As winter arrives with a vengeance, the last of this year’s glorious autumn leaves are falling in our parks and woodlands.
But this week came worrying evidence that Mother Nature is not the only force denuding our trees of their foliage.
Research in the Netherlands suggested that outbreaks of bleeding bark and dying leaves which have blighted the country’s urban trees may be caused by radiation from the Wi-Fi networks now so integral to life in offices, schools and homes.
As a qualified electronics engineer, I am not surprised by such findings. I have long been concerned about the harmful effects of the electro-magnetic radiation emitted not only by Wi-Fi devices but many other common modern gadgets, including mobile and cordless phones, wireless games consoles and microwave ovens.
Much though I love trees, and worrying though I find this research, what really unnerves me is the effect these electro-magnetic fields (or EMFs) are having on humans, surrounding us as they do with a constant cloud of ‘electrosmog’.
I am no Luddite. When I started work in the 1960s, I was involved in building walkie-talkies. I thought they were just brilliant and that electronic technology would save the world. But over the decades since, my scientific background has made it impossible for me to ignore the overwhelming evidence about the damage wreaked by this electrosmog.
It is not the existence of these radio waves that is the problem so much as the use we make of them. Rather than being emitted at a constant rate, technology demands they are ‘pulsed’ in short and frequent bursts which appear to be far more biologically harmful.
Not the least is their impact on our ability to reproduce. It is well documented that average male sperm counts are falling by two per cent a year. Many causes have been suggested, from stressful lifestyles to poor diet and hormones in our water supplies.
But studies in infertility clinics show problems with sperm dying off or not moving properly are most common in men who use mobiles extensively. This has also been demonstrated in the laboratory.
Mobiles are not the only problem. Many laptops are now equipped with Wi-Fi which sends out pulses every second as it maintains contact with the nearest access point. Young men with these devices on their laps are submitting their testicles to strong EMFs at close range, oblivious to the damage they may be doing to their chances of future fatherhood.
EMFS have also been shown to affect the brain, suppressing production of melatonin, the hormone controlling whether we feel happy or sad. In 2004, researchers at the University of Malaga found that significant exposure to EMFs increases the chances of developing depression 40-fold.
They also linked electrosmog to headaches, irritability, unusual tiredness and sleeping disorders.
This has been confirmed in research by the respected Karolinska Institute in Sweden. Sponsored by the leading mobile phone companies, it showed that using handsets just before going to bed caused people to take longer to reach deeper stages of sleep. They also spent less time in each of these stages, so interfering with the body’s ability to repair damage suffered during the day.
This is particularly alarming given the tendency for teenagers and children to sleep with their mobile phones under the pillows so that they can answer late-night texts from friends.
Parents who allow their children to do so may be taking a significant gamble with their health.
This year saw the publication of the Interphone study carried out in 13 countries including the UK, and examining the links between mobile phone use and brain tumours. It suggested that those who had made heavy use of mobiles for a decade or more faced twice the risk of glioma, the most common type of brain tumour.
And this was a study based on the period between 1994 and 2004 when ‘heavy’ usage was defined as two to three hours per month. A conservative estimate of average mobile phone use now is approximately half an hour a day, seven days a week.
Since brain tumours often develop very slowly it may be many years before the full impact of our reliance on mobiles becomes clear. But they are already implicated in another area of concern to health professionals, the onset of dementia in those under 65.
Experts are at a loss to explain the increase in this condition which has seen a surge in demand for pre-senile dementia units across the country. But can we really be surprised when a study at the Institute of Environmental Medicine in Sweden confirmed this month that exposure to EMFs significantly accelerates brain degeneration?
The risks posed by EMFs are recognised not only by scientists, but hard-headed commercial organisations. In 1997, the insurance company Swiss-Re identified EMFs as likely to cause the biggest increase in claims in years to come. Swiss-Re and other insurers have therefore refused to indemnify the mobile phone operators against health claims from their customers.
Indeed, it seems to be going in almost the opposite direction, encouraging the installation of Wi-Fi networks in our schools with tactics which sometimes verge on coercion. I’ve been told about a school which was threatened that it would receive no further government funding for computer technology if it did not install Wi-Fi.
In the absence of official intervention, it’s down to all of us to protect ourselves. My aim as a campaigner is not to scare people but inform them about the risks, so they can choose to take precautions.
Not everyone will want to follow my example. Because of our concerns about electrosmog, my wife and I have moved to a cottage in Scotland out of range of any mobile phone network.
But there are small steps which we can all take. We should all try to use hands-free sets. And women should stop carrying mobiles in their bras (breast tissue being particularly susceptible to mobile phone microwaves), a trend which is becoming alarmingly fashionable.
We should also avoid cordless phones. Their base stations transmit 100 pulses a second, 24/7, even if you’re not using the phone, and at power levels equivalent to having a small mobile phone mast in your home.
You might also consider whether you really need wireless internet access in your home. One option is to buy dLAN adaptors which transmit the internet signal around the house by way of your ordinary electrical wiring.
Such changes will require small adjustments to our modern lifestyles. But until the evidence against EMFs is proven or disproven, these are surely sacrifices well worth making.