Wi-fi in schools has been discouraged by the government of France, until they are sure that it is “safe for human consumption”. Similarly, the use of cabled computers in place of Wi-fi has been recommended by Germany’s government for schools. A ban on Wi-fi in classrooms has been initiated by the Council of Europe.
Moreover, in Israel, wired computers are used instead of Wifi in classrooms and the teachers have been instructed by the Ministry of Education to turn it off when not in use.
The group Wi-fi in Schools comprises of parents concerned about the Wi-fi issue in Australia, is passing around a “non-consent” letter, that is to be given to the school principal by the parents saying they don’t want their children exposed to 6 hours of Wi-fi everyday.
The group says “In order to minimise exposure to wireless radiation, we favour wired communications as a safer option until there is conclusive evidence that there are no harmful effects from long-term use.”
The Australian Radiation and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) maintains that use of Wi-fi in schools is harmless and totally safe. However, it has been stated by Emeritus Professor Ian Lowe, a member of the Radiation Health and Safety Advisory Council, that the Wi-fi and cell phone emission standards for children need to be investigated by the council. While talking to the New Corp Australia papers, he said, “When children’s health is concerned it’s always sensible to err on the side of caution. You should not deploy technology, be it Wi-fi in schools or diagnostic technologies, until you can be sure it is safe and cost-effective. I don’t think it’s sensible to spend public money so kids can wander around and use Wi-fi in the corridors.”
Professor Lowe believes that the radiation emitted from Wi-fi is “very low”. An electric blanket emits more radiation than Wifi, he said. A spokesperson of ARPANSA finds the Wifi radiation to be “well within the safety limits.” He said, “Some people have expressed concern and ARPANSA has advised that there is no consistent evidence to date that exposure to radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy (EME) from Wi-fi adversely affects the health of children or the general population.”
To “limit their exposure”, parents should discourage their children from holding the phone against the side of their head. He further says, “However, ARPANSA does not provide a similar recommendation for Wi-fi where the RF exposure is typically lower than a mobile phone used against the head.”
America’s limit for radiation from cell phones and Wi-fi is being reviewed by the US Federal Communications Commission. Representing 60,0000 paediatricians, the American Academy of Pediatrics has informed the commission that “children are not little adults and are disproportionately impacted by all environmental exposures, including cell phone radiation.”
The academy has stated in a letter, “It is essential that any new standard for cell phones or other wireless devices be based on protecting the youngest and most vulnerable populations to ensure they are safeguarded throughout their lifetimes.”
The Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research has been given a $5m grant from the government to observe how the brain functions are affected by electromagnetic energy and they maintain that no significant evidence exists on the link between low-level electromagnetic radiation and health.
“There is not enough information, particularly relating to children, to be sure that it doesn’t,” says the Research Centre’s director, Professor Rodney Croft. He stated that new standards for electromagnetic radiation have been imposed by India, which are 10% of the limit set by Australia. He further said, “They are more political decisions than science-based decisions.”
Professor Bruce Armstrong, who led Australia’s contribution to the World Health Organisation’s Interphone study on mobile phone safety, said that there had been “relatively little work done on Wi-fi.”
He said, “When a person is using a mobile phone to their car they are transmitting radiofrequency energy just a few centimeters from their brain. But Wi-fi exposure is way, way less than mobile phone exposure, such that I don’t think anyone has thought it would be likely to be an issue. Sure it could be researched but the reality is it hasn’t been done.” Professor Armstrong feels that it is “preferable” for children to “not be using mobile phones much, if at all.” He said, “It’s a wonderful security tool but I’d be saying to my child, ‘I don’t want you having long conversations on the mobile phone, I’d prefer you use a landline’.”
Dr. Geza Benke, being a member of the Monash University team that is working on the global Mobi-Kids project, said that the signals that the Wi-fi emit are “one hundredth to one thousandth” of the strength of a cell phone held to the head. However, he believes that the amount of radiation emitted by a Wi-fi router could be of the same level as that emitted by a cell phone base station located “hundreds of metres away”.
He said, “The Wi-fi most likely is on all day so kids might get six hours of exposure. When you’re on your phone most people spend just a couple of minutes. The best thing to do, and this isn’t being done, is to have a dosimeter (to measure radiation) put on children and let them go around for a couple of weeks and actively measure what their exposure is in the classroom from Wi-fi.”
Olle Johansson, a Swedish neuroscientist at the Department of Nueroscience, Karolinska Institute in Stockholm holds that schools should ban the use of Wi-fi. While talking to the News Corp Australia newspapers, he said “These wireless systems are never off, and the exposure is not voluntary. Exposures should be reduced now rather than waiting for proof of harm before acting.”
Andrew Finch, the deputy secretary at Tasmania’s Education Department, said that the standards set by the Australian Communications and Media Authority are met by the Wi-fi in schools so everyone was “deemed to be safe”. He said, ” Any parent who has concerns about Wi-fi in the classroom should discuss their concerns with the school principal.”
According to a spokesperson of the Victorian Education Department, Wi-fi in schools did not meet the Australian Communications and Media Authority standards. He stated, “Independent testing showed the highest reading was just 0.17 per cent of the ACMA limit.”
It was “impractical” to disconnect Wi-fi when nobody is using it, says a spokesman of the South Australian Education Department. According to him, “It is possible to turn off or disconnect wireless access points in school. However, the technical expertise required or physical location of many of these access points would make it impractical.”
The department took “pragmatic measures to minimise exposure” by setting up Wi-fi routers on the ceiling or atleast half a metre away from the children, says a NSW Education spokesman. He finds cutting off power to wireless access points mounted on the ceilings to be “impractical”.
He said, “The department maintains its commitment to providing a safe learning environment for students and will continue to review reputable information sources investigating the effects of RF EMR from wireless devices.”