductive-risk
issue first emerged, not a single animal study on VLF fields has ever
been attempted in the U.S.
Meanwhile, the American Newspaper Publishers
Association (ANPA) has dismissed radiation risks. According to the CJR story,
"Last summer (ANPA) announced that surveys of 10,000 VDTs indicated that
there was no VDT radiation hazard." The ANPA has yet to make public any substantiation
for its "not hazardous" claims.
Paul Brodeur, a staff writer at
the New Yorker, specializes in medical and science writing, and has won many national
awards for his reporting on the effects of electromagnetic emissions and other
health hazards. His 1989 book, "Currents of Death," is considered the
classic on the hazards of electromagnetic radiation.
In a recent article,
which warned readers of MACWORLD that computer monitors may post a very real threat
to users, Brodeur concludes that:
"One does not need to be a medical
doctor to appreciate that such electromagnetic phenomena, which have no counterpart
in man's evolutionary history, may well prove hazardous to health."
is a warning that the ANPA, and the media as a whole, have continued to ignore.
STUDENT RESEARCHER: DIRK VANWINKLE
SOURCE: MACWORLD, 501 Second St., San Francisco, CA 94107
DATE: July 1990
TITLE: "The Magnetic-Field Menace"
AUTHOR: PAUL BRODEUR
SOURCE: COLUMBIA JOURNALISM REVIEW, 700 Journalism Building, Columbia
University, New York, NY 10027
DATE: July/August 1990
TITLE: "Uncovering Radiation: VDT Stories That Still Don't Make
AUTHOR: LOUIS SLESIN
COMMENTS: Paul Brodeur, award-winning investigative author,
reported that significant coverage of the magnetic-field hazard from
the display monitors of computer terminals was difficult to find during
1990 in the major daily newspapers and newsweeklies; and while network
television covered the magnetic-field-hazard issue in greater depth,
it concentrated almost exclusively on the power-line aspects of the
problem. Brodeur suggests that one group that benefits from the lack
of coverage given the issue is corporate media. "During the past
15 years, newspapers and newsweeklies have become wedded to computer
technology. As a result, newsrooms are densely packed with word processors
and display monitors, and reporters and editors are heavily exposed
to potentially harmful magnetic fields emitted by these devices. By
failing to cover the emerging evidence of this hazard, publishers have
sought to avoid employee demands for workplace and work-station redesign,
as well as workmen's compensation claims." The issue needs greater
exposure in the mass media, Brodeur adds, because "There are now
some 40 million display monitors in use in the United States. Wider
exposure of the magnetic-field hazard posed by these machines would
encourage users to sit at safe distances from their own screens and
from neighboring monitors. Such precautionary measure could reduce the
health risks of magnetic-field exposure and prevent disease."