Do Wi-Fi Signals Kill Trees?

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by Adam Hadhazy
No, they don’t, a Dutch study finds. A rumor that Wi-Fi signals sicken trees has been circulating the Internet. It’s not true, says a Dutch study.

It’s an Internet rumor that is spreading, appropriately enough, like wildfire: Wi-Fi signals can make trees and other plants sick, causing cracks in their bark and killing off portions of their leaves. The outlandish claim, supposedly based on a Dutch study, cropped up late last week and has since been repeated in countless blog posts.

In response, the Dutch government’s Antenna Agency, which provides information on the health effects of electromagnetic fields, has issued a statement urging caution on the unpublished, unverified and otherwise very preliminary findings.

As rendered via Google Translate, the Antenna Agency wrote (with a few [sics]):
“Based on the information now available can not be concluded that the WiFi radio signals leads to damage to trees or other plants.

Wi-Fi signals wirelessly connect computers and other devices to the Internet.

The radio signals are similar to that employed by other, decades-old technologies such as television and cell phones, said Marvin Ziskin, a professor of radiology and medical physics at Temple University.
“Stuff like this has been around a long time… there’s nothing new about Wi-Fi emissions,” said Ziskin. “Scientifically there’s no evidence to support that these signals are a cause for concern.”
Nevertheless, officials in the Dutch municipality of Alphen aan den Rijn tasked a researcher at Wageningen University several years ago to investigate unexplained abnormalities on local trees.

According to a write-up on the municipality’s website, the work was apparently commissioned with an eye toward the increasing number of sources of electromagnetic radiation in the region, such as cell phone tower masts.

In lab tests, leaves placed for a few months near six radiation sources emitting radio waves in the 2.4 gigahertz range common for Wi-Fi and other wireless communications became discolored and showed a,
metallic luster appearance… followed by desiccation and death of a portion of the leaf,” the website said.
Other reports have said that corn cobs exposed to such conditions grew more slowly than expected.

The Antenna Agency statement suggests that the researcher involved has backed away from the reported findings and has not succeeded in repeating them (pardon the translation): The researcher from Wageningen University indicates that these are initial results and that has not been confirmed in a repeat survey. He warns strongly that there are no far-reaching conclusions from its results. More than 60 studies have looked into the impact that electromagnetic mobile communications signals might have on plants, according to an initial review by the Antenna Agency.

Some studies did find detrimental effects, though likely as a result of signal intensities being high (and close) enough to cause heat damage – not the situation in real life with disparate sources of Wi-Fi signals.

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Living In A Wireless World Part 1

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We live in an increasingly wireless world. Many teenagers and most adults now own a mobile phone. Cordless phones and wireless broadband are used at home and work. Parents use baby monitors to listen out for their baby waking. Cafes, schools, libraries, public transport and other public places frequently offer wi-fi wireless internet and have mobile phone base stations/transmitters on their roofs, walls or located close by. The technology is incredibly useful, it gives mobility and the comfort of knowing that we are always connected. Wireless games, Wii, Nintendo DSs, iphones are rapidly becoming one of the most popular forms of entertainment for children, and are even being introduced in schools.

But are they safe? They are legal, readily available and there is a social pressure to keep up with the 21st century innovations. So why does Russia recommend that pregnant women do not use mobile phones? Why do the UK Chief Medical Officers recommend that children under the age of 16 use mobile phones only in emergencies? Why does the German Government recommend that wherever possible computer networks and the internet should be wired, rather than wireless? When we think of mobile phone safety, we often think of being careful about identity theft or cyberbullying. Occasionally the newspapers have headlines questioning whether mobile phones might cause brain tumours. But for some people the concerns go much deeper than that. To make informed choices about which technologies we want to use in our homes or for our children to use, we need to know what the concerns are, and weigh up the benefits and risks for ourselves.

The problem

The problem lies in the pulsed or modulated microwaves (a type of radio wave) that these technologies use to carry information to and from each other and to their base stations/transmitters. As the number of wireless gadgets increase then so does our exposure to the microwaves all around us. Over the past few years our average exposure has increased exponentially, and it is likely to keep increasing.

So is living in a microwave environment good for us? Countries vary in the exposure limits that they set, with the UK having one of the highest limits (lowest safety). We follow the guidelines of the ICNIRP (International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety). The guidelines were set in 1998, based on the idea that microwaves have no damaging effects other than that of heating our bodies. If the power is below that which causes heating then it is assumed to be safe. But the science has moved on since then and many papers have been published demonstrating damage from microwaves below these limits. Scientists have become frustrated that the ICNIRP have not reduced their guideline values. Many scientists who are working on the biological (non-heating) safety of electromagnetic fields have come together to form the International Commission for

Electromagnetic Safety (ICEMS) and have produced resolutions which warn the public of potential risks from the technology.

A report was written in 2007 by a group of scientists describing why the current guidelines were inadequate, listing much of the science available at the time (the Bioinitiative Report). Since then, the European Environment Agency has stated that they consider the current guidelines to be inadequate. The European Parliament have urged member states to introduce greater protection of the general public to electromagnetic fields. Liechtenstein has voted to reduce its exposure limits by 100. France is beginning trials of these lower limits in sixteen of its towns.

The French Health and Security Agency recommended in 2009 that people reduce their exposures to mobile phones and wireless devices. Russia already has exposure limits 100 times lower than in the UK. Salzburg in Austria recommend exposure limits 1000 times lower than in the UK. A scientific panel, The Scientific Panel on Electromagnetic Field Health Risks, is currently writing new guidelines based on what they consider to be biologically safe and these will be published later this year. It remains to be seen whether these will be adopted by governments. There are economic and political pressures too.

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Children
Children absorb more radiation than adults. Their skulls are thinner and the opportunity for damage is greater because their cells are dividing more. Studies into whether mobile phones increase the risk of brain tumours are starting to indicate that young people are more at risk. Studies of brain tumour risk in adults are generally negative (i.e. no effect when you look at the first 10 years of using a mobile phone. After 10 years of use most studies have found significantly increased risks of developing some brain tumours, when the tumour is on the same side of the head to which the phone was held. A Swedish group have found that the greatest risk of brain tumours was in those that started to use a mobile or cordless phone under the age of 20. Children may be at a greater risk of damage from wireless phones than adults. Using a mobile phone also alters the activity of the brain.

Since our brains are still developing into our late teens, the changes in activity could alter brain evelopment. A study recently in the news described how exposure to a mobile phone was beneficial in mice that had some of the characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease. This could be very exciting. But the radiation used was not modulated, as mobile phone signals usually are, so it was not exactly the same as mobile phone radiation. In some previous studies modulated mobile phone signals have resulted in brain cell damage and a decrease in learning ability or memory in rats or mice. So we don’t yet know whether mobile phones could help long-term in reducing Alzheimer’s risk, or in fact lead to dementia through brain damage.

There are still many unanswered questions and much more research needs to be done. But there is enough known to suggest that these technologies may not be safe for everyone. The precautionary principle could be used when it comes to wireless technologies. This would mean taking the safest option when there is the potential for serious harm to health or the environment, based on scientific evidence, even if there are still some uncertainties about the risk.

What we can do?
Changing the legal limits for exposure needs political action and possibly public awareness and pressure. But whilst governments debate the possible risks and weigh those up against economic considerations, we can decide for ourselves which technologies we want to use and when.

When it comes to pregnancy, the Russian National Committee for Radiation Protection recommends that pregnant women do not use mobile phones at all. Maine in the USA is planning to introduce warning labels for pregnant women and children on all new mobile phones. The International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety also recommend safer use of mobile phones around pregnant women.

If you want to take a precautionary approach then when pregnant you could choose not to use a mobile or cordless phone, but use a corded landline telephone. You could avoid using a wireless laptop on your lap or close to your bump when pregnant. Better still, use a computer or laptop connected to the internet via a wire (and switch off the wifi function on the computer). At night, it might be advisable not to sleep next to your mobile or cordless phone (unless it is completely switched off), and to use an alarm clock, not your
phone to wake yourself up. Similarly if you have a cordless phone, you could place the base station away from where you sit or spend a lot of your time.

In the summer, if you don’t have a bag to carry your mobile phone in, don’t carry it in your bra! (it does happen). Texting is considered safer than speaking with your phone close to your head because the phone is further away from your body. But be careful when pregnant that you aren’t texting on your mobile phone whilst holding it close to your bump. Again, taking a precautionary approach, you could choose not to use your mobile or cordless phone when holding your baby or toddler, and don’t offer it to then to ‘speak’ on or to listen to. You could have a corded phone for children. Don’t keep your mobile phone switched on in the pocket at the back of your pushchair where it is next to your baby’s body. Don’t be tempted to give your toddler or child your mobile phone or other wireless gadgets to play with to keep them quiet or entertained. Think whether you really want a wireless baby monitor, or whether you could manage without one.

For men who want to father children, many scientists and health advocacy groups now advise that you don’t carry your mobile phone in your trouser pocket when switched on or in standby mode. Don’t use a wireless laptop on your lap and better still use a laptop or computer which is connected via a wire. Sperm take approximately 3 months to develop, and after that time new ones are produced.

When it comes to public places then society and governments need to work out whether there are human rights violations in exposing everyone to pulsed microwaves at exposures that could potentially damage their health. Moral questions arise when it comes to exposing others to second hand radiation. Employers need to consider their responsibility to provide safe working environments for their employees and people using their premises.

In public places we currently don’t have much of a say about our exposures. But if you aren’t happy having the mother and toddler group in the local library next to the wi-fi transmitters, then why not let the library know? If you would rather the antenatal group wasn’t held in a building with phone mast transmitters all over or next to it, then perhaps say so. Mother and baby groups could choose to meet in nonwireless cafes rather than wireless ones. The technology does exist for fast fibre optic or wired broadband in our homes, offices and libraries. In France, some towns are installing fibre optic networks to all homes and offices, as they are faster, more secure and safer than wireless.

Perhaps parents should question when and how they use wireless devices and whether they should expose their babies or children. Should we be developing safer technologies and should new ones in the future require safety testing, as we insist on for new medicines? More and more technologies are being developed that will enter the body or be absorbed by it. Whatever the technologies of the future are, we need to make sure that they are safe for babies, children, in fact all of us, and that they won’t damage our DNA.
We need healthy DNA for healthy future generations.

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French Government Warning On Mobile Phone Use

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In a communication released on 2 January 2008, the French Ministry of Health asked population to use their mobile phone with caution. In line with the precautionary principle, the Ministry stated that as it is not possible to rule out risk of adverse effects for human health, moderate use of mobile phone is recommended.

The Ministry did not acknowledged recent scientific results showing mobile phone harming effects such as development of cancer after long and recurrent use of the mobile phone. However, the issued warning is a promising starting point in the recognition of mobile phone hazardous health effects.

Wifi use is already suspended in all Parisian libraries as it is suspected to have caused employees to faint and suffer from headaches. It is currently debated to suspend it in all public buildings such as schools.

Furthermore, the WHO (World Health Organisation) is currently finalising a report on mobile phone’s effect on human health. The French government is said to be looking forward to reading the WHO Interphone report and also requested a report from French agency AFSSET concerning current state of the research in this area. The next step in the process of ensuring people’s safety is to acknowledge EMF dangers and to take action.

Studies from all over the world are now released to pinpoint visible consequences of mobile phone use. Sleeping disorders are the first of a long series. In case of high use of mobile by teenagers, they can develop later in life cancer and tumours.

In light with these scientific results, the commercialisation of mobile phone for children triggered an outraged polemic. These phones were designed to target young children and look like toys but they still represent a danger for their health. As stated above, mobile phone effects may not be immediate but visible in the long term. Given that childhood period is a particularly vulnerable window of susceptibility, development may be at risk. It all the more shocked the population as these “toys” were first commercialised during Christmas time. The government is currently discussing the matter and also call on the parents to be cautious concerning mobile phones for children.

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Electrosensitivity

About half the people in the study believed themselves to be “electrosensitive”, reporting symptoms such as headaches and impaired cognitive function from mobile phone use.

But they proved to be unable to tell if they had been exposed to the radiation in the test.

Alasdair Philips is director of Powerwatch, which researches the effects of electromagnetic fields on health.

He said: “The evidence is getting stronger that we should treat these things in a precautionary way.

“This research suggests that if you need to make a phone call in the evening it is much better to use a land line, and don’t have your mobile by your bedside table.”

Mike Dolan, executive director of the Mobile Operators Association, said the study was inconsistent with other research.

He said: “It is really one small piece in a very large scientific jigsaw. It is a very small effect, one researcher likened it to less than the effect you would see from a cup of coffee.”

Last September a major six-year study by the UK Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (MTHRP) concluded that mobile phone use posed no short-term risk to the brain.

However, the researchers said they could not rule out the possibility that long-term use may raise the risk of cancer.

In the UK, mobile services operate within the frequency ranges 872 to 960 MHz, 1710 to 1875 MHz and 1920 to 2170 MHz.

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Over the past few months, a number of health agencies, governments, professional scientists and professional scientific organisations worldwide have increasingly expressed concerns about possible health effects on children and adults from exposure to electronic fields produced by electromagnetic fields, including wi-fi connections.

These organisations include the Bioinitiative Working Group -Biological Standards for Wireless, the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (UK), the Austrian Medical Association, the International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety (ICEMS), and others. Countries that are acting in support of the Precautionary Principle with respect to the use of wi-fi devices include Germany, France and Austria.

The following You Tube video features an interesting and highly informative interview with Cindy Sage about the BioInitiative Report documenting serious scientific concerns about current limits regulating how much EMF is allowable from power lines, cell phones, and many other sources of EMF exposure in daily life. The report concludes the existing standards for public safety are inadequate to protect public health.

While broad-based health issues have not been identified and linked to use and exposure to wireless routers and transmitters (especially in the home), recent studies suggest that some people (including children) may indeed exhibit a ‘hyper-sensitivity’ to exposure to EMF, for which symptoms might include headaches, general nausea and sleep disruption.

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Electromagnetic field sensitivity is an empirical chimera.
Riding in on peer-reviewed research, but flunking every major test, the idea that wireless technology amounts to a modern health threat presents a conundrum to proponents and skeptics alike. With Wi-Fi networks blanketing homes, schools and even whole cities, they’ve become the latest flash point in a struggle that’s arced from power lines to microwaves, cell phones and even computers, spanning decades of debate.

To sufferers of EMF sensitivity, however, such academic battles are exasperating. To them, it’s as if their symptoms, and even their sanity, are under attack.
“A professor called it Compulsive Risk Assessment Psychosis, otherwise known as CRAP,'” said Rod Read of ElectroSensitivity-UK, a registered charity in Britain. “He says everyone is deluded. It insults and abuses people who are sick. I thought that went out with the Victorian era.

British author Kate Figes recently described a sensation akin to being “prodded all over your body by 1,000 fingers” when in the presence of a Wi-Fi signal. When Michael Bevington fell ill, he blamed a network recently installed at the prestigious school where he’d worked for 28 years: “Over the weekend, away from the classroom, I felt completely normal.

Plans for a Wi-Fi network at an Illinois school were scuppered after parents filed a lawsuit. The president of Canada’s Lakehead University banned Wi-Fi on campus, likening it to second-hand smoke. In March, Toronto’s public health department questioned plans to install a citywide network.
“It’s the whole insidious and invisible exploitation of the EM spectrum,” said Read, who estimates between 1 percent and 3 percent of the population may be susceptible. “To the sensitive, it’s like being shouted at all the time.”
Sufferers report headaches, nausea, stomach upsets, tinnitus, brain fog and short-term memory among the symptoms, Read said. Skeptics, however, suspect that blaming EMF sensitivity for their ills amounts to an easy answer to almost any medical problem.

There is no known mechanism by which EMF from any source — power lines, cell phones or Wi-Fi networks — can cause health problems of any kind,” said Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine. “In fact, there is nothing that even needs explaining.”
While some groups focus on nonspecific symptoms, others claim links to more severe conditions such as cancer.

We’re in it for a long fight,” said Cindy Sage of Sage EMF Design, a California environmental consulting firm that profiles locations for their EMF characteristics. “Around the world, we’ve seen the affected giving up hope. But they’re burning down cell towers in Israel, dismantling them in Ireland, taking it to a civil disobedience level when they can’t get their governments to respond.

Scientists recognize the dangers of high-frequency ionizing radiation, such as gamma rays unleashed by nuclear fallout. Non-ionizing radiation, however, such as Wi-Fi signals, cellular networks, television broadcasts and visible light, cannot break down atomic bonds and has long been considered safe.
“The fields that are induced by Wi-Fi transmissions are well below those that could cause problems to humans,” said Chris Guy, head of The University of Reading’s School of Systems Engineering. “The maximum power that is allowed to be transmitted by any Wi-Fi unit is one-tenth of a watt.

EMF sensitivity advocates, however, believe studies reveal that even these low-frequency, low-power fields can cause subtle damage to human tissue, citing evidence of cell death, faster-growing tumors and DNA damage.

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