What’s All This Electrosmog Stuff, Anyhow?


From time to time new words are coined in the tech world, and some stick like glue while others evaporate like old political jokes. And often these terms are formed not by the tech community, but by those outside of it. Enter Electrosmog.

I’ve spent years (decades, actually) dealing with EMC, EMI, EFT and other RF-centric compliance terms, but most of those aren’t very exciting acronyms and thus don’t gain much emotional traction. I cringed when I first read the word electrosmog, feeling that disdain that comes when someone uses a term that sounds catchy, but just doesn’t fit as exactly as an engineer wants. But after a while it’s come to grow on me. Not because it’s accurate, but because it helps explain a very scientific topic to a general audience.

At first I thought this term was describing something that came out of a Toyota Prius. Some cloud of electrons that were ejected, destined to float on the prevailing winds from San Francisco and descend upon Fresno. Alas, the world of electrosmog is one that can’t be swept away by a convenient ocean breeze.

The first instance of this term I found was from 2001, describing the Vatican’s bombardment of the surrounding country with religious electromagnetic emissions, thereby threatening the locals with cancer. This usage suggested that the RF emissions would have effects similar to those of car emissions – something the local urbanites could relate to in a very tangible way, even if they didn’t understand the physiological effects of electromagnetic emissions or the content of the broadcast.

The most recent usage of this term I find is in the campaign against smart meters, which are apparently quite detrimental if you’re a tadpole. Luckily, most of us are not, and most frog families are still solar and dragonfly powered. What it does, however, is allow the anti-meter group to again evoke an emotional response in a layman audience.

What is real, though, is the fact that nearly all electronic devices emit some form of RF energy, and we (industry and government) have gone to great pains to establish reasonable limits for these “electrosmog” emissions. Though the health effects are often debated, what doesn’t require debate is the fact that sometimes the emissions of one entity end up causing problems for another. Much like the smog of San Francisco being carried away by the winds and settling into the Central Valley.

Back in circa 1970 Cedar Rapids, the Cryovac company was using RF energy to make the bottom edge seal on plastic bags. This was a fabulous system for turning huge spools of plastic film tubes into something to protect your Thanksgiving turkey from freezer-burn. Good for Cryovac, good for you, and [mostly] good for the turkey. Trouble is it wasn’t good for the woman across the street who wanted to watch General Hospital. Every time they started making bags, her television went wonky and she couldn’t tell doctors from patients from bedpans. For a long time she complained and was ignored, but in the end the company realized they were emitting this “cloud” of electrosmog and screened the entire factory floor in copper mesh, forming what is the largest screen room I’ve ever seen and saving daytime television. Well, at least until Facebook came on the scene.

For most of us, e-smog (my preferred variant of the term) is something that comes to us in many forms, some more apparent than others.

In the AM world you get to hear it directly, since radios pick up on the buzzes and hisses emitted from the “tailpipes” of poorly designed electronic devices. Every day I drive by SRI in Menlo Park there’s one spot where AM reception gets crushed. This is an example of localized e-smog.

GPS performance is another good example as it relies upon decoding weak signals from very far away, and high local noise can degrade its performance. Consider the current legal arguments with LightSquared and their proposed LTE deployment.

Or there’s the infamous GSM buzz, that 217Hz interference that even expensive speakerphones seem to pick up. Even the worshipped iPhone isn’t immune to generating this kind of e-smog.

And now that Congress has instituted an effective ban on many incandescent lamps, pushing people into CFLs, watch for more e-smog spreading since the sometimes poorly designed switching circuitry is often a source of buzz.

All is not lost, however.

One of the most interesting references I came across is this one which offers a device that will convert the bad electrosmog death ray waves into harmonious energy that will actually improve your health rather than riddle you with cancer. All for a mere ₤847.00. Order now. Operators are standing by.

PS: Title style in memory of RAP.

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