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COMMENTARY: Remove Wi-Fi from classrooms

David Pattenaude

The Petrolia Topic

The Ontario English Catholic Teacher's Association is the latest group warning against Wi-Fi in the classroom.

The union studied the effects of microwave radiation from Wi-Fi, and has published a report stating classroom computers should only be hard-wired.

The union's provincial health and safety committee recognized research that shows up to one million Canadians may have "severe and immediate" reactions to Wi-Fi. That's three per cent of the population. Symptoms can range from headaches to heart palpitations, including speeding heart rates.

The report says all new schools should be hard-wired only, and Wi-Fi should not be installed in any more classrooms. Wi-Fi is a microwave transmitter used to connect to the Internet without a cable.

Microwave exposure is linked to infertility, erratic heart rates, learning impairment, behavioural changes, leukemia and cancer, especially in children.

Acting on the concerns of parents, a growing number of schools and school boards across Canada have torn out Wi-Fi and replaced it with a hard-wired Internet system to ensure the safety of students.

A hard-wired system turns regular electrical outlets into high-speed Internet ports. It's faster than wireless, and there's no safety issue.

Most schools in Ontario already have safe cable connections that are faster and more secure. But school boards are installing microwave systems that continuously expose students to strong microwave signals. It's cheaper and safer to simply add more cables where needed.

In May 2011, the World Health Organization warned microwave radio frequency radiation from Wi-Fi, cellphones and other wireless devices is now considered a "possible carcinogen" and placed it on the same list as DDT, lead, and car exhaust.

In some Ontario public schools, some children have complained of health problems after commercial grade microwave transmitters were installed for Internet connection.

Cellphones and Wi-Fi came to the market without adequate safety testing as a gift to telecom companies to help them expand the wireless systems quickly.

Canada's federal health agency, Health Canada, maintains Wi-Fi is safe but there's no evidence proving that.

"We don't know the long-term effects of Wi-Fi," said Health Canada's top radiation researcher, Beth Pieterson.

Meanwhile, local school boards were assured by Lambton and Chatham-Kent medical officers of health that Wi-Fi technology is safe - and a plan to implement Wi-Fi in all Lambton Kent District School Board schools for the 2011/2012 school year was approved. The St. Clair Catholic School Board already has Wi-Fi access at some of its schools.

But according to www.safeschool.ca, there's evidence microwave radiation can cause biological changes and adverse health effects, and that Wi-Fi is a dangerous choice for schools.

Children are more sensitive to agents in the environment and the long-term effects of this radiation on children is unknown, so we should err on the side of caution and use the precautionary approach when it comes to microwave radiation in schools and at home.

Schools should reconsider placing Wi-Fi in the classroom for continuous daily exposure and schools that already have Wi-Fi should consider turning Wi-Fi off when not in use, and disconnecting Wi-Fi that is never used.

Governments and school boards can no longer say Wi-Fi is safe and should get it out of classrooms.

Every child has a right to a healthy and safe school and the medical community's "First do no harm" philosophy should be the guiding principle with Wi-Fi.

- David Pattenaude is a reporter with The Petrolia Topic.