David Dean, 43, a councillor in Merton, South London, and the managing director of a publishing company, describes himself as a human antenna. “The moment I go into people’s houses I know whether they have wi-fi because my head starts to buzz. I had to leave my last job because I couldn’t stand up for more than ten minutes in the office and my boss would not remove the wi-fi. My heart raced, I had double vision and really bad headaches. It felt as though my head was in an arm lock. Twice I have been into homes where the children were screaming monsters. After I suggested to the parents that they turn off the network for two days, the kids were transformed.”
Anxiety about wi-fi has focused on the effect of electromagnetic radiation on children because they have thinner skulls, less fully developed nervous systems and will undergo a lifetime of exposure to cellphone technology. In his report on mobile phones, Professor Sir William Stewart, the chairman of the Health Protection Agency (HPA), acknowledged that radiation below guideline levels, while thought to be safe, may have effects on the body. He therefore advocated a precautionary approach, including close monitoring of radiation from masts near schools and a recommendation that the beam of greatest intensity from a mast should not fall within the grounds of a school.
“The emissions from wireless networks are very similar to those from mobile phone base stations in terms of frequency and signal modulation,” says Philips, who, it must be said, runs a company selling electromagnetic radiation detectors and blockers. “Many published reports have shown ill-health affects apparently associated with living and working close to mobile phone masts. In a Latvian study of 966 children, motor function, memory and attention were significantly worse in the group exposed to radiation from a pulsed radio location station. The exposure levels were low, but similar to those that children in classes with wLANs will be exposed to.”
Dr Michael Clark, of the HPA, says published research on mobile phones and masts does not add up to an indictment of wi-fi. “All the expert reviews done here and abroad indicate that there is unlikely to be a health risk from wireless networks,” he says. “The few studies on mobile phone masts that have appeared in peer-reviewed journals claiming to observe health effects are not at all conclusive. The real problem is deciding what level of precaution is appropriate.
“When we have conducted measurements in schools, typical exposures from wi-fi are around 20 millionths of the international guideline levels of exposure to radiation. As a comparison, a child on a mobile phone receives up to 50 per cent of guideline levels. So a year sitting in a classroom near a wireless network is roughly equivalent to 20 minutes on a mobile. If wi-fi should be taken out of schools, then the mobile phone network should be shut down, too — and FM radio and TV, as the strength of their signals is similar to that from wi-fi in classrooms.”
Philips is not reassured: “Electromagnetic radiation exposure guidelines in the UK are designed to protect against gross heating effects. They are not meant to protect against long-term exposure to low levels of pulsing microwaves, such as laptops emit when downloading. We believe that these interfere with the body’s own normal internal electrical and electro-chemical signalling systems, leading to serious health problems, and growing children may be more affected than adults, whose cells are not changing as rapidly.”
One of the problems in conducting research is that not everybody is affected by electromagnetic radiation in the same way. “A growing, consistent body of literature demonstrates that a subgroup of the population appears to suffer distressing symptoms when exposed to this type of radiation,” says Dr Elizabeth Cullen, of IDEA. Sleep disturbances, depression, blurred vision, heart and breathing problems, nausea and headache are among the most common symptoms.
Elizabeth, New Jersey
Dibba Al-Fujairah, United Arab Emirates, Dibba Al-Fujairah, UAE
Click on any of the pictures below
to learn more