Professor Lawrie Challis, who heads the Government’s official mobile safety research, this year said that the mobile could turn out to be “the cigarette of the 21st century”.
There has been less concern about masts, as they emit very much less radiation than mobile phones. But people living – or attending schools – near them are consistently exposed and studies reveal a worrying incidence of symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and memory problems. There is also some suggestion that there may be an increase in cancers and heart disease.
Wi-Fi systems essentially take small versions of these masts into the home and classroom – they emit much the same kind of radiation. Though virtually no research has been carried out, campaigners and some scientists expect them to have similar ill-effects. They say that we are all now living in a soup of electromagnetic radiation one billion times stronger than the natural fields in which living cells have developed over the last 3.8 billion years. This, they add, is bound to cause trouble
Prof Leif Salford, of Lund University – who showed that the radiation kills off brain cells – is also deeply worried about wi-fi’s addition to “electronic smog”.
There is particular concern about children partly because they are more vulnerable – as their skulls are thinner and their nervous systems are still developing – and because they will be exposed to more of the radiation during their lives.
The Austrian Medical Association is lobbying against the deployment of Wi-Fi in schools. The authorities of the province of Salzburg has already advised schools not to install it, and is now considering a ban. Dr Gerd Oberfeld, Salzburg’s head of environmental health and medicine, says that the Wi-Fi is “dangerous” to sensitive people and that “the number of people and the danger are both growing”.
In Britain, Stowe School removed Wi-Fi from part of its premises after a classics master, Michael Bevington – who had taught there for 28 years – developed headaches and nausea as soon as it was installed.
Ian Gibson, the MP for the newly wireless city Norwich is calling for an official inquiry into the risks of Wi-Fi. The Professional Association of Teachers is to write to Education Secretary Alan Johnson this week to call for one.
Philip Parkin, the general secretary of the union, says; “I am concerned that so many wireless networks are being installed in schools and colleges without any understanding of the possible long-term consequences.
“The proliferation of wireless networks could be having serious implications for the health of some staff and pupils without the cause being recognised.”
But, he added, there are huge commercial pressures” which may be why there has not yet been “any significant action”.
Guidelines that were ignored
The first Stewart Report, published in May 2000, produced a series of sensible recommendations. They included: discouraging children from using mobiles, and stopping the industry from promoting them to the young; publicising the radiation levels of different handsets so that customers could choose the lowest; making the erection of phone masts subject to democratic control through the planning system; and stopping the building of masts where the radiation “beam of greatest intensity” fell on schools, unless the school and parents agreed.
The Government accepted most of these recommendations, but then, as ‘The Independent on Sunday’ has repeatedly pointed out, failed to implement them. Probably, it has lost any chance to curb the use of mobiles by children and teenagers. Since the first report, mobile use by the young has doubled.
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