Should you worry about Wi-Fi ‘health risks’ to children?

Are your children being harmed at school because invisible Wi-Fi radiation is frying their brains?

It’s an arresting question, and media outlets as large as the Independent and the BBC have been asking it in recent weeks, however the answer is “no they’re not”. Here’s why:

  • Wi-Fi transmissions are hundreds of times lower than the World Health Organisation’s maximum safe exposure levels. There is no evidence that low-power electromagnetic radiation at Wi-Fi frequencies causes adverse health effects.
  • It is wrong to equate WiFi transmissions with mobile phone radio signals. Phones can be 50 times more powerful than WiFi, which is why you can get a phone signal several miles away from a base station, but can struggle to pick up your wireless network from the bottom of your garden. Dr Michael Clark, of the Health Protection Agency, describes it thus:

When we have conducted measurements in schools, typical exposures from wi-fi are around 20 millionths of the international guideline levels of exposure to radiation. As a comparison, a child on a mobile phone receives up to 50 per cent of guideline levels. So a year sitting in a classroom near a wireless network is roughly equivalent to 20 minutes on a mobile

  • Wi-fi uses the same electromagnetic waves as TVs, radios and microwave ovens. There are no health risks from using any of these things, and they all work at far higher power than Wi-Fi or mobile phones. Radio has been around for over a hundred years. We would have noticed by now if there was a problem!

In all cases, the measured Wi-Fi signal levels were very far below international exposure limits (IEEE C95.1-2005 and ICNIRP) and in nearly all cases far below other RF signals in the same environments. An discusses technical aspects of the IEEE 802.11 standard on which WLANs operate that are relevant to determining the levels of RF energy exposure from WLANs. Important limiting factors are the low operating power of client cards and access points, and the low duty cycle of transmission that normally characterizes their operation.

  • Some people claim to be “electrosensitive”, causing them to suffer physical symptoms such as headaches and nausea when radio signals are present. However double-blind studies such as those conducted by James Rubin from the Institute of Psychiatry indicate that such people are just as likely to get a headache when they believe there is a phone signal present even if it is not. In fact, in the whole body of available research, no studies exist that confirm the existance of “electrosensitivity”. The effect seems to be psychosomatic.
  • Doctors and scientists have called for more in-depth studies into the effects of WiFi on the human body. However it’s wrong to think this is because they’re worried. They aim to to collect more evidence to support current thinking, to improve our understanding of new technoloties, and to improve our confidence in existing theories. It is never a concern when scientists call for more data.

The media has one agenda: to attract more people to its products in order to make more money. A story about invisible “radiation” harming children hits all the right emotional buttons to increase sales.

Unfortunately, scientific advancement can be held up or even reversed by such misleading reports. Children are now at greater risk of contracting Measles, Mumps and Rubella after one scientist’s opinion, that the MMR vaccine might be linked to Autism, was sensationalised in the media. The resulting decline in childhood vaccinations has sparked fears of a resurgeance in the diseases.

Removing wireless networks from classrooms on an unproven supposition would be a luddite victory over science and common sense. It would also deny teachers and children access to one of the most revolutionary educational resources ever devised.

Does that sound like a sensible compromise to you?

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