The Government has said Wi-Fi in schools is a ‘perfectly acceptable choice’ and that there is ‘absolutely no reason’ the technology should not continue to be used in educational establishments.
Responding to an e-petition on the No10 website that had called for wireless technology to be removed from schools on health grounds and replaced with wired alternatives, the Government cited its health watchdog, the Health Protection Agency (HPA), whose current guidelines state there is ‘no scientific evidence of any health risks… or that exposures exceed international guidelines’.
Critics claim the technology has been implemented without a proper assessment of its potential adverse health effects. Exposure to the electromagnetic radiation emitted by WiFi and its masts can make those who are electrosensitive – three in 100 of us – ill. There are also continuing fears about the cancers and tumours associated with mobile phone use and telephone masts.
‘WiFi is an untested and under-regulated technology,’ the petition read. ‘[HPA chairman] Sir William Stewart called for government and regulators to apply the precautionary principle and to review the use of Wi-Fi in schools. The German government is advising its citizens to limit their exposure to WiFi. It is time to stop putting corporate profit over the health of UK citizens – especially the youngest who are most likely to feel the adverse effects of WiFi and are least able to defend themselves.’
In its response, the Government said it was up to schools to use their professional judgement on the deployment of a technology that could ‘support the use of ICT by raising standards in provision’.
The Government body that advises schools on the safe use of technology, Becta, itself follows the advice of the HCA, which argues that wireless signals are low-power (0.1 watt), and as such fall within guidelines accepted by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
However a signatory to the petition, Andrew Goldsworthy, a former lecturer in biology at Imperial College London, warned the guidelines were ‘dangerously out of date’.
He said WiFi affected the stability of cell membranes ‘at levels thousands of times lower than those specified in the ICNIRP guidelines, which are relevant only to heating effects’, and called the Government’s response to the petition ‘an insult to my intelligence and that of my cosignatories’.