Cell phones, Wifi and cell towers are nearly impossible to escape. Some people say the waves those anchors of modern life transmit makes them sick, and they’ve found refuge in an unlikely enclave.
Nicols Fox suffers from a condition called electromagnetic hypersensitivity, under which people experience physical pain associated with being exposed to the electromagnetic waves that permeate our lives. Medically controversial, symptoms can include trouble sleeping, rashes as well as muscle and headaches.
“I was in a desperate situation - I could no longer live in my house, couldn't go downtown, library,” former journalist Fox describes.
Fox and others are finding relief in a tiny West Virginia town.
“Someone told me about Green Bank and I just came down here,” Fox said, who moved to the area from Maine.
Green Bank is home to the largest steerable radio telescope in the world. Around the telescope is a 13,000-square-mile area called the national radio quiet zone. Cell towers and Wifi are forbidden, a relief for people suffering electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
“As soon as I heard about Green Bank, I was here in a week,” said former architect Jennifer Wood.
Her quick move is understandable: Green Bank is an oasis in a sea of electromagnetic noise. The number of available housing options is limited.
“It's one of the only areas in the world that they can get away from those transmissions,” said Michael Holstine, the business manager of the Green Bank telescope.
The scientific foundation of electromagnetic hypersensitivity is limited, explains Dr. Devra Davis, who has studied the health effects of cell phones extensively. Davis is a toxicologist and epidemiologist who served at the White House under President Bill Clinton.
“The difficulty is that most studies that have tried to study this have not been very successful,” Davis said. “Scientifically we don't have a lot to help them with except to tell them to move away from the areas.”
Speaking from her own experience, Diane Schou says the move to Green Bank has drastically improved her health. Her symptoms began when she lived near a cell phone tower in Iowa, where she says she felt extremely tired, lost her hair and had severe headaches.
She lived in a modified vehicle for seven years to escape electromagnetic fields, but now has a house and yard.
“I can be outdoors-- if I were in Iowa I couldn't be outdoors,” Schou said. Her symptoms continue occasionally but have much improved. Living in Green Back, “That's what I see as the future.”
The women have modified their new homes to accommodate their situation as well.
Fox lives without electricity. She has a gas fridge, gas lamps and even a hand-cranked egg-beater.
The Green Bank telescope doesn't send any transmissions, instead scanning for signals from outer space similar to the energy given off by a single snowflake hitting the ground.