Town without wi-fi draws people sensitive to electronics – and the locals hate them
A town situated in the middle of a National Radio Quiet Zone has become a magnet for people claiming to be sensitive to electromagnetic frequencies from devices like cell phones and wireless routers, much to the dismay of the locals, reports The Washingtonian.
Green Bank, West Virginia, is home to the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope — one of the largest radio telescopes in the world, — which requires electromagnetic silence every hour of every day in order to function properly. The GBT is one of nine such telescopes situated in the 13,000-square-mile 'radio free' zone, established in 1958 by the Federal Communications Commission.
Radio telescopes differ from 'ocular' ones, displaying electromagnetic radiation coming off of planets or other celestial bodies and allowing scientists to study regions of space where light can't reach. In recent years, the telescopes have been used to track NASA's Cassini probe to Saturn's moon and to examine Mercury's molten core. The telescopes in the Green Bank area are so popular that the the GBT observatory is four times oversubscribed by scientists from around the world researching projects.
Due to their high sensitivity, radio telescopes require complete 'silence,' meaning that everything from AM radio broadcasts to cell phones and Wi-Fi are banned by state law. Even cars powered by gasoline are banned on the observatory grounds because the engine's spark plugs give off interfering radiation.
Because of this, people living in the area are limited to land-line phones and wired internet, which locals call "sloooow." Because there are no cell phone towers, travelers passing through the region are unable to use their cell phones, but the town of 143 does maintain a single outdoor pay phone for emergencies.
Since the community is free of electromagnetic frequencies, sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) — who identify themselves as 'electrosensitives' — have begun to move into the area in search of relief.
Monique Grimes, moved to Green Bank from Florida after suffering debilitating pain after moving into a St. Petersburg apartment. According to Grimes, she suffered from nausea, fatigue, ringing in her left ear all at once, and had no idea why.
"I was trying to come up with every excuse in the world for what was happening to me," Grimes said. "Moving is stressful, but the symptoms just kept piling on."
Grimes said she saw an internist, a neurologist, and then a psychiatrist, but still received no explanation.
"If we can't test it," one said, "it doesn't exist."
Frustrated, she began poking around online and soon remembered reading an article about the potentially deleterious health effects of the new "smart" electricity meters that send customers' usage data back to the utility over wireless signals.
Grimes discovered her building had 17 of them.
Eventually Grimes found herself moving to Green Bank, where she was followed by others, only to find the locals less than thrilled by the influx of more than two dozen EHS sufferers in the tiny town.
"There have been some rough spots in dealing with other members of the community," said Sheriff David Jonese, whose Pocahontas County department has been called in several times to mediate disputes between locals and newcomers. "They want everybody in the stores and restaurants to change their lighting or turn their lights off when they're there, which creates some issues."
Diane Schou and her husband left their Iowa farm to escape the radio waves, explaining that she had once been forced to live for months in a Faraday cage: a wood-framed box with metal meshing that blocks out cell signals.
Moving to Green Bank was a culture shock, Schou said, "If you want to have Starbucks and shopping malls, you won't survive here."
After buying and rewiring a home in the community, Schou states she has had her share of run-ins with the locals.
Schou says that when she tried to get the local church to uninstall its fluorescent lights, which electrosensitives find excruciating, one local grew angry with her and pushed her before storming out.
Schou also asked the church not to use its wireless microphones and told people to stop using their cell phones as cameras around her.
"Some people started to deliberately expose me just to harm me," she says.
One resident, Arnie Stewart, saw things a different way, inviting an EHS sufferer to a club meeting earlier this year to explain her disease.
"She was presenting her case, and about ten minutes later she came up to me and says, 'Arnie, someone has a cell phone on in here,' " Stewart recalled, noting that he saw the woman's hands redden and her wrists swell.
He asked the room if anyone had a phone powered up. "And this one guy very sheepishly said, 'Oh, I do have one, and it's on.' That was his test, and she passed it. When that happened, everyone snapped to and listened."
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