Refugees of the Modern World
The “electrosensitive” are moving to a cellphone-free town. But is their disease real?
You can turn your phone on in Green Bank, W.Va., but you won’t get a trace of a signal. If you hit scan on your car’s radio, it’ll cycle through the dial endlessly, never pausing on a station. This remote mountainous town is inside the U.S. National Radio Quiet Zone, a 13,000–square-mile area where most types of electromagnetic radiation on the radio spectrum (which includes radio and TV broadcasts, Wi-Fi networks, cell signals, Bluetooth, and the signals used by virtually every other wireless device) are banned to minimize disturbance around the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, home to the world’s largest steerable radio telescope.
For most people, this restriction is a nuisance. But a few dozen people have moved to Green Bank (population: 147) specifically because of it. They say they suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, or EHS—a disease not recognized by the scientific community in which these frequencies can trigger acute symptoms like dizziness, nausea, rashes, irregular heartbeat, weakness, and chest pains. Diane Schou came here with her husband in 2007 because radio-frequency exposure anywhere else she went gave her constant headaches. “Life isn’t perfect here. There’s no grocery store, no restaurants, no hospital nearby,” she told me when I visited her house last month. “But here, at least, I’m healthy. I can do things. I’m not in bed with a headache all the time.”
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