B.C. mother challenges safety of Wi-Fi in schools
By Lena Sin, Vancouver ProvinceMay 9, 2009
VANCOUVER — Una St. Clair-Moniz doesn’t want her children exposed all day to radiation emitted from wireless Internet networks used in schools.
The mother of two is among a group of Langley, B.C. parents calling for schools to err on the side of caution in the face of scientific studies that question the safety of Wi-Fi networks.
Langley is just southeast of Vancouver.
St. Clair-Moniz is now pushing for her children’s school, Langley Fine Arts School, to abandon its plans to install Wi-Fi, and stick to the old-fashioned way of using hard wires to access the Internet, instead.
“Parents are not being given any prior information of the potential risks, and they’re not being asked: Is this OK?” she said. “There’s no informed consent.”
St. Clair-Moniz has started a petition with about 60 names signed so far.
The Langley mother has also contacted scientists for their opinions and asked if they would publicly share their concerns.
Among those who agreed was Magda Havas, a professor of Environmental and Resource Studies at Ontario’s Trent University, who wrote an open letter urging school boards to refrain from installing Wi-Fi networks in schools.
At issue is that it’s still not known what health effects are possible due to exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emitted through wireless technologies and devices such as Wi-Fi networks and cellphones.
Havas said it’s irresponsible to expose children — who are more sensitive to radiation emissions— when studies show exposure can be dangerous.
The health risks include: increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier, increased calcium flux, increase in cancer, and induced stress proteins and nerve damage, said Havas.
Henry Lai, a bioengineering professor at the University of Washington, said recent studies have suggested exposure at even low levels may lead to brain cell and DNA damage.
He added that many of the studies on the risk of EMR exposure are short-term.
“We don’t have (many) studies on long-term effects. We don’t have enough data to say it’s safe,” said Lai, who was among 14 scientists who worked on the BioInitiave Report about exposure to electromagnetic radiation.
Craig Spence, communications manager for the Langley School District, said the district is considering the concerns raised by St. Clair-Moniz.
However, Spence said the school board must also give weight to guidance from Health Canada and Industry Canada.
Health Canada maintains the government’s limits of human exposure to electromagnetic fields and radio frequency radiation, set in 1999, adequately protect Canadians, including children.
Yet Canada is increasingly at odds with a growing number of countries concerned about possible health risks.
Last month, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to push for tougher regulations to keep cellphone towers and other electromagnetic-emitting devices away from schools, and to limit cellphone use for children and teens because of the “continuing uncertainties about the possible health risks.”
Also last month, teachers in Britain appealed for a suspension of Wi-Fi networks in schools until it could be proved the technology doesn’t harm children.
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Open Letter to Parents, Teachers, School Boards, Regarding Wi-Fi Networks in Schools
Dr. Magda Havas, B.Sc., Ph.D.
Environmental & Resource Studies, Trent University, Peterborough, ON, Canada
phone: (705) 748-1011 x7882 fax: (705) 748-1569 email: email@example.com
May 5, 2009.
I am a scientist who does research on the health effects of electromagnetic radiation and I am becoming increasingly concerned that a growing number of schools are installing WiFi networks and are making their school grounds available for cell phone antennas.
You will be told by both the federal government (Health Canada and Industry Canada) as well as by the Wi-Fi provider that this technology is safe provided that exposures to radio frequency radiation remain below federal guidelines.
This information is outdated and incorrect based on the growing number of scientific publications that are reporting adverse health and biological effects below our Safety Code 6 guidelines (see www.bioiniative.org) and the growing number of scientific and medical organizations that are asking for stricter guidelines to be enforced.
For these reasons it is irresponsible to introduce Wi-Fi microwave radiation into a school environment where young children spend hours each day.
1. GUIDELINES: Guidelines for microwave radiation (which is what is used in Wi-Fi) range 5 orders of magnitude in countries around the world. The lowest guidelines are in Salzburg Austria and now in Liechtenstein. The guideline in these countries is 0.1 microW/cm2. See short video
In Switzerland the guideline is 1 and in Canada it is 1000 microW/cm2!
Why does Canada have guidelines that are so much higher than other countries? Canada’s guidelines are based on a short-term (6-minute) heating effect. It is assumed that if this radiation does not heat your tissue it is “safe”. This is not correct. Effects are documented at levels well below those that are able to heat body tissue. See attached report: Analysis of Health and Environmental Effects of Proposed San Francisco Earthlink Wi-Fi Network (2007). These biological effects include increased permeability of the blood brain barrier, increased calcium flux, increase in cancer and DNA breaks, induced stress proteins, and nerve damage. Exposure to this energy is associated with altered white blood cells in school children; childhood leukemia; impaired motor function, reaction time, and memory; headaches, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, and insomnia.
2. ELECTRO-HYPER-SENSITIVITY: A growing population is adversely affected by these electromagnetic frequencies. The illness is referred to as “electro-hyper-sensitivity” (EHS) and is recognized as a disability in Sweden. The World Health Organization defines EHS as:
“… a phenomenon where individuals experience adverse health effects while using or being in the vicinity of devices emanating electric, magnetic, or electromagnetic fields (EMFs). . . EHS is a real and sometimes a debilitating problem for the affected persons, while the level of EMF in their neighborhood is no greater than is encountered in normal living environments. Their exposures are generally several orders of magnitude under the limits in internationally accepted standards. “
Health Canada acknowledges in their Safety Code 6 guideline that some people are more sensitive to this form of energy but they have yet to address this by revising their guidelines.
Symptoms of EHS include sleep disturbance, fatigue, pain, nausea, skin disorders, problems with eyes and ears (tinnitus), dizziness, etc. It is estimated that 3% of the population are severely affected and another 35% have moderate symptoms. Prolonged exposure may be related to sensitivity and for this reason it is imperative that children’s exposure to microwave radiation (Wi-Fi and mobile phones) be minimized as much as possible.
3. CHILDREN’S SENSITIVITY: Children are more sensitive to environmental contaminants and that includes microwave radiation. The Stewart Report (2000) recommended that children not use cell phones except for emergencies. The cell phone exposes your head to microwave radiation. A wireless computer (Wi-Fi) exposes your entire upper body and if you have the computer on your lap it exposes your reproductive organs as well. Certainly this is not desirable, especially for younger children and teenagers. For this reason we need to discourage the use of wireless technology by children, especially in elementary schools. That does not mean that students cannot go on the Internet. It simply means that access to the Internet needs to be through wires rather than through the air (wireless, Wi-Fi).
4. REMOVAL OF WI-FI: Most people do not want to live near either cell phone antennas or Wi-Fi antennas because of health concerns. Yet when Wi-Fi (wireless routers) are used inside buildings it is similar to the antenna being inside the building rather than outside and is potentially much worse with respect to exposure since you are closer to the source of emission.
Libraries in France are removing Wi-Fi because of concern from both the scientific community and their employees and patrons.
The Vancouver School Board (VSB) passed a resolution in January 2005 that prohibits construction of cellular antennas within 1000 feet (305 m) from school property.
Palm Beach, Florida, Los Angeles, California, and New Zealand have all prohibited cell phone base stations and antennas near schools due to safety concerns. The decision not to place cell antennas near schools is based on the likelihood that children are more susceptible to this form of radiation. Clearly if we do not want antennas “near” schools”, we certainly do not want antennas “inside” schools! The safest route is to have wired internet access rather than wireless. While this is the more costly alternative in the short-term it is the least costly alternative in the long run if we factor in the cost of ill health of both teachers and students.
5. ADVISORIES: Advisories to limit cell phone use have been issued by the various countries and organizations including the UK (2000), Germany (2007), France, Russia, India, Belgium (2008) as well as the Toronto Board of Health (July 2008) and the Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (July 2008). While these advisories relate to cell phone use, they apply to Wi-Fi exposure as well since both use microwave radiation. If anything, Wi-Fi computers expose more of the body to this radiation than do cell phones.
6. PRECAUTIONARY PRINCIPLE: Even those who do not “accept” the science showing adverse biological effects of microwave exposure should recognize the need to be careful with the health of children. For this reason we have the Precautionary Principle, which states:
In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capability. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost effective measures to prevent environmental degradation.
In this case “States” refers to the School Board and those who make decisions about the health of children.
The two most important environments in a child’s life are the home (especially the bedroom) and the school. For this reason it is imperative that these environments remain as safe as possible. If we are to err, please let us err on the side of caution.
Dr. Magda Havas,
May 5, 2009