MPs hear Wi-Fi worries about school kids

Last Updated: Thursday, October 28, 2010 | 5:32 PM ET

CBC News

MPs are discussing whether wireless networks in schools cause students to become ill.
(Matt Rourke/Associated Press)

The debate over the potential health effects of Wi-Fi microwave transmissions on children in schools came to Parliament Hill on Thursday. 

The group Save Our Children From Microwaves held a news conference in Ottawa following presentations to a House standing committee on human health. Committee members are looking into whether wireless networks in schools can cause students to become ill.

"The proof, the link is there," said François Therrien, a spokesman for the group.

If everyone was sickened by Wi-Fi, there would be no question, but when just five to 10 per cent react to the frequencies, federal health officials never check into it, and no one has a chance to learn the truth, Therrien said.

Research shows children are more sensitive to the electromagnetic radiation because their brain is still growing, he said.

Health Canada scientists continually review the latest literature on the effects of different frequencies and update safety codes when warranted, Beth Pieterson, director general of the department's environmental and radiation health sciences office, told committee MPs.

Ethical issues prevent researchers from conducting studies on the effects of Wi-Fi on children, Pieterson said.

Studies point to association

Rodney Palmer is a member of the Simcoe County Safe School Committee, which wants Wi-Fi to be turned off in the county's schools, about 100 km north of Toronto. Students in the county are complaining of headaches, dizziness, and more severe symptoms like a racing heart rate, Palmer said.

The students are part of a microwave experiment that no one consented to, Palmer said. Yet officials "pretend on paper" that all is safe, he said.

Several experts on different aspects of microwaves also spoke to the committee.

There are several studies pointing to an association, but the effect can't be established until the findings are reproduced and realistic models of how the effect occurs are developed, said Anthony Muc, a lecturer in public health at the University of Toronto's occupational and environmental health unit.

Health Canada acknowledges findings suggesting health effects, but some of the work hasn't been reproduced, and the effects aren't necessarily detrimental to health, agreed Frank Prato, imaging program leader of the Lawson Health Research Institute in London, Ont.

But Curtis Bennett, an electrical professional and president of Thermographix Consulting Corp. in Kelowna, B.C., called children "essentially bare conductors" that are very susceptible to electrical fields and effects such as heating from higher levels of radiation.

Martin Blank, an associate professor of physiology and cellular biophysics at Columbia University in New York, also addressed MPs by videoconference from Victoria.

Blank said he feels like he is acting as a translator for the cells he studies. Blank added his findings show that when cells are exposed to various frequencies, they make stress proteins that are indicative of potential harm.

The MPs closed their meeting with an in-camera discussion on how to draft their report, the meeting notice said.

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