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. 2010 Jun;118(6):735-41.
doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901416. Epub 2010 Jan 14.

Do TETRA (Airwave) Base Station Signals Have a Short-Term Impact on Health and Well-Being? A Randomized Double-Blind Provocation Study

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Do TETRA (Airwave) Base Station Signals Have a Short-Term Impact on Health and Well-Being? A Randomized Double-Blind Provocation Study

Denise Wallace et al. Environ Health Perspect. .
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Background: "Airwave" is the new communication system currently being rolled out across the United Kingdom for the police and emergency services, based on the Terrestrial Trunked Radio Telecommunications System (TETRA). Some police officers have complained about skin rashes, nausea, headaches, and depression as a consequence of using their Airwave handsets. In addition, a small subgroup in the population self-report being sensitive to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) in general.

Objectives: We conducted a randomized double-blind provocation study to establish whether short-term exposure to a TETRA base station signal has an impact on the health and well-being of individuals with self-reported "electrosensitivity" and of participants who served as controls.

Methods: Fifty-one individuals with self-reported electrosensitivity and 132 age- and sex-matched controls participated in an open provocation test; 48 sensitive and 132 control participants went on to complete double-blind tests in a fully screened semianechoic chamber. Heart rate, skin conductance, and blood pressure readings provided objective indices of short-term physiological response. Visual analog scales and symptom scales provided subjective indices of well-being.

Results: We found no differences on any measure between TETRA and sham (no signal) under double-blind conditions for either controls or electrosensitive participants, and neither group could detect the presence of a TETRA signal at rates greater than chance (50%). When conditions were not double blind, however, the self-reported electrosensitive individuals did report feeling worse and experienced more severe symptoms during TETRA compared with sham.

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the adverse symptoms experienced by electrosensitive individuals are due to the belief of harm from TETRA base stations rather than to the low-level EMF exposure itself.


Figure 1
Figure 1
Diagram of the exposure chamber.
Figure 2
Figure 2
Flow of participants through each stage of testing. Five data sets from the 144 controls that completed the open provocation test were incomplete because of technical problems, and six males were randomly replaced with 6 females to achieve matching by sex. These 11 data sets plus the data set of the person who withdrew after session 1 (total of 12) were not analyzed.
Figure 3
Figure 3
The probability of getting 0–6 of 6 correct: shown as a percentage by group of expected outcome versus observed outcome. (A) Controls (n = 132). (B) Sensitives (n = 48).

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