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Information on Wireless Networks

Concerns about the health affects of exposure to electromagnetic fields from wireless networks and mobile phones have surfaced again. You may remember that they originally gained a high profile following a Panorama programme which was screened in 2007 and then again in 2011.

Clearly these news reports will raise anxieties for parents, governors, school staff and pupils. At the same time nearly all schools across Britain rely crucially on these technologies and to do without them would be massively disruptive.

Who regulates the safety of wireless networks?

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) is the independent scientific organisation to which the World Health Organisation, the US and UK governments and the EU Commission (the Council of Europe ia an entirely separate body from the EU) all refer for guidance in this area. The particular responsible body within the UK is now Public Health England (PHE). The ICNIRP guidelines are followed by all European manufacturers of wireless network equipment that carry the CE marking. This ensures that their equipment can only produce radiation below a safe threshold and which is considerably less (between 20 and 200 times less) than with mobile phone technology. All of these bodies agree that wireless networks which meet these guidelines do not expose the user to harmful levels of radiation.

The ICNIRP do point out that their research does not cover affects on medical devices such as pacemakers and cochlear implants and so interference with such devices may be a possibility. They also do recognise a phenomenon called microwave-induced auditory response which has become stressful to some people exposed to wireless networking environments.

So what does Hertfordshire Local Authority recommend for its schools?

It is our view that we should continue to follow the lead of the HPA who themselves continue to state that wireless networks are safe for use in schools, although they do support calls for continuing scientific investigation. We will continue to monitor the research and guidance in this area and alert schools immediately should we ever feel it necessary to modify our view.

When installing wireless networks we recommend that schools follow these few simple rules:

  1. Purchase only wireless networking equipment which bears the European CE mark.
  2. Use an experienced installer who will follow the manufacturer’s recommendations for installation and operation.
  3. If particular concerns have been raised then consider placing a sign either at the school entrance or at the entrance to any part of the school that has wireless networking, not as a warning but just for information. Any visitor who may suffer from the auditory response or be concerned about interference with a medical device can then choose to stay clear.

    There is a suggested notice and logo in the Links section to the right of the screen
  4. Do not allow users to touch the antenna of wireless access points. Fixed access points should in any case be well out of reach. Where laptops or other computers have exposed antennae these should not be touched during operation. In general the computer’s antenna should be kept at least 20cms from the body which means that it is not recommended that users sit with wireless laptops actually on their laps.

Further Reading

Environmental Health Trust - International Precautionary Actions by Governments, Authorities and Schools
Mobile Manufacturers Forum, Wi-Fi Alliance and GSM Association (2015)
From the Daily Telegraph (2015)
Public Health England - Wireless networks (wi-fi): radio waves and health (2013)
From the Daily Telegraph (2011)
From the Daily Mail (2011)
From the Daily Express (2011, updated 2014)
The report from the Council of Europe:“The potential dangers of electromagnetic fields and their effect on the environment” (2011)

(Note that it doesn’t introduce any new evidence or research but proposes a re-evaluation of recommendations based on what is already known.)

The latest statement from the HPA:

This also has a link to their latest research which they promised to undertake after the 2007 “scare”.