The Electric Age
was born only 164 years ago in Albany, New York, in a red sandstone building next to the Capitol of the Empire State. There, in 1829, Joseph Henry harnessed the Principle of Magnetic Induction to build the first electric motor.
By the turn of the century, at the Empire State's other end, the power of Niagara Falls was harnessed. Spinning magnetic turbines transformed water power into electric fire. A great rush was on to spin complex webs of wires across North America. Soon electric lines led to every factory, office, home, and farm. The Electric Age dramatically and totally transformed America's lifestyles and consciousness—and the world.
Few questioned the electric genie's marvelous gifts. Fewer still realized the Dragon was being awakened.
Three quarters of a century later, in 1974, Dr. Nancy Wertheimer began a study in Denver that linked powerline magnetism to childhood leukemia. Now, after two decades, a vast body of research has revealed man-made electromagnetism (EM) adversely affects many delicate biological processes: bone growth, cell communication, biocycles, blood cells, neurochemistry, genetic replication, immune system, and more. Today, the weight of evidence now reveals our EM genie is assaulting us on all fronts.
Yet, our technological society runs so completely on EM, there's no escape from its all-penetrating influence. EM pollution is among the most alarming issues of the 1990s. Our addiction to the EM wizard's entrancing wonders is so total, even the most insightful, penetrating articles on EM hazards fail to mention the one true cure: use less electricity.
However, much more than the slow rise of human cancer results from our sudden increased EM use in the last 100 years. Field investigations in Wisconsin, Minnesota and other states have shown how improper design, construction and grounding of electric distribution systems threaten the health of dairy herds and humans—even the entire ecosystem.
While Dr. Wertheimer conducted her survey in urban Denver, electrical engineer Spark Burmaster installed wind turbines, solar electric panels and other alternate energy systems on farms in rural Wisconsin. Soon, like Nancy, Spark found himself following a trail of evidence that EM technology is hazardous to health. But while Nancy revealed dangers of invisible, mysterious magnetism, Spark studied undesirable electric effects. Both led us—plodding, blindfolded, reluctant—face-to-phase with
Dairy Herd Health
In his work on often isolated farms, Spark learned many suffered serious herd health problems that reduced productivity and undermined farm profitability. Over the years Spark's and other's lists of these health problems grew to over 60 items. No farmer reported all conditions, but all farms suffered many. Almost always problems were persistent and resisted medical or other treatment. Indeed, medical analysis failed to identify a cause. Farmers complained of high vet bills from numerous treatments, with vet comments like: "I really don't know what's wrong."
Common, significant items included:
- HEALTH: High and/or erratic somatic cell counts; Erratic mastitis flare-ups; Poor, dull hair coat; Lice infestations; Rashes or symptoms of mange; Symptoms of milk fever at unlikely times; Inflamed sphincter valve, even on unmilked heifers; Digestive system problems, such as losing cud, eating stones or dirt; Tarnish discharge from eyes, nostrils, ears; Yellow skin; Blood specks on hair; Legs buckling, staggering, gait labored; Swelling in hocks and knees, lumps at joints; Foot problems, especially tenderness, stress ring, foot curl; Skin sores that won't heal on joints, pinbones, or places cows bump against stalls; Average herd age falling, very few old cows; Unusual, unexplained sudden deaths; Cows dehydrate, go downhill and die; Groups of one inch range lumps on body sides; Slow growth in calves and heifers; High calf death rate; Calves with burnt knees, pus, abscesses, inability to suck, rolled tongue, sore gums, diarrhea, loose hair.
- PRODUCTION: Milkout slow, erratic, uneven; Drastic daily changes in milk poundage and cell count; Milk production and feed consumption low, no appreciable increase regardless of feed; Drying up time erratic; Production peaks early and not holding.
- BREEDING: Low and erratic conception rates; Increased fetal resorption and abortion rates, even at eight months; False, erratic, unusual, silent heats, often several at once; Abnormally high birth defect rates.
This welter of extensive symptoms and diverse sickness confused and mystified farmers and vets. Many vets referred to "Mystery Cow Disease." Such euphemisms shed no light on causes and cures of very real economic threats to farmers. Conventional medical attempts at remedies failed, and these farms' financial survival were in doubt.
Cows weren't the only animals with abnormal symptoms. Pigs, too, were plagued by reproductive problems and mass die offs of litters. Farmers reported sudden, simultaneous squealing of confined pigs. Vets muttered about "Mystery Pig Disease."
Cats, also, were sickly, with matted hair, bloody or other discharges from eyes, ears, nose, or mouth. These cats subsequently died. Keeping cats out of the barn often helped. A few cats seem to do OK on these farms. Litters born up in hay mows are alright until they come down to ground, then develop symptoms. Farmers also noted small wildlife—gophers, mice, groundhogs, worms, etc.—vanished from their farms.
However, non-medical researchers like electrical engineer Spark saw cow behavior as real clues to causes of this bovine distress, as if
cattle, by their actions, tried to convey a message they couldn't put in words. Obviously something was making cows—not merely uneasy—but anxious and depressed.
- BEHAVIOR: Reluctance (sometimes frantic) to enter milk parlor, barn or stall, then quick to leave; Reluctance to lay down in stalls; Cows, at erratic times, show nervousness and stress: flared nostrils, bugged eyes, ears pointed, arched backs, tense muscles, pulling on neck straps, pushing against stanchion, kicking at underside, bellowing; Cows lap water from trough or bowls, refuse to drink from drinking cups; Water consumption poor or erratic; Cows refuse or jittery to drink from barnyard waterer; Cows kick milkers off; Frequent urination problems, some avoid urinating in gutters; On some farms, wet weather is worse, on others, dry weather is worse; Suddenly, simultaneously, during milking, cows begin frantic dancing, vigorous tail twitching (even if no flies are present), bellowing, which lasts a few minutes, followed by milk letdown interruption, uneven milkout and general nervousness.
The cause of these troubles definitely wasn't the cows, because moving problem cattle to another farm brought immediate, dramatic relief Spark noted with interest calf symptoms were relieved by putting them in hutches away from a barn, or on wood surfaces elevated off the ground or floor.
Even more revealing were odd electric troubles. These gave Spark solid evidence to substantiate a hunch hinted by cow behavior.
- Lots of incandescent bulb failures, often in groups; occasionally one explodes.
- Computers must be surge protected against periodic failure.
- Radio and TV interference often affects houses for miles around.
- Radio and TV failures; repairmen say the set was hit by lightning, though it wasn't.
- Many electric motor burn-outs, often in batches; on study, protective devices are OK but coils are burnt.
- Shocks received from water lines or faucets.
- Noisy phones; many service calls; chronic false rings.
- Accelerated corrosion of well casings.
- Frequent burn-out of submersible well pumps, especially for "end-of-line" farms.
- Standby generators fail if left plugged in with live wires disconnected, neutral connected and power on.
- Frequent vehicle alternator failures; systems go haywire; no definite cause.
- Dead batteries won't recharge; premature battery failures; simultaneous failure of vehicles parked in one place.
- Circuit breakers overheat yet measures don't show over- current.
- Watthour meters continue to run, even if all loads disconnected.
- Frequent pole fires and transformer failures.
- Grounding changes, on and off farm, have unexpected effects.
It was clear to Spark these farms had electric wiring problems. But what generated these electric disorders? How do they cause such diverse medical, mechanical and behavior problems? Most important: what is their cure?
Modern farms incorporate a complexity of electric hardware: lights, pumps, refrigeration, purifiers, electric fences, motors, generators,
intercoms, CB radios, and more. Usually they're slowly added on, upgraded, replaced, repaired, serviced one by one over years—even
decades—often by several owners.
Where does an EM sleuth like Spark begin?
Most things in life, like entering—or building—a building, begin at the ground. So too, electric (fire) wire is usually clamped to water
pipes which—buried in earth—are "grounded."
Spark buried a metal stake outside in an area free of electric equipment, then ran shielded wire inside to waterpipes. He then hooked
pipe to wire with a voltmeter—and wasn't surprised his meter read significant unwanted volts.
Voltages on waterpipes (often milk lines, too) were usually AC; usually 60 Hz and its harmonics, but sometimes other frequencies.
Problem farms had more voltage than non-problem farms; the best non-problem farms had minimal or no voltage. Also, voltages were usually continuous, but often intermitent.
Clearly electricity from barn wires was leakimg to waterpipes. Water consumption and milk production went up and down inversely to voltage on waterpipes. This explained a few—but not all—symptoms.
For one, if a cow drank from a water cup, its tongue and lips got a shock. If waterlines contact stanchions, cows get a jolt when they touch a stanchion. If waterlines cross milk lines, teats get a jolt when a milker is attached, so cows try to kick them off. Such shocks will make us at least nervous and jumpy, anxious and depressed in extreme. Milking parlors became bovine horror chambers.
This simple scenario is deceptive: it offers no cure, and reality is far more complex. Simple cures involve two steps: 1) isolate electric ground from pipes; 2) find and fix stray voltage sources.
Isolation is done two ways: 1) detach the electric ground from waterpipes and reconnect it to a stake outside; or 2) replace a short section of metal waterpipe at the service entrance with nonconducting PVC plastic; then reattach the ground to the outside metal pipe. This isolates inside pipes from ground wire voltages.
This may fail for two simple reasons: 1) more than one ground attaches to water lines, 2) the problem is more complex than voltage on waterlines. Both are usually the case. For one, most barns have several grounds strapped to pipes several places. Multiple grounds need be collected into a single cable strapped to waterpipes at their entry to a building.
Finding stray voltage sources—tedious, time consuming—begins at the fusebox. First, all circuits are disconnected at the fusebox. At this point a voltmeter should read "0" and the utility meter should be motionless. If the meter continues to spin, there's a short to ground and you pay for electricity you never even use.
Then, one by one, power is restored to each circuit and voltmeter watched. If a reconnected circuit causes a meter rise, an offending circuit is found. Seldom is a problem in one circuit.
Often stray voltages aren't continuous. For example, refrigerator compressors operate intermittently, and their first moments of operation draw heavy current. Investigators must pay attention to such "non-linear" loads, which show no voltage when not operating, a brief high spike in initial operation, and low voltage the rest of their operation. One clue to this are erratic outbursts of frantic cow behavior.
In offending circuits, devices are disconnected until an offender is found; often more than one generates stray voltage. Each must be studied to learn how it generates stray volts. Sometimes a device is improperly wired or installed, or has shorts to ground.
Sometimes a problem is simple. A fusebox may be poorly wired. Utility service is 3-wire: two "hot" wires and "neutral." Volts across two hot wires is 240; one hot wire and neutral is 120. It's like a teeter-totter: hot wires are seats at the ends; neutral the pivot
between. If "loads" at both hot seats are equal, our board balances.
Some fuseboxes had most 120 circuits wired to one hot wire; the other had few, creating "unbalanced loads" between the two sides of the 240 supply. Neutral compensates for this with volts that show up on ground wires.
Tracing stray volts is difficult.
On one farm, cows were reluctant to enter a barn. Tests eventually found voltage on rebar and wire in concrete floors. Result: a floor
electrified. Voltage may be limited to one floor section, but often a whole floor is electrified. Another sign is reluctance to pee in a
barn; urine—an electrolyte—transmits shock from charged floor to bovine ureter.
Dr. Bob Scott, Shoreview, MN veterinarian, explains why cows are vulnerable to stray voltage. "Cows live in crowded environments. Barns, corrals and housing are thoroughly invaded by wires, pipes, electric circuits, machines. Cows walk barefoot on wet concrete, a fair electric conductor, while farmers wear rubber boots. Cows weigh up to 1000 pounds carried on narrow hooves, so electric contact between cow and concrete is good."
Rebar and wire, along with plumbing, can form a unified electric grid. Some farmers had to jackhammer concrete to isolate this grid in sections. A few had to put in whole new floors.
Electric floors are compounded in buildimgs with foil-backed insulation—an excellent conductor to spread stray volts around. With sheet metal roof, buildings are giant electric capacitors able to accumulate large charges of electrons. Sudden release of this electric energy can form surge currents; voltage is seldom high, but current can be great.
Biological effects of stray volts on animals is unknown and open to speculation. One obvious symptom is sudden heart attacks. Careful research is needed to examine these effects.
Minnesota vet Dr. Bob Scott offers insights, "All important body processes are magnificent unconscious, automatic systems governed by very small electric impulses. The heart, for one, is monitored and directed by electric current; all body processes depend on these tiny currents; nerve impulse transmission is impossible without electricity. The vagus nerve is involved in all these wonderful automatic systems. Large current introduced through bare feet can have adverse results."
In 1991 Spark drove me across rural Wisconsin pointing out empty farmhouses and barns. Farmers, facing failing production and deepening financial debt, had quit. The tally of hollow buildings was disturbing. Spark pointed out the telltale streaks on barn, silo and house roofs. Often failed farms were in clusters, suggesting geographic factors.
Utilities, first confronted with field data from affected farms, denied any problem. The idea volts leak out via ground wires doesn't seem alarming. An immediate assumption is it's local, affecting individual buildings. Utilities also denied the troubles are a
liability to them.
Farmers were forced to sue to get attention and relief. Lawsuits are expensive, especially for a financially pressed farmer. A positive judgement was uncertain, since there was no scientific proof.
Nonetheless, a few pursued legal redress and scientific understanding. Utilities derided advocates as "stray voltage nuts."
In court, power company strategy was to deny problems to limit their liability. One tactic was to call an "expert witness"— usually a PhD in Electrical Engineering. These hired brainboys testified if electric users followed "the code," there wouldn't be these problems—in theory.
But slowly the weight of evidence grew. Persistent presentations of case histories and field data by farmers and qualified researchers, Utilities reluctantly confessed stray volts exist, and are a public concern.
State governments agreed, and "Stray Voltage Advisory Committees" appeared in several Midwest states. Spark was appointed to a State of Wisconsin version. Stray Voltage Response teams were assembled by university, Extension and utilities to study stray volt cases; in '93 they held a first-ever Stray Voltage Conference.
But utilities insisted troubles are improper end use, or due to building and wiring codes—not the power supply—and are local problems on individual farms. They continue to underplay the situation and deny disturbing realities in accumulating field data.
In 1993, a turning point came. In a farmer's lawsuit for damages against utilities from stray volts, the utility's primary expert
testified, "there are definite stray voltage problems on farms, in part due to power grid design." Their expert said utilities stonewall truth
obvious in field data, and must face facts and address problems.
Now it was time for the other shoe to drop.
Grounded Utility Wires
Years of field investigations taught Spark the many faces of stray voltage and their remedies. But still, stubborn cases would improve, but never clear up completely. Often a farm showed drops in stray volts, but still had symptoms.
On a visit to such a farm, Spark stood by the barn pondering its persistent plague. His eyes wandered over pastures and cornfields to utility poles on the highway strung with two cables.
This rattled Spark's notion of proper electric engineering, so he went to inspect closely. To his surprise, the utility had a wire on each pole from the neutral into the ground—likely done for lightning protection.
But neutral isn't ground. Any imbalance between loads on the two hots of our electric teeter-totter will appear as voltage on neutral. This will generate a flow of electrons down a ground wire into the earth.
Spark did his quick test to check for electric current. Sure enough, his "buzzbox" emitted loud snarls when held next to each ground wire. Significant current was draining from power grid neutral into the earth—on every ground wire on every pole at the farm's edge.
Questions flooded Spark's mind. For one: Once in earth, where do stray electrons wander? But the crucial question: Do electrons escaping utility wires affect farms?
Spark did a quick, simple test: snipped ground wires on each pole by the farm, thus shutting off the ground currents. Back in the barn, tests showed no stray voltage remained. And cows, put in a field they normally avoided, grazed contentedly, with no sign of discomfort.
Spark took a slow, careful look at this new leak in the electric grid. After days of thought, professional talks and tests at other farms, the implications began to settle clearly in his mind.
Spark saw fundamental flaws in the way the utility grids are wired. Definition of these electric problems as "stray voltage" underrates the situation—a misleading label.
Current, not Voltage
"Volt" measures electric pressure, much like water pressure—the amount of force pushing electrons. Volt is potential energy; electrons necessarily don't go anywhere; it quantifies the force ready to propel them into motion.
When points of different electric pressure—that is, volts—are connected, electrons flow from high voltage to low. Potential energy becomes kinetic when static electric pressure cascades electrons into motion as current (like a stream of water).
Farm problems aren't stray voltage, but stray current, as electrons wander outside electric wires. "Stray voltage" is a narrow, static view with restricted implications. "Stray current" broadens our view to a dynamic one with serious technical, biological and legal implications.
Vet Bob Scott is more emphatic: "Military strategists for centuries knew if you confuse your enemy by putting up smoke screens, your campaign will be more successful. Utilities have a terrific smoke screen in the very phrase 'stray voltage.' They want us to accept 'stray voltage' is separate from 'ground currents'—both alternating and direct. Remember: anyone powerful enough to buy a train of coal a day has enough power to control rules of what they do. If we ignore ground currents and accept the short sighted misnomer 'stray voltage,' we kill off these farmers financially. Every citizen will ultimately pay a terrible price."
But, deeper, Spark saw serious flaws in design and construction of electric power grids. Not just one simple detail of grounded neutrals.
Rather, the grid is like farm wiring—a patchwork of equipment and ideas wired together bit by bit over decades in response to immediate need and general theory lacking a coherent plan subject to careful design tests in field conditions. Remember: power grids are new technology—flung up in the last century.
The looking glass of accepted electric science says electrons travel in "closed loops"—or "circuits"—that is, circles. Electron currents generated at a power plant travel in hot wires to distant sites to be used by a "load." From the load, electrons are said to return full circle to the generator by the path of least resistance—that is, by utility neutral wires.
Stray Ground Currents
That's theory; now reality. Spark says, "Electrons don't take ONLY the path of least resistance, but ALL available paths. So power grid electrons flow down ground wires as stray currents in pipes, soil, buildings, and more."
Unbalanced loads between split hot wires require neutral to compensate for differences. Voltage appears on neutrals and electrons flow down ground wires to form earth currents. A structure or pasture in the path of these currents may be affected by wandering electrons.
Dr. Scott agrees, "Electrons flow in any circuit and take advantage of ALL paths to ground. This forces our system to be all connected to ground. This sounds good, but really exposes us to unnecessary electric energies."
Thus, electrons leaking from utility wires via grounds flow as stray earth currents. Instead of a single circuit via utility wires,
wandering electrons form multiple loops. This puts extra loads on power grids—and loads of holes in power supply theory. What these currents do to us and ecosystems is unasked, unanswered.
Power substations are arrays of large transformers. Each transformer has a primary winding (wire coil), and one or more secondary coils. Neutrals of primary and secondaries are grounded, so stray earth currents can focus on substations. Nearby residents are affected not only by magnetism, as Dr. Wertheimer discovered, but also by stray earth currents.
Where ever stray electrons wander, they negatively affect animal and human health with tiny electric currents that irritate, accelerate metal corrosion or burn out electric equipment. They also form electric currents in fields, changing animal behavior, such as grazing.
Field researchers note stray current effects occur most frequently at end-of-the-line farms and homes. It seems stray currents are generated more intensely at distribution network endpoints. Spark speculates electrons travel between adjacent distribution lines to compensate for unbalanced loads.
Minnesota dairy farmer Dave Lusty had herd health troubles attributed to stray voltage. When attempts at the usual on-farm remedies failed, Lusty resorted to cutting ground wires on utility poles leading to his farm. The result was a dramatic drop in herd problems.
However, the utility contested his action, insisting ground wires be reconnected. Before the lines were regrounded, Lusty had Dr. Dan Hartsell, of one of Minnesota's largest vet clinics, give his cows exams. Dr. Hartsell profiled the herd by standardized grading used to classify cows prior to purchase. Further, Lusty had a local hospital appraise cow blood samples.
A short time after the utility reconnected its ground wires, herd distress symptoms returned. After a month, Dr. Hartsell redid his appraisal, and the hospital evaluated more blood for before-&-after comparisons.
Results were dramatic, revealing animals suffering severe stress and declining milk production. Blood samples showed clearly cows had lower resistance to infection and indications of disturbed immune systems.
The typical pattern followed: cows went to ruin or the butcher and the farm fell into failure, again invaded by stray currents.
Lusty, frustated in every attempt to reason personally and legally with the utility, started The Electrical Research Foundation (TERF) to sponsor scientific and legal research of electric pollution—and educate farmers and public of dangers of poorly designed electric grids.
Then, in summer 1992, the NY Times quoted Wisconsin Power & Light that perhaps 20 percent of its electrons escape down ground wires.
I told Spark the 20 percent. He was country classic emphatic: "Bullshit! Field measures by competent researchers show 50-70 percent of grid electrons leak to earth! They still don't want to face facts and admit they got serious problems due to how they built their grid!"
These figures are immense, with essentially unknown implications! Utilities assert 50-70% is exaggerated, and stray ground currents are "problems only in isolated, local areas." They dispute the impact on animals and humans.
Sick Home Syndrome
Discovery of stray voltage and currents took place in roral areas where homes and farms are scattered—often isolated. Levels of EM invasion and pollution are relatively low.
Cities, however, are a different reality. Urban areas are penetrated by power, phone & TV lines, water, gas & sewer pipes, concrete, steel girders, plus EM pollution from cellular phones to TV antennas and other microwave emitters...
In the '90s Spark gave more attention to urban homes. His first investigations were startling.
Several of Spark's first house clients had a new medical diagnosis: Environmental Illness (EI)—multiple sensitivity to molds, pesticides, foods, odors, and other chemicals. This illness isn't well understood, but incidence of cases is mushrooming. Most victims have overloaded, hyper-reactive detoxication systems.
Spark observed a relationship between homes with stray electrons and mold infestations. Many EI patients are allergic to molds.
To evaluate stray voltage/current in houses begins just like a farm. First establish an effective ground as electric zero reference by driving copper stakes deep in soil outside the house.
Next measure voltages inside the house. First test often is to measure the house water pipes, but also on beds, especially the headboard.
Spark built a 2-D model of urban houses to illustrate how stray current from one house causes electric surges on wires and pipes in other houses. Cities, like barn floors, are wired in one vast equipotential electric grid.
Spark built special panels to attach to fuseboxes. At night homeowners flip a switch by their bed to trip relays that open all
circuits at the box. All voltage and currents—stray and otherwise—in the home are killed. Most homeowners report a sound sleep the
first night the device is installed.
A curious, consistent sign of invasion by stray electrons are gray, sometimes blackish, streaks on roofs—usually asphalt shingles, but also metal, tile or others. Streaks run vertically from eaves up to ridgetops. Similar streaks appear on silos, especially metal ones; wood silo tops darken, like weather stain. North-facing roofs streak strongest, suggesting electric phenomenon oriented to geomagnetism.
Roof streaks often accompany excess, premature blistering and peeling paint. Dry rot in wood under streaked roof eaves is also common. Roof age has no relation to streaks; often new roofs become streaked.
Streaks are frequent on city buildings. One house can be heavily streaked, yet the next has none. More often streaked houses are in batches—several on one street.
Spark's urban research included a neighborhood where every home had roof streaks. Data revealed every house had residents with serious afflictions: arthritis, diabetes, strokes, cancer... Further, each had a history of previous residents with similar diseases.
Currently no theory explains streaks. They must be a chemical reaction caused by electrons streaming over the roof. Lightning rod design says electrons gather on points and edges; perhaps stray current electrons mass on roof ridges.
Spark comments, "Free electrons from faulty wiring or stray currents accumulate in a building like it's a giant electric capacitor. Once a structure is charged up, humans, animals—maybe plants—in it are affected by micro-shocks. We know streaks are due to electricity, because once electric problems are fixed, streaks fade and disappear—in as few as 30 days."
Farmers with stray voltage troubles have commonly observed that small wildlife—from rodents to earthworms—decline or disappear. The lowly earthworm is actually Nature's great plowman, the foundation of any healthy, living soil. In Chinese herb medicine, the nightcrawler is an earth dragon—source and symbol of fertility.