The phenomena of dirty electricity has an interesting history. Although severe forms of stray voltage have been the cause of several deaths via electrocution, the subtle form of dirty electricity was more clearly identified within the dairy industry in Wisconsin – a matter that led to a legal battle that went all the way to the State’s supreme court.
At the dawn of electrification, the wiring of buildings followed the general principles of electrical engineering, that is, a circuit must be completed. Wherever electricity is produced, the wiring should allow for a flow from the building being supplied back to the base station. This completes the circuit. In the early to mid-twentieth century, the practice of grounding circuits into the Earth itself (called single-wire Earth return) was adopted as a inexpensive and effective means to complete the circuit using the conductivity of the ground to allow current to spread out and naturally flow back to its place of origin. However, this practice can result in a high level of current, known as stray or transient voltage, traveling through a defined region.
When such a current coursed through the fields where dairy cattle where pasturing, a significant decrease in milk production led stumped farmers to think outside the box. It has been proposed that electrical current conducted within the cattle’s water supply acts as a deterrent to the animals’ drinking. This in turn would lead to a decrease in milk supply throughout the herd. Research studies examining this effect are mixed, though some mechanism involving stray voltage is generally recognized in the industry as being deleterious to herd health.
Once this insidious form of dirty electricity was formally identified, concerned electrical engineers devised methods to measure and remedy transient voltage within the wiring of freestanding buildings. Any faulty wiring or overcharge within the circuits has the potential to stick around and reverberate through the building itself. This problem has compounded over the years due to the number of electrical devices that are being added to our already over-worked circuits.
Thankfully, dirty electricity can be precisely measured and quickly remedied. Electrical engineers have created meters that specifically measure electromagnetic signals within the 2 kilohertz to 10 megahertz range that exist as transient voltage from household AC current. Once a problem is identified (typically when interference is measured above 75mV), outlet filters can be installed which draw excess transient voltage out of the circuit and to itself. The effect can immediately be measured on any plug along the same circuit.
At this time, there is no consensus as to what degree of electromagnetic interference in the form of transient voltage is acceptable by regulation. Without such guidelines, our best yardstick is to establish whether remedying an identified source of dirty electricity improves chronic and recalcitrant health problems. Those who are suffering from an unusual array of symptoms, especially ones that improve in a different environment, would be wise to have the building in question competently tested for dirty electricity.