By Julia Belluz - Wednesday, January 4, 2012 - 0 Comments
Radiation can give life and take it away. Sunlight, therapy to kill malignant tumors, powerful x-rays, and radio waves are all forms of radiation. Lately, much has been made of the health risks related to another source of invisible waves: WiFi.
In recent years, politicians and leaders in the health field have tried to do something about the perceived threat of exposure to radio-frequency (RF) electromagnetic fields, on which WiFi, cell phone networks, radio signals, microwave ovens, and cordless home phones depend. Public fears about RF fields may have hit a fever pitch when, last summer, the World Health Organization designated them as a “possibly carcinogenic” agent—alongside others like coffee—for which evidence of harm is uncertain. Since then, we’ve heard our nation’s doctors raise concerns about the health risks related to cell phones; politicians, such as Elizabeth May, warn publicly about the potential harms posed by WiFi; and frightened parents say they’d move their children away from the invisible threat, as schools impose bans on wireless internet.
But what do we actually know about the health effects of RF exposure—and, in particular, the health risks related to WiFi?
Different technologies give off different amounts of radiation, explained Dr. Patrizia Frei (PhD), a research fellow at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, who has conducted reviews on the health effects of RF exposure. “While mobile phones cause mostly localized exposure to the head,” she said, “WiFi usually causes far-field whole-body exposures which are usually much lower.” According to the UK’s Health Protection Agency, “the signals are very low power, typically 0.1 watt (100 milliwatts) in both the computer and the router (access point), and the results so far show exposures are well within the internationally-accepted guidelines from the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.”