Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Wi-Fi in schools: academic benefit or health risk?

wi-fi in schools 125International debate rages about the safety of Wi-fi in schools, with the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) insisting that Wi-Fi is safe in schools, a claim supported by Dr Geza Benke from the MOBI-KIDS project, researching possible links between mobile phone use and brain tumours in children.

In an interview with Natasha Bita, National Social Editor with the News Limited Network, Dr Benke said the signals from Wi-Fi were “one hundredth to one thousandth’’ of the strength of a mobile phone held to the head, but a Wi-Fi router could emit similar levels of electromagnetic radiation as a mobile phone base station “hundreds of metres away’’.  “The Wi-Fi most likely is on all day so kids might get six hours of exposure,’’ he said.  “When you’re on your phone most people spend just a couple of minutes.  “The best thing to do, and this isn’t being done, is to have a dosimeter (to measure radiation) put on children and let them go around for a couple of weeks and actively measure what their exposure is in the classroom from Wi-Fi.’’

Some countries have taken a stance on the use of Wi-Fi in schools:  France, Germany, Israel and the Council of Europe currently discourage Wi-Fi in schools until it has been deemed “safe for human consumption”, while The American Academy of Paediatrics has called for a review of radiation emissions from mobile phones and Wi-Fi.

In Australia, a group called Wi-Fi in Schools is circulating a “non-consent’’ letter for parents to give school principals if they do not want their children exposed to Wi-Fi in classrooms for six hours a day.

Dr Benke is part of an international research collaboration headed by Prof Michael Abramson (Department of Clinical Epidemiology) who has been awarded NHMRC funding for a Centre of Research Excellence on Electromagnetic Energy, commencing in 2014.  This research will include studies of brain tumours in young people, cancer and neurological outcomes in older adults and personal exposures from radiofrequency sources in the community.

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