Last week, I was a member of a 4-person panel discussion on the Health Effects of RFR at the Wireless Cities Summit held in Toronto. Robert Bradley (Health Canada), Ronald MacFarlane (City of Toronto Health), and Fred Gilbert (President of Lakehead University) were the other three panelists. Three articles were published on what happened during the panel discussion and the following Q&A period.
They have a different slant on the panel discussion. Two covered what happened accurately except for misstating “radio wave sickness” as “radar sickness”. The third totally misrepresented what we said. It is an excellent example of how to twist the truth. Think I’ll use it in my Environmental Communication class and/or my BEEF class.
Can you guess which one misrepresented what we said?
Wireless network called safe, but some experts have doubts
Toronto board of health says Wi-Fi zone radio-emissions do not pose a health risk
January 25, 2007
Business Reporter, The Toronto STAR
The city’s board of health says Toronto Hydro’s new wireless Wi-Fi zone doesn’t pose a health risk to workers and visitors in the downtown core, though some experts continue to express doubts.
Ronald Macfarlane, supervisor of environmental health assessment and policy at Toronto Public Health, told a gathering yesterday at the two-day Wireless Cities Summit that radio-frequency emissions from the utility’s five-month-old network meet the city’s strict exposure guidelines.
The guidelines, 100 times more restrictive than Industry Canada’s standard, were established in 1999 after concerns were raised about the placement of cellphone towers.
Macfarlane said uncertainty regarding the potential health effects from such exposure, ranging from sleep disorders to tumour development, convinced the health department to err on the side of caution by developing a “prudent avoidance” policy.
He added that the cumulative impact of long-term exposure from all commercial wireless services is still a concern and that the city’s medical officer of health is expected to submit a report on the issue later this year.
Toronto Hydro’s network, called One Zone, was launched last September as part of a free trial, but customers will be required to pay come March. The high-speed service can be used to surf the Web, make Internet phone calls and access applications such as email almost anywhere downtown.
Macfarlane was speaking as part of a panel that included Lakehead University president Fred Gilbert, who made international headlines last year after he banned the institution from installing a campus-wide Wi-Fi “hotspot.”
Gilbert told the audience that the public’s exposure today to wireless and other forms of man-made radiation is an “order of magnitude” higher than previous generations.
He said the majority of studies he has looked at show that exposure to cellphone and related signals causes biological effects with the potential to affect health, though no link has been proven.
That potential, he said, is good reason for caution.
“We’re dealing with a technology that has tremendous momentum,” Gilbert said. “People should be given a choice. We’re talking about ubiquitous exposure to these signals, whether we like it or not.”
Magda Havas, an associate professor at Trent University, said exponential exposure to electrical and electromagnetic signals is causing certain people to get sick from a condition called electrosensitivity.
But Robert Bradley, of Health Canada’s radiation protection bureau, emphasized that current federal standards are safe and based on sound science, though he said the bureau is awaiting release this year of an international package of studies that addresses long-term wireless radiation effects.
Canadian cities warned: Watch for Wi-Fi health risks
A conference on municipal mobility revives the debate around radiation coming out of hotspots. Experts consider whether the industry is ignoring another “inconvenient truth”
1/25/2007 4:50:00 PM
by Kathleen Sibley
TORONTO — Instead of trumpeting free Wi-Fi zones, municipalities should post signs advising citizens of the locations of Wi-Fi-free zones, said the president of Lakehead University at this week’s Wireless Cities Summit.
“People should be given a choice,” said Fred Gilbert. “We’re talking about ubiquitous deployment of wireless. We’re talking about exposure whether you want it or not.”
Gilbert spoke on the panel with a Trent University professor, a Health Canada director and a supervisor from Toronto Public Health on a topic that differed radically from other presentations at the summit, most of which focused on how to build and fund municipal wireless networks, how to maximize political support for them and how to ensure a return on investment.
He warned there are other considerations beyond convenience and cost to take into account when contemplating implementing a municipal wireless network.
“There is the potential for future class action suits against the municipalities that have made the decision to deploy a technology that may in the future be determined to have detrimental biological consequences,” said Gilbert. “All we need to do is look at the analogues (such as smoking and asbestos exposure) and you understand what that means both to the politicians that have made those decisions and to the (companies) with which they have made those decisions.
“My advice is the cities that are deploying Wi-Fi should at a minimum acknowledge that there is a reference base related to potential health effects and provide Wi-Fi-free zones. Such areas should be posted and the hotspots identified. This is the only way to give freedom of choice.”
Gilbert’s name made the news across Canada and around the world last year when he responded to a student’s queries as to why Lakehead would not offer wireless on campus. His answer then was the same as it is now: because it’s not necessary, and exposure to electrical and magnetic fields could pose a health risk to students and staff. And until there’s conclusive evidence stating otherwise – or mitigating technologies emerge – that’s the way it will stay.
Lakehead, he said, is a highly advanced institution when it comes to technology. It was among the first to deploy voice over IP and still serves as an alpha site for Nortel, he said. It’s home to an enhanced learning environment with a virtual reality lab, and is connected to Ontario’s high-speed research networks via fibre optics.
“Our students have over 8,000 access points that allow them to connect to that pipe,” he said. “There are issues with security, speed and cost with going to a wireless network, but we felt the overriding component of this was because there are potential health impacts we felt we should be employing a precautionary principle with respect to this technology on our campus. We view the technology as a convenience, not a necessity on our campus.”
His viewpoint was backed up by Magda Havas, an associate professor in Trent’s environmental and resource sciences, who outlined a host of studies conducted over the years that point to at the very least increased electrical sensitivity among people exposed to electrical emissions, particularly those generated by cell phones and cell towers, and brain tumours and birth defects at the other end of the impact spectrum.
Referring to Al Gore’s recent documentary on global warming titled An Inconvenient Truth, Havas said research points to “another inconvenient truth and it’s about our exposure to radiation. I think if there’s any myth, it’s that this technology is completely safe.”
Humans have been exposed to radio frequency emissions since the early 1900s, she said. “When radar was first invented in World War ll we found many radar workers came down with radar sickness, which is what we would now classify as electrosensitivity.”
Havas also argued Canadian standards determining safe levels of exposure to electrical and magnetic fields are too lax.
But Robert Bradley, director of consumer and clinical radiation protection at Health Canada, disagreed.
“The documents we’ve produced are well founded,” he said. “They deal with the full body of research that goes back quite a number of years.
“The bottom line is at this point in time, the body of science does not support the issue of health effects related to wireless communication devices, and as long as the networks and the devices respect the standards of Industry Canada, there should be no negative effects.”
At the same time, though, he said, “Where there are suspicions or ongoing research it is prudent to keep an eye on them. You don’t want to put anyone at undue risk, so where you have choices, apply them.”
That’s the City of Toronto’s policy, said Ronald Macfarlane, supervisor, environmental health assessment and policy in Toronto Public Health. Macfarlane said the city has had a policy of prudent avoidance with respect to cell phone towers since 1999.
TPH was asked when Toronto Hydro announced its plans to build a Wi-Fi network in downtown Toronto whether or not the public health body would have a concern, he said. Its research indicated that would not be an issue.
“We feel it is not necessary to take additional measures to limit exposures,” said Macfarlane. “I hoped to have a report finished that could have addressed Wi-Fi specifically because we have been asked to do that and also to report back on the community impact. We are in the process of reviewing the health evidence since 1999 when we developed the policy of prudent avoidance, and we have also been asked to consider the increased exposure due to the proliferation of wireless devices.
“It is true when we look at overall exposures radio and TV are still the biggest exposures in our community, but the others are becoming more and more important.”
Despite Havas’ litany of research pointing to the evils of electrical fields exposure, audience members weren’t so easily convinced. Given that all the research was related to exposure to cell phones, rather than wireless networks, asked one audience member, shouldn’t the concerns be focused on the health impacts of cell phone use?
“I don’t think anyone’s going to deny the difference in the strength of radiation, but the critical thing is not that there’s 100 times difference between the two,” said Gilbert. “The critical thing is the biological effects – that doesn’t mean there isn’t a biological effect with Wi-Fi.”
Havas agreed. “There has been very little research on the effects of Wi-Fi because it hasn’t been around long enough, so we have to look at technology that is similar to give us the answers as to how concerned we should be about the effects of this technology,” she said.
At the same, time, though, she added, she’s not advocating banning the technology – just limiting on its uses.
“When we first discovered X-rays … they were also used to discover whether a child’s shoes fit properly,” she said. “That was a very inappropriate use. What I’m suggesting is this technology is not going to go away. I’m recommending we use it for essential uses for things like police and ambulance services, but not to have young children sitting for hours on wireless computers or cell phones.”
Lakehead Dumbhead Resurfaces
By Glenn Fleishman
The president of Lakehead University spreads poor information disguised as prudence: In Toronto, at the Wireless Cities Summit, Lakehead president Fred Gilbert repeated the bad science that led him to block wireless networks from being used at his university. On the panel with him was Magda Havas, who is an associate professor at Trent University, and another person who plays fast and loose with microwave studies. Gilbert is quoted as saying, “there are potential health impacts we felt we should be employing a precautionary principle with respect to this technology on our campus.” Which is fine if there were a shred of evidence to back that view.
To see how specious Havas’s reasoning is, here’s her explanation of an earlier problem with microwaves: “When radar was first invented in World War ll we found many radar workers came down with radar sickness, which is what we would now classify as electrosensitivity.” Which is totally incorrect. Electrosensitivity, which one study recently showed was non-existent in their testing, has been primarily used to refer to a reaction that some individuals have to electromagnetic fields that contain energy far below the threshold of affecting human tissues or nerves.
Radar sickness—I can’t find citations for this precise term related to WWII—could have been the result of exposure to massive amounts of microwave radiation, which is a known problem. In fact, I advise that no one stand near active Wi-Fi or wireless transmitters that use high-gain antennas. These are typically mounted on towers and rooftops, and there’s a body of research that shows that at certain thresholds, you can get cellular disruption and long-term health problems. But those levels are well characterized and several orders of magnitude above Wi-Fi and cell phone output. The only study I could find looked at Korean War radar technicians, who had below-average mortality compared to control subjects. (Another reference to radar sickness I find refers to illnesses caused by handling or being near radioactive elements used in Cold War radar installations.)
Havas later compares Wi-Fi use to the use of X-rays to determine a child’s shoe fitting as an analogy—the radiation type is vastly different in effect—but it shows her intent to conflate.
Gilbert demonstrated more specious, non-empirical logic when asked by an audience member why, if the studies are all about cell phones, shouldn’t the focus be on cell phones? Gilbert responded that “the critical thing is not that there’s 100 times difference between the two. The critical thing is the biological effects.” Which would mean he believes that there’s a magical, perhaps homeopathic property in electromagnetic radiation that affects people regardless of whether the energy passing through someone is below the level necessary to shunt electrons out of their paths.
Havas backs up Gilbert by noting, “There has been very little research on the effects of Wi-Fi because it hasn’t been around long enough, so we have to look at technology that is similar to give us the answers as to how concerned we should be about the effects of this technology.” Right. And we can extrapolate based on two facts: First, that there are no credible cell phone studies that show long-term or short-term health effects; and second, that Wi-Fi operates at levels far below cell phones, and at greater distances, further reducing any potential effect.
Now before you say—wait, what about that new glioma study that was covered today? Let me stop you. That study, which involved subjects with particular cancers matched against control subjects, and relying on retrospective data (relying on recollection, to boot) can’t hold a candle to the other recent study that looked at actual cell phone bills for calling behavior, and had 425,000 subjects with 56,000 using a cell phone for 10 years or more.
As noted in other studies, relying on recollections for sidedness in cell phone use is invariably biased by the subject, suffering from cancer as they are, being more likely to associate the side with the tumor with the side they formerly favored.
Posted by Glennf at January 26, 2007 11:38 AMLeave a reply →