Portland Public Schools has yet to file a response to the lawsuit filed by the father of a Mt. Tabor Middle School student demanding a shutdown of the school's Wi-Fi network over his concerns that it is somehow poisoning his daughter. WW
's recent story on this case of "Wi-Fi Woo Woo
" drew a heated response from members of the anti-wireless movement.
A document released last week by the City of Portland could add fuel that fire. The latest version of the city's "broadband strategic plan
" says that by 2017 Portland should "[p]rovide free WIFI at all public buildings in each neighborhood."
The anti-wireless activists took heart earlier this summer when the global health body classified radio frequency electromagnetic
fields (EMF) as a "possible" carcinogen.
But the WHO panel's findings were limited in the sense that they did not distinguish between the various sources of EMF radiation. Even though the intensity of radiation diminishes dramatically with distance, the WHO classification draws no distinction between the risks of sitting 20 feet away from a low-power Wi-Fi router and crawling inside a microwave oven (or trying to "sauté" one's brain
under a cell phone tower). WW
emailed several questions about the panel's findings to its chairman, Jonathan Samet
, a physician at the University of Southern California, where he directs the Institute for Global Health.
A summary of the WHO decision
on EMF radiation is embedded below. Links to other some relevant studies are available here
Another WHO page
notes plainly that "EMF exposures below the limits recommended in [these
] international guidelines do not appear to have any known consequence on health."
In his emailed replies, Samet confirmed WW
's point that WHO group 1 carcinogens
—including sunlight—are, as he put it, "more certain" to increase cancer risk than the group 2B ("possible")
carcinogens, such as EMF.
Yet Samet offered no reassurances to those who are worried about the health effects of wireless internet, cell phones and other consumer sources of EMF.
"Different sources and particularly frequencies were not considered,"
Samet wrote. Furthermore, he wrote, the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer "does no
quantification of risk and classifies the evidence qualitatively within
its classification. The level of the classification reflects the
strength of evidence for causation and not the magnitude of risk."
Of course, "the magnitude of risk" from EMF—more so than its official classification—is the question of primary concern to the general public.
And the graphic above, from a WHO report
on the possible health effects of EMF on children, suggests that public concern is greater over
speculative risks of cell phones and Wi-Fi, than it is over the well-established risks of exposure to ultraviolet radiation from sunlight and
tanning beds (which the WHO says should be more strictly regulated).
A 2010 study cited in another WHO report
on the subject found that 40 percent of parents in a survey had concerns over how EMF exposure might affect their childrens' health.
The concerned parents were chiefly worried about their kids' cell phone use—a view that, according to a number of radio engineers, has a stronger scientific basis than concerns over Wi-Fi.
Joe DiPetro, a Florida-based radio engineer who specializes in cellular technology, says the anti-wireless movement is based upon a foundation of ignorance. All the same, he limits his call time on mobile handsets.
"I'd say you're nuts to take even a six-tenths-of-a-watt transmitter"—such as a cell phone—"and tape it to the side of your head," DiPetro says. "The Wi-Fi router is not sitting next to their head."