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Another Inconvenient Truth?

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Some will roll their eyes at perceived paranoia, but several studies conducted show a strong correlation between wireless and health problems.  They aren’t accepted as proof of harm by the Canadian or American governments, but there’s enough data to cause me to be concerned.  I believe in using the precautionary principle, especially when it comes to kids and teenagers, which states that if we have a reasonable suspicion of harm, but scientific uncertainty about cause and effect, then we have a duty to prevent harm regardless of that uncertainty.  The burden of proof should be on industry to prove a product is safe for use before we use it, not on poorly funded independent researchers to prove it’s not so we’ll stop.  So, there’s no definitive proof it’s a concern.  But there’s no definitive proof it’s safe either.  The most positive studies say wireless is unlikely to carry a risk of damage, not that there is no risk.

We’re surrounded by wireless, so we can’t entirely avoid it, but we can reduce our exposure by keeping cell phones out of our pockets, keeping them an inch from our heads when we use them (or just text instead), and keeping our distance from the hubs/routers that emit the signals.  If I have to have wireless in my classroom, I’m pleased to have the distinct privilege of suggesting the router be located in the classroom next door with a teacher who’s more trusting of corporations and governments to protect us, or in a hallway where people don’t usually spend extended periods of time.

The further we are from where signals are sent and received, the safer it is.  I can choose not to use a cell phone, and I can tell my kids (who won’t abide by that first option) how to use their phones more safely.  But wireless service in a school removes that personal choice for most people.  Wired connections are faster and more secure than wireless, but then we have all those wires all over the place and the hassle and cost of adding tons of drops kids can plug into instead of just one router. Should we err on the side of caution or convenience?

Look at it from a Pascal’s Wager perspective:  We have two choices, ignoring concerns and taking precautions.

If we ignore all concerns and promote wireless in the classroom and cellphones in pockets, and it’s all safe, no problem.  But if it’s not safe, then we’re just increased the rate of cancers in our students and teachers.

If we take precautions and keep routers in less-inhabited areas, and instruct students to keep cellphones out of their pockets and an inch from their heads, if it’s all safe, nothing’s lost.  But if it’s not safe, we’ve just prevented an increase in cancer.

Seems a no-brainer to me.

Some studies:

Some studies from Devra Davis’ book Disconnect:  The physics of microwave radiations suggests that it should be perfectly safe, but in controlled studies at the cellular level, it damages DNA, and they’ve found 10 times the rate of damage with 3G phones than 2G.  Rats exposed as little as 2 hours/day to a cell phone receiving calls have a marked loss of ability to remember how to do simple tasks.  Studies in countries where children use cell phones have, ten years later, 4-5 times the brain cancer rate of people in their 20s as countries where cell phones aren’t as popular.  They’ve found a direct correlation between cell phones kept in pockets, a decrease in sperm counts, and an increase in testicular cancer.

Some groups (like the FDA) say research doesn’t count if it’s just done on cells and not the whole body, or on animals and not people.  So for the past five years, scientists in Moscow have been following two groups of children between the ages of 5 and 12 – one group using mobile phones and the other not. Every year the children get a battery of tests. They’ve already found changes in the working of the brains of the cell phone users ranging from decreased capacity to work, increased fatigue, decrease in attention and semantic memory, and significant loss of the ability to tell the difference between different sounds. They also have functional problems – difficulties with learning and behaviour.

The safety level in Canada’s Safety Code 6 is some 6,000 times less stringent than the safety level advocated in the 2007 BioInitiative Report, which includes expert international research on electromagnetic radiation (EMR), electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and brain tumors, leukemia and other illnesses.  Several countries (France, Finland, Israel) are actively working to reduce exposure to wireless signals while we’re working to increase them.   Switzerland (where the internet started) avoids wireless and especially in “Places of Sensitive Use” including all classrooms and places of employment where any adult might be working for over 2.5 days/week.

Scientific American reported that recent studies indicate, “living tissue is vulnerable to electromagnetic fields within the frequency bands used by cell phones.”  The insistence that it wasn’t possible to affect tissue with microwave radiation was previously the stopper to many conversations in the scientific community.

The FDA says on its website that no clear link exists between cell phone usage and cancer.  But the FDA has questionable conflicts of interest with industry, often preferring industry sponsored studies over independent research regardless of the greater likelihood of bias. It took a long time for the FDA to be convinced of a link between smoking and cancer, and that’s still not considered to be proof smoking causes cancer, just that it’s associated with cancer.

Some Links:

The Independent – on brain cancer in children

My summary of Disconnect with page references

Switzerland vs Canada:  A Tale of Two Countries

Design flaws in industry-funded research

Davis in The Huffington Post

Enviro Health articles

The Watershed Sentinel (an environmental mag)

Environmental Health Perspectives

Journal of Surgical Oncology

 

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