Students venture to Allegheny Mountains for a documentary about electromagnetic sensitivity

The documentary made by Safi Nazzal and Joseph Fischground will premiere at the Folino Theater on April 26 at 7 p.m.
Photo by Laura Claypool

Joseph Fischground, a senior television and broadcast journalism major, was listening to a podcast that discussed a condition called electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS), a condition in which someone experiences negative symptoms after exposure to electromagnetic fields, according to World Health Organization. Fischground was inspired, and thought the topic would make a great documentary.

Fischground said electromagnetic hypersensitivity is a reaction to electromagnetic waves that are produced by a lot of common items such as cellphones, cell towers and radios.

“Especially today, with the proliferation of wireless technology, a lot of people are affected by it,” Fischground said. “They get a wide range of symptoms from head tingling, nausea, fatigue, trouble sleeping and skin rashes. Unfortunately, most doctors do not recognize EHS as a diagnosis. In fact, all of our subjects have been told they were crazy by doctors.”

Six months ago, around November, Fischground and his partner, Safi Nazzal, a sophomore film production major, headed to the Allegheny Mountains in West Virginia to film their documentary, “The Last Quiet Place.”

The film premieres April 26 at 7 p.m. in the Folino Theater.

Q: When and where did you make this film?

Fischground: We went to Green Bank, West Virginia, this past January over Interterm. We went for seven days, and it’s just a beautiful little Appalachian town in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains.

Q: What is the film about?

Fischground: The film focuses on Green Bank. (Electromagnetic hypersensitivity) is just a lens to view immigration and assimilation issues in America. Because EHS is largely not recognized by the medical field, many people view the condition as psychosomatic – basically that they’re crazy. This has bled into the local population. Because of its remoteness and small size, Green Bank has not experienced much change in the past 50 years. When the EHS population started moving in just five years ago, the locals began to push back against the change.

Q: Can you tell us about the subjects in the film?

Fischground: We spent a lot of time with Jennifer Wood who is a transplant from Louisiana. She was an architect with kids and started reacting to EHS in 1996. She didn’t know what to do and traveled all over looking for the right place. She was incredibly ill and was 77 pounds when she showed up to Green Bank in 2011.

Q: What were some of your best experiences while making the film?

Fischground: Just after spending our entire week with these people, we were invited to this adorable dinner party at one of our subjects’ houses where nearly all of our subjects came. We got together and had a really wonderful time. It didn’t feel like they were our subjects at that point. We were just laughing and really felt comfortable with them and that was the goal all along.

Nazzal: The experience I remember the most was going to the church. We went to a church, it was in the heart of President Donald Trump country and it was Inauguration Day. The sermon was based on how the church and state are going to finally be coming together and just a lot of controversial stuff. Joseph and I were just sitting in the back – the Jew and the Muslim sitting in the back – and (the pastor) comes up to us at the end, puts his hand our heads and prays for us. He was very nice, a very sweet guy. It was weird seeing a culture where that type of talk was so normal, like homophobia (and) anti-abortion. None of that made it into the film, of course, but it was just such a different perspective. I never imagined going to a church in the Allegheny Mountains.

Q: Any last thoughts?

Fischground: If you look in your iPhone handbook, it will say to keep your phone four feet away from your body at all times. Why do they say that? While radiation causes physical reactions for EHS sufferers, it’s also bad for the general public. Just because we can’t feel it doesn’t mean it’s not harming us, and it will eventually show up as cancer and a lot of different diseases. If you want to prevent that, keep your phone four feet away from your body turn it on airplane mode when you can, especially when you sleep.

Nazzal: Since our bodies operate on electric systems, we don’t know the full consequences of living in this radiated civilization. One of the ladies (said), ‘If you put a frog in boiling water, the frog will jump right out. They know when they’re being radiated or when they’re sensitive. But, if you put a frog in cold water and you boil it, then the frog will not know and will die.’ A lot of us are just frogs in cold water.


  • Thanks to these two young men for doing this film. I’m sure the whole EHS (Electro-Hyper-Sensitive) population in America will be grateful. One small error in what they said in this article: the cell phones manuals don’t say that users should keep their phone four feet away. That would make them completely unmanageable. The distance they recommand is just a couple of centimeters, i.e. not even one inch. The key is to not keep the phone glued to one’s ear, as we see everyone doing everywhere. There are lots of other precautions that can also be taken: use your phone only when you need it (i.e don’t be its slave, rather it should be yours), turn it off completely when not in use since it is otherwise always active looking for the closest cell tower, don’t use it in a car or in an elevator where the signals must be much stronger, i.e more damaging, don’t let any kid use a cell phone, use earphones, but be sure they are air-tubes types, otherwise the signal goes straight into your brain, don’t keep your phone live in your bra or in your pants. And if you really can’t help yourself and must live with your phone 24/7, then look for a protective system that will protect your brain. Look up for one such possible solution.

  • EHS is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms that differ from individual to individual. The symptoms are certainly real and can vary widely in their severity. Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual. EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem.

  • Guideline of the Austrian Medical Association for the diagnosis and treatment of EMF- related health problems and illnesses (EMF syndrome)
    Reliable disease biomarkers characterizing and identifying electrohypersensitivity and multiple chemical sensitivity as two etiopathogenic aspects of a unique pathological disorder.

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