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    Legal and Public Health Problems of the Wireless Age

    Fron Karla MacErlane

    Consumer Law & Policy Blog
    Monday, September 08, 2014
    Legal and Public Health Problems of the Wireless Age

    Guest post by Deborah Kopald

    [Deborah Kopald (BA, Harvard; MBA, MIT Sloan School of Management) is an environmental health and public policy consultant and author who has developed and overseen the passage of legislative initiatives and has served as a guest expert at various media outlets. In 2013, she organized and moderated The Conference on Corporate Interference with Science and Health in New York City. The conference proceedings were published in Reviews on Environmental Health.]

    The use of Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies has created problems. “An Open Letter to Phillips Exeter Academy about Wi-Fi”, which I wrote to my alma mater, details the public health problem Wi-Fi has created and some legal ramifications of its use.

    Some people who lived too close to TV broadcast and radar towers developed symptoms of Microwave Sickness, a condition observed in military and industrial occupational settings during the Cold War. The next wave of microwave-emitting infrastructure, cell towers, lived up to the billing of their military and industry-owned cousins with subsequent studies (none were commissioned in the United States) showing elevated numbers of people within 1,500 feet experiencing symptoms of Microwave Sickness. (Twenty-one years ago, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) had recommended siting towers away from schools and hospitals; some municipalities used their zoning rights under the 1996 Telecom Act to create setbacks from these institutions as well as residences, places of worship and recreation areas in the name of protecting property values.)

    Today, Microwave Sickness is known as Electro-hypersensitivity (EHS). Symptoms can include but are not limited to extreme pounding headaches, blood pressure and heart rate changes, and muscular weakness in the presence of Wi-Fi and commensurate exposures. In Sweden, the government acknowledges that the problem, which it terms a functional impairment, is affecting 3% of its population and provides accommodation in the form of hospitals without Wi-Fi, wireless-free transport, schools and workplaces and wired and shielded housing to accommodate people.

    Microwave Sickness accelerated as warnings and recommendations were ignored and transmitters were placed closer to living and working environments; radiation exposure is driven more by proximity to the transmitter than by its total power output which is why a Wi-Fi”ed area can expose people to more radiation than if there were a cell tower on the premises. (If being certain distances from a cell tower created problems, obviously getting even higher radiation doses continuously would be more problematic.) People used to be able to move away from a cell tower or shield their homes to an extent; not so with Wi-Fi, which is ubiquitously indoors”and increasingly outdoors in the public square with rollouts in parks and city streets. Therefore, what was formally a problem of geography has turned into one of public health. Wi-Fi has a much shorter range than a cell tower, but someone who is sensitive to microwave radiation must keep a wide berth from the routers.

    The National Institute of Building Sciences (NIBS) in conjunction with the Architectural and Transportation Barriers Compliance Board (the United States Access Board) put out a report in 2005 that stated that for a building to be accessible, Wi-Fi should be avoided in favor of fiber optic connectivity; if used, Wi-Fi was to be confined by foil-backed drywall or equivalent barrier.


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