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amt 14th December 2009 05:06 PM

So now I have to worry about "dirty electricity"??
My wife asked me last night, after reading an article in a health magazine, what dirty electricity really is and why are all the CFL bulb we just put in the house effected and unhealthy. For the first time, I didnt have an informed response.

Some quick research turned up mostly filtering products and no real scientific explanation other than a handfull of studies. The following is the basic gist:

"Most of the dirty electricity is created by electrical devices in our own homes. Computers, TVs, florescent tube, CFL and low-voltage halogen lighting and virtually all of today's energy-efficient electronic devices induce high levels of high frequency harmonics and electrical "noise" back onto circuits and then into a building's electrical system creating an invisible, powerful, high frequency EMF called "dirty Electricity". This happens when transformers and power supplies convert our AC current to the low voltage power used to run all of our electronics. In the process of saving energy these energy-efficient devices chop up the conventional AC 60Hz sine wave and create what are known as electrical "transients".

So this, coupled with the risks from my radiating cell phone and WiFi equipment are now ranking up there with the concerns regarding all the ingested and inhaled carcinogens that are threaten my household.:D

Whats the deal, from an engineering perspective. :confused:


kevinkr 14th December 2009 05:13 PM

I have never heard that this is a health risk to humans, it is more a problem for devices that are powered off of the AC mains. It's not a new issue either, and arguments rage over the effects of EMI in everyday life.. There is very little credible evidence to support the contention that normal levels of EMI encountered in household environments constitute a real risk, that said I would not want to live near high tension transmission lines, but practically that is where I draw the line. I am not aware of any occupational risk for the linemen who work on high tension circuits beyond exposure, electrocution usually due to a moment of carelessness (but not always) and falling from high places. (Ouch)

Standard fluorescents aren't particularly good in regard to EMI either, the particular issue with CFL is most of them use electronic ballasts which generate a lot of conducted EMI on the power line and which may interfere with cordless phones, entertainment electronics, power line based signaling, and lab electronics.

Your home pc is not generally nice either unless it has a power factor (PF) corrected power supply. (Same can be said for many flat screen tv sets and computer screens if they do not use PF corrected power supplies.)

Many of the outrageously expensive A/V line conditioners you see these days were designed to deal with this issue as well as line transients due to lightening strikes (not necessarily anywhere nearby) and abrupt changes in industrial loads, etc.

To sum it up it is not something I would spend much time worrying about - the impact to you is it may degrade the performance of your entertainment electronics in some cases. Revised commercial standards for EMI and PF should reduce these issues somewhat over time as products that comply with more stringent standards become the norm.

I will admit that I do not like the light generated by CFL bulbs and will avoid them if possible anywhere I spend significant time. (I do use a few here and there, and use a lot in our Christmas decorations.) I turn off lights when not in use.

Power factor and conducted EMI are a major problem for the power utilities.

iko 14th December 2009 06:13 PM

For HAM enthusiasts it's a well known fact that there's a lot of transmitting devices in a regular household, sometimes where you least expect it, such as oven clocks, light dimmers, switching power supplies, etc. They usually try to fix this because it interferes with their radio stuff. As for health problems related to this, get ready for a huge debate.

Mooly 14th December 2009 06:19 PM

One of the most important issues... as most electronic products use full wave rectifiers... is just where do all those negative half cycles go :)

Iain McNeill 14th December 2009 06:22 PM

Just don't break any CFLs as they contain mercury.

The radiation from household EMI is insignificant. You get way more from a morning in the sun.

Having seen the magnitude of high order harmonics and RF noise on the mains supply, I always put a common mode choke, power line capacitors & ferrites on my mains input (in addition to a TVS or MOV - we get lots of brownouts in the boonies)

rdf 14th December 2009 06:43 PM


Originally Posted by Iain McNeill (
The radiation from household EMI is insignificant. You get way more from a morning in the sun.

The crystal wavers are becoming nightmares for many industries. Telecom is under assault by the well meaning but tragically uninformed who can't grasp 'geometrically falling with distance' and see no paradox in using cellular and wireless to organize against transmission towers. In the Pac NW it's escalated to industrial sabotage, such as arson and towers knocked down with stolen earth moving gear.
I know tower climbers who for decades gauged their personal radiation exposure limits by joint heat. When their joints started to feel warm they came down for a while. Makes the rectification hash back-fed into the Romex behind dry wall sound inconsequential.

Johnloudb 14th December 2009 07:05 PM

When I was going to engineering school at the University of Utah, they were doing research for some cellphone companies into the health risks of cell phone use. The brain and the eyes are very absorbent of EMF and the study of the new cell phones was turning up significant risk. So, the companies pulled the plug on the research.

I read the same article about dirty electricity, and it was centered around a problem high school. This new school had very high rate of cancer. And they found it had very high levels of electrical transients, due to poor electrical layout, and other things like widespread use of broadband networking.

Iain McNeill 14th December 2009 07:55 PM

Those two observations must be related then:rolleyes:

I'm sure the cancer rate at that school had nothing to do with prior land use or water contamination from local industry.

Johnloudb 14th December 2009 08:26 PM


Originally Posted by Iain McNeill (
Those two observations must be related then:rolleyes:

I'm sure the cancer rate at that school had nothing to do with prior land use or water contamination from local industry.

That's non of my concern and up to the people investigating the problem, to determine the cause. Though I'd think water contamination by industry would affect a much wider area that just the school.

It has long been argued that high voltage power lines near homes causes an increased cancer risks.

Enzo 15th December 2009 05:53 AM

Yes, argued, but never demonstrated.

Correlation is not causality.

You can find a direct relationship between a person's heighth and their SAT scores. Given that 5 year olds are generally a lot less tall than 18 year olds, this should not be surprising, yet, the correlation exists.

Dirty power is not something radiated into you, it is noise on the power line that has the potential to cause noise on your audio gear, little sparkles on your video imagery, and so on.

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