“Dirty electricity” is a rather unscientific term used loosely to describe a signal waveform that has extraneous noise components riding on top of it – typically of higher frequencies and/or a transient random nature.
It is more accurate to describe it as a noisy signal or more specifically as 120 Volt 60 Hz AC with high frequency components. Incidentally, ScanTech Consulting has the capability to evaluate the amount of high frequency noise on a power line in the ranges of 10 KHz – 10 MHz in order to diagnose possible EMI and equipment interference issues. (see picture below)
The controversy is whether or not this phenomena has any measurable impact on human health and safety. Please notice that the use of the terms “dirty” and “electropollution” have a negative connotation and will tend to immediately bias any reader. Also, the term “dirty electricity” and “electropollution” are not the same. Dirty electricity is any electromagnetic waveform that has unwanted and / or noticeable harmonics and regular or intermittent transients in either the voltage and / or the current component. Electropollution is another relatively unscientific term used by certain EMF consultants / specialists to describe potentially any and all electromagnetic waves of artificial origin, so dirty electricity is only a small subset of EMFs that could be included in the meaning of electropollution.
Bear in mind that there are a number of natural sources of electromagnetic noise such as the Schumann resonances, (spectral peaks in the Earth’s natural ELF field) and radio atmospheric signals which are known as “whistlers” and “sferics” (or also spelled “spherics”) which are produced by global lightning strikes that interact with the ionosphere and Earth’s magnetosphere.
Now before you think that I am completely dismissing the topic out of hand, I can tell you as an electrical engineering graduate that extraneous noise usually is a real problem, but it is normally far more so to equipment (particularly sensitive electronics) directly powered by it rather than to human health. I do have equipment designed to track this down, but this applies more to the commercial arena where (for example) anomalous equipment operation can be caused by a nearby defective (or poorly filtered) LED bulb or an arcing motor in some other part of the building.
Most power supplies are designed to filter out and/or minimize the potential damage that these noise spikes and transients can do before they reach the vulnerable logic components of your computer or charging cell phone. In addition, surge suppressors and UPS (uninterruptible power supplies) are an inline solution to prevent some of the larger transients such as those from a nearby lightning strike from doing something unpleasant such as zapping the motherboard of your PC.
They are also designed to filter out noise that may corrupt data such as on an Internet LAN cable or in critical medical and scientific equipment such as an EKG monitor or scanning electron microscope. But on occasion due to ground loops or incompatible equipment grouping, even the best power supplies can be thwarted if the data/signal lines themselves have corrupted information and / or spurious noise. In this case, you are looking for what is known as S/N or the signal to noise ratio.
So what about the effects to human beings? Does the electric noise on your 60 Hz AC mains actually cause any health problems?
I find it unlikely for several reasons. For one, the overall amplitude of the noise is typically much lower than that of the 120 V AC already on the lines – usually by an one to two orders of magnitude. (at least 10 – 100 times less) Then assuming you are not directly connected to the line (which would be a far more dangerous and immediate problem than any alleged long term health effects) you have to consider the electric near field that is present near any energized line with voltage.
The electric field “couples” or induces voltages in the human body with very poor energy transfer because the very high dielectric constant of water present in the body shields the internal tissues, cells and organs. The resulting induced internal voltages and current in the body from external fields are reduced by an order of 1,000,000 times less.
So even with an external electric field of 1000 Volts / per meter (V/m) the induced voltages inside a human would be on the order of 0.010 V/m (10 milliVolts) or less. This is much less than the typical voltages generated within the heart and brain which are from 1 – 10 V/m. Furthermore, the endogenous DC fields generated by the flow of ionic current through cells in the body is on the order of 10 – 100 V/m.
I find it hard to believe that a 10 milliVolt field could substantially perturb a system that routinely generates voltages that are 100 – 10000 times greater. Again, this is within a 1 KILOVOLT / per meter electric field which is much higher than you will see anywhere except inside of an industrial electric room or underneath a high tension line.
The electric field generated by the alleged dirty electricity has a greatly diminished amplitude – probably no more than 10 V/m. Divide that by the same attenuating factor of 10^6 (1 million) and you wind up with induced voltages of 0.0001 V/m which is in the microvolt range. (100 microVolts) This is even more unlikely to cause any noticeable change inside the human body given the fact that the resting membrane potentials of most human cells range range from -40 to -80 millivolts which is at least 400 X to 800 X greater than the 100 microVolts cited. The negative numbers for the internal voltages of cells are stated as such because you are measuring the voltage with respect to the ECF (Extracellular Fluid) surrounding cells which is used as a ground reference.
And again, this is in a 1 kiloVolt / meter field. What you encounter routinely inside of a home is at most 100 V / meter or so, and more typically 1-10 V /m. So divide that 100 microVolts by 10, 100, and 1000 and you wind up with 0.1 – 10 uV (microVolts) being induced in the body which is hardly a drop in the bucket as far as electrochemical signaling in the body is concerned. There is probably a greater pathological effect from listening to Barney The Dinosaur than this minuscule amount of “dirty energy” injected into a human host.
Even if there are minor effects, the body is an organism with a renowned impetus and ability to maintain equilibrium under a range of conditions. This is why we usually don’t perish as soon as something affects our blood pH, body temperature, glucose levels, etc. Our bodies are constantly keeping up with an influx of stress, bad food, bacteria, substandard air and food quality and a plethora of other threats and chemical / genotoxic insults. We only become ill when a substantial imbalance develops that our system cannot compensate adequately for.
In addition, many of us already have DSL for high speed Internet access which runs routinely pulses high frequency signals through telephone lines and yet I never hear any fuss or concern expressed over this medium. Granted, the practice of using twisted pair conductors does prevent this “noise” from radiating any appreciable distance, but it is in the high frequency ranges that many claim are damaging when present on a power line. I find it interesting that certain so called “experts” seem to cherry pick what type of noise is clean or dirty.
At any rate, I do not claim that electromagnetic energy is COMPLETELY harmless, only that it is better to calmly examine actual data and put said risks into proper perspective.
But whether you are interested in “cleaning up dirty electricity” for either the benefit of your electronic equipment or because you are concerned about the safety risks to your health – I would strongly advise that you read this article concerning devices that claim to eliminate electrical noise / health risks and what the real effects are:
This is your friendly Dallas / Fort Worth / Houston / Austin EMF Testing Inspector signing off for now.