A study in contrasts.


Whinging hand-wringing:

Not all Montreal island residents are keen on the idea of island-wide wireless Internet access.

Megan Durnford, a Westmount writer and filmmaker, unplugged her own wireless router last spring after learning at a conference about potential health risks associated with exposure to radiofrequency radiation.

Durnford did some research on the issue and now she is trying to persuade her neighbours to unplug their routers, too. She says she will fight any move by Montreal authorities to expand the existing wireless network.

And now, let’s see the other side, shall we?  Ms. Durnford seems to think that she knows more than just about everybody in the world, but she’s not the first to ask this question:

Some common sense from a BBC news article on the effect of wi-fi in a public school:

Medical physics expert Professor Malcolm Sperrin told BBC News that the fact wi-fi radiation in a particular school was three times higher than a mobile phone mast was irrelevant, unless there was any evidence of a link to health effects.

“Wi-fi is a technique using very low intensity radio waves. Whilst similar in wavelength to domestic microwave radiation, the intensity of wi-fi radiation is 100,000 times less than that of a domestic microwave oven.

“Furthermore, tissue can only be effectively heated by a wavelength that is closely matched to the absorption, and there are strict guidelines for ensuring such absorption peaks are avoided.”

The type of radiation emitted by radio waves (wi-fi), visible light, microwaves and mobile phones has been shown to raise the temperature of tissue at very high levels of exposure – called a thermal interaction – but there is no evidence that low levels cause damage.

The Health Protection Agency has said that sitting in a wi-fi hotspot for a year results in receiving the same dose of radio waves as making a 20-minute mobile phone call.

Say it with me, people:  radio-wave (wi-fi) radiation is non-ionizing radiation.  This is the same type of radiation that visible light is composed of, and I haven’t seen anyone complaining about getting cancer from the colour red ( …. and now, somewhere on the InterTubes, a fruitcake registers redcausescancer.com …. ).  As the article says, radio wave energy can cause some thermal effects, but this has never been proven to have an effect on human tissue at the levels that you can experience from a wi-fi network. I would sorely love to see what “research” Ms. Durnford found to substantiate any of her claims, because I’ve never seen a single well-formed study to back her up.  And if you look at the mobile phone research, which as we saw above leads to much higher doses of RF than wi-fi ever will, the evidence is overwhelmingly negative for a link between mobile RF and cancer;  the Wikipedia article on this has a fair round-up of some of the large studies that have been done here, and if you’d like a basic course in the science and associated bull-@#$! that has gone on in this field, take a look at Orac’s analysis of a news event some time ago at Respectful Insolence.

And if you’re one of those people who claims to have “electromagnetic hypersensitivity”, I have one thing to say to you:  nocebo effect.  This is the reverse of the placebo effect, where a patient’s bad expectations about a treatment or drug cause those bad effects to occur, even if the patient receives nothing but a sham treatment or inert drug.  And until you can pony up some actual evidence beyond “I bought me one of them wi-fi routing thingies, and now my beloved cat Pookie won’t stop peeing on the carpet”, I’m going to have to say “nonsense”.

[ Yeah, I just portrayed wi-fi alarmists as rednecks.  Hey, I’m from Alberta – it’s my right to label idiots as rednecks. 🙂 ]


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