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.