Friday, April 27, 2007

Danger on the airwaves: Is the Wi-Fi revolution a health time bomb?

THE INDEPENDENT - April 22, 2007

The technological explosion is even bigger than the mobile phone explosion that preceded it. And, as with mobiles, it is being followed by fears about its effect on health - particularly the health of children. Recent research, which suggests that the worst fears about mobiles are proving to be justified, only heightens concern about the electronic soup in which we are increasingly spending our lives.

Now, as we report today, Sir William Stewart (pictured below right), the man who has issued the most authoritative British warnings about the hazards of mobiles, is becoming worried about the spread of Wi- Fi. The chairman of the Health Protection Agency - and a former chief scientific adviser to the Government - is privately pressing for an official investigation of the risks it may pose.

Health concerns show no sign of slowing the wireless expansion. One in five of all adult Britons now own a wireless-enabled laptop. There are 35,000 public hotspots where they can use them, usually at a price.

In the past 18 months 1.6 million Wi-Fi terminals have been sold in Britain for use in homes, offices and a host of other buildings. By some estimates, half of all primary schools and four fifths of all secondary schools have installed them.

Whole cities are going wireless. First up is the genteel, almost bucolic, burgh of Norwich, which has installed a network covering almost the whole of its centre, spanning a 4km radius from City Hall. It takes in key sites further away, including the University of East Anglia and a local hospital, and will be expanded to take in rural parts of the south of the county.

More than 200 small aerials were attached to lamp posts to create the network, which anyone can use free for an hour. There is nothing to stop the 1,000 people who use it each day logging off when their time is up, and logging on again for another costless session. - - -


Not for much longer. Brighton plans to launch a city- wide network next year, and Manchester is planning one covering over 400 square miles, providing free access to 2.2 million people.

So far only a few, faint warnings have been raised, mainly by people who are so sensitised to the electromagnetic radiation emitted by mobiles, their masts and Wi-Fi that they become ill in its presence. The World Health Organisation estimates that up to three out of every hundred people are "electrosensitive" to some extent. But scientists and doctors - and some European governments - are adding their voices to the alarm as it becomes clear that the almost universal use of mobile phones may be storing up medical catastrophe for the future.

A recent authoritative Finnish study has found that people who have used mobiles for more than ten years are 40 per cent more likely to get a brain tumour on the same side of the head as they hold their handset; Swedish research suggests that the risk is almost four times as great. And further research from Sweden claims that the radiation kills off brain cells, which could lead to today's younger generation going senile in their forties and fifties.

Professor Lawrie Challis, who heads the Government's official mobile safety research, this year said that the mobile could turn out to be "the cigarette of the 21st century". - - - -




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