Carl Bialik, the Wall Street Journal's Numbers Guy columnist, talks to the sources behind the incendiary Wi-Fi radiation kills trees reports: Thank you, Carl, for finding the sources, and revealing how nuts some of the information is. I was troubled that a single report could ricochet around the world with no real statistically valid or peer-reviewed published information behind it. But it's even worse than that.
Niek van 't Wout, the green space chief in the Dutch city of Alphen aan den Rijn, checked out a small number of the town's trees, found "abnormalities" in 70 percent, and van 't Wout extrapolated this with no additional research to all of Europe. There appear to have been no lab tests or pathology, or an attempt to determine the cause, nor to survey more broadly even in the city. Bialik dug up a published email by van 't Wout in which he speculated in 2007 that electromagnetic fields were responsible before having a single shred of evidence.
The study of trees in a controlled environment was also commissioned by the city and independent of the tree survey. The testing regime hasn't been released (under what conditions were plants and trees kept), nor does there appear to have been any controls—trees and plants in the same environment with shielding to block EMF. The exposed vegetative material had six Wi-Fi access points running nearby, which is not the proximity of exposure nearly any trees would receive. As with all EMF, signal strength decrease with the inverse square of the distance from the transmitter with a standard omnidirectional antenna; the formula is a bit different for a directional antenna, but then there's less exposure in the vicinity, too. (I wrote a critique of what was revealed of the study for BoingBoing.)
Bialik has one paragraph I'll quibble with:
His town did fund an experiment seeking to investigate whether Wi-Fi signals might harm trees. The experiment used Wi-Fi routers not because these were suspected as the major culprits — cellphone network signals generally are stronger — but because experimenters aren’t allowed to use cellular network transmitters, and besides it is difficult to find an environment without any cellular wireless signal as a control. It also isn’t clear why trees would be suffering only recently, while cellphone networks have existed for decades.
This must have been stated by van 't Wout or another interview subjectd, as it's all wrong. First, Wi-Fi access points would be further away and at vastly lower power than cellular base stations, and thus vastly less likely to be the "culprit." Second, researchers may test cellular signals in Europe. I have read dozens of studies in which cell transmitters are used in clinical settings in Sweden, Britain, Germany, and elsewhere. I'm sure there's red tape, and it may simply have been cost prohibitive.
Finally, you can find an environment without EMF: a shielded room. Since the plants were being tested indoors, two rooms could have shielded: one for controls, and one for exposure only from signals within the room. Again, the expense may have been too high.
This seems quite clearly that there was an agenda at work and little science involved.