BBC Panorama and the dangers of WiFi

This week (21st May 2007) saw the BBC enter the fray on WiFi, with an investigative report on Panorama.

And their conclusion? Far from being safe as the UK government insists, there is a very real cause for concern.


No Research - no warnings


In 2000 the Government took heed of the report by Sir William Stewart, now chairman of the Health Protection Agency, who led the government’s inquiry into the safety of mobile phone masts. He felt the scientific research was sufficient to apply a precautionary approach when planning masts near schools and that schools should not be in the line of the main beam.

Sir William recalls: "We recommended, because we were sensitive about children... that masts should not necessarily impact directly on areas where children were exposed, like playgrounds and that."

WiFi is a radiation similar to that from a mobile phone mast, yet to date there have been no research studies. However Panorama showed that the radio frequency radiation levels in some schools now with WiFi are up to three times the level found in those in the main beam of intensity from mobile phone masts.

How safe is that, especially as children have thinner skulls, with nervous and hormone systems still under development?


Risks are much more than brain cancer


As is usual Government scientist talk about safety levels and that here we are operating at 600 times below those set. But if you read our mobile phones article, these levels are the levels, which will stop your head catching on fire.

Professor Olle Johansson of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden is quite clear. "If you look in the literature, you have a large number of various effects like chromosome damage, you have impact on the concentration capacity and decrease in short term memory, increases in the number of cancer incidences."

Dr Gerd Oberfeld, from Salzburg is another expert scientist in agreement. He is now calling for Wi-Fi to be removed from schools

"If you go into the data you can see a very, very clear picture - it is like a puzzle and everything fits together from DNA break ups to the animal studies and up to the epidemiological evidence; that shows for example increased symptoms as well as increased cancer rates."


Uncontrolled expansion


Schools now have WiFi, the London Underground is putting it in as are modern blocks of apartments and schools. 1.5 million users have joined the WiFi revolution in the last year and developers rush to create user-friendly hotspots.


Where’s the precautionary approach?


In the UK, where you can’t take a vitamin pill or a herbal supplement unless it has been proven safe in research, no studies exist on WiFi, yet it is being rushed out willy-nilly with 70 per cent of secondary schools and 50 per cent of primary schools now using it.

Panorama visited a school in Norwich, with more than 1,000 pupils, to compare the level of radiation from a typical mobile phone mast with that of Wi-Fi in the classroom.

Readings taken for the programme showed the height of signal strength to be three times greater in the school classroom using Wi-Fi than the main beam of radiation intensity from a mobile phone mast.

Yet, the clear advice from Sir William Stewart to the government on mobile phone masts was that the beam of greatest intensity should not fall on any part of the school grounds, unless the school and parents agreed to it.

Philip Parkin, general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers said: "I think schools and parents will be very worried about WiFi.
I am asking schools to consider very seriously whether they should be installing Wi-Fi networks now and this will make them think twice or three times before they do it.

"I think the precautionary approach doesn’t seem to have worked because it is being rolled out so rapidly...

"It’s a bit like King Canute. We can’t stop the tide and I am afraid if schools are told that there is a serious health implication for having these networks in schools, it is going to be a very serious matter to say to schools, you have to switch them off."


Does the Government even care?


Dr Ian Gibson, MP for Norwich North and Chairman of the All Party Cancer Committee in the House of Commons asked if the Government were interested in the effects of WiFi said on the Panorama programme:

"Oh, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it, they’re not at all. Wi-fi are just being rolled out as great big white heat of technology. Industry rules in this area and the precautionary principle and the safety of people who might benefit to some extent from the technology are completely dismissed. It’s just it’s Wild West country for the companies. They just put them where they want and say there’s no evidence. Now, you know, five, ten years from now, as the evidence grows, there’s enough now to be worried about it, but as the evidence grows, who knows what it might show? It might show that it’s completely unsafe for certain groups of people."


Government maintains a No-Risk stance


The Government says there is no risk and is backed up by the World Health Organisation which is robust in its language saying there are "no adverse health effects from low level, long-term exposure".

The scientist responsible for WHO’s position was Dr Mike Repacholi, who headed up the health organisation’s research programme into radio frequency radiation.
He was also the founder of the International Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). They are the people who set the ’safe levels’ of radiation exposure.

He said the statement of "no adverse health effects" was based on the weight of evidence.

In order for a health effect to be established it must mean it has been repeated in a number of laboratories using very good study techniques. The findings of any published studies had been put in the mix before reaching a conclusion, he said.

"It is called a weight of evidence approach - and if that weight of evidence is not for there being an effect or not being an effect that is the only way you can tell whether there really is an adverse health effect," he said.

Dr Mike Repacholi now works directly for the mobile phone industry.


Comment


Weight of evidence? There is none! There is no major study on the safety of WiFi. At Oxford 40 years ago we had research that suggested there were more cancers if you lived near power cables. It has taken 40 years for a precautionary stance to be adopted there, especially now scientists in general have opened their minds to cancers, hormones, nervous problems, and poor health from headaches to fatigue being possibly linked to the EMF. How long is it going to take this time? How long do our children have to spend in their classroom, their University, on the train to work, in their trendy flat, before someone wakes up to the fact that health problems might be linked to all this techno-fog?

Frankly, it beggars belief.

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