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November 21, 2006

Wi-Fi Health Fear Mongering and Rumor

Two schools in UK turn off Wi-Fi: A few scattered complaints resulted in a school in England and another in Wales turning off their Wi-Fi networks. The lack of evidence of harm appears to be no reason to not disable the networks. One teacher reported ill health effects, but it doesn't appear that any effort was taken--it's not cited--to determine whether those effects resulted from something else. It's vanishingly unlikely that the symptoms this teacher had could be caused by microwave radiation of any kind, even at extremely high doses, and not effect those nearby. Even if this person has a unique constitution, the prevalence of Wi-Fi and similar, much more highly powered networks would lead us to expect thousands to tens of thousands of cases being reported daily, too.

The Health Editor of The Times (UK) notes that "it is impossible to prove anything safe" and that "The best that can be hoped for is no evidence of risk: evidence of no risk is asking the impossible." He points out that the extremely low levels of signal strength pouring out of Wi-Fi networks makes it unlikely to be a causal agent, even if you accept that mobile phones--which spit out much higher wattages--is a health risk. The Inquirer jibes, "if the mummies and daddies are worried about piddly little wi-fi systems, they'd better start thinking about WiMAX beams which they won't be able to avoid unless they kit their kids out with tin foil hats."

(The Times has already published letters in response to the column, including two that state bluntly that Wi-Fi makes people sick. This is easily testable in blind studies. Is anyone doing this work?)

Meanwhile, a Welsh MP and a Welsh paper spread fear further by reporting without attribution that the technology has been banned in schools in Canada." One school. One school is Canada did so based on non-existent studies.

Am I saying there's no chance that there's any potential risk of any sort from being close to networks that use Wi-Fi for communication? No. But I am pointing to both Occam's Razor and the Law of Very Large Numbers. If you have enough people exposed to the same technology, you should have large numbers of similar outcomes with no other reasonable explanation, including cancer clusters, sick days, and so forth. Sure, some health effects can take decades to appear. But the particular sort of problems cited, such as shortness of breath, rashes, and dizziness are rather obvious.


My company provides consultancy and troubleshooting specialising in RF for communications purposes operating globally.

I find the whole issue around WiFi causing sickness as highly unlikely due to the power levels used being too low. Also how many DECT phones are deployed that operate in the same waveband? Why have we not had the same issues thrown at them?

There are much higher risks from radiation from electrical cabling in schools, homes and offices than WiFi can ever cause.

RF radiation from wifi is non-ionised and therefore unless power is extremely high it is highly unlikely to cause any problems health wise so we view the risk as extremely low until science can prove it otherwise. Almost any RF wave with high enough power has the potential to kill you!

The finger pointing to WiFi is almost laughable as there are many other elements that use the same frequency bands in all of these environments, how can people identify the difference and blame just one? If you can, I'd be interested in talking with you, as you could be more usefull to my business than the sophisticated equipment we have to use!

I would suggest that in today's age of computing, the symptoms are more likely to be caused by eye-strain or too much use of computer terminals, These are scientifically proven to cause problems with health. People today spend more time looking at screens for education, leisure and work than ever before. The time spent creates tiredness and nauseous feelings leading to disrupted sleep patterns etc.

I believe that everything in life has a risk potential, and nothing is truly safe. All we can do is try and educate and assess rationally, rather than create these urban myths and create scare mongering unnecessarily.

I find that when I'm in very close proximity to WiFi radiation (usually within a few feet of a device that's radiating), I begin to notice problems. Mostly, I feel a pressure build up in the front of my head (mainly it seems to be my sinuses and eyes), my eyes start feeling swollen and sore and sometimes I get a headache. While I'm using a WiFi device the radiation starts to cause nerve problems in my whole body in the form of tingling and prickling sensations, vibration like feelings and twitches, and I find I start to get very loud tinnitus (buzzing in the ears). These symptoms tend to decline over a number of hours after having stopped usage. I find that if I leave my WiFi router on when I go to bed it interferes with my sleep so that as I'm falling asleep I'm jolted awake abruptly. I have to turn it off in order to get to sleep properly. There is no doubt in my experience that this radiation is causing interference to my body's 'electrical system' in various ways. Often I notice similar symptoms when using a mobile phone. I sympathise for all those who are suffering. I suspect this issue will get much more attention in the years to come and probably they'll one day find that they should never have allowed it. That said, it does seem that some people are more sensitive than others and perhaps it is only a small number of people that are badly affected.

[Editor's note: While I can't doubt your actual physical sensations, there's a very simple way to isolate whether it's Wi-Fi or something else causing it. As someone who has had cancer, I would be much more concerned that another measurable environmental effect was at work, given that there's no reasonable physical explanation for why Wi-Fi would cause this reaction.

The simple test is to tape over the lights and other outwards signs that a Wi-Fi router is active, and have someone in another room control the power to that router. Have another person in the same room with you recording your description of how you feel. The two people will use synchronized watches to know the time, but the one in the room with you will not know when the power is on or off. If your symptoms match the times the power is on, then they may be caused by the Wi-Fi router. If they do not, you'd better look for what's really affecting your health--gf]