Pc Radiation: How To Cut Your Risk

Are personal computers hazardous to your health? Scientists have yet to provide a definitive answer. They know that video display terminals (VDTs) give off low-frequency electromagnetic fields, which have been linked to brain tumors, childhood leukemia, cancer, and miscarriages. New Swedish and Finnish studies are fanning fears by adding to this evidence.

Such findings have made many users uneasy, and the industry has responded with some safeguards. IBM, Apple, and Compaq, among others, now sell low-emission monitors that add, at most, $100 to the price of a display. These monitors meet Sweden's MPR II guidelines, which have become a de facto standard. MPR II restricts the amount of VDT radiation for two frequencies of electric current and two of magnetic. If the packaging doesn't tell you whether a computer complies with MPR II, ask the dealer or manufacturer.

MPR II compliance does not guarantee safety, since it's still unclear what level of radiation--if any--is dangerous. Robert Dieterich, managing editor of VDT News, and other experts on electromagnetic fields say emissions could be reduced further--or even eliminated--but for now, MPR II is the best bet.

STRIP SPONGE. If you don't want to buy a new monitor, many companies offer fairly simple, inexpensive products to reduce emissions in old displays. Safe Technologies (800 638-9121) markets metal strips that are placed inside the monitor at the back to absorb magnetic radiation at the spot where it's generated. Ship your monitor to Safe Technologies, and they'll install the strips--$100 for monochrome and $195 for color monitors. NoRad (800 262-3260) sells metal bands for $98 that fit around the outside of the monitor. To block electric fields, attach grounded mesh or glass screens to the front of your monitor. They range in price from $30 to more than $100. VDT News (P.O. Box 1799, Grand Central Station, New York, N.Y., 10163) has a list of companies that manufacture low-emission monitors and other radiation-reducing products.

If you're shopping for a PC and don't require highly sophisticated graphics, consider a laptop model with a liquid-crystal display screen. LCD screens give off negligible traces of radiation compared with cathode-ray-tube monitors.

The easiest precaution is to "sit an arm's length from the front of your screen" and about twice that distance from the back or sides of someone else's terminal, says Galen Gruman, an editor at MacWorld. The farther, in fact, the better.

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