The Independent on Sunday
Wi-Fi: Children at risk from 'electronic smog'
::: Revealed - radiation threat from new wireless computer networks
::: Teachers demand inquiry to protect a generation of pupils
By Geoffrey Lean, Environment Editor
Published: 22 April 2007
Britain's top health protection watchdog is pressing for a formal
investigation into the hazards of using wireless communication networks in
schools amid mounting concern that they may be damaging children's health,
'The Independent on Sunday' can reveal.
Sir William Stewart, the chairman of the Health Protection Agency, wants
pupils to be monitored for ill effects from the networks - known as Wi-Fi -
which emit radiation and are being installed in classrooms across the
Sir William - who is a former chief scientific adviser to the Government,
and has chaired two official inquiries into the hazards of mobile phones -
is adding his weight to growing pressure for a similar examination of Wi-Fi,
which some scientists fear could cause cancer and premature senility.
Wi-Fi - described by the Department of Education and Skills as a "magical"
system that means computers do not have to be connected to telephone lines -
is rapidly being taken up inschools, with estimates that more than half of
primary schools - and four-fifths of secondary schools - have installed it .
But several European provincial governments have already taken action to
ban, or limit, its use in the classroom, and Stowe School has partially
removed it after a teacher became ill.
This week the Professional Association of Teachers, which represents 35,000
staff across the country, will write to Alan Johnson, Secretary of State for
Education, to demand an official inquiry. Virtually no studies have been
carried out into Wi-Fi's effects on pupils, but it gives off radiation
similar to emissions from mobile phones and phone masts.
Recent research has linked radiation from mobiles to cancer and to brain
damage. And many studies have found disturbing symptoms in people near
Professor Olle Johansson, of Sweden's prestigious Karolinska Institute, who
is deeply concerned about the spread of Wi-Fi, says there are "thousands" of
articles in scientific literature demonstrating "adverse health effects". He
adds: "Do we not know enough already to say, 'Stop!'?"
For the past 16 months, the provincial government of Salzburg in Austria has
been advising schools not to install Wi-Fi, and is considering a ban. Dr
Gerd Oberfeld, its head of environmental health and medicine, calls the
Sir William - who takes a stronger position on the issue than his agency -
was not available for comment yesterday, but two members of an expert group
that he chairs on the hazards of radiation spoke of his concern.
Mike Bell, chairman of the Electromagnetic Radiation Research Trust, says
that he has been "very supportive of having Wi-Fi examined and doing
something about it". And Alasdair Philips, director of Powerwatch, an
information service, said that he was pressing for monitoring of the health
of pupils exposed to Wi-Fi.
Labour MP Ian Gibson, who was interviewed with Sir William for a forthcoming
television programme, last week said that he backed proposals for an
Danger on the airwaves: Is the Wi-Fi revolution a health time bomb?
It's on every high street and in every coffee shop and school. But experts
have serious concerns about the effects of electronic smog from wireless
networks linking our laptops and mobiles, reports Geoffrey Lean
Published: 22 April 2007
Being "wired-up" used to be shorthand for being at the cutting edge,
connected to all that is cool. No longer. Wireless is now the only thing to
Go into a Starbucks, a hotel bar or an airport departure lounge and you are
bound to see people tapping away at their laptops, invisibly connected to
the internet. Visit friends, and you are likely to be shown their newly
Lecture at a university and you'll find the students in your audience
tapping away, checking your assertions on the world wide web almost as soon
as you make them. And now the technology is spreading like a Wi-Fi wildfire
throughout Britain's primary and secondary schools.
The technological explosion is even bigger than the mobile phone explosion
that preceded it. And, as with mobiles, it is being followed by fears about
its effect on health - particularly the health of children. Recent research,
which suggests that the worst fears about mobiles are proving to be
justified, only heightens concern about the electronic soup in which we are
increasingly spending our lives.
Now, as we report today, Sir William Stewart (pictured below right), the man
who has issued the most authoritative British warnings about the hazards of
mobiles, is becoming worried about the spread of Wi-Fi. The chairman of the
Health Protection Agency - and a former chief scientific adviser to the
Government - is privately pressing for an official investigation of the
risks it may pose.
Health concerns show no sign of slowing the wireless expansion. One in five
of all adult Britons now own a wireless-enabled laptop. There are 35,000
public hotspots where they can use them, usually at a price.
In the past 18 months 1.6 million Wi-Fi terminals have been sold in Britain
for use in homes, offices and a host of other buildings. By some estimates,
half of all primary schools and four fifths of all secondary schools have
Whole cities are going wireless. First up is the genteel, almost bucolic,
burgh of Norwich, which has installed a network covering almost the whole of
its centre, spanning a 4km radius from City Hall. It takes in key sites
further away, including the University of East Anglia and a local hospital,
and will be expanded to take in rural parts of the south of the county.
More than 200 small aerials were attached to lamp posts to create the
network, which anyone can use free for an hour. There is nothing to stop the
1,000 people who use it each day logging off when their time is up, and
logging on again for another costless session.
"We wanted to see if something like this could be done," says Anne Carey,
the network's project manager. "People are using it and finding it helpful.
It is, I think, currently the largest network of its kind."
Not for much longer. Brighton plans to launch a city-wide network next year,
and Manchester is planning one covering over 400 square miles, providing
free access to 2.2 million people.
So far only a few, faint warnings have been raised, mainly by people who are
so sensitised to the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobiles, their
masts and Wi-Fi that they become ill in its presence. The World Health
Organisation estimates that up to three out of every hundred people are
"electrosensitive" to some extent. But scientists and doctors - and some
European governments - are adding their voices to the alarm as it becomes
clear that the almost universal use of mobile phones may be storing up
medical catastrophe for the future.
A recent authoritative Finnish study has found that people who have used
mobiles for more than ten years are 40 per cent more likely to get a brain
tumour on the same side of the head as they hold their handset; Swedish
research suggests that the risk is almost four times as great. And further
research from Sweden claims that the radiation kills off brain cells, which
could lead to today's younger generation going senile in their forties and
Professor Lawrie Challis, who heads the Government's official mobile safety
research, this year said that the mobile could turn out to be "the cigarette
of the 21st century".
There has been less concern about masts, as they emit very much less
radiation than mobile phones. But people living - or attending schools -
near them are consistently exposed and studies reveal a worrying incidence
of symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizziness and memory
problems. There is also some suggestion that there may be an increase in
cancers and heart disease.
Wi-Fi systems essentially take small versions of these masts into the home
and classroom - they emit much the same kind of radiation. Though virtually
no research has been carried out, campaigners and some scientists expect
them to have similar ill-effects. They say that we are all now living in a
soup of electromagnetic radiation one billion times stronger than the
natural fields in which living cells have developed over the last 3.8
billion years. This, they add, is bound to cause trouble
Prof Leif Salford, of Lund University - who showed that the radiation kills
off brain cells - is also deeply worried about wi-fi's addition to
There is particular concern about children partly because they are more
vulnerable - as their skulls are thinner and their nervous systems are still
developing - and because they will be exposed to more of the radiation
during their lives.
The Austrian Medical Association is lobbying against the deployment of Wi-Fi
in schools. The authorities of the province of Salzburg has already advised
schools not to install it, and is now considering a ban. Dr Gerd Oberfeld,
Salzburg's head of environmental health and medicine, says that the Wi-Fi is
"dangerous" to sensitive people and that "the number of people and the
danger are both growing".
In Britain, Stowe School removed Wi-Fi from part of its premises after a
classics master, Michael Bevington - who had taught there for 28 years -
developed headaches and nausea as soon as it was installed.
Ian Gibson, the MP for the newly wireless city Norwich is calling for an
official inquiry into the risks of Wi-Fi. The Professional Association of
Teachers is to write to Education Secretary Alan Johnson this week to call
Philip Parkin, the general secretary of the union, says; "I am concerned
that so many wireless networks are being installed in schools and colleges
without any understanding of the possible long-term consequences.
"The proliferation of wireless networks could be having serious implications
for the health of some staff and pupils without the cause being recognised."
But, he added, there are huge commercial pressures" which may be why there
has not yet been "any significant action".
Guidelines that were ignored
The first Stewart Report, published in May 2000, produced a series of
sensible recommendations. They included: discouraging children from using
mobiles, and stopping the industry from promoting them to the young;
publicising the radiation levels of different handsets so that customers
could choose the lowest; making the erection of phone masts subject to
democratic control through the planning system; and stopping the building of
masts where the radiation "beam of greatest intensity" fell on schools,
unless the school and parents agreed.
The Government accepted most of these recommendations, but then, as 'The
Independent on Sunday' has repeatedly pointed out, failed to implement them.
Probably, it has lost any chance to curb the use of mobiles by children and
teenagers. Since the first report, mobile use by the young has doubled.
Additional reporting by Paul Bignall, Will Dowling and Jude Townend
The school that took on mobile phone companies
By Jude Townend
Published: 22 April 2007
Two giant mobile phone companies are to move a mast at a primary school,
after parents claimed their children fell sick.
The mast was already in use when St Edward's RC primary school opened in
Coleshill, Warwickshire 11 years ago. It is owned by O2, which rents space
on it to Orange. An O2 spokesman said "there were concerns from some of the
local people that there are health issues" but added that the mast posed no
risks to health.
But parents said children and staff suffered from insomnia, headaches and
numbness. They conducted a survey of 22 staff who had been at the school for
the 11 years, and 59 children who had been pupils for seven years.
Their results showed 56 per cent of the children and 86 per cent of the
staff had problems sleeping, 54 per cent and 59 per cent respectively were
getting headaches and migraines, and 46 per cent and 95 per cent
respectively reported fatigue and numbness. About 45 per cent of teachers
and pupils had red eyes; other symptoms included dizziness, nosebleeds,
nausea and hearing strange hums and clicks.
The parents have been backed by Warwickshire County Council and their MP,
Mike O'Brien, the Solicitor General. Parents and their representatives held
talks with O2.
Leading article: Hi-tech horrors
Published: 22 April 2007
The technologies we grow to love most have a way of exacting a toll once we
become dependent on them. They change our lives and then come back to demand
their price. Take the internal combustion engine, which has allowed us to be
comfortably mobile, but killed many millions in accidents and from
pollution. Or indeed the burning of fossil fuels, which has driven
prosperity for more than two centuries, but now threatens to destroy through
uncontrolled global warming the very civilisation it has created. Mobile
phones are our latest love affair - over 50 million are in use in Britain -
and for these too there may well be a reckoning. Evidence is beginning to
accumulate that the radiation they emit may cause cancer and so damage the
brains of today's young people that they become senile while still in the
prime of life. Two official reports by Sir William Stewart - chairman of the
official Health Protection Agency and a former government chief scientist -
have warned against the dangers, only to be effectively ignored by the
The measures he proposed were moderate and sensible, but were treated with
unforgivable contempt. He wanted ministers to circulate a leaflet detailing
the potential dangers to every home; they restricted distribution so much
that it was hard to get. He asked for information on the widely varying
radiation levels of different phones to be put on the handsets and the
packaging, so that customers could choose to buy low-radiation models for
themselves or their children; ministers pledged to do so, and broke their
promise. He recommended that erecting mobile phone masts near schools should
be banned unless parents agreed; the Government simply refused. Above all,
he insisted that children should be discouraged from using mobiles and that
industry should be stopped from promoting them to the young; nothing
happened and their use became almost universal.
Now, as we report today, he is privately airing new concerns - about the
rapid spread of Wi-Fi technology, particularly in schools. The radiation
emitted by the networks is far less than from mobiles, and it is not
delivered so close to the head. But it is constant, and involuntary. People
who are particularly, and dangerously, sensitive to the radiation will not
be able to escape it. Nor will those who might choose not to take the gamble
with their health. And as the technology is rolled out to cover whole
cities, any refuge will become next to impossible.
The inconvenient truth is that we are conducting a massive experiment on
ourselves and particularly on our children. We are surrounding ourselves
with an ever-thickening electronic soup the like of which living cells have
not encountered during their billions of years of evolution. Of course, all
may be well; we may be immune to any ill-effects. But there is enough
evidence accumulating to make it seem unlikely that we will be so lucky. As
we exclusively reported last week, other members of the animal kingdom -
bees - may be even more affected.
We need to stop and think. We should be officially monitoring the effects on
the children we expose to the radiation in classrooms. We also need another
official inquiry - as authoritative as the Stewart reports on mobile phones
- before the technology is deployed further. And this time, ministers must
implement what it recommends.
In the print version
Bees that vanished when a house went wireless.
There was only one snag with Ryan Fergusonıs new home, a three-story
Georgian house in Bath. When the 29-year-old digital sales director moved in
three years ago, he found 30 nests of bees in his attic.
³They got everywhere² he says. ³In the shower, the windows, the light
fittings. It used to be quite dangerous. You would walk about at night
without shoes on and theyıed be all over the floor.²
He twice called in exterminators, but the bees just came back. Then last
summer, he installed a WiFi system. They left and never returned.
Mr Fergusonıs experience chimes with an exclusive report in last weekıs
Independent on Sundayı that the kind of radiation given off by WiFi systems
and mobile phones causes bees to desert their hives - a story that prompted
938,000 hits on our web-site around the world.