By Stephen T. Sinatra, M.D., F.A.C.C., F.A.C.N., C.N.S., C.B.T.
In recent years, concerns have been raised as to why, during the school week, some children experience headaches, skin rashes and insomnia, and experience relief of these symptoms over the weekend and during school vacations. Could it be that these kids have developed an unusual allergy to their teachers or to the food at school? Or, more likely, are they the proverbial canaries in the coalmine, alerting us to a potential health danger that we all may be vulnerable to in time?
The Safe Schools Committee, a group established by the Elementary Teachers Association of Ontario, has positioned that the use of wireless internet (“WiFi”) in classrooms poses potential health dangers and is behind these mystery ailments. Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health disagrees, and has stated that WiFi does not pose any threat to children at schools. Many parents and teachers throughout Canada, Europe and the U.S., questioning the absolute safety of wireless technologies despite assurances from various authorities, have attempted to ban WiFi from classrooms, some successfully. Maybe these concerned parents and teachers have read the scientific literature out there that demonstrates the distinct possibility of adverse health effects associated with over-exposure to electromagnetic radiofrequency (RF) radiation.
In response to the controversy surrounding the issue of whether WiFi can cause health problems, some school leaders have taken proactive, preventative steps to protect students and teachers, and have replaced the WiFi in classrooms with Ethernet connections. Kristin Cassie, principal of an independent school in British Columbia, Canada, announced her decision in late 2010 to remove all wireless technology from the school and ban use of cell phones from the building. “The health and safety of our children is a non-negotiable responsibility,” she stated.
In 2011, Principal Roberta Murray-Hurst of Pretty River Academy in Ontario, a private school for students attending kindergarten through twelfth grade, followed suit. Although she did not receive health complaints from students or their parents, Murray-Hurst decided to take the precautionary approach in light of the possibility that WiFi in the classroom may endanger the health of children and teachers. She also noted that the new wired connections are faster than the system used previously, and that teachers can control when kids go online – an aspect which may provide the most practical reason to switch back to wired internet… in a classroom where students surf online during class, the potential for distraction can outweigh the convenience of WiFi.
Possible risk of health effects caused by exposure to WiFi emissions throughout the school day is a less obvious downside to having WiFi in classrooms. Adults who have reported experiencing adverse health effects when exposed to the kind of radiation emitted though WiFi use are labeled “electrohypersensitive,” and children’s complaints have been misinterpreted as excuses to get out of going to school.
However, despite lack of official agreement on the issue, the reality exists that convenient new wireless technologies, untested for their long-term safety, may be hazardous to health. In 2007, 14 international scientists, and public health and public policy officials published the lengthy Bioinitiative Report, an assessment of scientific evidence on health impacts of exposure to electromagnetic radiation that is below current limits and an evaluation of how current limits should be changed to reduce possible public health risks. The report prompted authorities in Europe to start limiting public exposure to the radiofrequency radiation emitted by cell phones and WiFi, and has resulted in the banning or recommended banning of WiFi in schools. In September 2009, various experts addressed the U.S. Senate with concerns about wireless radiation, providing a wake-up call to the American public about the potential dangers associated with the recent explosion of wireless technology use.
Recently, these possible dangers became more widely publicized; in May 2011, a panel of experts at the World Health Organization (WHO) issued a press release stating its decision to classify radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, i.e. those emitted by cell phones and WiFi, as possible human carcinogens; DDT, dry cleaning chemicals, lead, pesticides, and engine exhaust are among other agents the WHO categorized as such.
As information continues to permeate the Internet, TV and newspapers about potential health dangers associated with unlimited use of cell phones and WiFi, the number of people who want to do something about it before they or their children risk becoming the statistics that prove these health dangers is growing. As we all know, though, actions speak louder than words: the precautionary approach adopted by the school principals in Canada and the school officials in Europe speaks volumes. In the face of uncertainty, especially where children are concerned, aren’t small changes, like switching back to wired Internet connections and limiting children’s cell phone usage, clearly smarter options?
References and Additional Resources:
- “Ontario school cuts WiFi over safety concerns.” Ctvtoronto.ca, Sept. 8, 2011.
- The Canadian Press. “Ont. Parents Suspect WiFi Making Kids Sick.” Cbcnews.com, Aug. 16, 2010.
- Sinatra, Stephen T. “Wireless Radiation – A Cardiac Risk Factor?” Lecture at Total Health 11 Convention at the Toronto Convention Center, April 9, 2011.
- Parker-Pope, Tara. “Cell Phone Radiation May Cause Cancer, Advisory Panel Says.” NYTimes.com, May 31, 2011.
- WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer press release. “IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans,”IARC.fr, May 31, 2011.
- WHO International Agency for Research on Cancer. “Agents Classified by the IARC Monographs, Volumes 1 – 102.” IARC.org, accessed Sept. 14, 2011.
- The Bioinitiative Report
© 2011 HeartMD Institute. All rights reserved.