VDT emissions raise miscarriage risk, study says Odds tripled, say researchers in Finland

December 08, 1992|By Knight-Ridder Newspapers

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Women using VDTs that emit high levels of a certain kind of electromagnetic radiation have a tripled risk of miscarriage, Finnish researchers report.

The new study takes a more comprehensive look at VDT magnetic fields than a previous U.S. study that found no such risk: It is the first study to look at many different models of VDTs and the first to closely examine what are called extremely low frequency fields of radiation.

Published in the current issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology, the study will be released today. It has attracted wide attention in the computer industry.

Worker advocates said the findings should be taken seriously by VDT workers and manufacturers in this country. One U.S. expert said that the electromagnetic fields emitted by Finnish VDTs were not likely to differ substantially from those in the United States.

"I think they're probably pretty similar," said Patrick Breysse, associate professor of environmental health engineering at Johns Hopkins University and associate director of a computer industry sponsored-group, the Center for VDTs and Health Research, founded by such companies as Apple and IBM. Referring to the tripled risk of miscarriage, Dr. Breysse said, "It's real, and it's substantial."

However, more research is needed, he said. "No one study can be conclusive by itself."

More than 20 million U.S. women use VDTs in their jobs. Worker advocates said yesterday that, until the Finnish study, there had been no systematic testing and studies of the health effects of electromagnetic fields emitted by VDTs.

"They've been done for power lines. They've been done on electric blankets," said Louis Slesin, editor of VDT News in New York, a consumer newsletter. "It should have been done a long time ago" on VDTs, he said.

Women who use VDTs and are concerned by the study may have difficulty getting information about radiation levels in the terminals they use. Consumer advocates said computer makers have been slow to respond to requests for specifics.

"We certainly haven't been able to get that information out of the manufacturers," said Diana Roose, research director for 9 to 5, a national advocacy group for working women. "Basically, the companies don't think it's a problem. Or if they do, they certainly don't tell us about it."

There are no U.S. regulations governing how much electromagnetic radiation VDTs may emit. There isn't even an industry standard for how that radiation is measured.

One IBM executive said yesterday the computer industry is working on measurement standards; the Swedish government has already done so.

The new VDT study looked at 585 women who worked as bank clerks and clerical workers at three firms in Finland.

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