Wi-Fi electromagnetic fields pose health risk, some residents fear
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Not all Montreal island residents are keen on the idea of island-wide wireless Internet access.
Megan Durnford, a Westmount writer and filmmaker, unplugged her own wireless router last spring after learning at a conference about potential health risks associated with exposure to radiofrequency radiation.
Durnford did some research on the issue and now she is trying to persuade her neighbours to unplug their routers, too. She says she will fight any move by Montreal authorities to expand the existing wireless network.
"This is something that is really under the radar. People do not know that long-term health hazards are associated with wireless technology," she said.
Magnetic and electric fields are created wherever electricity is used, and questions about the effects of these fields on the human body have been studied since the late 1970s. Human exposure to electromagnetic fields has increased exponentially since the introduction of wireless technologies such as cellphones, cordless phones, Wi-Fi and other sources that produce extremely low frequency electric or electromagetic fields.
A World Health Organization task force published a review of the health implications of extremely low frequency (ELF) fields in June last year and concluded "there are no substantive health issues related to ELF electric fields at levels generally encountered by members of the public." The study noted that ELF magnetic fields "induce electric fields and currents in the body which, at very high field strengths, cause nerve and muscle stimulation and changes in nerve cell excitability in the central nervous system." While some research points to ELF magnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans, the WHO report concluded that "on balance, the evidence related to childhood leukemia is not strong enough to be considered causal." But in August of last year, another international working group of scientists, researchers and public health policy professionals released a report that told a different story.
That group, called the BioInitiative Working Group, reviewed more than 2,000 scientific studies and reviews and concluded that "existing public safety limits are inadequate" to protect the public from health hazards related to extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields and radiofrequency radiation.
"Cities should not be looking to establish city-wide Wi-Fi because of the potential health effects, particularly on children," said Cindy Sage, who co-wrote that report. Sage is an environmental scientist based in Santa Barbara, Calif., who specializes in health effects of electromagnetic fields.
She advises parents not to let children use cellphones or cordless phones, and encourages schools to use wired cable modems to gain access to the Internet rather than wireless technology.
"Radiofrequency radiation may produce changes in brain function that have implications for cognitive function and attention, memory loss, altered white blood cell activity, fatigue, confusion, spatial disorientation, slowed motor skills and delayed school advancement in children ... as well as a constellation of other effects," Sage wrote in a "parental alert" pamphlet in Britain.
While individuals are free to hang up cordless phones and toss their cells, exposure to Wi-Fi systems is becoming unavoidable, she observed.
"We should stick with wired alternatives because they do not mandate involuntary exposure," she told The Gazette.
"There is no opting out of a city-wide wireless system. When a city goes to city-wide Wi-Fi, every child is exposed 24-7 ... and we suspect there will be effects. It is too soon to talk about proof, but we have enough worrisome evidence." Montreal executive committee member Alan DeSousa said public consultations were held late last year and no major concerns about health effects of a wireless network were raised.
"At this point, nothing has been brought to our attention that brings us cause for concern," he said.