YOU ARE HERE: HOME > Electrosensitivity Recognized in Sweden

September 18, 2006


By: Olle Johansson

In Sweden, electrohypersensitivity (EHS) is an officially fully recognized functional impairment (i.e., it is not regarded as a disease). Survey studies show that somewhere between 230,000 - 290,000 Swedish men and women- out of a population of 9,000,000 people - report a variety of symptoms when being in contact with electromagnetic field (EMF)-sources.

The electrohypersensitive persons have their own handicap organisation; The Swedish Association for the ElectroSensitive; (the website has an English version). This organisation is included in the Swedish Disability Federation (Handikappförbundens SamarbetsOrgan; HSO). HSO is the unison voice of the Swedish disability associations towards the government, the parliament and national authorities and is a cooperative body that today consists of 43 national disability organisations (where The Swedish Association for the ElectroSensitive is 1 of these 43 organisations) with all together about 500,000 individual members. You can read more on (the site has an English short version).

Swedish municipalities, of course, have to follow the UN 22 Standard Rules on the equalization of opportunities for persons with disabilities ("Standardregler för att tillförsäkra människor med funktionsnedsättning delaktighet och jämlikhet"; about the UN 22 Standard Rules, see website: ). All persons with disabilities shall, thus, be given the assistance and service they have the right to according to the Swedish Act concerning Support and Service for Persons with Certain Functional Impairments (LSS-lagen) and the Swedish Social Services Act (Socialtjänstlagen). Persons with disabilities, thus, have many different rights and can get different kinds of support. The purpose of those rights and the support is to give every person the chance to live like everyone else. Everyone who lives in the Swedish municipalities should be able to lead a normal life and the municipalities must have correct knowledge and be able to reach the persons who need support and service. Persons with disabilities shall be able to get extra support so that they can live, work, study, or do things they enjoy in their free time. The municipalities are responsible for making sure that everyone gets enough support. Everyone shall show respect and remember that such men and women may need different kinds of support.

In Sweden, impairments are viewed from the point of the environment. No human being is in itself impaired, there are instead shortcomings in the environment that cause the impairment (as the lack of ramps for the person in a wheelchair or rooms electrosanitized for the person with electro-hypersensitivity). This environment-related impairment view, furthermore, means that even though one does not have a scientifically-based complete explanation for the impairment electrohypersensitivity, and in contrast to disagreements in the scientific society, the person with electrohypersensitivity shall always be met in a respectful way and with all necessary support with the goal to eliminate the impairment. This implies that the person with electro-hypersensitivity shall have the opportunity to live and work in an electrosanitized environment.

This view can fully be motivated in relation to the present national and international handicap laws and regulations, including the UN 22 Standard Rules and the Swedish action plan for persons with impairments (prop. 1999/2000:79 "Den nationella handlingplanen för handikappolitiken – Från patient till medborgare"). Also the Human Rights Act in the EU fully applies.A person is disabled when the environment contains some sort of impediments. It means that in that moment a man or woman in a wheelchair cannot come onto the bus, a train, or into a restaurant, this person has a disability, he or she is disabled. When the bus, the train or the restaurant are adjusted for a wheelchair, the person do not suffer from his disability and are consequently not disabled. An electro-hypersensitive person suffers when the environment is not properly adapted according to their personal needs. Strategies to enable a person with this disability to attend common rooms such as libraries, churches and so on, are for instance to switch off the high-frequency fluorescent lamps and instead use ordinary light bulbs. Another example is the possibility to switch off - the whole or parts of - the assistive listening systems (persons with electrohypersensitivity are often very sensitive to assistive listening systems).

In the Stockholm municipality - were I live and work as a scientist with the responsibility to investigate comprehensive issues for persons with electrohypersensitivity - such persons have the possibility to get their home sanitized for EMFs. It means for example that ordinary electricity cables are changed to special cables. Furthermore, the electric stove can be changed to a gas stove and walls, roof and floors can be covered with special wallpaper or paint with a special shelter to stop EMFs from the outside (from neighbours and mobile telephony base stations). Even the windows can be covered with a thin aluminium foil as an efficient measure to restrain EMFs to get into the room/home. If these alterations turn out not to be optimal they have the possibility to rent small cottages in the countryside that the Stockholm municipality owns. These areas have lower levels of irradiation than others. The Stockholm municipality also intend to build a village with houses that are specially designed for persons who are electrohypersensitive. This village will be located in a low-level irradiation area. [One of my graduate students, Eva-Rut Lindberg, has in her thesis project studied the "construction of buildings for persons with the impairment electrohypersensitivity". The doctoral thesis will be presented during the Autumn.]

Persons with electrohypersensitivity also have a general (legal) right to be supported by their employer so that they can work despite of this impairment. For instance, they can get special equipment such as computers that are of low-emission type, that high-frequency fluorescent lamps are changed to ordinary light bulbs, no wireless DECT telephones in their rooms, and so on.

Some hospitals in Sweden (e.g. in Umeå, Skellefteå and Karlskoga) also have built special rooms with very low EMFs so that persons who are hypersensitive can get medical care. Another example is the possibility for persons who are electrohypersensitive to get a specially designed car so that the person can transport himself/herself between his/her home and their workplace.

Recently, some politicians in the Stockholm municipality even proposed to the politicians responsible for the subway in the Stockholm City that a part of every trainset should be free from mobile phones; that the commuters have to switch of the phones in these selected parts to enable persons with electrohypersensitivity to travel with the subway (compare this with persons who have an allergy for animal fur whereupon people consequently is prohibited to have animals, such as dogs or cats, in selected parts of the trainset).

In addition, when the impairment electrohypersensitivity is discussed it is also of paramount importance that more general knowledge is needed with the aim to better adapt the society to the specific needs of the persons with this impairment. The Swedish "Miljöbalk" (the Environmental Code) contains an excellent prudence avoidance principle which, of course, most be brought into action also here, together with respect and willingness to listen to the persons with electro-hypersensitivity.

Naturally, all initiatives for scientific studies of the impairment electrohypersensitivity must be characterized and marked by this respect and willingness to listen, and the investigations shall have the sole aim to help the persons with this particular impairment. Rule 13 in the UN 22 Standard Rules clearly says that scientific investigations of impairments shall, in an unbiased way - and without any prejudice - focus on cause, occurrence and nature and with the sole and explicit purpose to help and support the person with the impairment. Nothing else!

It may also be noted that a unique conference recently was held in Stockholm in May, 2006. The theme for the conference was "The right for persons with the impairment electrohypersensitivity to live in a fully accessible society". The conference was organized by the Stockholm City municipality and the Stockholm County Council and dealt with the most recent measures to make Stockholm fully accessible for persons with the impairment electrohypersensitivity. Among such measures are to offer home equipment adjustments, ban mobile phones from certain underground cars as well as certain public bus seats, and through electrosanitized hospital wards.

Olle Johansson is Associate Professor, Karolinska Institute Department of Neuroscience Experimental Allergy Unit 171 77 Stockholm Sweden

Produced with the assistance of the Breast Cancer Research and Education Foundation