Q:I read your latest issue (WDDTY 3.6) about VDUs and the risk of miscarriage. What about the risks to non pregnant women or men? Are there any? I use a VDU for many hours of the day at work. M. L., London.......
A:We put your question to Simon Best, the author of the article you refer to, and editor of Electromagnetic News. His reply:"International surveys indicate that up to 90 per cent of VDU workers have been found to suffer from at least one of the VDU eye related problems , including blurred vision, changes in the perception of colour, conjunctivitis, deteriorating eyesight, difficulty in changing focus from near to far and vice versa, eye strain, headaches and migraine, irritations and itching of the eyes, photophobia, visual fatigue, sinusitis, dry eyes and an inability to produce tears, yellowing of the whites of the eyes, and cataracts. (P. Bentham, op cit, p 36). According to Bentham, no other light source is so incompatible with the human eye and brain patterns as that produced by the VDU.
"Experts vary as to the ideal viewing distance, from 30 to 70 cm from the screen. Most operators, correctly seated, find that their preferred eye to screen distance is about 80 cm. Those with spectacles should consider for what ranges their lenses should be focussed and have a pair of glasses made for that length specifically for VDU use. Working at the wrong distance can induce other postural and muscular strain problems. Such eye tests for operators will become mandatory under the new EC Work with Visual Screen Display Directive coming into effect at the end of 1992.
"Contact lens wears may develop more specific problems, according to research by a British ophthalmologist, Anne Silk. Over the past four years, she has observed the development of microvoids (very small depressions) on the anterior surface of high oxygen permeable lenses. The effect has been found within two weeks of the issue of virgin lenses. She found that those lenses that showed microvoids belonged to wearers who had worked seven hours a day or longer at a screen. When new, unworn lenses were exposed to specific frequencies and intensities of electromagnetic fields, similar microvoids appeared after only 20 hours of exposure. Mrs Silk is continuing to collect cases and seeking unsuccessfully, so far to get her findings published in an optical journal. If VDU EMFs are producing such effects in contact lens material, one can only surmise what other short or long term effects they may be having on the actual eyes of operators.
"Another contentious area of effect is the claim of cataract development due to VDU electromagnetic radiation. The New York ophthalmologist, Dr Milton Zaret, has long claimed that certain types of cataract, specifically posterior subcapsular ones, can be caused by the types of radiation emitted by VDUs, especially older models. (Health Hazards of VDTs, London, John Wiley, 1982). A number of successful claims against manufacturers or employers have been made in the States, but this has yet to occur in Britain. By and large, the Health & Safety Executive dismisses the possibility of eye damage due to VDU radiation. However, it may be forced to change its view as large numbers of workers have their eyes tested when the EC Directive comes into effect.
"In the meantime, press your employer to seat you at least 80 cm from your screen, take frequent breaks, try not to stare at a screen for many hours, and work, whenever possible, on a portable computer with a light emitting diode (LED) screen, which emits hardly any radiation."