Health Issues Surrounding Wi-fi in Schools.
Should our children be exposed to radiation?
My aim here is to give an overview of the dangers inherent in deploying wi-fi technology in schools.
The information presented comes from a number of different sources: the media, professional bodies, local government, public information organisations and research scientists amongst others.
I do not make any claims that cannot be substantiated by clear evidence backed by scientific research.
The issue of safety boils down to the degree of protection offered by the current guidelines. It is vitally important to understand that the current safety limits set by the ICNIRP do not offer any protection at all from the radiation levels experienced in a wi-fi classroom. Some time is spent in explaining this assertion below.
Advocates of wi-fi installations claim that the systems are safe on the basis that they are operating well within national guidelines, and that their power output is low.
Both of these things are undoubtedly true, but unfortunately irrelevant in determining safety.
In the first instance there has been no testing of wi-fi systems from the perspective of public safety and little or no scientific research on the specific frequencies and pulse rates utilised. There is therefore no basis in a claim of safety at this point in time.
There is, however, a huge body of scientific research that points to biological effects and health hazards across all microwave frequencies and at power levels well below current guidelines by a factor of a thousand or more.
In assessing the potential dangers of wi-fi, it is important to realise that the current safety levels are based on an assumption that the only biological effect of microwaves is that they will cook you at sufficiently high power densities.
The overwhelming majority of research reveals that this assumption is wrong and biological effects, frequently pathological, occur at levels well below guidelines.
In June 2006 a conference, sponsored by the mobile phone companies, was held in Cancun, Mexico by the Bioelectromagnetics Society. The world`s leading scientists attended to discuss the issue of biological effects of low level microwaves.
As a result, Martin Blank, a former president of the society, sent an email to the ICNIRP who are responsible for setting safety guidelines.
This can therefore be taken to be the current consensus of scientific opinion on the subject.
In the email he made the following vital points:
1) That microwaves show biological toxicity.
2) That these toxic effects occur at levels well below those that cause heating (ie well below current national guidelines).
3) That there is great variability in the susceptibility of organisms to this toxicity.
4) That the safety limits should be revised to take account of both non thermal mechanisms and total cumulative exposure.
Clearly sitting in a wi-fi classroom would contribute enormously to the radiation dose received by pupils over their school career. In fact, no claim can be made for safety as this would have to be in the context of the total environment of each pupil exposed to a variety of microwave sources.
The full email from Martin Blank can be found at:
On the issue of health effects caused by microwave exposure, a clear majority of
industry funded and independent studies indicate biological damage. Some information is included here to demonstrate the breadth of this research concentrating on exposure intensities similar to that present in a wi-fi environment:
It must be pointed out that health risk is not determined by majority: even if there were a thousand studies showing no biological effect it would only take one robustly designed and replicated study to indicate harm. Certainly that is the criterion of risk assessment as applied to pharmaceuticals. In the case of microwave exposure there are hundreds if not thousands of such studies warning us of their potential for harm.
In a letter to the Secretary of State for Education, Philip Parkin, General Secretary for the Professional Association of Teachers, calls for a review into the health effects of wi-fi in schools, and a cessation of deployment of the technology:
On 22nd April 2007 the Independent on Sunday carried a headline `Wi-fi: Children at Risk from Electronic Smog`. In this article it was reported that Sir William Stewart, the chairman of the Health Protection Agency is calling for pupils to be monitored for ill effects from wi-fi networks.
In December 2005 Dr Gerd Oberfeld MD of the Salzburg Public Health Department issued a letter to the governors and head teachers of schools in the region, advising them to not install wi-fi due to evidence of negative health effects:
The Freiburger Appeal in 2002 was drafted by concerned medical doctors, who had noticed a clear correlation of their patients` symptoms with microwave exposure.
A number of similar appeals by concerned professionals now exist across Europe: The Irish Doctors` Environmental Association (Ireland), the Salzburg Resolution (Austria), the Flemish Association of Paediatricians (Belgium), The Benevento Resolution and the Catania Resolution (Italy) drafted by international groups of scientists.
Finally the deployment of a potentially, and probably actual, harmful technology in a school raises a number of questions of access to education, human rights, parental choice and duty of care. Each of the questions below demands an adequate and full answer. It is my belief that at the present time none of these issues have been fully and properly addressed.
1. Have the school/authority made any measurements of the radiation levels in a wi-fi classroom? These will vary according to the number of wi-fi enabled pc`s/laptops deployed and in relation to the position of the router(s).
Accepting that the levels are likely to be within current guidelines which protect against acute exposure causing thermal effects, how do the radiation levels compare with those at which biological effects have been demonstrated, due to non-thermal mechanisms?
2. Many scientists now believe that biological damage from microwaves is cumulative and as such there is no safe level of exposure. Given that in a wi-fi environment both staff and pupils will be exposed to radiation for a considerable number of hours over many years, has any risk assessment been made to determine the potential harm from chronic exposure?
In 2000 the Independent Group on Mobile Phones, under the chairmanship of Sir William Stewart, was commissioned by the UK government to report on the safety of public exposure to mobile phone technology, based on the current evidence. This is essentially the same technology as deployed in wi-fi systems.
In section 6: A Precautionary Approach the report offers the following, rather ominous, warning:
“We conclude, therefore, that it is not possible at present to say that exposure to RF radiation, even at levels below national guidelines, is totally without potential adverse health effects, and that the gaps in knowledge are sufficient to justify a precautionary approach”.
Should the Education Department not be advising schools and parents that it is not possible on current evidence to state that this technology is safe?
In light of this the precautionary approach demands that the technology is not deployed until safety can be guaranteed.
3. The Stewart Report was particularly concerned with the risk to children of microwave exposure, giving that their nervous and other systems are still developing. Has the school/authority conducted any risk assessment of the likely health effects on children of chronic exposure to radiation from wi-fi installations in schools, or carried out any review of the scientific evidence? If not, what is the basis for assuming that radiation levels do not pose a health risk?
4. The evidence pertaining to public health risk assessment does not demand an absolute proof of harm, but only plausible evidence of potential risk.
Given the weight of scientific evidence demonstrating adverse biological effects from microwave exposure, should the school/authority not be advocating a precautionary approach with regard to this technology?
5. Given the current scientific evidence of harm from low level microwave exposure and the increasing public perception of risk, what right does a school/authority have to irradiate pupils against the express wishes of those parents who do not want their children to be thus exposed.
What provision is the school/authority making to educate the pupils whose parents may wish to exclude them?
6. A proportion of the population is hypersensitive to microwave radiation. Based on numbers in Sweden where recognition of this condition is most advanced, the percentage of the population most affected is from 3-5%. These people suffer from a severe adverse reaction to microwave exposure at levels which could reasonably be expected in a wi-fi classroom.
Recent research, extrapolating current trends, expects this number to rise considerably, especially as exposure to ‘electrosmog’ is a primary cause.
The presence of wi-fi in a school will effectively exclude such pupils and may therefore technically be a breach of the school`s mandate to exercise `duty of care` and provide education in a safe environment.
What steps are being taken to monitor pupils for early signs of electrosensitivity, and how will the school ensure that such pupils have access to education?
7. Is the school/authority aware that the principality of Salzburg in Austria has issued a statement recommending that schools do not install wi-fi and are currently considering an outright ban? This decision arises from a convention of leading scientists in the field from across the world and follows their recommendation based on a review of current scientific evidence.
8. In light of the current scientific controversy surrounding microwave radiation, what kind of financial liability would a school/authority incur if long term exposure to wi-fi communications is found to cause cancer or other disorders? A plaintiff could request punitive damages on the grounds that the defendants knew, or should have known that microwave radiation is harmful to human health, and defendants failed to take affirmative steps to prevent exposure that was at harmful levels.
Could the potential liability for doing nothing be very high?
(NB this article relates to the issue generally and is not directed towards any particular school).