With the arrival of the new school year comes the yearly controversy: is it safe to have Wi-Fi in the classroom? The short answer is: yes. For the long answer you will have to read the rest of this post.
Let's start with a common misconception. Wi-Fi is not a new technology; rather, Wi-Fi is a new twist on an old technology: transmitting information via the radio frequency (RF). Humans have been broadcasting radio and microwave transmissions across the planet for over a century.
As for health studies, according to the World Health Organization, approximately 25,000 articles have been published over the past 30 years on the biological effects and medical applications of non-ionizing radiation. RF is just another form of non-ionizing radiation.
Our public health authorities have not been asleep all this time either. The U.S. National Cancer Institute, Health Canada and the B.C. Centre for Disease Control have done lots of research to confirm that RF is safe.
Anti-Wi-Fi activists will point out that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) investigated radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans. The IARC Monograph on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans provides a comprehensive examination of the topic and the IARC classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as a Group 2B possible carcinogen. The critical thing to understand is that Group 2B compounds are, by their very definition, not known to be carcinogens.
Group 2B is a category used when a causal association looks like it might be possible, but when other factors cannot be ruled out with reasonable confidence.
Group 2B is, thus, a placeholder for compounds that haven't been shown to cause cancer but are of further interest for study. Some of these compounds, like acetaldehyde and benz[a]anthracene, will likely be determined to cause cancer but others like coffee, pickled vegetables and talc-based body powder, are much less likely to do so.
My opinion, based on a mountain of peer-reviewed research, is that radio frequency electromagnetic fields will be in the latter group and not the former.
I briefly mentioned Wi-Fi on my social media feed and immediately an activist brought out their big gun: the BioInitiative Report. This report is very official-sounding but it has been discounted by every scientific body that has looked at it, from Australia to the European Union. The EMF & Health website has a whole section dedicated to it.
I mentioned this fact and got directed to an individual study that indicated the possibility that RF can cause a particular type of cancer. That study didn't really bother me either.
Scientific research uses as its gold standard the 95 per cent confidence interval (p<0.05). What this means is that if you replicate a study 100 times, about five times you will get a false positive (i.e. saying that a compound causes cancer when it really does not).
Given the approximately 25,000 articles published on the topic, the absence of any toxicologically problematic outcomes would be statistically improbable.
What is important is to look at the number and types of positive studies when compared to negative ones. A careful examination of the handful of positive studies shows that almost every one involved a particularly rare type of cancer and a minimal effect. This is the ideal scenario for a false positive. Population statistics break down when sample sizes are small and, in the cases of most of these studies, the number of affected individuals is infinitesimal with respect to the population exposed to RF.
In addition to the copious body of literature that says that Wi-Fi is safe, consider that in the last 70+ years billions of humans worldwide have been exposed to varying concentrations and doses of microwave and radio wave radiation.
Just look at your cell phone right now: almost anywhere you go, you are in range of a Wi-Fi router and you are almost always in range of a radio signal. The fact is, we have not seen spikes in any of those rare cancers purportedly related, via these questionable studies, to exposure to RF.
Certainly we hear about a single police officer here or a woman there who got a suspicious cancer but as I point out in my post Risk Assessment Epilogue: Have a bad case of Anecdotes? Better call an Epidemiologist that is why we have epidemiologists. Epidemiologists look at all the anecdotes and see if there is some underlying trend.
The results are categorical: RF is not a serious human health risk. Rather, it is almost a perfect example, a de minimis risk (which I discuss in another blog post). As I discuss, a de minimis risk is a risk that, while it may exist, is too small to be of societal concern. That almost perfectly describes the risk associated with Wi-Fi, one that is not worthy of serious societal concern. The research is clear, when used according to guidance, Wi-Fi is not a danger to you or your kids.
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