China’s Mothers Rethink Anti-Radiation Clothing

At Bloomberg, Adam Minter describes the improbable scientific claims made both for and against clothing designed to protect pregnant women from electromagnetic radiation. A recent CCTV report claimed that the clothing could actually trap and concentrate EM radiation within the body, magnifying its supposed ill-effects.

In the wake of the report and the tweets, sales of the clothing have plummeted, the Beijing News reported. And on Weibo, it’s almost impossible to find anybody willing to attest to his or her attachment to the garments.

On Dec. 24, Guangzhou Daily directly linked the controversy to the contaminated food crises that constantly plague China and called for more government oversight:

We have been forced to work as “food chemists” and “chemistry experts,” and this time the anti-radiation clothing problem will make many people study to become “physicists” … [B]oth the CCTV who discovered the problem and the association who replied to the problem claim to be in the right. Who should we believe in? Apparently, the relevant government department should give guidance as soon as possible.

He Lan, a columnist for the highly influential and independent Southern Metropolis Daily took a more skeptical view of government regulation. It might be better, he suggested, to improve the frightful environmental conditions that have made the Chinese people “feel constant panic.”

The value of official information on health issues is in any case widely questioned. While Xinhua described online rumours last year as “a cancer that threatens the internet and society”, others have accused the government of creating a fertile environment for them by squandering trust: failure to offer accurate and timely information on real problems such as air pollution and food safety may increase the public’s susceptibility to scares such as salt shortages in the wake of the Japanese tsunami disaster

Regarding the effects of electromagnetic radiation on , the World Health Organisation advises that:

The overall weight of evidence shows that exposure to fields at typical environmental levels does not increase the risk of any adverse outcome such as spontaneous abortions, malformations, low birth weight, and congenital diseases. There have been occasional reports of associations between health problems and presumed exposure to electromagnetic fields, such as reports of prematurity and low birth weight in children of workers in the electronics industry, but these have not been regarded by the scientific community as being necessarily caused by the field exposures (as opposed to factors such as exposure to solvents).

Concern over the ever-thickening atmospheric soup of wifi and cellular signals is not limited to China, with some in the West blaming ‘electromagnetic hypersensitivity’ for nausea, depression and suicide, among other symptoms. According to the WHO, however, “to date, scientific evidence does not support a link between these symptoms and exposure to electromagnetic fields.“. Author and Guardian contributor Dr Ben Goldacre has repeatedly criticised electrosensitivity coverage by the British media at his Bad Science blog.