Frequently Asked Questions
1. Why should we be worried if Health Canada says it’s safe?
Remember thalidomide, asbestos, tobacco and DDT? All these were permitted for public use by Health Canada and later found to be dangerous to human health. The Canadian guidelines (Safety Code 6) on electromagnetic radiation were established 15 years ago. This standard was based on how much the radiation heats up human body tissue. It does not consider the full range of biological effects possible. Numerous studies have documented non-thermal biological effects occurring at levels far below Health Canada’s guideline. Such biological effects include DNA damage, and cell mutation (leading to cancers and tumours); damage to the blood brain barrier, brain function, the heart, thyroid and reproductive ability; difficulty in concentrating and short-term memory-loss; weakening of the immune system; and deterioration in eyesight. Appeals have been signed by scientists and doctors worldwide for a change in this standard, calling it “outdated and obsolete”. The World Health Organization recently classified Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) emitted by wireless communication devices as possibly carcinogenic to humans, in the same (2B) category as Lead, DDT and phthalate. A Canadian parliamentary committee recommended non-industry-funded long-term studies, because most industry-funded studies have found no adverse effects, while most non-industry-funded studies have found adverse effects from exposure to EMFs.
2. What are other countries and cities doing?
According to Safety Code 6, Canada's microwave (Wi-Fi) exposure limit is 1000 μW/cm2 (microwatts/cm2). Countries like Switzerland, Italy, France (Paris), Luxembourg, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, and Austria (Salzburg) have limits at 0.1 to 10 μW/cm2 . That is 100 to 10,000 times more stringent than Canada's. China and Russia conducted large-scale microwave radiation studies on humans and set their maximums at 10 μW/cm2. In 2008 and 2009, the European (EU) Parliament adopted two resolutions - by near-unanimous votes - to set stricter electromagnetic exposure limits and stated specifically: “wireless technology (mobile phones, Wi-Fi / WiMAX, Bluetooth, DECT landline telephones) emits EMFs that may have adverse effects on human health... particularly to young people whose brains are still developing”. The 2009 US President's Cancer Panel report identified electromagnetic energy as one of the “specific established or possible carcinogens”, also that “children are at special risk for cancer", being "three to five times more vulnerable to the damaging effects of radiation" than adults. The Council of Europe's May 2011 resolution declared: "for children in general, and particularly in schools and classrooms, give preference to wired Internet connections”. Many schools and local governments are opting for hard-wired connections wherever possible. For example, the city of Herouville St. Clair in France removed Wi-Fi from all schools and public buildings, and replaced it with fiber-optic cables. Wi-Fi has been disabled or banned from some schools and libraries in Switzerland, Austria, Germany, England, Wales, Ireland, France, Israel, Ontario and BC. Recently Saanich school board on Vancouver Island passed a resolution which prohibits Wi-Fi in elementary schools and limits Wi-Fi coverage in middle schools to only 25% of student area. The Greater Victoria Teachers Association, Two UK teachers' unions (VOICE and ATL), the German teachers' union (GEW), US Progressive Librarians Guild, Irish Doctors Environmental Association, Vienna Medical Association and Russian National Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection have all advised against Wi-Fi in schools, calling for a Precautionary Approach.
3. What does a Precautionary Approach look like?
The Precautionary Principle is the international guideline for governments to deal with potential health crises when consensus in science is not yet available. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 2005 World Commission on the Ethics of Scientific Knowledge and Technology defined it as: “When human activities may lead to morally unacceptable harm that is scientifically plausible but uncertain, actions shall be taken to avoid or diminish that harm. Morally unacceptable harm refers to harm to humans or the environment that is threatening to human life or health, or serious and effectively irreversible, or inequitable to present or future generations, or imposed without adequate consideration of the human rights of those affected. Actions are interventions that are undertaken before harm occurs that seek to avoid or diminish the harm.” The Precautionary Principle also puts the burden of proof on the companies to prove that wireless technology is safe, not on the public to prove that it is harmful.
4. Is Wi-Fi safer than cell phone use?
No. Cell phones emit radiation primarily in talk and data transmission mode while Wi-Fi emits continuously. Each Wi-Fi router (access point) pulses 10 times per second, broadcasting 2.4 billion cycles/sec of microwave which penetrates walls and human bodies. Scientists have compared Wi-Fi routers to indoor “mini cell towers”. There is little comprehensive data available from real life use in school time. The BC Centre of Disease Control found microwave readings from Wi-Fi of 1 to 22 μW/cm2 in a local school, which is below Health Canada's 1000 μW/cm2 limit, but exceeds the levels set by countries mentioned above. Another test was done in a school in Ontario with higher levels detected (mostly 1 to 108 μW/cm2), even though it was outside school hours. The alarming fact was that when "download traffic" was noted, the meter went up to 1342 μW/cm2 which exceeded even our national standard. In our schools, the level of Wi-Fi radiation will vary according to the activity level of the network, i.e. access by computers in the computer lab or the classrooms, and handheld wireless devices by staff members. It is impossible to monitor on a daily basis. There is no reason to risk the health of our children when the simple solution of a safer wired connection is available. Health Canada states it is unethical to experiment on children, yet our children are being radiated in an uncontrolled experiment where no one is even keeping a record of the effects on them.
5. Wi-Fi has been around for a few years - why haven’t we seen a problem?
Our present generation is the first to experience a rapid and monumental proliferation of wireless technology, which creates an overlapping and unprecedented level of electromagnetic radiation 24/7. The cumulative effects from chronic exposure to all these different frequencies on us and on our children's growing bodies are still unknown. The cause of multi symptomatic outcomes in the human body is very difficult to determine even with extensive research. The fact that “Wi-Fi is everywhere” does NOT mean it is safe. Instead, it means all the more that we should minimize exposure of our children in controllable environments such as schools and homes, where children spend the most amount of time. At the April 2010 Parliamentary hearing on microwave's health effects, Dr. Annie Sasco, Director of Epidemiology at National Institutes of Health testified, “If we want to wait for final proof, at least in terms of cancer, it may still take 20 years and the issue will become that we will not have unexposed population to act as control... But we have enough data to go ahead with a Precautionary Principle to avoid exposures which are unnecessary, if our goal is to reduce somewhat the burden of cancer in the years to come and other chronic diseases."
6. What about insurance and liability?
"All across Europe the debate on exposure limits has flared up; insurance companies do not insure cell phone providers because of the incalculable health risks” states a 2009 report titled "Nonthermal Effects Confirmed; Exposure Limits Challenged; Precaution Demanded (Austrian Social Insurance for Occupational Risk)." Lloyd’s of London compared electromagnetic fields to asbestos. Asbestos was considered completely safe at one time, yet it nearly destroyed Lloyd’s due to ongoing health-related claims. The American Association for Justice (trial lawyers' association) established “The Cell Phone Radiation Litigation Group” in March, 2011, in response to the increased demand for cellphone-related lawsuits. In a recent court case on EMF in Italy, an employee sued the employer for ill health due to heavy cellphone and cordless phone exposure on the job. The employee won. This is a precedent-setting decision, as the court would not accept any telecommunication industry-based evidence for the trial.
7. Should there be an Informed Consent procedure?
As parents, we are required to sign authorization documents regarding food allergies, field trips to the skating rink, the museum, or even a walk at the dyke. Parents have the legal right to choose the risks their children are exposed to. Unlike for pharmaceutical drugs or toys, our government does not conduct pre-market medical testing on wireless electronic devices. Instead, it relies on data submitted by the manufacturers. Health Canada has not carried out any after-market study on their effects on health, either, saying, “there are large ethical issues on conducting studies specifically on children”. Yet wireless technologies are being aggressively marketed and implemented in schools, while parents are not being informed of the potential health risks, nor given the choice to opt out of such risks.
8. Don’t we need Wi-Fi for “The 21st Century Learning”?
The important tools for “21st Century Learning” are computers and internet access. Desktop and laptop computers can be connected to the internet with hardwire which provides superior informational security, more reliable speed and better environmental sustainability. Wi-Fi merely allows computer devices to move around without a cable. In truth, most computers in our schools are already plugged into an electrical outlet with cables for power supply. They have also been connected to the internet via cabled networks for years before Wi-Fi was introduced. Since school district budgets are typically tight, resources could be spent on other more imminent needs than wireless devices, which are not only expensive and less energy-efficient, but are potential health hazards to our children. “Policy 101” states that the basis of all Education Goals is SAFETY. We banned artificial sweeteners and dozens of foods and beverages with high sugar, salt or fat content even though they are considered “safe” by Health Canada. We mandated a minimum amount of physical exercise and out-door activities for our school children to help them stay healthy. We teach Integrity and Social Responsibility in our schools. Why would we, parents and educators, favour convenience at the cost of long-term irreversible health risks?
9. What are we asking?
We know that the safety of our children is a top priority of the Board of Education, therefore we ask them to implement the Precautionary Principle with regards to Wi-Fi as follows:
(1) Stop the installation of wireless computer equipment, particularly in elementary schools;
(2) Disable existing Wi-Fi networks in elementary schools, and reconnect computers to hardwired networks;
(3) Educate our children, youth and parents about the potential health risks of electromagnetic radiation from electronic devices. (The governments of France, Germany, Israel, UK, Russia, Korea, Finland, Switzerland and the EU have issued official warnings or restrictions to children and youth to minimize use of wireless technologies. Not only do we not receive such warnings from our government, our children and young people are being targeted as a lucrative market for the sale of these devices).