~e; Public awareness of EM radiation
human being <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Tue, 25 Mar 2003 23:16:45 -0600
Tonight there was a NOVA television program on the public
channel in the .US, entitled 'Dirty Bomb' in which "Radiation
experts play out a frightening terrorist scenario -- exploding
a bomb laden with deadly radioactive materials." It's website
has a few details, <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/dirtybomb/>,
including a TV Program Description located at the following URL:
Oddly, the program on a Dirty (Electromagnetic) Bomb had a
'moral to the story', which was about the public's education of
the realities of radiation, versus the fear it can inspire as most
of the general populace to this day knows so little about it that
is beyond an ever-debated link to cancer, and now, terrorism.
This is one place that Electromagnetic Education could provide
assistance, in emergency planning scenarios, as much as for
raising public awareness of electromagnetism, and the vast
issues, questions, and complexities of living in the world today.
Most people may recognize there is a muffled but 'great debate'
about electromagnetic (EM) radiation going on with the rise and
use of cellular telephones and, prior to that, high-voltage power-
lines transiting neighborhoods which have become the focus of
studies of concentrations of various effects, including the cancer
levels of these populations versus that of the larger populace.
This debate has been politicized, it seems from a distance, and
appears to be volleyed back and forth in the professional realm.
It may be a lawsuit that defines the role of EMFs and humanity,
rather than scientific objectivity operating in politicized environs.
The reason the cellphone radiation issue is important is that it
shares an attribute of that presented in the 'dirty bomb' scenario,
that low-levels of radiation have different effects than high-levels
and long-term exposure to the source. Somewhat similarly, what
is happening with the cellphone-cancer equation has to do with
the effects of certain frequencies of EM radiation upon the human
body and brain, that is, radio waves used for the transmission and
reception of cellular telephone signals, and the antennae on the
cellphones, used for these data exchanges, and their proximity
and position and electromagnetic frequency next to the eyes, the
brain (blood-brain barrier), the ear, jaw, and cancerous tumors
appearing in these places with a contested relation to cellphones.
That is this lay-person's attempt to describe a base-situation for
the ongoing debate on EM radiation issues with cellphones, yet
what is curious from this perspective is that EMFs are disregarded
as having no effect, even though common sense would seem to
indicate there is reason to question the relationship between this
technology (and wireless, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth, for that matter),
and the general health and immunity of the community. Opposing
views have seemed to rely on an argument bordering on lack of
evidence and the ambiguity of information (an issue of language,
psychology, and politics if one takes a philosophical perspective),
centering on the lack of precedence for asserting that frequencies
in a certain range can affect the human organism in a negative way.
That is to say that, in this case, unlike 'dirty bombs' possibly, that
one takes a general argument, it would not apply for cellphones as
it would for dispersed particles of radiation in the same way, and so
this is written to clarify a difference and yet a similarity for
as it is approximated by this writer, who has no expertise in EMFs.
And yet, like cellphones and electrical powerlines, there is a common-
sense aspect which one does not need to be an expert to pursue and
try to learn from. It has a specter of forbidden knowledge, and this is
because this is a contested realm in which persons have pioneered
a way to include humanity, their needs, and the potential harms of a
detached scientific and technological electromagnetic development.
Case-in-point being that when nuclear radiation and its effects need
to be addressed by the public, it is at the level of hysteria and
and not informed and proactive approaches, through the education
of the populace, about this most basic of empirical ways of knowing.
It is common-sense, given what is agreed upon by the international
guidelines that persons should not be exposed to certain amounts,
types, or degrees of radiation, for specific lengths of time. This
to be a common trait. There is radiation everywhere, the background
radiation of the environment, such as one hears astronomers talking
about when peering into the sky. This means that, if one where to sit
underneath a high-voltage powerline everyday for a thousand years,
that this may have a different effect than if a person did not do
if one were to sleep with their head next to an electrical power socket
versus several feet away, or if one were to use a cellular telephone,
and its antenna sent signals in all directions (into the human brain)
versus a directional antenna that only sends and receives signals
away from the user's brain. The moral argument being exemplified
if one considers the risks of placing a high-powered cellular phone
tower in a children's schoolyard, where barrages of exposure to EMFs
of a certain radio frequencies and long-term exposures are debated
in terms of public health and knowledge, versus quick monetary gain
with the caveat that no conclusive link exists between EM and cancer.
Yet, an ordinary person may have one ask- is it really worth this risk?
Another example of EM radiation is found in depleted uranium which
is used by the military, taking nuclear waste and reforming it as
and shell casings, which litter the landscape after being fired in
and on ranges, for their benefit in piercing (metal) armored equipment.
Common-sense, given public knowledge of these radioactive sources
would have one wondering about their connection with other events.
Sick and dying children, increased cancer rates, even Gulf War illness
experienced by the .US military after GWI have been related to this
potential cause. One thing is clear is that with contamination of soil,
or sand, for that matter, that the 'ingestion' of this contamination
at times be relevant, and thus it causes one to wonder why soldiers
in Gulf War II (GWII) are outside in sandstorm conditions, with their
eyes, ears, noses, ears, and throats open to potential contamination
through the internalization of sand from the previous campaign, when
this 'redistribution' of radioactive material appears most dangerous
when it is traveling about, contaminating more people or places in
its dispersal, and its remaining half-life as a source of
Common-sense again would make one imagine that protective gear
would be wise if indeed the environment had levels of radioactivity
that for prolonged periods there had potentially large concentrations
of a radioactive source which could have long-term effects on health.
This simple analysis directly relates to the questions raised in the
television broadcasts about Dirty Bombs, and various scenarios for
public awareness about the dangers, risks, and need for grounded
decision-making and consensus, in addition to amounts of exposure,
dispersal, and intensity of the radioactive materials in a dirty bomb.
It should not be just a professional's debate, due to political factors
heavily involved in the above-mentioned areas. And, if a dirty-bomb
discussion is where to start learning more about electromagnetism,
it will basically allow addressing the above issues, albeit indirectly.
And this is a Good Thing for the public, its health, welfare, and
As education can inform and reform certain practices, whereas other
approaches can lead to conflicts, political battles, and what might be
called the existing state of 'virtual knowledge', that which is opposed
to the 'real' information that is being used to wage GWII at this time,
as described by the .US administration on 3/25/03 in a war briefing.
In this fuzzy state of virtual knowledge, where little is conclusive
yet there is so much complexity that an idea or situation can cut one
or multiple ways under various scenarios, at different times and also
simultaneously, it is helpful to begin reasoning with basic language.
The first thought that entered this recipient's mind when watching the
program Dirty Bomb was: where does one get a gas mask (and also
a bunny-suit for that matter)? This reaction results from the general
use of fear in relation to this topic, but it is of radiation and its
a terroristic device, against the population and its sense of things,
moreso than actual cancer deaths from any contamination bomb.
This lack of public knowledge and consensus, even understanding,
is the greatest weapon and threat in a dirty EM bomb attack, as the
the NOVA program stated. It would be the public's fear and hysteria.
Education, in this way, becomes not only a defense, but an offense
in learning how to engage the present situation, to empower people
with public knowledge, and make inroads into stalled professional
debates, in order to proactively address these scenarios, and also
to better design our environments and ourselves for living with EM.
For instance, information reported on the Electronetwork-List many
months back included information about 'nuclear batteries' of a sort
in which a radioactive source provided power for now discarded (and
sought-after by terrorists) equipment from the former Soviet Union. A
dirty bomb could be produced from these materials and they are not
all accounted for, and one of two scenarios were presented in the TV
program, using this type of radioactive material in a city center, and
its explosion via plastic explosives, the resulting radioactive cloud
that it creates full of cesium particles, and their dispersal over an
area with an epicenter defined as the 'ground zero' of this event.
Only a few would be killed by the detonation of the dirty bomb, and
the more dispersed the cloud of toxic particles, the less likely one's
exposure would result in a fatality or cancer, in short- or long-terms.
The flakes of this cesium cloud, through, would cover everything in
various concentrations, and would be blown about by the winds. To
decontaminate this same area post-attack would require billions, in
addition to the human toll. Much of it psychological, as people may
not have enough information and panic and hysteria could spread.
A second attack scenario included more common industrial radio-
active sources being made into a dirty bomb, mounted on a fire-
cracker and exploded in a subway system. In this scenario particles
would be sucked through the pneumatic system via the winds of
the tunnels and trains and opening and shutting of doors, and the
other passageways such as stairs and street ventilation systems,
which would redistribute the small concentrated amount over a
vast area, likely unsuspected by the populace (unless there are
radiation detecters, which there likely are, both for pre- and post-
attack detection) and thus this very small dirty bomb could travel
very far with very little effort. It was stated that more people would
likely die from car accidents trying to escape, once hearing the
news of the dirty bomb, than fatalities from the radioactive dust.
Again, education is an important element, but the expertise of
professionals to determine the risk of a certain attack would be
necessary to proceed advice on what the populace is to do. To
mean: is it the case, in any dirty bomb attack, that the same rules
apply about the proximity to the event, its dispersal, concentration,
and how one responds to the events, or may the contents of the
dirty bomb also be a defining factor in its deadliness? This is a
question that remains fuzzy in this program, and fear remains.
Common sense remains, too, though. And the questions asked
by the experts in radiological attacks in some ways seems very
limited by the presentation of questions of how to address such
a situation in the public realm. For instance, while it is clear that
the dispersal of this radioactive material and where it travels is of
great concern, dealing with contaminated environments appears
very counter-intuitive, as these particles contaminate, and when
they settle somewhere they likely contaminate that area and if
they blow around, they probably contaminate more and more of
an area and a populace. Thus, when decontamination of these
environments are shown with the destruction of buildings, and
knowing the vast dust clouds created through demolishing, it
would be another way to redistribute the radioactive particles.
Maybe a building is scrubbed before demolished, but it makes
one wonder if the compartmentalization of knowledge is that
specialized that the dusts of building demolitions may not be
taken into account in this regard. Hopefully this is not an issue.
Another priority after an immediate dirty-bomb attack seemed
to be related to a pre-decontamination cleanup, which it was
proposed would possibly be unnecessarily expensive for the
human risk the radiation levels posed, versus normal radiation
levels (background radiation or varying levels measured by it).
The first thing that would seem necessary, besides having a
checklist of what to do with contaminated clothing and if one
has ingested or been in an environment (ranging from if a
person should bathe, if they should avoid or consume certain
liquids or foods, if they should stay in one place or go another)
is that the particles, should they have been distributed to the
ground or on people and their belongings (cars, buildings) is
how to keep the radioactive particles from going any farther
via the wind or transportation, and further contaminating the
populace and environment, so as to contain this radioactivity.
The analogy that arose is how oil slicks in the ocean are often
depicted in dealing with, and also new military technologies
using chemical solutions. That is, as oil slicks are 'bounded'
by floating barriers, maybe there is some way to use giant
fans or engines to 'catch the cloud' of radioactive dust as it
is in the air, as a giant vacuum as one level of defense. This
is similar to ways it appears oil is taken from the surface of
the ocean. Another common attribute of oil slicks is when it
washes ashore there are often people picking up globs of
oil and its resulting destruction of the environment, placing
this material into a special place, decontaminating the areas
effected, during an active, offensive-based defense against
the catastrophic effects of oil spills on sea and its shore. In
this way, peoples clothing and other objects could have an
emergency plan, such as how one is to deal with such a
situation to dispose of contaminated materials and get out
of the zone through a decontamination process. One of the
possibilities for an active offensive-based defense may lie
in the development of experimental chemical materials such
as those used by the .US military, in creating giant stretches
of sticky material over an area to make movement difficult.
If one of the main issues of a dirty bomb is to keep its impact
bounded, if at all possible, and avert secondary contamination
through chaos, people running, driving, trying to escape, and
thus bringing the radioactive particles along with them into
new environments, it may be possible to create some chemical
spray which would act as a sealant between the radioactive
material and the surface it effects, such as with oil and the
ocean, before the particles are redistributed into the air or
through human movements, it could be glued into place,
with some spray that seals it in place but also allows it to
be 'lifted' off the surface, if at all possible, or at least to be
able to contain the dirty-bomb fallout as much as possible.
Such as, if a block of cars were near the ground zero of the
dirty bomb and were statistically likely to be contaminated,
a spray could be applied via helicopter or compressed tanks
by teams which would seal the radioactive object in place.
Then, when cleanup is needed, the object is preserved and
remains radioactive waste, yet does not redistribute fallout.
In a world of science-fiction, such a chemical would form a
layer of 'film' which could be peeled off, with said particles.
In any case, the large questions of the Dirty Bomb program
as presented on TV by NOVA surround how to address the
environment and human psychology in relation to probable
future dirty-bomb attacks. Whether whole city centers should
be demolished if the half-life of the radioactive material is
30 years, say. Whether certain levels of radioactivity are to
be deemed safe enough to remain in, thus partial occupation
of ground-zeroes, else their complete destruction (including
civic and domestic aspects) and the economic, social, and
political impacts of how people succeed or fail in addressing
and dealing with such disastrous electromagnetic scenarios.
Yes, some but not all people will die from cancer in a dirty-
bomb attack, though only a percentage. And, its effects may
not be immediate but may appear over time, and over the
area of initial and, it is guessed, secondary contamination.
But what do people, in general, know about radiation, about
its relation to cancer, and about the probability of risk when
hearing of a radiological bomb attack? In the U.S. it is likely
to be almost no one, as there exists no common knowledge
beyond the contested debates over cellphones, powerlines,
and other electromagnetic devices and cancer. In fact, this
stalled ability to cope with health issues related to EMFs is
a major contributor holding back the public's ability to deal
with the reality of dirty bombs, and instead everything is to
remain as 'virtual information', where basic knowledge and
common sense do little good, if nothing is acknowledged as
a basis for judgments about the severity of EM radiation in
relation to human health in varying ways and intensities.
For this reason, a lay-person is still asking questions about
gas masks and bunny suits, about contamination, should-I-
stay-or-should-I-go decision making, and how to judge the
crisis, if and when a dirty bomb attack makes itself known.
For the good of the public, this is the right time and place to
begin to outline the basics of electromagnetic knowledge,
'real information' for the populace, not just about the scary
aspects of dirty-bombs, but also the empowering aspects
that just because it is radioactive does not mean it can or
will kill you, and that entrance into a learning, educational
aspect can bring a great change in the public's ability to
reason 'what to do' after an attack, with city planning, with
continuing to persevere, and with helping those affected,
and to best contain and prevent future such attacks using
common sense approaches to basic questioning, with an
active vocabulary so that people can reassure and help
each-other in the strangeness of the electromagnetic realm.
If you have a chance, please visit the NOVA website about
the Dirty Bomb program as listed above and consider what
you might do and what questions you have, or suggestions.
These words are being sent to the producers as feedback,
as the program requested public dialogue on these matters.
Hopefully electromagnetic education can proactively deal
with these issues, not through fear and hysteria, rather by
empowering individuals to better understand the everyday
electromagnetic environment we live in, and how to survive.
bc (no-copyright 2003)
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