This post is by guest writer Andrea Fabry of It Takes Time.
Nearly half of all elementary schoolers, even more middle schoolers, and 71 percent of all high schoolers have wireless access at school. These numbers are sure to be outdated soon, as more and more school districts add Wi-Fi and eliminate wired connections. Is your child’s school one of them?
Note from Katie: My daughter is starting her third year of school as the first class to have iPads in the classrooms. Yes, every student – that’s a LOT of Wi-Fi winging around the room. This is a topic I’ve been concerned about yet haven’t delved into the research. I asked my colleague Andrea to share her wisdom with us all today.
What is Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi is a local area wireless computer technology that allows devices to network using the 2.4 gigahertz and 5 gigahertz bands. This Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) is available via computers, smartphones, digital cameras, and tablets.
First-generation Wi-Fi hit the market in 1997. We are now in the fifth generation, with far more antennas, modulation technology, and data compatibility. But is there a cost to our progress?
Is Wi-Fi Safe in a School Environment?
Wi-Fi was introduced into schools with little attention given to the health impact on students or teachers. This lack of concern is based on the assumption that unless body tissue is heated during exposure, this type of radiation is safe.
However, the non-thermal biological effects of wireless radiation are well documented:
- The BioInitiative Report of 2012 lists more than 1,800 studies implicating non-ionizing radiation exposures in a variety of health concerns. (Learn more about this groundbreaking document here.)
- The World Health Organization classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) in 2011. According to Dr. Darius Leszynski, a member of the expert panel of the WHO’s EMF Working Group,
“This classification justifies the implementation of the Precautionary Principle…confirms the existence of non-thermal effects that can cause health risk and indicates that current safety standards are insufficient to protect health of the users.”
- Karl Maret, M.D., M. Eng. is president of Dove Health Alliance, a non-profit foundation in Aptos, CA. As an electrical engineer and medical doctor, he is uniquely qualified to speak to the hazards of wireless technology in schools. Dr. Maret recently spoke at the Expert Forum on Cell Phone and Wireless Risks at the Commonwealth Club of California. This 10-minute presentation highlights his unique study of cumulative exposures at school.
- Martha Herbert is an Assistant Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, as well as a Pediatric Neurologist. Her research suggests a profound connection between wireless radiation and neurological issues:
“Given how much we have already learned about the subtle biological, cellular and electrical impacts of EMF/RFR, we need to update our out-of-date regulations to take into account of how exquisitely vulnerable we now know we are. And we need to aim for safer ways of meeting our needs for communication and other devices that generate EMF/RFR. Just because EMR/RFR is invisible doesn’t mean it’s harmless.”
The Hidden Nature of Wi-Fi
Since we can’t see, taste, or touch the impact of these technologies, it’s very difficult to believe Wi-Fi is dangerous—especially when we are assured it is safe.
The best way to “see” these frequencies is to use a meter. I own the Cornet Electrosmog meter, which is an affordable option for those seeking to learn more about their electrical environment.
I recently took the meter to an open house at my son’s high school, where he attends part-time. This video shows the difference between the Wi-Fi environment of the school and my son’s wired environment at home.
At the school, the numbers spiked as high as 100 for a fraction of a second, but they seemed to average around 2.0 most of the time. The home environment flipped between 0.005 and 0.0007.
What Can Parents Do?
If you are a concerned parent but unsure how to cope, consider these four suggestions for becoming proactive when it comes to Wi-Fi in schools.
1. Become aware of symptoms.
Monitor your child’s health. Does your child come home with a headache? Is he or she more fatigued? According to the World Health Organization, symptoms of sensitivity to electromagnetic fields include:
- eye pressure
- sleep disturbances
- skin symptoms like prickling, burning sensations, and rashes
- pain and ache in muscles
- heart palpitations
- digestive disturbances
Note that your child does not have to be hypersensitive to manifest a response to Wi-Fi. If you notice any of these symptoms, begin to watch their responses to devices in general. Observe any reduction of symptoms when they are away from school.
2. Express concern to the administration.
Inform the principal or school board of the hazards associated with wireless technology. Distribute flyers. Make specific requests such as turning off the Wi-Fi during after-school events or offering electrosensitive students a Wi-Fi-free room or the use of wired devices.
There are many parents blazing this trail. Cecelia Doucette, former Ashland, MA, school district employee and mother of two, helped establish the Ashland Public Schools “Best Practices” for wireless devices in classrooms—a first in our country. See Parents for Safe Technology for an updated list of schools that have taken action.
An excellent flyer has been created by Citizens for Safe Technology (CST), and the Environmental Health Trust offers the document Best Practices with Wireless Radiation for Schools, including images and research demonstrating the increased impact of cell phones and wireless on children’s brains vs. adults and what laws have been passed to address the issue in other countries and parts of the U.S.
3. Consider alternative education options.
Our school district offers an online program for middle school and high school. Since all of our area schools utilize Wi-Fi, we have elected to enroll our three high schoolers in the online program, where we can keep them in a wired environment. They each take one or two classes to keep them socially active and engaged.
Many parents are choosing to homeschool exclusively because of this issue. As the health effects become more widely known, many parents will need to think outside the box when it comes to their child’s education.
4. Make your home a safe environment—especially when sleeping.
This is something every parent can do. If you are overwhelmed with your child’s school environment, focus on the home. I have detailed our journey in the post From Wireless to Wired – Our Family’s Journey. The simple step of turning your router off at night can help give your child (and you!) a much-needed break from the everyday wireless exposures.
For more suggestions on ways to take action at home, especially in the sleeping areas, see Sleep, Melatonin and Electronic Devices, which outlines 15 suggestions for creating a sleep sanctuary.
Our children are part of a giant global experiment. As parents, we don’t have to apologize for questioning the health implications of wireless technology. Whether it’s expressing your concern to school board member, or turning off your router at night, every action counts.
- Healthy Schools: A Call for Best Practices with Wireless Radiation from Authorities Across the World
- Critique of National Association for Independent Schools Statement by Electromagnetic Health
- What Parents Need to Know About the Safety of Mobile and Wi-Fi-Enabled Technologies