15. MEDIA'S VDT RADIATION STORIES THAT STILL DON'T MAKE NEWS

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.

Marha's 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.

Thus, it 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."

It is a warning that the ANPA, and the media as a whole, have continued to ignore.

SSU 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 the News"
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."