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WI-FI IN THE CLASSROOM: HEALTH ADVICE TO SCHOOLS
Advice to schools prepared by PAT member Michael Bevington of Stowe School
Until further research has been undertaken into the health effects of wi-fi, especially on children, it is recommended that it should not be used in schools. Studies of similar types of radiation, both epidemiological and mechanistic, over several decades have shown serious health effects on the general population.
2. Schools with wi-fi in classrooms already
Where it is impossible to switch from wireless to cabled networking immediately, the following actions are recommended.
(a) Measure the levels of radiation
The strength of radiation in a classroom will vary according to the relative position of laptops and transmitting nodes. Emissions can reflect off surfaces or pass straight through walls to create particular hot-spots. Once measurements have been taken it should be possible to reduce hot-spots by moving the location of and/or turning down appropriate transmitters/nodes. Records of measurements (peak pulses) and changes should be kept.
(b) Sign the radiation areas
Pupils, staff and visitors sensitive to electro-magnetic radiation should be made aware of which classrooms and areas have wi-fi. A delineated map of the school is usually helpful.
(c) Make provision for sensitive pupils and staff
Pupils and staff sensitive to electro-magnetic radiation should be able to use cabled network connections and be shielded from wi-fi radiation.
(d) Train staff in observing warning signs of sensitivity
Some pupils and staff are likely to become increasingly sensitised to electromagnetic radiation (EMR), given the cumulative and chronic nature of effects resulting from exposure to it. Staff should therefore be alerted to symptoms typically induced by exposure to EMR, such as headaches, dizziness, pains in the skin and muscles, asthmatic conditions, concentration and memory problems, sleeplessness and fatigue. Medical help should be sought when such symptoms seem to relate to exposure to EMR and the pupil or teacher should be removed from the source of EMR. This is of crucial importance in preventing the development of the debilitating condition of Electro-Hyper-Sensitivity, for which there is no cure at present.
(e) Inform parents
Literature for parents should explain the school’s policy on wi-fi. Arrangements should be made for children to be kept away from exposure to wi-fi EMR at parents’ request.
(f) Check insurance
Some concerns have been raised as to whether liability to the known health effects of EMR exposure is covered by all forms of educational insurance.
3. Schools which do not have wi-fi in classrooms
Schools which do not have wi-fi (wLAN) in their classrooms should adopt a precautionary approach, such as that advocated for children with regard to exposure from radiation by mobile phones. This requires that no child under the age of 8 should be exposed to wi-fi electro-magnetic radiation. Older children should be exposed only in an emergency. It should be noted that some European countries use the age of 16 rather than 8. The consequence of such a precautionary approach is that wi-fi is inappropriate for infant, primary and most secondary schools or colleges. Use and exposure in secondary schools could depend on pupil age but, to avoid known health risks, a wired solution is highly preferable. Where pupils are under 18, schools and parents should see their duty of care as protecting children from avoidable radiation.
1. Health studies
Health studies on specifically wi-fi radiation have not yet been made, but the pulsed microwaves used are similar to those for mobile phones and seem to have similar health effects to other forms of EMR. These have been studied for the general population but not often specifically as regards children. The Schwarzenburg study (1995) showed among the general population health problems with concentration, fatigue, sleep, depression and cardiovascular conditions, all typical symptoms of sensitivity to EMR, at EMR exposures down to 0.05 V/m. The Oberfranken study (2005) showed typical sensitivity symptoms in 30% of people at under 0.06 V/m, and 95% in the range 0.2 – 0.6 V/m. The Naila study (2004) showed that cancer rates are trebled within 400 metres of a mobile phone mast at 0.6 V/m in a dose-response relationship after 5 years’ exposure, and the Netanya study (2004) showed female cancers increased ten times within 350 metres of a mast.
2. Radiation intensity
A laptop (100 or 200 mW wLAN cards) can emit radiation with electric fields of 4.0 - 6.0 V/m at its transmitter, 1.1 - 4.9 V/m at 50 cm, a typical sitting distance, and 0.7 - 2.8 V/m at 1 m. In a classroom with 30 laptops transmitting, the electric field could be greater. In comparison, mobile phones can reduce their emissions during a call down to about 0.0002 V/m. Even so, some studies suggest that mobile phone use can determine the side of the head in which tumours can appear after 10 years.
Much of the damage from low levels of EMR to human cell tissue appears to be cumulative and thus the symptoms may not be felt for many years. A child’s cell tissues in the head are said to absorb 60% more radiation from a mobile phone than an adult’s. Wi-fi radiation affects the whole body surface and not just the head. Since the development of digital transmissions, the number of people becoming sensitised to EMR has grown rapidly. Although it is likely that all human beings are subconsciously sensitive, in that the existing electrical fields within their cell tissues are influenced by external fields, most humans are not yet aware of how the typical sensitivity symptoms relate to exposure from EMR. In Sweden about 3.1% of the population may suffer from Electro-Hyper-Sensitivity.
(a) Thermal (heating)
UK government guidelines on limits (41 V/m at 2.4 GHz) are only to avoidheating human tissue more than 1 degree, based on the Specific Energy Absorption Rate (SAR).
(b) Non- thermal (below heating levels)
Salzburg sets the non-thermal indoor limit at 0.02 V/m (peak pulse). This is to help protect people from non-thermal or bioelectromagnetic effects of EMR, such as DNA damage, cancer growth, and fertility and neurological problems. Salzburg’s Public Health Department warns against wireless systems and DECT phones in schools and nurseries. The UK does not have any non thermal guidelines.
(c) Peak pulse measurements
Many scientists think the peak level of the radiation pulses is particularly dangerous. For wLAN (wi-fi), the difference between the base and peak levels is 1,000 times (DECT phones: 100 times) of the power flux density. Therefore measuring the average level or the root mean square (RMS) is inadequate.
5. Measurements at a Norwich school on a Panorama programme (BBC1,21.5.07)
(a) 100 m from the phone mast: peak readings of 0.7 V/m
(b) 50 cm from the laptop: peak readings of 1.7 V/m
using a Gigahertz HF59B broadband HF analyser.
References for note 1: Schwarzenburg study, Switzerland: Abelin, T. et al., ‘Study of health effects of the Shortwave Transmitter Station of Schwarzenburg, Berne, Switzerland,’ University of Berne, Institute for Social and Preventative Medicine, Bundesamt für Energiewirtschaft Schriftenreihe Studie, 56, 1995.
Oberfranken study, Germany: Bamberg doctors’ Report and Appeal, based on records of 357 patients, 2005.
Naila study, Germany: Eger, H. et al., ‘The Influence of Being Physically Near to a Cell Phone Transmission Mast on the Incidence of Cancer’, Umwelt·Medizin·Gesellschaft, 17.4, 2004.
Netanya study, Israel: Wolf, D. & Wolf, D., ‘Increased Incidence of Cancer near a Cell-Phone Transmitter Station’, International Journal of Cancer Prevention, 1(2), April 2004.
Some other studies:
La Nšora, Mercia, Spain: Navarro, E. A., et al., ‘The microwave syndrome: a preliminary study in Spain’, Electromagnetic Biology & Medicine, 22 (2 & 3), 2003, 161-169; Oberfeld, G., et al., ‘The microwave syndrome – Further Aspects of a Spanish Study’, International Conference Proceedings, Greece, 2004.
French study: Santini, ‘Study of the health of people living in the vicinity of mobile phone base stations,’ Pathologie Biologie (Paris), 50 (2002), 369-373. Skrunda study, Latvia: Kolodynski, A. & Kolodynska, V., ‘Motor and psychological functions of school children living in the area of the Skrunda Radio Location Station in Latvia,’ The Science of the Total Environment, 180, 88-93, Elsevier, 1996.