Green Bank a safe haven for those sensitive to electromagnetic radiation
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Driving into a remote location and seeing your cellphone signal slowly dissipate is not a comforting feeling for many of us.
For others, it is the definition of comfort.
The community of Green Bank in Pocahontas County is home to the world's largest fully directional radio telescope and several smaller ones.
The big dishes led to the area being designated as a "National Radio Quiet Zone," with electromagnetic transmissions largely forbidden to prevent interference.
"The signals that radio astronomers are trying to receive are astronomically weak," said Mike Holstine, business manager for the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
"They've traveled such a great distance through space. Generally, the signal has about the same energy as that given off by a single snowflake hitting the ground."
That's because of its lack of cell towers, wireless Internet and microwaves.
Diane Schou was one of the first of such people to move into the area after she came to believe a cell tower near her former home in Iowa was making her sick.
"In 2002, they built a cell tower about a third of a mile away from our home," she said. "Nine months later, I was extremely tired. Extremely tired.
"My vision changed. I couldn't read. My skin became wrinkled. I thought I was just aging. I had a rash - I thought it was something I ate. I got a headache."
She tried getting away from the area. When she did so, her symptoms went away. When she came home, the symptoms came back. She tried going to a park but developed symptoms there, too. She soon discovered a cell tower not far from the park.
"That's when we knew for sure it was that tower," Schou said.
She went to the doctor. His advice? Move.
She became aware of the Green Bank area - a place free from electronic emissions. Now, she has been joined by more than three dozen others who find themselves in similar situations.
"Someone may be harmed by a cell tower, a cellphone, by Wi-Fi at their work," Schou said. "There are many different types of emissions or frequencies.
"Another could be affected by a USB, power supply, a computer, an iPad, microwave, large power lines, a little watch that runs with a battery. There are so many different triggers."
Schou explained that people have different sensitivities. One type of cell tower may affect them, but another may not because it is on a different wavelength.
The medical community does not recognize electromagnetic hypersensitivity as a diagnosable condition.
The World Health Organization acknowledges the symptoms are real but says "EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem."
But some people consider it a very real, debilitating condition.
Those who are exposed to a trigger for an extended period can develop other triggers, Schou said.
She has a cabin on her property that she offers to those who suspect they suffer from the condition.
"There aren't many places to rent. I try to help people. I visit with people who come here, and I try to help them find a place to be," she said.
Schou, who is also a member of Wave Verification Analysis Research, said the organization recently purchased two acres for folks to "land" in Green Bank after it received a donation.
"On the two acres, there is a cottage and places for other people to put tents or trailers. It gives them a place to go," Schou said.
"I'd like to have a mission group that builds hospitals and schools for third-world countries come and look at the land and determine where to put buildings that are lower maintenance. Not high-tech places, more primitive, but humane."
The observatory's Holstine, who has no affiliation with Schou's group, said, "People who feel like they have this EHS have become drawn to the area in the last 10 to 12 years. It seems they think it helps with their sickness, and that's great."
He said while there are many devices they prefer not be in the area, as long as a signal does not interfere with the observatory's equipment, it's less of a problem.
"On site here, we have a policy that people don't have microwave ovens. But we do have a couple - we build a shielded box for it to operate within. Or fluorescent light fixtures - we have to place a filter in every fixture to filter out spurious electromagnetic waves," he said.
He said a large part of his job is education. Anyone interested in the Green Bank Science Center can call 304-456-2150.
Other Top Headlines: