Healthcare Technology Featured Article

August 19, 2010

Healthcare Technology and News: Ontario Parents Group Charges That School WiFi is Making Children Sick

File this one in the “more things you didn’t need to worry about” drawer. A parents’ group in Simcoe County, Ontario, north of Toronto, is demanding that their local school system turn off the WiFi on school campuses, claiming it makes their children suffer from a host of health problems, including dizziness, rashes, headaches, nausea, night sweats, hyperactivity, insomnia and even racing hearts. The parents point to evidence that the children’s symptoms disappear on weekends and during school holidays, and have even offered to pay for the switch from WiFi equipment to wireline.

It’s important to note that there is no consensus among scientists on whether electromagnetic radiation generated by wireless devices can cause health problems. In fact, most scientists declare that the risks are non-existent. “(Wi-Fi technology) does not come anywhere near the guidelines set for (radiation) exposure limits by various international agencies, including Health Canada. That guideline is uniformly supported by scientific consensus,” said Tony Muc, assistant professor at the University of Toronto and chief physicist at the Toronto-based Radiation Health and Safety Consulting group, in response to the parents’ demands. The World Health Organization (WHO) also takes a position that the levels of electromagnetic radiation generated by WiFi are safe.

Syndromes with a collection of nebulous symptoms can be hard to pin on a culprit. Dizziness, rashes, headaches, nausea, insomnia and racing hearts are also symptoms of stress and anxiety, and it’s distinctly possible that if the children are experiencing such symptoms in school and an abatement of them out of school, it could be chalked up to a dislike of school, not WiFi.

A study done in 2006 at the University of Essex in England to find out if a condition known as “EMF sensitivity” (a heightened sensitivity to electromagnetic fields claimed by some people in the presence of WiFi devices or mobile phones) was, in fact, real or psychosomatic. The study concluded that those people who claimed they could detect an EMF in a room could not do so. (Of course, it’s important to note that “feeling” an electromagnetic field and being harmed by it are two separate things.)

There are respectable scientists who do express concern that a constant bombardment of electromagnetic radiation on children’s thinner skulls and developing brains could lead to the types of symptoms being described in Simcoe County. In any case, parents’ concerns are being taken seriously by some educators (though not as many as the parents would like). Canada’s largest teachers’ union, the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario, will vote next week on a proposal to lobby school boards to limit or eliminate WiFi in schools in favor of wireline connections (which the parents point out are also cheaper and more secure). The Simcoe County school system, however, has thus far refused parents’ requests.

Tracey Schelmetic is a contributing editor for HealthTechZone. To read more of Tracey's articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi
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