CEPEO to Investigate EMF Balancers in Local Schools

As promised in our article It Is Unbelievable What a Tub of Soil Can Do, we have followed up on the claim that two local schools have installed EMF Balancers on their premises.  The schools, Louis Riel secondary school and Trillium elementary school, are both under the same board of education – Le Conseil des écoles publiques de l’Est de l’Ontario (CEPEO).

The first step was to confirm whether the claim was even true.  Starting with Louis Riel, I e-mailed on 25 September my local CEPEO trustee, M. Denis Chartrand, with a simple query:

I was at a presentation in Ottawa last night at which Mr. Steve Priebe stated that he had installed six EMF Balancers (http://emffreezone.ca/WhoWeAre.html) in Louis Riel school.  Could you confirm for me whether this statement is true or not?  If you are not in a position to say, could you tell me whom I should contact to find out?

M. Chartrand passed my e-mail to M. Roch Landriault, the CEPEO Director of Technical Services, who responded to me later the same day:

You have certainly “sparked my curiousity” with your question to Mr. Chartrand.  I have verified and confirmed with the school principal that there are in fact EMF balancers in the school since last year.  Mr. Campeau has expressed his satisfaction with the devices and is convinced that they have helped in reducing stress levels and headaches felt by the staff, has increased student performance, as well as somewhat “calmed” the student population.
Subsequent to this conversation and email, I will be visiting the supplier’s website to obtain more information on both a personal and professional level.
Thank you for your interest in the matter and, should you have any questions, feel free to contact me at your convenience.

It seemed like a good start, but it was the last contact that I received from him.
I didn’t bother to check Trillium school since promotional material for the EMF Balancer includes a product endorsement by Mme. Edith Dumont, the Trillium principal:

We have had ou[r] school balanced with EMF BALANCERS (5) since Dec. 2006.  We have noticed a more positive energy with the students in and out of the classrooms.  As the Balancers cover all of the school and school yard.  The Balancers work 24-7 and require no batteries.  Also the teachers and staff noticed a reduction in stress and headaches.  With all of the new technologies, wireless, microwave towers, comput[e]rs, we need to protect our children.  I feel that this is a step in the right direction.
Depuis decembre dernier, nous avons fait équilibrer les champs électro-magnetiques de notre école.  Nous constatons chez le personnel une diminution des maux de tête.  Même si l’encadrement disciplinaire est toujours notre priorité.  Nous remarquons que nos élèves semblent circuler plus calmement dans les corridors.  D’après les conflits que je continue de gérer en tant que direction, je remarque une plus grande tolérance entre les élèves.

[Since last December, the electromagnetic fields in our school have been balanced.  The staff are experiencing fewer headaches.  Given that a foundation in discipline is always our priority.  We notice that our students seem to be moving more calmly around the hallways.  With respect to the conflicts which I continue to manage while supervising, I notice a greater tolerance between students.  (loose translation, added 23 October)]

Two subsequent e-mails to M. Landriault on 26 September and 7 October went unanswered, so on 20 October, I contacted M. Georges Orfali, the CEPEO President, and M. François Benoit, the CEPEO Director of Administration, with the following e-mail:

I am writing to you as a local citizen and representative of Ottawa Skeptics concerned about public spending and science education in the CEPEO, especially at the Louis Riel and Trillium schools.  I suspect that you have no prior knowledge of this issue and am sure that you will want to take corrective action once you review the situation.
On September 24th, a fellow Ottawa Skeptic and I attended a presentation given by Mr. Peter Webb about EMF Balancers, a product that he manufactures and sells.  At the presentation, Mr. Steve Priebe, the local distributor, stated that he sold six EMF Balancers to the Louis Riel school and five to the Trillium school.  I have since confirmed that EMF Balancers have, in fact, been installed at both these schools after e-mailing Mr. Roch Landriault and reading a product endorsement by Ms. Edith Dumont.
A summary of Mr. Webb’s presentation can be found in the article It Is Unbelievable What a Tub of Soil Can Do on the Ottawa Skeptics website.  The article was written in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, but the facts presented in the article are all true, at least according to Mr. Webb’s assertions.
In his briefing, Mr. Webb indicated that EMF Balancers are containers filled with clay, calcium carbonate and kelp, which are supposedly used to disrupt or repel geomagnetically induced lines variously called geopathic lines or Hartmann lines or ley lines.  He got Mr. Priebe to show the Balancer’s operation with dowsing rods.  Mr. Webb also stated that he updates all the Balancers in the world on a daily basis using a technology called “radionics”.
In my subsequent research on these products, I could find no basis in science for geopathic lines, dowsing or radionics, but I did find these subjects discussed in-depth on websites devoted to pseudoscience.  Caution is therefore warranted in accepting Mr. Webb’s claims uncritically, especially if you consider some of the even wilder assertions that he made on other topics during his presentation.   For example, he claimed that he worked with a company in Europe on a gel that cures IBS, leukemia and autism; that he participated in a clinical trial in Togo for a supplement that cured all but two of 120 patients diagnosed with AIDS; that he removed all the greenhouse gases in the skies over Ontario during Canadian Environment Week; and that he worked with a company in Florida that has the technical ability to neutralize hurricanes.
I accept that the administrators who procured these products for their schools likely did so for the sake of the students and with the best of intentions.  However, from what I understand in researching this subject, I can only conclude that CEPEO has probably spent close to $2,000 on nearly a dozen inert canisters of dirt.
On behalf of Ottawa Skeptics, I would like to express our concern that public money has been wasted on pseudoscience and that the effective endorsement of these products by the administration at both schools undermines the foundation of the students’ science education.  If you agree with me that this situation is improper and needs to be rectified, I would be interested in hearing how you address it.
If, on the other hand, CEPEO supports the continued use of these products, I would be interested in receiving answers to the following questions:
  • Can you confirm that public funds were used to procure and install these products in both schools, and if so, how much was spent?
  • What is the CEPEO policy for procuring unconventional and unproven technologies that claim to affect school environments?  Can any administrator decide to procure and operate such products or does it require Board approval?
  • What scientific opinion was sought to verify the claims being made by the producer and distributor of the products as part of the procurement process?  Could you provide me with an explanation of the science behind the products and literature from a scientifically credible source that supports the claims being made for the products (i.e., not testimonials)?
  • What credible testing (i.e. not dowsing) was done to verify the operation of these products after installation and on an ongoing basis?  Are there any locally produced readings from a technical measuring device (i.e., not dowsing) that indicates a relevant effect to the environment when the products are operating?
  • Have the parents of the students at both schools been informed of the existence and continued operation of these products?  If so, what claim was used to describe the effect that these products were supposedly going to have on the school environment and on their children’s behaviour?  What information was given to the parents about side-effects that these devices might have, and what was the substantiation for that information?
  • Does the CEPEO formally endorse the apparent pseudoscientific underpinnings of these products?  If so, does the CEPEO endorse New Age mysticism and any other areas of pseudoscience?
  • If school administrators have made claims about the effectiveness of these products, what systematic methodology and controls were used to ensure that their observations and conclusions were not due to confirmation bias or some other type of cognitive bias?
Please let me know if you would like more information.  Although I have a few business trips coming up in the next few weeks, I would happy to meet with you personally on this issue if you would prefer to discuss the matter further.  I am eager to hear how you address our group’s concerns.

The next day, I received the following responses from M. Benoit:

Par la présente, j’accuse réception de votre courriel ci-dessous.  Nous sommes à étudier le dossier et nous devrions être en mesure de faire un suivi en décembre.
Veuillez agréer, nos sentiments distingués.

[Herein, I acknowledge receipt of your email below.  We are studying the file and should be able to follow up in December.  Yours sincerely.  (loose translation, added 23 October)]

and M. Orfali:

Bonjour Monsieur Green, merci pour votre lettre.  L’administration s’occupe du dossier.  Nous communiquerons avec vous.  Bonne journée.

[Hello Mr. Green, thank you for your letter.   The administration is dealing with the file.  We will contact you.  Good day.  (loose translation, added 23 October)]

I am confident that our concern has been formally registered and that the Board will carry out a review.  I have indicated that I am available to answer any questions that they might have.  We will see in December whether they will do the right thing.

23. October 2008 by barry
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