Monday, May 05, 2008

Annals of Proving Negatives: Hybrid Cars and EMFs

by Tom Bozzo

I sometimes joke that things that are too good for you must be dangerous, usually with respect to my collection of non-iron dress shirts. Hitting close to the shopping list for my next car, the NYT recently carried a story with the scaaaary headline, "Fear, but Few Facts, on Hybrid Risk."

The case of claimed Hybrid Health Syndrome is not the most compelling I could have read:

Neysa Linzer, 58, of Bulls Head in Staten Island, bought a new Honda Civic Hybrid in 2007 for the 200 miles a week she drove to visit grocery stores in her merchandising job for a supermarket chain. She said that the car reduced her gasoline use, but there were problems — her blood pressure rose and she fell asleep at the wheel three times, narrowly averting accidents.

“I never had a sleepiness problem before,” Ms. Linzer said, adding that it was her own conclusion, not a doctor’s, that the car was causing the symptoms.

No kidding. I'm curious as to whether this was the only story the reporter Jim Motavalli could find, or just the best. Ms. Linzer's "wellness consultant" just might be doing her a disservice by encouraging the belief that there's a stronger causal nexus between the car and those symptoms than, say, aging.

The extra journamalistic touch is here:
Their concern is not without merit; agencies including the National Institutes of Health and the National Cancer Institute acknowledge the potential hazards of long-term exposure to a strong electromagnetic field, or E.M.F., and have done studies on the association of cancer risks with living near high-voltage utility lines.
Bob Park reminds us what the NCI study of long-term exposure to EMF actually found:
On July 3, 1997, the day the massive four-year NCI study of power lines and cancer appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, Gina Kolata reported in the Times that the study was unambiguous and found no health effects associated with electromagnetic fields. An editorial in the same issue of the Journal put it in perspective: "Hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into studies that never had much promise of finding a way to prevent the tragedy of cancer in children. It is time to stop wasting our research resources."
I suppose hybrids will eventually be certified to some EMF standard as a matter of lawsuit avoidance. But I don't think I'll lose sleep over the prospect of adding yet another Prius to Madison's streets.

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This was what ultimately convinced me to go wireless: enough other people were doing so, leaving our house taking on all of any risk, without receiving any benefits.

Hybrid cars are more comfortable, so she relaxed and fell asleep at the wheel. Yeah; I want to meet any OD or MD who would go with that diagnosis.
Where do the electric fields in the Prius come from? It has DC motors, so the big power flows emit a magnetic field, but not much of an EMF. Most well designed motors confine the magnetic field, if only for efficiency reasons, so I doubt she's being magnetized. You want it moving the car, not shooting off into space. Maybe it's the high voltage from the Otto cycle engine spark plugs? Did she fall asleep on electric power or gas power?

I will admit that the Prius is a real quiet car. Even with the windows down you can barely hear it running on electric power. Could she be used to motor noise, and finds the quiet engine soporific?
I sought to avoid reference to the Civic owner's risk of health problems due to being late-middle-aged and overweight in the post, but basically there would seem to be a variety of potential health issues to rule out before looking at the car -- correlation, causality, and all that.

I always thought it was the bit of conventional-propulsion noise and vibration that helped knock the kids out in the car once upon a time, myself.
Please refer to and avoid the snide comments about this woman until you do your homework.
The seminal work has been done right in our own state of Wisconsin, Tom.
Doctors are woefully uneducated about this issue, as are the vast majority of the general public. A few very persistent and courageous individuals have worked very thoroughly for many years to accrue data re. this growing menace to our well-being...
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