Wifi is not a health risk

The Daily Mail has once again disgraced itself by promoting the scientifically discredited view that wifi networks are harmful to health. On November 19 it published an article by Alasdair Philips that said some remarkable things about electromagnetic radiation.

Under the headline “Is electro smog causing your headache?” Philips claims that plans to wifi-enable towns such as Swindon could have “potentially disastrous consequences for the nation’s health.”

Far from doing no harm, some studies suggest that as much as five per cent of the population may already be suffering from headaches, concentration difficulties, chronic fatigue, irritability and behavioural problems because of this electro smog.

Philips has conveniently forgotten to cite the studies to which he is referring. This is a practice for which believers in the existence of electrosensitivity have a reputation. Not only that, the Daily Mail has forgotten to mention Alasdair Philips’ business, through which he sells advice and equipment that he claims will mitigate the effects of electrosensitivity. Perhaps the Mail thought drawing attention to this fact would leave them open to accusations of passing-off biased opinion as journalism.

So a partial commentator writes a scare story in a newspaper renowned for making money out of printing scare stories. Now you’re wondering why I’m bothering to mention such an everyday occurrance…

The phrase “wifi health risks” ranks highly in the search terms people use to find this blog because I’ve written about this subject in the past so I want to reassure people arriving here on the back of such a search, and who might be worried about the health implications of wifi, that the scientific community believes there are none. If you are one such person, please read Ben Goldacre’s excellent coverage of the topic in his Guardian newspaper column, or on his Bad Science blog.

The Internet is the most revolutionary human invention since the printing press. The roll-out of pervasive wireless networking in homes, schools, businesses and public places will be a great enabler. It will provide access to those on the wrong side of the digital divide, promote the development of innovative new services and businesses, and transform our lives in ways we cannot yet imagine.

We must not allow selfish interests to turn the promise of this bountiful commons into a fear-fuelled tragedy.

12 thoughts on “Wifi is not a health risk

  1. For those who do need information about becoming electro sensitive please refer to:


    We provide information on the impact of electro magnetic radiation on the body and liaise with organisations around the world who are expert in this area.

    We produce a regular newsletter, a telephone help line and web site to inform and raise awareness.

    Electro sensitivity is an accepted functional impairment in Sweden and sufferers are offered shielded accommodation protecting inhabitants freedom from electro magnetic radiation.

  2. @Sarah Dacre

    Since you refer to that website in the first-person plural I’m going to assume you’re a representative of the organistion to which you refer.

    I’m astonished that you have ignored the content of my post in favour of promoting your organisation on my blog, presumably to take advantage of the tiny amount of traffic it attracts, however I’ll let you off if you can point me towards a body of scientific evidence that outweighs the one I cited and which demonstrates causality between the symptoms suffered by those who consider themselves electro-sensitive and exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

    If you can’t then I believe my points stand.

    I have every sympathy for the plight of people suffering from the symptoms your organisation associates with electromagnetic radiation. They are real and cause real distress. However I believe that claiming – with nothing more than circumstantial evidence – to know the cause of these symptoms, and providing false hope on that basis as your website seems to do, is not just unscientific it’s immoral.

  3. My partners Account

    Until last summer I was, like most people nowadays, very fond of all my modern communication gadgets from wifi to mobile, from Palm to laptops and all their advantages.

    From 2006 onwards I went several times to see a doctor for heart palpitations, but they couldn?t find anything wrong with me.

    Then in July 2008 I suddenly started experiencing dizziness on numerous occasions, till it got so bad one night, suffering even from speech problems, that I ended up in A&E thinking I had a stroke or heart attack; in the following weeks I underwent many tests. The results showed I was absolutely fine, but the symptoms stayed. The doctors told me I just had been stressed, but the thing is I wasn?t stressed at all prior to this.

    To my own shock and confusion I realized that my dizziness always occurred, when I was in close vicinity to Wifi, mobiles, Blackberries and mobile masts.

    Other symptoms added themselves to the list: excessive sweating during the night, memory and concentration problems, a pain in my head, and discomfort either side of my neck [ glands ] pins and needles in my hands, a feeling of being static (I gave people electric shocks in that early period, when I shook their hands), prickly skin and even skin rashes. The latter, when I was sitting in front of my computer or the tv. Even certain light sources (energy saving light bulbs and neon lights) caused the skin problem to occur.

    After medical professionals weren?t able to help, I started my own research and found many websites and blogs by people, with exactly the same problems as mine. They are sufferers of electro-sensitivity (ES), a condition fully recognized in Canada and Sweden as a medical impairment (with 300.000 sufferers in Sweden alone) but unfortunately ridiculed in the UK. I had never heard of it (this to show I am not a hypochondriac), but once I realized that this was the source of my problems, I started clearing my home environment from Wifi, DECT phones and non-essential electrical items. My problems immediately started to get noticeably better.

    Since I am suffering from this condition, I have spoken to many people about it and even if not everyone has fully blown symptoms of ES, I have encountered many people who have some of the described symptoms.

    So the problem might lie on a bigger scale than the assumed 3-5% of sufferers worldwide. This is the main reason of me contacting you, as I have the feeling that more awareness needs to be raised, as many many people suffer of a small portion of ES symptoms. Especially prevalent seems the following:

    Most men carry their mobile in their jacket or trousers for easy access. I used to carry mine in my motorbike jacket?s front left pocket. When I stopped doing that the unexplained palpitations I suffered from for 2 years vanished immediately.

    In conversations with friends, colleagues and fellow bikers I heard that many of them experience similar symptoms like pain or tremors in the chest area or what the American media refers to as ?phantom text messages?. Every now and then I?d think I had a text message, when carrying my phone in my trouser pockets, but when I checked there was nothing there.
    According to Swedish scientist and ES expert Olle Johansson this is caused ?by high intensity bursts of extremely-low frequency electromagnetic field charges that your phone is producing and (that are) affecting your nervous system.?

    This seems to affect mainly men, as men are more likely to carry their phone on their body than women, who mainly carry them in their handbags.

    Of course I don?t know, if carrying your mobile is a cause of ES or if these phantom text messages are just another symptom and the causes could lie somewhere else, like problems with your immune system for example, which could to make you more susceptible to all the electromagnetic radiation around us, but in any case I guess it can?t be good to have heart palpitations.

    I know: I have heard every joke about ?vibrating pockets? and have been many times referred to Ben Goldacre?s ?Bad Science? column. There are definitely pseudo-scientists out there making a lot of money from scaremongering, but we have to distinguish between those and the victims in all this.

    Retrospectively I am convinced that my heart palpitations were an early warning sign for what was happening later on. I might have been able to avoid to come to down with electro-sensitivity, if I had known more about it. And believe me: ES is not an easy thing to live with.

    During all this happening I thought for a short period of time, that it might just be my ancient phone causing trouble, so I opted for an iphone, but that just made things far worse, which brings me to another issue of widespread problems nobody seems willing to be talking about.

    Now I know that the radiation emitted from an iphone/ Blackberry is far higher than the one of my old Nokia. (Measured in SAR ratings: iphone a whopping 2.0, the ancient Nokia a mere 0.57) In the US for example the guidelines are much tighter, the iphone on the market there has a lower rating.

    Since then I have spoken to many proud owners of their Powerful 3G Phones.

    Many of them experience sleep problems (most of them seem to wake up in the early hours of the morning (around 4.30 am) and find it difficult to get back to sleep) and/ or feel ill. Even though some of them admitted, that their problems started shortly after acquiring their new gadget, they are of course unwilling to put two and two together. As I was when it all started happening to me.

    Our fast communication tools are just so wonderfully ‘BANNED WORD’, that we are very reluctant to think, there might be a problem.

    And I?m not talking about some weird conspiracy theory. Just the reluctance to let go of something making our lives so much easier. But maybe the price we are all paying on the long run will be too high?
    Even though it should be said, that of course the revenue of the communications industry is vast.

    But smoking used to be a relaxing pastime, didn?t it?

    If you are still sceptical, while reading this, maybe you can suspend your disbelief and convey an easy test: Maybe ask around in your office, if people are experiencing sleep problems and/ or the phantom text messages? Maybe ask willing participants to switch off their mobile and Wifi during the night, remove the DECT phone from the bedroom and not to carry the mobile on their bodies for a period to see if it makes any difference?

    The phones, if kept switched on by your bed (i.e. used as an alarm clock) will not let your brain go into a proper sleep pattern and thus not allowing for your body?s necessary recuperation process to work over night.
    There should be warnings on phones: Do not keep by your bed.
    I am sure that the results of such a test will be very convincing.

    Since all this has happened to me I have spoken to many fellow sufferers, as well. Many people, completely left alone by the NHS, forced to leave their jobs and in some cases even their homes. I am in writing contact with a woman who is now living in a tent, as it is the only place, where she can be symptom free. A desolate and lonely existence.

    The people I have spoken to come from all walks of life: lawyers, bankers, actors, lighting technicians, librarians etc. They all suffer the same symptoms. If they were all hypochondriac, how come they all have the same set of symptoms? Surely this can?t be some sort of mass hallucination or hysteria.
    Even the though numbers are growing ES sufferers and anyone trying to ask for more research are being ridiculed.

    So far research hasn?t come up with any conclusive results, but as a sufferer of ES I know, that has just to do with the fact that the scientists undertaking the trials don?t understand (or worse don?t take it seriously) and so the lab environment is a problem in itself for most sufferers.

    The whole scenario reminds me very much of the case of ME (especially because of some of the similarities in symptoms between the two illnesses). Sufferers of ME were ridiculed for years as having ?yuppie flu?. Maybe there is even a link?

    Other problems to come include the widespread ideas of rolling out wifi over whole cities and the installation of so-called smart-meters, that will send your electricity usage reading wirelessly to the providers.

    I am already scared, how I will be able to live my life and cope at my job with the increasing EMFs and Wifi everywhere.

    Looking back it would have been great, if I had known more about the possible problems of overexposure to modern communication.

    We all should be more careful until it is really proven that there are no dangers involved in using wireless technology to the extent we do at the moment.

    Personally I’m really worried for the future of all my friends and family living in this country. I believe we are sleep walking into a really big problem for our health.

    Please take the time to look at the sites above, and talk to others!

    Recent good article in GQ USA . warning-cell-phone-radiation

    This section is taken from the 3G iphone manual.

    iPhone’s SAR measurement may exceed the FCC exposure guidelines for body-worn operation if positioned less than 15 mm (5/8 inch) from the body (e.g. when carrying iPhone in your pocket). For optimal mobile device performance and to be sure that human exposure to RF energy does not exceed the FCC, IC, and European Union guidelines, always follow these instructions and precautions: When on a call using the built-in audio receiver in iPhone, hold iPhone with the dock connector pointed down toward your shoulder to increase separation from the antenna. When using iPhone near your body for voice calls or for wireless data transmission over a cellular network, keep iPhone at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) away from the body, and only use carrying cases, belt clips, or holders that do not have metal parts and that maintain at least 15 mm (5/8 inch) separation between iPhone and the body.
    If you are still concerned about exposure to RF energy, you can further limit your exposure by limiting the amount of time using iPhone, since time is a factor in how much exposure a person receives, and by placing more distance between your body and iPhone, since exposure level drops off dramatically with distance.

  4. Thanks for copying-and-pasting your comments on this popsci article into my blog – at least I assume they’re your comments. You’ve gone to great length(s) to bring your plight to my attention. I hope readers will scroll down far enough to see my response.

    Let me repeat what I said to Sarah Dacre above: I have every sympathy for the plight of people suffering from symptoms like yours. They are real and cause real distress.

    The fact that medical science cannot explain why you are suffering surely adds insult to injury. However, though you say you experience a correlation between the proximity of radio- or microwave transmitters and your symptoms, that does not prove the symptoms are caused by electromagnetic radiation. In fact everyone who has tried to prove such causation has failed, so until a body of evidence is produced to show otherwise, we must accept that EM radiation is not the cause of your ailments.

    Given this fact, I believe it is irresponsible to scaremonger, for the purpose of selling newspapers, about something so important to our society as the electromagnetic spectrum: radio, television, mobile phones, wi-fi, artificial light, microwave ovens and medical x-rays to name but a few of the benefits. This was the point of my post.

    Similarly, I believe it is immoral to offer false hope to sufferers of unexplained symptoms, such as yourself, on the basis of quackery and for personal gain.

    By the way, Olle Johansson was named “misleader of the year” by the Swedish Skeptics in 1994 in relation to his work on electrosensitivity.

  5. Dear Richard

    Thank you for responding to my post. This is what happened to me, i wish it hadnt, believe me this is not fun to live with. Im trying to keep my business together, which has been rather a learning curve on human nature, or shall we say you get to know who your real friends are!

    As for immoral i rather think thats hard, as it is my account i not selling anything i care that others dont go down what has happened to me.

    I copied it as is rather a lot to rewrite each time, i can only spend a few hours in front of my mac before by face burns, blisters etc, its a great trick!!! All in the mind` of course.

    As for Professor Olle Johansson i feel he is a brave scientist standing up and risking his professionalism against, corporate sponsored scientists who are pro mobile phone and wireless industry. As its always easier to laugh at others with uncomfortable ideas.

    Scientist who think out of the box, and care for sufferers of ES should be helped not ridiculed.

    Just because science has not found a way of testing ES does not mean we are all lying or its just in our minds.

    Like a food allergy not everyone has this problem. But do we ridicule these people?

    For me i believe its to do with the immune system taking a hit, as the trigger for ES
    Similar to “Gulf War syndrome” First time Microwave weapons where used in GW 1 and GW2 makes you think?

    Your body having a allergic reaction to danger.

    Over a period of time you learn to control your bodies reaction to wireless.

    Like when you walk into a room for the first time and you smell something bad, give yourself half a hour, you wont smell it anymore. or very little. The smell is still there.

    Fright and flight.

    I look forward to your reply.

    All the best

    Mr GP

  6. Let me tell you what I believe.

    I believe in science. I trust the scientific method. When I see claims being made that are contradicted by evidence I feel the need to challenge those claims. I get angry when I see people being exploited cynically and for profit by quacks and newspapers.

    I’m disputing neither the existence of your symptoms nor their effects on your life – I’m disputing their cause. When it comes to public information and health policy it doesn’t matter what you believe causes your symptoms. What matters is what actually causes them.

    I know that evidence is not enough to disabuse someone of a belief fervently held. I lament that this fact allows quacks to take advantage of vulnerable people however I see no point in carrying on a protracted debate about science with someone who argues from a position of faith.

  7. You’ve linked to a video of people debating whether heavy use of mobile phones, over a period of decades, increases the likelihood of developing certain kinds of cancer. What does this have to do with “electrosensitivity”?

    I cited Ben Goldacre’s blog in my post. I can’t think of a better reply than the one he gave in the comments thread of that post:

    I made no mention of the entirely separate question of whether electromagnetic fields cause cancer, we could review the evidence on that another time, but your move to conflate this issue with the entirely separate question of “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” is – forgive me – rather woolly thinking.

  8. Richard, reading your own info on this you say:

    “There has only been one published scientific study into RF exposure from WiFi networks.”

    Is this really enough? Is this scientific vigour?

    You also say it would be a luddite victory to ban wifi on the basis of there being no evidence it is dangerous, I think rather that it is the luddite who fails to excercise caution until it is proven safe, there is far more common sense in taking the cautious approach.

    Remember cigarettes? They caused cancer in smokers for a very long time before the ‘scientific’ community openly accepted the connection, in the meantime they were promoted by governments and medical professionals worldwide. Dentists promoted them as ‘healthy’ and governments issued them to the military.

    Remember asbestos? Remember thalidomide? Remember when the earth was flat? Remember when atoms were singular solid entities? Remember when science got it wrong?

    I absolutely support the discouragement of opinionated articles that fail to quote their sources and fail to disclose financial interests, a bit like the comical episode of the climategate scandal, the veracity of the scientific references and failure to consider the broad spectrum of scientific opinion, the lack of alternate conflicting sources considered and quoted, and most importantly the failure to acknowledge the importance of the direct financial interests of the head of that inquiry who happened to be the chairman of two companies who stand to gain unimaginably from carbon based taxation either directly or indirectly.

    It is a fool who suggests that because there is no evidence to prove something is dangerous that it should be accepted that it is not.

    There are scant controlled studies of mobile phone use and physical side effects and there are even fewer on wifi, as far as I am aware there are none on the combined effects of wifi, mobile phones, police broadcast stations, tv, microwave ovens, etc.etc. in combination.

    I for one can pick up 7 wireless connections from my neighbours anywhere in my house or garden(most are finally using security), I have mobile phone mast less than 100 metres away, I have a taxi radio broadcast station less than 100 metres away and I have a police radio mast less than 500 metres away.

    The cumulative effect is the concern, if you isolate any single element I am sure they would be deemed ‘safe’ but in combination – who knows – the fact is we don’t know and that is the concern.

    I absolutely agree that people will and always have suffered from headaches and other vague symptoms now being associated with wifi, I for one get headaches, I put this down to eyestrain and take some brufen but I will still ensure my own wifi is switched off at night and my mobile phone use is as short as practical because I still have no confidence that there is really any proper investigative science into what we are really being subjected to in modern life.

    If anything the anecdotal evidence needs serious consideration and full and proper scrutiny rather than conducting a mass live experiment with the population on the glib assumption that we know all we need to know about the interaction of emf and the human body.

    You may get angry about the acceptance of belief over science but I contend that you do not have sufficient long term scientific research to reach any conclusion at this stage and that your conclusion that wifi is safe is still no more than a belief and not a scientific fact as you appear to be asserting.

  9. @Cotmd

    I’m glad we are united in our condemnation of the exploitation by vested commercial interests of people who self-identify as electrosensitive.

    I think you have misunderstood both scientific method and the precautionary principle. The former says:

    1. Construct a hypothesis.
    2. Conduct experiments to test the hypothesis.

    In this case the hypothesis is that there’s a causal link between the symptoms reported by people who self-identify as being electrosensitive and exposure to electromagnetic radiation.

    There have been at least thirty-seven studies conducted in order to test this hypothesis. All were either negative or flawed in some way. I’ve linked to this body of evidence twice already. Here’s the link again and here’s the relevant section for good measure:

    31 is a good number of studies, and 24 found that electromagnetic fields have no effect. But 7 did find some measurable effect, and because I have a reputation for pedantry to uphold: in 2 of those studies with positive findings, even the original authors have been unable to replicate the results; for the next 3, the results seem to be statistical artefacts (details below); and for the final 2, the positive results are mutually inconsistent (one shows improved mood with provocation, and the other shows worsened mood).

    EDIT March 2007: Another 5 studies have come out since that review was published, all negative.

    EDIT July 2007: A 37th provocation study came out last month. Negative. Same results as all the others.

    The precautionary principle says that,

    if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those who advocate taking the action.

    This principle allows policy makers to make discretionary decisions in situations where there is evidence of potential harm in the absence of complete scientific proof. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.”

    Source: Wikipedia (emphasis mine)

    In other words, correct application of the precautionary principle requires uncertainty, and can be negated by sound evidence that harm will not result.

    I contend that there is no scientific uncertainty about the existence of a causal link between the symptoms of people who describe themselves as electrosensitive and exposure to electromagnetic radiation. The 37 studies to which I have now linked three times were all negative. Therefore there is no uncertainty. Therefore we should not apply the precautionary principle.

    Do not confuse this conclusion with recklessness or incaution. On the contrary I think conducting 37 scientific studies is the very definition of caution. And the conclusion of that cautious approach is that the hypothesis of causation is not supported by the evidence.

    May I recommend this essay by Bruce Schneier on the perils of mis-applying the precautionary principle:

    There’s a certain blindness that comes from worst-case thinking. An extension of the precautionary principle, it involves imagining the worst possible outcome and then acting as if it were a certainty. It substitutes imagination for thinking, speculation for risk analysis, and fear for reason. It fosters powerlessness and vulnerability and magnifies social paralysis.

    [Worst-case thinking] is based on flawed logic. It begs the question by assuming that a proponent of an action must prove that the nightmare scenario is impossible.

    [worst-case thinking] validates ignorance. Instead of focusing on what we know, it focuses on what we don’t know — and what we can imagine.

  10. Dear Richard,

    I have a PhD in electrical engineering. I worked at a multinational electronics company in The Netherlands on the design of integrated circuits (chips) for the newest generation of mobile phones (LTE).

    I worked with a view on transmission tower and right next to a Wi-Fi accespoint. Three years ago.

    I became electrosensitive there.

    My story is translated from Dutch. It is so important. You could be affected too.

    It seems to me that you are a ‘believer’ yourself, regardless of the writing about “scientific methods”. Obviously I fully support these scientific methods. Except for the ‘provocation studies’, which are very damaging to us.

    You are a believer in ‘this cannot be wrong’. Love of technology is making you blind. I have been there and can understand this. Let go of it for a while.

    We need to get the ‘scientific methods’ discussion -which is not relevant here- out of the way. Let me show you some scientific evidence from ‘the other side’. A special issue of Elsevier Pathophysiology, a respected scientific journal, outlining health effects like DNA damage, blood-brain barrier effects etc.:


    Please be so kind to comment on that science too. Please be so kind to read it in the first place.

    I am writing this on my computer although I can only work on it for a few hours until the monitor starts giving me a sharp headache. Just a few years ago, I could work all day and night at the computer without problems. In fact, I happily worked with computers all my life (starting with the Commodore 64 when I was 8 years old). Not anymore now.

    I owned a smartphone, Wii, everything. From 1995 onwards I had a mobile phone, after that one of the first UMTS phones.

    Problems first started with a headache when I sat beside the WiFi router. Afterwards fatigue, nausea, and concentration problems.

    On one location, I would feel those after being there for some hours, and on another location I would not.

    It is important to note that I had already worked there for months without feeling anything. So there seems to be some kind of ‘incubation time’.

    Months later, it got worse and I got the same complaints also from working for on my laptop, and even at ordinary computer monitors. I still have this now after several years.

    You can imagine that it took me months before I even dared to believe it.

    The condition depends on physical condition (sports and relaxing helpt) and the sensitivity varies from day to day. I got much improvement from avoiding Wi-Fi, cordless home phone base stations, and transmission towers (but that’s almost impossible).

    After years of changing my habits, concentration is much improved. Today I feel better (time scale of reaction is slowed) but the impact is still there (frequently light headache), and fatigue. The vulnerability remains. It comes back when I spend days in close vicinty of a Wi-Fi acces point, for example.

    When I switch to another type of monitor (I must have tried 10 by now) first all goes well and then, after some months, I start getting a headache from it.

    The immune system seems to be involved. It’s like an allergy.

    I am 100% sure that you are wrong: these are 100% physiological and not psychological problems.

    Electrosensitives are not wrongly attributing their health problems to wireless and electronic equipment. The electromagnetic fields from the equipment are causing the health problems.

    Well, I am praying for you that you don’t get it yourself.

    This type of discussion makes me mad.

    Now I have to stop because the monitor is giving me a headache.

    For the curious: google “Brian Stein Youtube”

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