Week of 12/08/2003

From the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: Are electric hair dryers hazardous to a person’s health?
—Jill Wolfe, Billings, MT

The electric currents generated by hair dryers expose users" heads to electromagnetic fields (EMFs). Similar to small appliances and power lines, hair dryers emit extremely low-frequency waves while in use. Dr. Ross Adey of the Loma Linda Veteran Memorial Hospital concluded in a research study that EMFs above two milliGauss (mG) greatly increase leukemia risks for both children and adults. Normal hair dryers have electromagnetic fields as high as 700 mG, although safer hair dryers are now available that are limited to only two mG.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends using your hair dryer less frequently, or holding it farther away from your head. Likewise, Dr. Joseph Mercola of the Optimal Wellness Center advises parents to avoid using hair dryers on children because the high EMFs are too close to their developing brains and nervous systems. Also, the Environmental News Network reports that breast cancer risks for beauticians are very high, which may be related.

Still, scientists have many difficulties to overcome with assessing the risks of household appliances, since people are exposed to EMFs everyday from many sources. The EPA concludes that scientists are unsure of all the biological effects from hair dryers, and the agency says, "There are about 200 studies underway or planned involving magnetic and/or electrical fields."

CONTACT: EPA, www.epa.gov; Low EMF, www.lowemf.com; National Cancer Institute, (800) 422-6237, www.cancer.gov

EARTH TALKFrom the Editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear EarthTalk: I’m constantly hearing about manatees being hit and killed by speedboats. Why is this happening?
—Dee Laundry, Jackson, MS

Manatees, gentle herbivores that graze on aquatic plants in Florida’s coastal waters, evoke puppy love in the hearts of many human beings. They have inspired a popular Florida license plate as well as a considerable amount of tourism.

But the qualities that endear people to these marine mammals also leave them vulnerable. They have no natural predators, are calm and slow moving, and make little effort to avoid people: either the ones with cameras or the ones on jet skis. "They like the coastal environment that’s also our favorite playground, and as a result, we clash," Dr. David Murphy, a manatee veterinarian, told the New York Times. According to the Times, the number of Florida manatees killed in watercraft-related accidents has been steadily rising, along with the number of registered pleasure boats.

Wildlife advocacy groups have focused on the creation of slow boat speed areas in an effort to protect these creatures from lethal collisions. "There needs to be safe zones and we haven’t done enough to protect calving grounds," says Sandra Clinger of the Save the Manatee Club. "The human population in Florida is expected to double in the next 30 years and most of those people want to locate along the coastline. That’s why it’s important to get protection methods in place," she says.

CONTACT: Save the Manatee Club, (321) 385-9060, www.savethemanatee.org