Is Wi-Fi Technology Hazardous to Students’ Health?

In recent years, iPads, tablets and smart phones have worked their way into classrooms throughout America. It’s not just students bringing their wireless devices into homeroom, either; teachers are incorporating the technology into their lessons, and in some cases even distributing it in the same way educators handed out textbooks years ago.

With the increased use, however, parents and teachers are bound to ask: is Wi-Fi hazardous to kids’ health?

While many school districts around Canada and the United States are embracing the use of Wi-Fi and related technologies in the classroom, there’s also a growing grassroots movement to challenge it.

The discussion about the merits versus potential risks is particularly heated in parts of Canada. According to The Daily Caller, some teachers maintain that Wi-Fi is harmful, despite the fact that wireless connections are being used in over 81 districts throughout Ontario. The Globe and Mail reports that an Ontario teacher’s union has encouraged an outright ban on wireless use in classrooms.

Mixed Signals

The discussion is largely based on a report last May by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Dr. Jonathan Samet, Chairman of the Working Group, concluded that “there could be some risk” and that the radiofrequency and electromagnetic fields were “possibly carcinogenic”.

Dr. Stephen Sinatra of the Heart MD Institute has even produced a video explaining the symptoms of “electric pollution” that he believes are caused by Wi-Fi technology. In his website’s blog, Dr. Sinatra estimates that in schools equipped with Wi-Fi, “children and teachers are involuntarily exposed to uninterrupted Wi-Fi signals for six hours a day, five days a week; over a 14-year-period, that equates to almost 22,000 hours of exposure.”

Not everyone sees the threat as quite so serious as that.

The University of California, Irvine, released a report in 2008 that stated that the risks are low and relatively negligible, although for very young children with long-term exposure, the risk increases. The report also states that the effect from the exposure to Wi-Fi radiation is “somewhat additive,” meaning if someone is sitting in a room full of other wireless devices, the risk increases.

However, Health Canada (a government agency) maintains that, “Based on scientific evidence…low-level exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy from Wi-Fi equipment is not dangerous to the public. This conclusion is consistent with the findings of other international bodies and regulators.”

Teachers and Parents Log In

How do teachers and parents feel about wireless technology in the classroom, in light of possible health issues they may present?

Buffalo teacher Melissa Grace isn’t concerned. “Wi-Fi is available in school. I am on an ethernet when I am in the classroom but if I take my laptop with me to a meeting, I use Wi-Fi. I’ve never heard anything about it being a problem. It’s in all school buildings in Buffalo.”

In fact, wireless connections are available to (and widely used by) any kid with a Nintendo 3DS; many parents can hardly imagine a trip without it these days. Wi-Fi is everywhere, and kids all around the globe use it every day. “It’s progress, and the next logical step,” says parent Angel Becker.

Parent Carola Greene, says, “I don’t think there are health risks [associated with Wi-Fi use]. I don’t believe that it’s any worse than having a radio.”

Mom Kathy Foust is concerned, but resigned. “I worry about it because we don’t know the potential ramifications of being submerged in Wi-Fi (with multitudes of users no less), but I see that I can’t stop it.”

“I hadn’t thought about the health risks,” notes mom Chelsea Stevens, who considers the increasing dependence of internet a more pressing concern. “Our schools from elementary to high school use Wi-Fi.”

While the debate continues about the effects, if any, that wireless fidelity presents to students, the use of the same technology increases each year. From elementary school through college, classrooms have embraced the emerging trends – and tools – made available in recent years, and will likely continue to do so.

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