Waves of uncertainty over wi-fi
The Dominion Post New Zealand:
Last updated 10:10 29/03/2014
After thousands of studies, the most that experts worldwide can determine is the radiation used for wi-fi networks, digital devices, cordless phones and cell phones is a “possible” cause of cancer. With such uncertainty, OLIVIA WANNAN asks if we are using this technology with enough caution.
As in many countries around the world, the debate about long- wave radiation has come to a head in New Zealand through the recent introduction of wi-fi networks in schools.
The energy waves have been harnessed for more than a century to bring radio and television to our home, track objects by radar, microwave our food, and connect us through texts, phone calls and the internet.
Yet the World Health Organisation lists this radiation as a “possible” cause of cancer, based on research showing a link between heavy cellphone use and an increased risk of developing brain tumours.
Kapiti Coast parent Damon Wyman is a vocal advocate for caution. He became aware of the possible health effects of wireless technology after losing his son Ethan, 10, to cancer last August.
Ethan died 11 months after being diagnosed with two brain tumours. Three months earlier, he had been given a wi-fi connected iPad.
His parents later discovered he had been falling asleep with the device under his pillow.
Even though it was on standby, it was still emitting bursts of radiation as it tried to connect to the router, Mr Wyman said.
Doctors who saw Ethan said the tumours appeared to be about four months old, Mr Wyman said. “We’re not saying that caused it, but it seems like a bit of a coincidence.”
Children were rarely exposed to most of the other potential cancer- causing agents such as coffee and lead, Mr Wyman said.
Until recently, parents could limit exposure to the energy waves, deciding what age their child received a cellphone or digital device and setting restrictions on their use. But new bring-your-own-device initiatives introducing wireless networks running all day in school classrooms had suddenly taken away that control.
“Schools have to be neutral. They have to have a safe environment,” he said.
Mr Wyman has campaigned to have the technology turned off in the junior classrooms at Te Horo School. The board of trustees decided to switch it off after surveying parents, who were concerned about the possible health effects.
This month the Government reiterated its belief that wi-fi in schools was safe, backed by the result of a study at Te Horo School and one in Canterbury.
Associate Health Minister Jo Goodhew said the study confirmed wi-fi in schools was not a health risk to pupils or staff, with exposures thousands of times lower than recommended levels.
Mr Wyman remains sceptical.
He said many parents falsely believed a classroom’s wi-fi station emitted no more radiation than an at-home router. But new school wi- fi systems were “industrial- grade”, emitting a lot more than a residential version. Professional measurements of the classroom’s wi-fi station at Te Horo School showed similar radiation levels to those of some commercial cellphone network towers.
“This goes way beyond what a child would see normally.”
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