7 Expert concerns about wi-fi

In 2000, the government-commissioned report on the health effects of mobile phone technology (the ‘Stewart Report’) recommended the precautionary approach. 27, 28 In particular, it says that “the beam of greatest intensity [from a phone mast] should not fall on any part of the school grounds or buildings without agreement from the school and parents.” 29

According to a Panorama programme broadcast in 2007, the use of wi-fi in schools is equivalent to having a mobile phone mast in school. 30 The programme’s findings were upheld by the BBC’s Editorial Complaints Unit. 31

The programme’s findings were also supported by eight members—half—of the Health Protection Agency’s Electromagnetic Fields Discussion Group. 32 In a memorandum issued in December 2007, the group draws attention to Stewart’s precautionary approach as applied to schools (see above), and point out that “the levels [of microwave emissions] inside classrooms from internal WiFi /wLAN 33 equipment will almost always significantly exceed the classroom levels from any nearby base station [phone mast].”

This means that, without the agreement of parents, the use of wi-fi in schools violates the precautionary principle recommended by the Stewart report.

In calling for a review of the potential health risks linked to wi-fi in schools, Stewart cited findings which indicated changes in brain function, molecular biology changes and cancer. 34

In April 2007, Professor Lawrie Challis, then head of the government and industry-funded Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, called for the health of pupils in schools that have wi-fi to be monitored. He was concerned that few studies have been carried out into the level of exposure in classrooms. He said that if health problems do emerge as a result of wi-fi they are likely to be more serious in children. 35

In October 2007, the Health Protection Agency announced a programme of research into exposure levels. However, the eight members of the HPA’s EMF Discussion Group cited above point out that the HPA’s programme fails to address the issue of non-thermal health effects. It is these that are the cause of concern. The group calls for an investigation into such effects, particularly on children. They point out that the signal levels in schools with wi-fi are between 2 and 40 times higher than levels already known to cause adverse symptoms. 36

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27 Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones (2000), Mobile Phones and Health (The Stewart Report). Sir William Stewart, who was previously Chief Scientific Advisor to the government, chaired the group.
28 In 2002, over sixty medical doctors issued the Freiburg Appeal, in which they associate mobile phone technology with “a dramatic rise in severe and chronic diseases among our patients“ (the document is available at a number of websites, including THIS. It now has over 36,000 signatories, of whom 1,000 are medical.
29 Stewart Report, paragraph 1.42
30 Wi-fi: A Warning Signal, 21.5.07. The programme can be viewed in three 10 minute parts on YouTube:


31 LINK The programme was attacked by an article in The Guardian under the title “Bad Science”, and three complaints were lodged with the BBC. However, the BBC Editorial Complaints Unit backed the experiment shown in the programme, pointing out that “(the) measurements of wi-fi and mobile phone mast radiation were taken at the points where schoolchildren were likely to be exposed to the respective signals, thus avoiding the false impression that the level of radiation from wi-fi was higher at source.” The complaints unit did uphold the complaint that the programme had not presented a balanced picture of the state of scientific opinion, as it had focused principally on those scientists whose research has led them to be concerned about the health effects of wi-fi.
32 ‘Updated Memorandum on WiFi Research’, 10.12.07. The group gives figures from reports from both the UK and abroad that agree with the Panorama figures
33 wLAN = wireless local area network
34 Daily Telegraph, 21.5.07
35 Daily Telegraph, 28.4.07
36 ‘Updated Memorandum on WiFi Research’, 10.12.07