Wi-fi in schools? Why we shouldn’t risk children’s health

by Ilaria Lonigro - 2014.03.05
Wi-fi in schools? Why we shouldn’t risk children’s health
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“Putting wi-fi in schools could be social suicide,” Francesca Romana Orlando, vice president of Amica, tells West. Associazione Malattie da Intossicazione Cronica e/o Ambientale (the association of chronic and/or environmental diseases and poisoning) has been campaigning for more than 10 years in Italy to lower the limits on exposure to electromagnetic fields.

The new health battle is taking place in schools and is hitting out against modems and cables. Having wi-fi in the classroom in primary schools is hotly debated and more parents with concerns about radiation are forming committees to request the replacement of wireless connections with cable. This happened in Civitanova Marche a month ago, when the councillor for education personally disconnected the modem signal and turned on the cable connection in the primary school.

“Scientific evidence says that exposure to wi-fi is a potential health risk,” says Francesca Romana Orlando. “They say that under the limits set by law, there is no danger, but that's not the case: the legal limits don't protect health. This is the biggest obstacle for citizens, for example if they want to sue mobile phone transmitters. There are known biological effects from wireless and mobile signals 10 times below the limits set by Italian law, which only protects from acute and thermal effects. Biologists, however, know that cells have internal electro-magnetic sensors that are affected by external magnetic fields, even very weak ones, without being heated.”

Meanwhile, however, thousands of Italian schools have applied for funding for wi-fi. Of the 2,074 applications submitted by secondary schools, 1,554 have been approved by the Ministry of Education. For 2013 and 2014, it has allocated €15 million for the wi-fi in the classroom. But according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, that is not enough: you would need at least double the sum to bring Italy into line with other countries such as Britain. The OECD urged Italy to find funding, even in the private sector.

But activists don't agree. “We are carrying out a measurement campaign in schools and libraries where there is wi-fi in various cities. So far we haven't found any violation of the legal limits – but that doesn't mean there are no biological effects. The limits of the law, in fact, refer to the peaks of exposure and not to the occupied bandwidth, which in the case of wi-fi is quite wide, because it carries data.” The president of Amica continues: “Other studies also give cause for concern. In 2011, we met researchers from the department of biomagnetism at the University of Athens. They did a study that showed that mice exposed to wi-fi signals suffered memory loss and spatial confusion: these are the same symptoms seen in 'electro-sensitive' people.”

Amica is campaigning precisely for the recognition of electro-sensitivity. Orlando says: “Over the past two years, we have been contacted by several people who were healthy, then after the arrival of wi-fi in their place of work, they suddenly began to suffer headaches, insomnia, confusion and a sense of disorientation. It's not easy to quantify and objectify these symptoms but their collective effect is a loss of quality of life. They are psychological and physical reactions to the exposure to electromagnetic fields from mobile phones and other wireless technologies, such as wi-fi. Instead of removing wi-fi as a precautionary measure, we are installing even more wi-fi in libraries and schools – learning environments where people need to feel well. In 2011, even the plenary assembly of the Council of Europe warned on the need to reduce the use of wi-fi, reminding us that radio waves have been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as 'possibly carcinogenic' to humans.”

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