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'Wi-Fi Refugees' Are Moving To West Virginia To Escape Radio Waves

The Robert C. Byrd Telescope in Green Bank, W. Va.
Brian Farkas
The Robert C. Byrd Telescope in Green Bank, W. Va.

"Dozens of Americans who claim to have been made ill by Wi-Fi and mobile phones have flocked to the town of Green Bank, W.Va.," the BBC reports.

They're heading there because of the area's "National Radio Quiet Zone" — 13,000 square miles that surround the National Radio Astronomy Observatory's Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope. The zone, as Wired has reported, is "nearly free of electromagnetic pollution" because of regulations put in place decades ago. Those restrictions aim to keep other electromagnetic signals from interfering with the telescope's work.

As Wired wrote:

"All major transmitters in the Zone are required to coordinate their operations with the national observatory. Radio stations point their antennas away and operate at reduced power. Cell phone base stations are few and far between, and entirely absent deep in the Zone. Even incidental electromagnetic emitters are regulated: Power lines must be buried 4 feet belowground. The wireless LAN card in your laptop? Forget about it."

That's all wonderful to those "who believe they suffer from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS)," the BBC says. "Symptoms range from acute headaches, skin burning, muscle twitching and chronic pain."

"Living here allows me to be more of a normal person. I can be outdoors. I don't have to stay hidden in a Faraday Cage," Diane Schou tells the BBC.

When she lived in Iowa, Schou says, she suffered from headaches and chest pains, among other things.

She only got relief by getting inside a small wooden enclosure covered with two layers of wire mesh — her Faraday Cage — that may have blocked electromagnetic energy.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Mark Memmott is NPR's supervising senior editor for Standards & Practices. In that role, he's a resource for NPR's journalists – helping them raise the right questions as they do their work and uphold the organization's standards.