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October 6, 2003

School District Sued over WLAN Planning

A school district is sued in Illinois over planning a WLAN without addressing a group of parents' concerns over electromagnetic radiation's effects: I'll be curious for feedback on this. The suit says that there's a pile of credible evidence, and cites 30 studies (citations not included in this document, unfortunately) that connect EMR at high frequencies and signal strengths comparable to WLANs to health problems. I'm unaware of these. The lawsuit also says there are no regulations after 1993 that relate to EMR and its only about thermal emissions even up to that point. My reading of EPA and FCC regulations indicates otherwise.

Anybody up for friends of the court briefs or more elucidation on whether this suit has merit? I wonder if the FCC or EPA would get involved in this suit in order to avoid setting a precedent (with settlement or loss) that would affect the ability of Part 15 devices to be deployed?

(Read the comments below, too: One poster notes a cell phone study, but Wi-Fi transceivers put out a tiny fraction of the electromagnetic radiation of a cell phone, and typically, a Wi-Fi transceiver is quite far from a sensitive area of the human body -- meaning that orders of magnitude less radiation is received. Often, the signal strength is only a few notches about thermal background radiation.)

7 TrackBacks

Wi-Fi Bad from Shanafelt Sector on October 6, 2003 11:33 AM

Wi-Fi networking news is reporting that a bunch of parents in Illinois are suing a school for installing Wi-Fi claiming that the access points are going to emit enough wireless signal to fry their kid's brains. I'm betting these same... Read More

too bad your ass got sacked from sounds from a heart murmur on October 6, 2003 3:52 PM

i know this is old news, but i'm sure someone out there hasn't seen these g.i. joe psas, some of... Read More

class action over school wifi? from Snapping Links II (The Revenge) on October 6, 2003 4:32 PM

school district sued over wifi planning Read More

Wififrykt from Eiriks forfatterblogg on October 7, 2003 1:45 AM

Det er like greit å være forberedt på det, først som sist: wifi ligger an til å bli den neste Read More

Though previous scares over electromagnetic fields in overhead power lines and cellular phones have pretty much petered out, fear springs eternal and now is taking as its subject "Wi-Fi" computer-access technology: "Parents in Oak Park, Illinois, have ... Read More

Oh, for the love of God... a group of parents in Oak Park, Illinois are suing their school district over the deployment of wireless technologies to connect the schools and provide network access within the schools. They are claiming that... Read More

[source]Though previous scares over electromagnetic fields in overhead power lines and cellular phones have pretty much petered out, fear springs... Read More


I'd be very interested in seeing the references for this as well. Everything that I've read points to the contrary.

At least I hope it does, I've been sitting right beside an AP for about a year now :>

It looks like the oldest "plaintiff" is in eighth grade. Their probably just mad that their school's don't have WiFi.

Don't PCS phones transmit at 400mW at 2GHz? That's 400mW at less than 1cm from your brain.

No, the school distict where this was filed has WiFi in all its schools and a wireless WAN connecting all the schools and buildings.

802.11 networks transmit, typically, 38 milliwatts of RF - but only when they are transmitting. Most of the time, they are not transmitting. So the average power output is much less.

Compare this to the average power leakage from a consumer microwave oven, also operating at about 2.45 Ghz: 1/2 watt to 1 watt, depending on when the unit was manufactured. 802.11 networks were, by design, set to produce power output far below (e.g. 1/10th to 1/20th the level) that is emitted by an ordinary microwave oven, which shares the same radio frequencies as 802.11 networks.

The RF power dissipation at 2.4 Ghz is also very rapid, with a fall off in the RF field often proportional to 1 over r to the 4th or 5th power, where r is the radius of the distance outward from the transmission antenna.

PCS phones operate at 1.9 Ghz plus or minus. Traditional cellular operates between 800 and 900 Mhz. Power output level for analog phones was a maximum of 600 milliwatts. For today's digital cellular CDMA phones, the maximum output level is 200 milliwatts. In reality, the typical output is much lower. In order to reduce interference between adjoining tower cells, and to extend the life of the handheld phone's battery, the network strives to keep the transmit power as low as possible. It is quite common for average celphone calls to be conducted at power levels of less than 100 milliwatts.

The only impacts of 802.11 RF appear to be stress induced in those whose brain power may have been limited by other factors outside the realm of this discussion. The impact of the lawsuit itself will be more detrimental to student health than the 802.11 networks, in that the lawsuit will cost the school district funds that might otherwise have gone to student education. Further, if the district decides to remove the network, it will then remove the benefit of having computer network access in its classroom. Thus, the lawsuit itself will de facto cause problems for the students.

Lets not forget that these same parents most likely used baby monitors (2.4Ghz) - Perhaps the child should sue the parent.

Before we go overboard defending WiFi, note that we don't usually keep a microwave running 24/7 -- and that the effects of constant low power radiation can be greater than the effect of a single quick pulse of radiation.
Swedish research from Swedens most prestigious University are very alarming. A Danish researcher who has studied micro radiaton for 10 years is saying the same. She never uses cellphones by herself. She has seen the effect it has on her test animals. She points out especially that children are much more sensitive. She has published a very critical article today in the largest newspaper in Denmark.

Not at all sure where you are all getting these RF ERP figures from!

I've done a number of schools in Wi-Fi, typically using Cisco 100mW AP's with 5.2dbi antenna's connected directly to them, do the math.

However, there is the issue of proximity. I'd rather sit in a room with said Cisco AP all day (actually I do) than sit with a 2.5G or 3G GRPS phone slapped to the side of my brain.

The issue here is SAR (Specific Absorption Rate's), some mobile phone's are downright scary.

The USA is so damn litigious, people here will sue over a popcorn fart three towns away!

Cheers Nigel 97 affirms stance on wireless technology


The Elementary School District 97 School Board has backed a previous resolution supporting its use of wireless technology in classrooms, prompting the head of a parent group to again consider filing a lawsuit in the matter.

The board discussed its wireless technology resolution at a meeting held July 23 and decided it would notify parents of the use of such technology in information sent home to parents at the start of the school year. The district would also offer to provide parents with information about the technology it uses at its administrative office.

Otherwise, the board has decided to stay with a wireless technology resolution passed by the previous School Board, said Adekunle Onayemi, School Board president.

In that resolution, the district will continue to use wireless technology in its schools. The board will monitor research on the safety of such technology and, if necessary, make changes to ensure safety to staff and students.

Ron Baiman of the group Safe Technology for Oak Park had asked the board in June to reconsider the resolution and allow parents to opt out of having children in wireless technology classrooms.

At that time, Baiman presented the board with more than 500 studies concerning wireless technology, 80 percent of which he said showed that the radio frequency of wireless technology has biological affects on young children, including cancer, memory loss, sleep disorder, impaired nervous system function and decreased immune system function.

Steve Chowanski, the district's director of technology, countered that information with Dr. David McCormick, vice president and director of the life sciences group at the IIT Research Institute, and Dr. Faith Davis, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois in Chicago, who spoke before the board last week and said there is no body of scientific evidence that shows wireless technology is harmful to children.

The school district has made accommodations for parents requesting their children be taken out of such classrooms, Superintendent John said during the board's July 23 meeting, but the board did not make such an option formal.

Each of the school's buildings are set up with wireless technology, said Chowanski. A student who goes to a school's media center or even the principal's office will find him or herself in a wireless arena, Chowanski said.

Wireless hubs are in the media centers at the district's schools, Chowanski said, and in the administrative offices. Hubs can be connected in each of the classrooms and computers dispersed to students so they can access the Internet.

"At this point, it's hard to say, we don't want our kid in wireless, or involved in wireless," Chowanski said. "We will not and cannot guarantee they will not walk through it, or be in it somewhere in the building."

But exposure to wireless technology decreases with distance, Baiman said.

"It is a problem, but not being in front of a screen or in a room with a transmitter that's working, it's a different exposure than being somewhere in the building," Baiman said.

Baiman said he will likely file a lawsuit against the district to force a moratorium on the use of wireless technology in the classrooms.

"The School Board seems to be unable to deal with this," he said

Nice Post Glenn,

To respond to your musing regarding the FCC, etc..."getting involved": I would expect the Office of Spectrum Management, or the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Agency to respond, as the FCC has no official capacity over the ISM band as far as regulatory action or licensing issues are concerned. In fact, in our state, the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission does not oversee the use of ISM bandwidth for 802.11b networking in any regard, taking precedent from the FCC in their capacity as a local legislative and public advisory entity.

I am on the fence regarding this issue, as my community wireless networking research with the University of Washington Tacoma Urban Studies Department has illuminated several similar case findings of detrimental impact, some of remarkably well documented, scholarly research. I would encourage further study of EMF/RF/ELF within communities, neighborhoods, rural areas, and cities, as I believe that accurate, real-time GIS maps of these energy fields would be a beneficial resource for community planing, citizen activism, and public safety.

Stop! Children as Guinea Pigs

by Ron Baiman and Tom Broderick

The Greater Oak Park branch of the DSA (GOPDSA) is playing a lead role in a coalition raising health concerns and the use of wireless technology in the Oak Park public school system.

We have adopted the name Safe Technology for Oak Park (STOP).

Health issues:
Charles Moore; Dr. George Carlo was hired by the telecommunications industry to study the health effects of electro-magnetic radiation and had his seven year industry-funded study squashed by that industry.
and the Disney Corporation has refused to license the use of its characters to the cell phone industry due to concerns of future health liabilities, particularly regarding children, as well as adverse publicity. Some of the same law firms that took on the Tobacco Industry are filing multi-billion dollar law suits against the wireless industry and the U.S. government regulatory agencies for cover up and failing to protect the public.

Our mission is to establish democratic socialism as a political force in the United States and around the world by training and mobilizing socialist activists to participate in a vibrant and diverse socialist organization at both the local and the national level.

Maybe you should take some of that energy and put it towards a solution... Why not invent a WiFi Helmet for your children to wear to protect their brains from electromagnetic waves... Meanwhile, i will try to protect my children from people who state their opinions as fact.

These parents are the same type of nutty environmentalists that have scared half the world over powerlines. Just wait until the pro-nutty media like 60 Min and 20/20 get a hold of it. They'll screw WiFi the same as they screw every other good tech advance that the enviros get their panties in a bunch over.

Ehem. This is one "nutty environmentalist" posting from a WiFi PowerBook, who sleeps next to an AP. This has nothing to do with environmentalists, and everything to do with litigation-happy hypochondriacs (and in your hypothetical rambling, a sensationalistically-obsessed media). Your knee jerk reactionism is just as hurtful as those jumping on the "oh my God, my son is dying" bandwagon.

The WiFi community neeeds to wake up to people's fears about electromagnetic radiation. 40 years ago cigarettes were recommended by doctors to relieve stress!

I'm thinking they might've got their information from this:

POTENTIAL HEALTH RISKS OF RADIOFREQUENCY FIELDS FROM WIRELESS TELECOMMUNICATION DEVICES, by Krewski et al. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part B, 4:1–143, 2001. It's a very long summary/evaluation of various studies done on the health effects of wireless devices. It's coming out of the University of Ottawa, but it looks they're reviewing stuff from all over. The article is available in PDF from EBSCO's Medline database, if anyone's interested and has access to it (from most major university libraries). Or you can email me.

"40 years ago cigarettes were recommended by doctors to relieve stress!"

40 years ago, every major tobacco company knew that cigarettes caused disease, apparently, and smokers were dying of lung cancer, hacking, getting sick. It was an epidemic that everyone chose to ignore because of the addictive nature of tobacco, the government and industry's collusion, and the intensive social pressure combined with marketing.

There's nothing similar with radio frequency devices. I personally don't want to get brain cancer from using a cell phone or Wi-Fi, so I don't dismiss the concerns people have. But epidemiologically, when you have hundreds of millions of people exposed to an EMR source over decades and you don't see clusters or any pattern in an increase in disease, the likelihood is low that it has a significant effect of any kind.

This reminds me very much of the VLF/ELF emissions from computer displays. No study ever showed a significant correlation between use of a display and any health risk. However, if you took enough different studies that showed no elevated risk and manipulated them together, you could show an infinitesimal risk. I read those studies, the ones that were cited all over the place, and they really didn't have the kind of methodology that should have led to the outcry over VLF/ELF.

Chad Akins wrote:

"I would expect the Office of Spectrum Management, or the National Telecommunications Infrastructure Agency to respond"

Presumably he means the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), whose authority over the general public use of RF (radiofrequency energy) is very limited, to put it mildly.

>as the FCC has no official capacity over the ISM band as far as regulatory action or licensing issues are concerned.

The FCC must certify Part 15 wireless devices, such as those sharing the ISM band, before they may be marketed. The FCC establishes the frequencies on which such devices may operate. The FCC makes the rules that the devices must comply with. That's what I would call "official capacity" and "regulatory action".

And yes, they have the police power of the state; the FCC can unilaterally withdraw anyone's authority to operate even unlicensed devices like your wireless LAN. Not that this happens very often.

Akins continues: "In fact, in our state, the Washington Utility and Transportation Commission does not oversee the use of ISM bandwidth for 802.11b networking in any regard"

Nor does any utility commission oversee the use of ISM bandwidth, or any other bandwidth, in any state. In the U.S., authority over the radio spectrum is reserved exclusively to the federal government: the Congress, in the case of non-federally owned emitters (that is, the wireless stuff you and I would normally use) and the POTUS (for stuff that the feds use, from air-traffic control radars, to RF tracking bird collars, to those things in their sleeves that the MIBs talk into).

The Congressional authority is exercised through the Communications Act and FCC, while the President has delegated his radio authority to the Commerce Secretary where it ends up in the NTIA. The Food and Drug Administration also has some authority over such things as microwave ovens and medical devices that utilize RF. It has at times spoken out, not too firmly, about the alleged biological effects of RF or lack thereof.

The most state utility commissions have done is impose common-carrier regulation on some types of mobile phone and paging companies. But the FCC pre-empts much of that nowadays, and an obscure portion of the 1996 Telecom Act also pre-empted certain local regulation of unlicensed devices.

So whatsit mean? Will the feds step in to protect kids' right to be irradiated by Wi-Fi? Seems to me that a school district can decide to allow or bar just about anything they want on school property.

This is nuts. Is there any chance the Wifi technology makers are going to help the school in this stupid lawsuit.

I am the son of an atomic scientist and this is just so inane it borders on comedy. I wonder if the parrents put on tin foil helments when they pick up their kids from school so the martians to not try to brainwash them with their magical rays.

Interesting how quickly these fears are dismissed by those 'in the know'here abouts. In fact there is a large (c 6-700 papers) body of research which has been done over the years into electromagnetic radiation which suggests that there are biological effects which occur from prolonged exposure to EMF. Examples? Mobile phones and the blood brain barrier, electricity pylons and childhood leukemia etc.

Try reading up on some stuff from around the world before you dismiss this so lightly folks.

Microwave ovens operate in the 2 GHz ISM (Industrial Scientific Medical) band because that frequency is the one that is most efficiently converted into heat within the water molecule.

Therefore, I would be wary of cell phones, operating not too far away at 1.8 GHz, and usually not too far from your protoplasm. I wouldn't buy a cell phone unless it had a jack for an external antenna that I could use _sometimes_, at least.

Back to the kids. Their bodies are still forming, and disruptions to their biology generally have more impact to their long-term health than do stresses on grown ups, if only because they have more long-term to live. Exposure to microwave oven frequencies is probably a poor choice. However, there is always 5 GHz Wi-Fi, whose health effects are totally unknown. Maybe it’s a less hazardous frequency, and it would easily cover a cube-shaped classroom.

Saying that 2 GHz Wi-Fi delivers less energy to the body than do cell phones is only a relative statement. It doesn't prove that cell phones are burning our corneas, nor does it prove that Wi-Fi is without hazard. Personally, I would not bathe my kids in 2 GHz energy all day, no matter how weak, especially since "weak" is an unknown quantity until more studies are done.

On that subject, the Japanese have been using 2 GHz cell phones even more voraciously than we Americans have. We thank them for volunteering themselves for the experiment. However, I have yet to hear that they are breaking out in assorted illnesses that are linked to 2 GHz energy exposure. Maybe soon, maybe never.

Thanks, Neil

"Microwave ovens operate in the 2 GHz ISM (Industrial Scientific Medical) band because that frequency is the one that is most efficiently converted into heat within the water molecule."

The rest of the critical comments are probably at the same level of understanding of the physical fundamentals (i.e., blatantly false).

Oh, "Our mission is to establish democratic socialism as a political force in the United States and around the world by training and mobilizing socialist activists to participate in a vibrant and diverse socialist organization at both the local and the national level." -- that's more like it.

In case you are talking to genuine concerned parents instead of political activists looking for a fight, you might want to employ one of the "ecology" style institutes (but choose one with a rest of scientific conscience) to have them measure the field strengths. Their report will finish the discussion. I know it has in a really large WiFi site I'm familiar with.

How many of these parents have cordless phones in the home?
802.11b uses the same 2.4GHz band as many of the cordless phones (900M & 5.8G are the other 2). If there were damage causes by 2.4GHz emissions then there would be no way to prove it came for the school and not the home.
For that matter how many of the parents have Wi-Fi in the home or at work?

The one study that purported to show a relationship between power line EMF and cancer was later recinded by the author when he admitted that the data was faked.

Want a good laugh - go look at At least they know they're publishing a farce. Many of these "antis" don't realize the same thing.

If I was there child, I would say daddy stupid and I want my mega-pizza-lunchables with peperoni flavored sausage. Plus I bet soccer mom is getting more radiation from that microwave and her cell phone while driving around all those brats to soccer practice while picking up her wellfare checks.

At some point we need to make laws that will seriously bite back at the people that start lawsuits rather then doing research where it hurts the very people they suggest they are trying to help.

Those people in Safe Technology for Oak Park (STOP) should be held accountable for any loss they cause while perusing this frivolous lawsuit.

When I first read about this I asked myself, "Are there really people that believe they will help things by filing a lawsuit?" I quickly realized that of course there are, I mean all we have to do is put something in writing and 50% or better think it's the truth.

Safe Technology for Oak Park (STOP), you are nothing but sheep’s.

I would think the FCC Office of Engineering and Technology ( would be involved. They have RF safety guidelines up.

As a ham radio operator familiar with WiFi, I would not consider the AP's to be enough of a risk to be frightened over, but I would observe all safety precautions because that is simply good practice. Ham radio operators are already required to evaluate their stations if they're above a certain power limit, but in practice, I always do an evaluation no matter what.

If an AP is next to a student's head, it isn't going to give adequate performance in the area. But I'm not going to lose sleep over an AP that is 8 ft. over a student's head because of the square-cube law; I believe a typical WiFi AP would pass any evaluation anyway, so long as it's in an open space typical of classrooms or hallways.

If I were implementing this for the district, I would conduct a safety evaluation and let the parents see the results. It won't convince everyone, the parents of the lead plaintiffs might not be swayed, but others would be and it would convey the message that the school shares their concerns.

I don't think very highly of most of the RF scaremongering that's out there, but we do ourselves no favors by ignoring it, either.

Re WLANS and children:
I have observed children in school using one WLAN system. First off, the teachers are given zero cautions re the system, and most don't realize there is any kind of radiation involved. Last I spoke with a rep from the WLANs company involved, I was told they caution not to be within, I believe it was, 8 inches (if my memory serves me) of the base station, despite the fact that the base station is rather attractive to youngsters.
Second, if you think children sit a nice 18 inches away from the antenna on their computers, you are mistaken. Surely some do (maybe half or less of the ones I've seen), but they are just as likely to move in very close to the screen, especially if they are nearsighted or the print is small. I have even seen a child work with his head resting on the edge of the keyboard. Plus, in classrooms where desks are in the traditional rows, the antenna embedded in a screen can be right behind the head of a child sitting in the seat in front of it.

Even so, you might say the intensity level is extremely weak, and that is true if you are comparing it to thermal levels, or even the FCC safety standards which, while based on thermal effects only, do allow a margin of safety for them.
However, if you look at the very low intensity levels at which some bioeffects have been observed in some studies on RF radiation, you see the WLANs levels are within that range (as well as many other wireless and cordless devices). In addition, you are generally dealing with pulsed waves which have bursts of energy. You can "average them out" and make them look lower over a given period of time, but the bursts occur in any case. Might there not be some cells or organs in the body that respond to these bursts, or even the pattern of the bursts? We are, after all, electromagnetic equipment of the human variety. Also, if I am correct, the waves are modulated, with high frequency waves as carriers for low frequency waves. So you would have more options for an effect, I would think.

In any case, this research needs to be carried on by biologists and medical researchers, because this is an agent working on biology. Unfortunately, the decision-makers and the sponsored researchers on effects of this radiation (at least in the US) have tended to be technical people like engineers and physicists, who may have a different approach to research, and ask different questions.
Furthermore, tradition has put representatives of the military and the industry at the helm of this decision-making. Given human nature, surely the work cultures from which they spring could sway them to have a slight bias toward an assumption of safety.

If you do a little investigating, you will find that no federal agency in the US is taking responsibility for assuring that RF radiation does not adversely affect the public. When you press the issue, you find that the buck stops---nowhere. And that is a situation that is of concern to some scientists working in those agencies.

This is a far more complex issue than meets the eye. And it is very possible that there is a whole lot more about the nature of microwaves and their interaction with the living body that we do not know about at this point in time.

In addition to those listed by someone above, here are a few more sites I have found useful:


Then they should use the law-suit money to install a fiber optic network, there is no radation and the bandwidth is greater at high speeds.