Does wi-fi in school put children at risk?


Cambridge Education News - An alliance wants wireless technology removed from schools. Education correspondent GARETH McPHERSON examines the arguments ahead of a forum on the issue in Cambridge.


WIRELESS technology should be stripped from schools because it may be putting pupils at risk of cancer and memory loss.

That is the call from an alliance of parents, teachers, scientists and lawyers who want the world to wake up to the “real, unseen and often unrecognised threat” of wi-fi, which allows internet users to log on without wires.


While one Cambridge computer expert dubbed their stance as “nonsense on stilts”, the Safe Schools Information Technology Alliance (SSITA), which is hosting an open forum in the city on the issue later this month, believes that electromagnetic radiation produced by the technology is putting young people at risk of cancer, a slow-down in brain function – and male infertility.

Dr Clare Nott, who has a doctorate in human physiology, chose her 5-year-old son’s school because it does not have a wi-fi system.

The 39-year-old, who lives in Weston Colville, said: “I do not want my child exposed to what the World Health Organisation said could give him cancer. Frankly, it’s as simple as that.


“I do not know for sure it is harmful, but there is a lot of indication that it could be. Children are particularly vulnerable because they are not little adults like we think. They have a different structure and smaller bones and they absorb 60 per cent more electromagnetic radiation.


“I am trying not to scaremonger and trying to give a balanced view, but I don’t want to find out years down the line that I know what I know and did nothing.”


The alliance quotes research from the World Health Organisation, which last year classified radio-frequency radiation from wi-fi as “possibly carcinogenic”.


It says there is now a growing body of international research, including a proposal in Russia to remove wi-fi from schools, which points to the technology being harmful to humans – and children in particular.


Others are not convinced and describe the concerns as “scaremongering”.


Professor Ross Anderson, of Cambridge University’s Computer Laboratory, said: “This is nonsense on stilts. Wi-fi operates at frequencies below those which cause ionisation, and at power levels below those that cause tissue heating.


“It’s pure scaremongering. I am quite happy for my own family to use wi-fi, and I use it continuously myself.”


Mark Patterson, headteacher at Chesterton Community College, who is also chairman of Cambridgeshire Secondary School Headteachers, said his school uses wi-fi, adding he does not know a school that does not.


He said: “The current advice from the Department for Education and the Health Protection Agency is that wi-fi is safe to use. Were they to issue different advice, of course, we would take that seriously.


“When we were exploring whether to introduce wi-fi some years ago, we looked at the advice from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) at that time, which was that wi-fi was safe to use. There are real, everyday benefits to using wi-fi in the school and so introducing it was an easy decision to take.”


The latest HPA advice says there is nothing to fear, but adds that it would continue to monitor the situation.


Its guidance reads: “On the basis of the published studies and those carried out in-house, the HPA sees no reason why wi-fi should not continue to be used in schools and in other places.


“However, with any new technology a sensible precautionary approach, as happened with mobile phones, is to keep the situation under review so that parents and others can have as much reassurance as possible.”


Martin Aitken, of the Cambridge branch of SSITA, said many experts disagree with the HPA, including neuroscientist Professor Olle Johansson, of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.


He said: “If world experts on the subject such as him are worried, then it seems to me that we, as parents, have reason to be worried too.


“The sensible thing is to be safe rather than sorry – to take the precautionary approach. Children are known to be more vulnerable to microwave radiation than adults. We shouldn’t be exposing them to it six hours a day, five days a week, year after year, even if there is only the slightest possibility of the risks.”


The free open forum is being held at the McCrum Lecture Theatre in Bene’t Street, Cambridge, on Tuesday, October 23, at 7.30pm.