Radio transmissions from a U.S. Navy facility in California may be causing long-distance ear-ringing and other health problems in Eugene, Ore. state health officials here said yesterday.
The signals were detected recently after University of Oregon industrial hygienist Marshall Van Ert began investigating strange maladies reported in Eugene, which is about 100 miles south of Portland.
They include ear-ringing, pressure between the temples, minor headaches and a burning sensation and reddening of the skin.
Gary Boothe, assistant manager of the radiation control section of the state health division, said initial ifforts indicate a correlation between the signals and the health problems. The division is planning an epidemiological study "to focus on what is going on down there biologically," he said.
The radio signals were reported especially strong in the Eugene area, although detected in other parts of the state.
The Navy, in a prepared statement released yesterday, confirmed that the signals detected in Eugene were coming from a transmitter near Dixon, Calif., which is near Oakland, and said it had "no information to confirm the reported correlation between the radio signals and health problems." The Navy said the signals were being transmitted to ships and planes on an authorized frequency in use since 1965.
The health division had radio monotoring experts at work yesterday in an effort to determine just how strong the signals were.
Van Ert said a Eugene resident had complained to him last October of unusual vibrations in his house, a ringing in the ears and a variety of other medical problems.
He said he was "a little skeptical" of the report, but went to the man's house "and observed the same thing."
At first, he looked unsuccessfully for an outside noise or vibration, but that "finally I reached the point where I suspected it could be a form of electromagnetic radiation."
He then asked some experts to search for any unusual radio signal, and the pulsating transmission at 4.75 megahertz was found and appeared especially strong in about six locations around Eugene.
Van Erts said he then began talking to residents of those areas, and discovered about 25 who had the medical symptoms in common. He said scientific literature on the subject indicated that pulsating radio transmissions, such as commercial broadcasts, were not considered harmful.
After the health division's initial monitoring had confirmed the presence of the signals, their source was at first considered a mystery, with theories including a secret American or Soviet radar or communications installation, and possible origination in outer space.
Yesterday, however, the Federal Communications Commission had linked the signals to the Navy facility, although Boothe said the local experts were still not convinced they were originating in California.
Officials of the Environmental Protection Agency said their agency's equipment might be used to aid the Oregon authorities if the health correlation appears significant. They said there are no federal standards on radio signal intensities but that studies are being conducted nationally to determine the health impact of the various kinds of electromagnetic radiation.