When Sacha Ghadiri first learned about potential adverse health effects from prolonged exposure to Wi-Fi, he immediately thought about moving to the countryside.
That’s because two Montreal companies are planning to blanket his Plateau Mont Royal neighbourhood with wireless Internet access this fall.
But Ghadiri is not moving anywhere yet. Instead, he is trying to stir support for a moratorium on the Wi-Fi project until the technology’s safety is studied and residents are comfortable with the idea. The companies have said they intend to expand the project to cover 87 per cent of the population of Montreal Island by 2009.
Ghadiri is especially concerned because one of the companies involved in the project, Internet service provider Radioactif, is a stone’s throw from the playground at Louis H. Lafontaine elementary school on Berri St.
The father of two has raised the issue with other parents at the school. Some worry that exposure to the wireless signals could have long-term effects on children.
“It’s the kind of technology that’s quite similar to that of cellphones, and a large number of studies show that there are ill effects and we know that there are other studies, perhaps as numerous, that say to the contrary,” Ghadiri said. “But it does not mean that we should stop doing research and embrace the technology.” While little or no research has been done specifically on Wi-Fi, studies on other emitters of radio waves such as cell phones have stirred debate.
Federal health authorities say they consider the technologies safe. But some experts say the abundance of radio waves is starting to show its effects on humans.
Cases of electrohypersensitivity – somewhat like an allergy to magnetic fields or to radio waves such as those emitted by radio and television broadcasts, cellphones and Wi-Fi networks – are on the rise, according to Dr. Magda Havas, an environmental studies professor at Trent University in Ontario.
“We’re blanketing cities with this form of radiation,” Havas said. “It’s really very irresponsible of our governments to allow this to happen.” The spectrum on which the technology to be used by Radioactif, called Wi-Max, operates is licensed by Industry Canada, a spokesperson for the federal agency said. The licences are sold through auctions.
Health Canada, which regulates human exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields, says Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies such as cellphones are safe.
“The World Health Organization has recently confirmed that as well,” spokesperson Renée Bergeron said.
An article on the topic posted on the WHO website concludes: “Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF (radio frequency) signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects.” But according to Havas – who teaches a course on the biological effects of electromagnetic fields – continuous exposure to Wi-Fi could, at the very least, interfere with children’s ability to learn. “There’s growing evidence that some of the symptoms we attribute to attention deficit disorder may be linked to exposure to high radio frequency radiation,” she said.
In May, Sir William Stewart, chairman of Britain’s Health Protection Agency, called for a review of the health effects of Wi-Fi in a BBC investigative television program that looked at wireless Internet in schools.
In 2000, Stewart recommended that cellphone towers “should not necessarily impact directly on areas where children were exposed, like playgrounds and that,” he recalled to the BBC.
But the BBC investigation found that radio frequency radiation levels in some schools were up to three times the level found in the main beam of intensity from cellphone towers.
Ghadiri, a Ph.D. student, wants a public debate on the issue of installing Wi-Fi masts around schools and in densely populated areas such as the Plateau.
Radioactif didn’t return calls for comment on this story.
Ghadiri was quick to say that he’s not against the technology.
“Wi-Fi is superb technology,” he said. “I’m just concerned about the health effects.
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