I know that the safety of my family’s exposure to Wifi at home is something I think about a lot— I imagine us all sleeping through the night, radiation swirling around our heads, and wonder if it’s causing harm. Now it’s not just our home time that could be putting us in harm’s way: Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop ran an article about how WiFi in schools could be affecting their health in horrible ways. Our home routers aren’t nearly as strong as the routers and Wireless Access Points that a school requires to make the signal strong enough to accommodate hundreds of computers and devices at once. Turns out, whatever worry I might have had about our exposure in the house is a bigger cause for concern at school.
Of course, this is all new territory, and experts disagree on whether the current scientific research points to the fact that the level of radiation exposure is cause for alarm or generally safe. Should you be organizing an emergency PTA meeting on the topic? Here are the important facts.
wifi in schools: the arguments
All wireless signals are a form of radiation (the same frequency as microwave radiation), and in 2011 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer reviewed the available scientific research and classified those signals as Group 2B carcinogens, which means they are seen as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” (Carcinogens are linked to cancer risk, of course.) That class includes harmful things like lead and DDT, so naturally, people got scared and started asking questions.
WiFi in schools started to get attention, in particular, because studies have shown that children absorb more radiation than adults and they’re particularly vulnerable to potential risks since their bodies (like the brain and immune system) are still developing. The Environmental Health Trust has been leading the charge in calling attention to those points and setting safety standards for Wifi in schools.
On the other hand, that same class of carcinogens also includes coffee and pickled vegetables and the word “possibly” says something about the level of risk found. Basically, there are some studies that suggest it may be dangerous, but the body of research far from proves it. Many experts see the campaigns to call attention to the dangers as fear-mongering, claiming that the radiation produced by routers is too low to be able to disrupt DNA and that while one study did find a link between mobile phone use and brain cancer, a large meta-analysis of multiple studies found no link.
To top it all off, safety standards in the United States haven’t been updated in a very long time. Basically, it comes down to this: while the danger of long-term exposures may not be 100 percent proven, neither is the safety.
what you can do if you’re concerned
There’s no reason for panic, but if you do the research and decide you’re on the side of limiting exposures as a precaution, the Environmental Health Trust has all kinds of resources you can share with school officials and other concerned parents, including examples of safety plans that have been put in place at other schools.
Meanwhile, you can also minimize your kids’ radiation exposure at home by turning off routers when they’re not in use (especially at night) and putting cell phones in Airplane Mode before bed. I mean, those are small steps that require minimal effort, so my thinking is, “why not?”
Does your kid’s school have a plan to limit WiFi exposures? Share with me in the comments!