| March 21, 2016 | Last Updated: Mar 22 8:57 AM ET  | @AshleyCsanady

Wireless internet signals are often no stronger than a baby monitor, but that hasn’t curtailed the debate over whether Wi-Fi should be banned from the classroom.

Two teachers’ union locals in Kingston, Ontario, want their school to permanently switch off wireless internet connections over concerns the over-the-air signals post a significant health risk. Public health units across the country maintain Wi-Fi is perfectly safe, even for young children. But that hasn’t prevented various teachers unions and school boards, including the Canadian Teachers’ Federation, from calling for a moratorium on wireless use in schools if not an outright ban.


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“We’re concerned because Wi-Fi and microwave communications have not been determined to be safe and we’ve never received any training about the hazards such as all the warnings that come with your cellphones or wireless devices,” said Andrea Loken president of the Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation Limestone District. “We’ve never been asked if we’re OK with being subjected to Wi-Fi all day everyday while we’re at work. No one has given consent and no one has been informed of the risks.”

The local branch of the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO) joined the local OSSTF in asking its school board to review Wi-Fi use, something that was already underway. The school board expects a report to be tabled later this month assessing the safety of wireless connections in schools.

Loken cites a number of studies and that taps into an appetite to ban Wi-Fi across Canada, and internationally. The central ETFO union, representing all elementary teachers in the province, has also questioned Wi-Fi’s safety, while OSSTF’s province-wide team has not. Many believe Wi-Fi exposure can cause everything from nausea to cancer. France has banned it from its public schools over concerns about safety. That prompted a similar debate in Peel Region, one of the country’s largest school boards covering a swath of suburban area west of Toronto, and the Edmonton Catholic School Board has previously debated banning the use of the increasingly ubiquitous wireless internet connections.

The concerns stem from a belief the the radiofrequency electromagnetic energy that carries a Wi-Fi to your electronic device is detrimental to human health and especially on a mass scale, such as routers large enough to cover an entire school or system. It is a low form of radiation, but one that’s usually less powerful than the radio signals that have streamed unseen through the air for over a century, and about the same as what comes off a TV or microwave.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Files

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/FilesOpponents believe that Wi-Fi exposure can lead to an array of health symptoms including headaches, nausea and heart conditions, while Health Canada maintains that there is no need for the public to take any precautions.

Despite the commonality of those low-doses of radiation, Loken said she and other members of the OSSTF executive in her area have done their own research and are convinced Health Canada is failing to recognize the danger of Wi-Fi. She says “it’s simply not true” Wi-Fi is the same strength as a radio broadcast tower. (Most Wi-Fi runs between 2.4 and 5 gigahertz, and 2.4 gigahertz is so common it’s usually the frequency for baby monitors and garage door openers).

“The problem with Wi-Fi in schools is that it’s on all the time. We’re not allowed to turn it off,” Loken said, adding that people can choose to smoke or own a cellphone and accept those risks but not whether they are exposed to Wi-Fi.

But Health Canada — like the World Health Organization and Public Health Ontario — states “current scientific evidence supports the assertion that (radiofrequency) energy emissions from Wi-Fi devices are not harmful.”

At its strongest, Wi-Fi is only about as strong as one per cent of the maximum electromagnetic energy emissions allowed by Health Canada under what’s called “Safety Code 6” — a common flashpoint for those who believe Wi-Fi exposure poses an imminent threat. That’s the regulation that outlines how strong the energy emitted from any wireless device can be in Canada, including cellphone and broadcast towers. It’s also important to note Wi-Fi non-ionized energy, which means that unlike an X-ray which is ionized, its effects on the human body at low doses are fairly innocuous.

I don’t think most scientific experts would feel there is any kind of an established risk for children around Wi-Fi

“I don’t think most scientific experts would feel there is any kind of an established risk for children around Wi-Fi,” said Dr. Ray Copes, chief of environmental and occupational health, with Public Health Ontario. “That’s very different than saying we have conclusively proven that nothing can ever happen to anyone.”

“There’s a lot of literature out there. The challenge in much of that is you get one off studies that can’t be replicated.”

And that’s where so much of the confusion creeps in. It’s impossible to prove a negative, and there are so many studies out there about Wi-Fi that sometimes a negative connection is made, but that doesn’t mean all other environmental factors have been ruled out.

“We’re not aware of any evidence that would suggest that the Wi-Fi exposures in schools are a major contributor to (radiofrequency) exposures overall,” he said. “Wherever we go we’re going to be exposed to some degree of radiation, and that’s everything from sunlight… to high-voltage electricity transmission.”

He said it’s “reasonable” to discuss limitations on where and when the routers themselves are set up, because very close proximity — a matter of a metre or less — can increase exposure.

“What I would be concerned about from a personal dose perspective is what you hold in your hand,” Copes said, adding portable electronics themselves, whether laptops or tablets or smartphones, are stronger than Wi-FI when right against the body but much safer even at arm’s length. So even if classrooms were hardwired to the Internet instead of wirelessly connected, the same electromagnetic energy would be bouncing around. He said those concerned about portable devices can use headsets to distance themselves form their phones — something he did with his first cellphone decades ago.

Though many say there’s not enough research — including the Canadian Teachers’ Federation and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario — the World Health Organization says “scientific knowledge in this area is now more extensive than for most chemicals. Based on a recent in-depth review of the scientific literature, the WHO concluded that current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields. “

The WHO also notes “some gaps in knowledge about biological effects exist and need further research.” Copes said that’s because the massive research body, like any good scientist, would never say there’s not more to know, but that doesn’t mean what we do know right isn’t pretty substantial.

also in TheProvince (BC)


Kingston teachers want WiFi ban

Mar 21, 2016

Peel voices say there is no local concern

Caledon Enterprise

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It doesn’t appear the question or concern has come up, and certain voices from Peel are confident they have done everything possible to ensure the practice is safe.

But in the Kingston area, the concern has become quite serious. Quoting independent research from a number of international experts, the Ontario Secondary Schools Teachers Federation (OSSTF) local and Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario (ETFO) locals in the Limestone district (Kingston and area) are demanding their boards turn off WiFi routers until the product is determined ‘safe.’

“We’ve been discussing it for a long time,” said Andrea Loken, OSSTF president for the Limestone District. “We’ve been gaining awareness through a few people who have concerns, and as we’ve looked into it, we’ve found it has been named a class 2 carcinogen. The occupational health and safety act protects us and we must protect ourselves in the workplace.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), radio frequency electromagnetic fields have been determined a possibly carcinogen to humans. These RF fields are emitted in higher concentration by mobile phones, and in lighter concentrations by base antennas, including WiFi routers.

Loken said a number of independent experts, including Frank Clegg, a former Microsoft Canada president, who is now CEO of Canadian’s For Safe Technology, are criticizing school boards, including Peel’s for ignoring mounting evidence of both cancer and infertility for teachers and students exposed to all day WiFi.

Brian Woodland, spokesperson for the Peel district school board, has said that statement is unequivocally untrue.

“We’ve done extensive WiFi testing, across a large number of schools. We are well within the levels expressed by Health Canada and safety code six, and the results show we are well within the revised safety code six limits,” Woodland said. “We’ve also specifically installed intelligent routers, that operate at a fraction of the home routers.”

The intelligent routers go up and down in strength according to need and use, he added. Woodland also explained that Peel did not enter into WiFi use lightly and simply install the technology as it came along. They sought out advice and research from Peel Public Health, Health Canada and others.

Research has been done into the WHO and IARC’s conclusions, which if looked into, at least briefly, appear to refer mainly to heavy cell phone usage. A website, wifiinschools.ca, notes that while arsenic and lead are also possible carcinogens listed as class 2b, so too are pickles and coffee.

Consensus on the issue appears impossible however, as independent experts like Dr. Magda Havas ¬– an associate professor of environmental and resource studies at Trent University who received her PhD from the University of Toronto, and completed post-doctoral research at Cornell University and was a science advisor to the Canadian Coalition on Acid Rain and contributed research to help bring in clean air legislation in 1985 – who teaches and does research on the biological effects of environmental contaminants, told The Enterprise in 2012 the limits expressed by Health Canada are “inadequate.”

Speaking about telecommunications tower installation in Caledon, Havas addressed WiFi in schools as well.

She said the government is not doing enough, and believed they are acting for the industry instead of the people. Scientists around the globe are showing the effects of exposure to radiation can be worse than smoking and while it took years to ban smoking from schools, now, our country is installing WiFi in them.

“Unfortunately you can’t bring a lawsuit against the government, but I think someone should bring a lawsuit against Health Canada for failing to protect the health of Canadians. Right now they are protecting the health of the wireless industry by their inaction,” Havas said.

Representatives from the Peel teachers federations said there simply hasn’t been a concern.

Mike Bettiol, president of the OSSTF local in Peel, said he hasn’t heard a concern from his membership at all.

“No, haven’t heard anything,” he said.

Steve Denommee, president of Peel ETFO local said they don’t have a specific stance.

“We have had some members express some concerns, but we don’t have a specific policy at this point in time.”

Loken said there has been an increase in sick leave and incidents of anxiety in the classroom among teachers and students in the Limestone district.

All of Peel’s voices said they have no data on either of those items in Peel.

Woodland added that the school board is not a health expert itself, and must rely on the conclusions of the experts around it. And while it has sought out information from Peel public health and others, every reputable source they have spoken to has said there is no legitimate health concern.

“The experts are public health and Peel health, and they have given us a very clear statement about WiFi use, and that’s up on our website,” he said. “Our role as public organizations is to do all the research possible, and we didn’t move to put WiFi in schools until we had done that work.”