There’s a claim today (October 12, 2007) that a branch of the British government has classified Electrical Hypersensitivity (EHS) as a disabling disease. It’s not true.
The claim appears in an email from Powerwatch. They have been quite careful to phrase their statement as follows –
“According to the VAT office’s definition of a disability, the symptoms most commonly reported by sufferers of EHS have a significant effect on people’s lives and therefore they classify EHS as a disability.”
The last bit is not correct – the VAT office (HMRC) do not have any list like this. They will give a tax concession to anyone with disabling symptoms, but the diagnosis is not relevant to this – diagnosis is an inexact science, and if the tax concession were linked to particular diseases there would be endless arguments about why some diseases are on the list, but others aren’t.
There was a similar claim that the Swedish government had officially recognised Electrosensitivity a couple of years ago, but the position is very similar – the Swedish government recognises disabling symptoms, but it does not recognise Electrosensitivity as a disease. There’s a link to this story at the bottom of this blog (if I spoke Swedish I might be able to cover this better).
Background – What is Electrosensitivity?
Well, there’s no such thing. Not in the same sense as, say, multiple sclerosis or malaria.
There are people who experience a variety of unpleasant symptoms, and believe that the symptoms are caused by fields from everyday electrical equipment such as mobile phone masts, power cables and microwaves – from this has come the term Electrosensitivity, and Electrical Hypersensitivity. However, attempts to substantiate this by experiment don’t back it up (reference below).
The Electrosensitivity Industry
There is an industry which purports to manufacture protective products for electrosensitives. Since there is no firm evidence that their problems are caused by electromagnetic radiation, it is unavoidable to say that there can be no evidence that these products actually benefit the person who buys them. But no doubt the person who sells them is doing all right out of the transaction.
Here’s a picture of a sample product, with (just for fun) a similar looking product from a travel accessories website.
The Headnet for tropical adventurers
The Electrosensitive Headnet
Blog entry which demolishes the claims about the Swedish Government –
Quote from Ben Goldacre’s Badscience Blog –
“People who believe their symptoms are related to exposure to electromagnetic fields are almost certainly mistaken – I would now say misled – about the cause, but they are very right about their symptoms.
Symptoms are real, they are subjective, some people experience them very severely, and this is real distress that deserves our compassion. Alternatively, you could cynically exploit them – and mislead them, and frighten them – to sell your quack products, your newspaper, your TV show, and your freelance articles.”
electrosensitivity.pdf – (linked to badscience)
HMRC – Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs
Search for VAT Disability FAQ – the URL is too long to incorporate as a link