Guidelines from the Britain’s Health Protection Agency already state that masts should not be sited near schools because of a possible cancer link and other health risks.
Now its chairman, Sir William Stewart, is seeking a review of the health effects of wi-fi networks amid fears they could pose even greater dangers.Wi-fi networks works by transmitting information via radio waves from a telephone line to a computer and back.
They have been installed in some of Australia’s leading schools including Melbourne’s Xavier College which has invested in 50 network transmitters across the school. In Britain, networks have been installed in nearly 50 per cent of primary schools and 70 per cent of secondary schools giving millions of children access to computers.
Researchers for the BBC’s Panorama programme visited a comprehensive in Norwich and measured the strength of a radiation signal from a classroom wi-fi laptop. They found that the maximum signal strength was three times higher than that of a typical mobile phone mast. Scientists believe children may be more vulnerable to radio-frequency radiation emissions than adults because their skulls are still growing and are thinner.
This raises questions over the safety of children bent over computers being exposed to radiation at very close quarters. But Panorama spoke to 50 schools and only one had been alerted to possible health risks. Some had been categorically told that there was no danger. In response to the findings, Sir William said: ‘I believe that there is a need for a review of wi-fi and other areas. I think it’s timely for it to be done now.
In the past 18 months 1.6million wi-fi connections have been set up in the UK. This means children using computers at home could also be at risk. The World Health Organisation, backed by the Government, says there are ‘no adverse health effects from low-level, long-term exposure’ to wi-fi radiation. But Sir William said there was growing evidence of possible harm from radio-frequency radiation. He explained: ‘There may be changes, for example in cognitive function. ‘There were some indications that there may be cancer inductions. There was some molecular biology changes within the cell.’
Philip Parkin, general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers, said: ‘I am asking for 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.’
The levels of radiation Panorama found were 600 times lower than those deemed dangerous by the Government, which bases its data on radiation safety limits provided by a group of scientists called ICNIRP. But it does not take the biological effects of radio-frequency radiation into account, basing exposure limits solely on a ‘thermal effect’. This means radiation only counts if it is so strong it causes a heat effect.