From coffee shops to airports and even McDonald’s, WiFi is everywhere. WiFi has quickly become one of the easiest and most convenient ways to connect to the Internet and in recent years, putting WiFi in schools has become increasingly popular. And why not? On the surface, putting WiFi in schools seems like a terrific idea to aid education. On the other hand, the use of WiFi in schools does present concerns for our children’s health that should be addressed.
Although the general public may not think WiFi in schools as a health issue, many in medical community, industry experts, parents and advocacy groups are becoming vocal about the possible dangers. For instance, Canada’s Safe School Committee explain the hazards of WiFi for children such as infertility, erratic heart rates, learning impairment, behavioral changes, leukemia and even cancer on their web site.
About WiFi in Schools
WiFi is a form of Radio Frequency (RF) radiation, also called an Electromagnetic Frequency (EMF), which is generated by electronic devices. WiFi devices use radio transceivers capable of transmitting and receiving radio signals. When you use a laptop or tablet, it connects to the Internet via WiFi by transmitting data packets that use radio frequencies operating on either the 2.4-GHz or 5.8-GHz band, with 2.4 GHz offering greater range and 5.8 GHz offering more channels of operation. When we put WiFi in schools, students use laptops and tablets which simultaneously send radio frequency signals connecting to routers or access points. Within the confines of the room, these high-density transmissions compound to expose students with radio waves for up to eight hours a day, which can greatly affect their bodies over time.
Exposure does not stop in the classroom though. A recent report found an unexpected number of middle school students say they are using mobile devices including laptops, smartphones and tablets. According to the study, nearly two in three (65%) middle school students use a laptop, Half (49%) use a smartphone, and more than one in three (36%) use a tablet at home. So what we are seeing is children using electronic devices for many hours at a time on a daily basis. This level of exposure is unprecedented for children, and with their tissue and bones still developing, they are particularly vulnerable.
Heat and Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) Radiation
In addition to WiFi in schools and exposure to RF radiation, there are two other emissions which may be harmful to children: Heat and Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) radiation. Heat from electronic devices like laptops and tablets are obvious because we can feel it. When a laptop is in your lap, your lap can get hot. Laptops are capable of generating heat up to 115° or above which can cause skin problems such as toasted skin syndrome. Extremely Low frequency (ELF) radiation emissions are generated by the working components within the device like fans, hard drives and other mechanisms that consume power. Because of heat and ELF emissions, experts recommend to avoid using laptops and tablets directly on the lap, and suggest the use of protection to buffer between the lap and the device. For instance, David O. Carpenter, MD, director of the Institute for Health & Environment at the University of Albany states, “When you hold your laptop on your lap, what you’re essentially doing is radiating your pelvis. So that all the concerns that affect that area are of concern.”
A growing number of experts and advocacy groups believe that connecting to the Internet from mobile electronic devices like laptops and tablets via WiFi may cause health concerns for users. At this time, the long-term health effects of EMFs are still being studied, but health health concerns like decreased sperm motility, DNA damage, skin irritation as well as other issues have already been identified in studies. Whether using WiFi in schools or in the home, we should try to reduce our exposure, especially for children. Instead of putting WiFi in schools, Ethernet cables can be used to deliver Internet access as an option. Although this may be less convenient, it could be the safer bet. Parents can do the same for themselves and their children in the home. If this seems too limiting, an EMF shield may be used to between the device and the user to reduce possible health concerns. Using technology in schools is really a no-brainer, yet making sure it is safely implemented is crucial. There may be no “magic bullet,” but taking the time to think twice before putting WiFi in schools can be an important step the future of children.