Magic for Mosquitoes

While we were in Fiji recently there was a dengue fever alert. This unpleasant virus is carried by mosquitoes and naturally we were careful to use insect repellent.

We stayed in a Suva hotel; in the swimming pool area there was a large sign stating that guests should not worry about infections carried by insects because the pool area was protected by a MAGNETIC MOSQUITO DEFFENDER.

I searched diligently but could find no evidence of magnets, either electrical or solid state. However we decided that an invisible MAGNETIC MOSQUITO DEFFENDER would probably work as well as one that could be seen.

Some years ago I wrote in this journal that it was safe to drink tap water in Fiji. This is no longer the case, particularly in Suva.

Magnets repelled

Magnetic fields are no better for your water or your car than they are for your arthritis

Powermax magnetic water-treatment conditioners have been controversial since they were introduced in New Zealand in 1998. Now they’ve been withdrawn and the Consumer’s Institute believes customers are due a refund.

Questionable science

Powermax is simple – two magnets clip to your water pipe. It’s imported by Pat Julian of Julian’s Electrical and Energy Conservation in Inglewood. Julian’s is also the importer of a similar dubious gadget, Fuelmax. Julian has made many claims about Powermax’s powers. These include: eliminating bacteria and parasites; dissolving faecal wastes; removing silt, chlorine and scale; stabilising pH; and stopping diarrhoea in cows.

Julian’s website said Powermax worked on the principle of “magnetic frequency resonation”. That might sound scientific but a Google search shows this was the only website in the world to use the term! The website also gave a brief explanation of how it works. “In simple terms, when the water passes through the magnetic field the magnetic polarity of the molecules reverse. The molecules separate, break down into microscopic size and remain in suspension.”

We asked two professional chemists to assess these claims. Both agreed that the statements were meaningless. One told us it generated gales of laughter from his colleagues. The other said, “It’s all gobbledegook wrapped up with some scientific buzz-words to make it sound authentic to the average Joe Blow.” Neither scientist believed the Powermax could do what it claimed to do. We asked importer Pat Julian about his website and its claims. He said the information on the website came from the manufacturer, International Research and Development (IR&D). “It’s not just something we had dreamed up – we don’t work like that.” Julian also offered to provide customer testimonials.

Questionable products

Readers started asking Consumer’s Institute about Powermax in 1999. We said then we had doubts that the magnets could affect bacteria.

Our doubts were borne out in 2001 when the Commerce Commission took Julian’s to court. Julian admitted that “Powermax does not and cannot” treat water for bacteria, parasites, giardia, cryptosporidium or faecal wastes. “People believing these spurious claims and then drinking or swimming in dirty water ‘conditioned’ by Powermax are at risk of potentially serious illness,” Commission chair John Belgrave said. Julian says he refunded dissatisfied customers at the time.

The Commission also criticised Julian for accepting IR&D’s claims. “Distributors are responsible for the goods they provide and must take reasonable steps to check them. They cannot simply rely on claims made by a manufacturer,” the Commission said.

Then in 2001 Julian took exception to a TV One item about Powermax. He tried to sue for defamation but the case was settled this year before it got to court. And this year US courts ordered IR&D to stop promoting Fuelmax.

Fuelmax is a magnetic gizmo for fuel lines in motor vehicles. The court decision related to claims that Fuelmax reduced emissions and fuel consumption. Julian’s withdrew Fuelmax in May as a result. Last month, after more questions from us about Powermax’s claimed performance, Julian withdrew that product from the market too.

Questionable claims

Julian says all the technical information for Fuelmax and Powermax came from manufacturer IR&D. He told us he was disappointed with the US court decision.

“IR&D certainly have not been honest with us. The technical explanations used in our sales literature came from the information supplied by them, and we are therefore currently investigating the question of taking legal action in the US to recover the costs of what is unsaleable stock.”

This raises two points. First, Julian was warned in 2001 that he could not rely on IR&D’s claims and he should check them out himself. And if he wants IR&D to repay him for unsaleable stock, then it’s only fair that he should refund anyone who bought a Fuelmax or Powermax from him.

Pat Julian says he still believes in magnetic water and fuel treatment, and he plans to import a similar range of products from a new manufacturer.

Consumer’s view

Anyone using Powermax or Fuelmax should return them to Julian’s Electrical and demand a refund. We believe you are entitled to one under the Consumer Guarantees Act, as the products are not fit for the purpose they were sold for. And Julian was warned in 2001 that he cannot rely on claims made by manufacturers. We hope he won’t fall into this trap again.

This article appeared originally in Consumer magazine. The institute is currently interested in magnetic and other fuel-saving devices. If you spot any, please send email to Martin Craig.

Currents of fear

Given his ratings, only a tiny handful of you probably saw Paul Holmes in his new slot on Prime a few weeks back, talking to Don Maisch, described as an Australian expert on the health effects of magnetic fields. More precisely, he’s doing a PhD in the Arts Faculty of Wollongong University on changes in the health status of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome patients following removal of excessive 50 Hz magnetic field exposure.

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