Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) is known by various names but I will use EHS. I first heard about this a long time ago as I was working as tech support for a large computer manufacturer. The customer had made his way through the first few levels of support when he finally reached me. He calmly explained that no one had been able to help him to this point. His issue was that he needed to know the frequency of the electromagnetic radiation that was being emitted from our monitor. I asked him why he wanted to know this information and he calmly and very matter-of-factly explained that he had a condition called electromagnetic hyper sensitivity. I had never heard of this so I asked him to describe it to me. He said that when he sits in front of one of our monitors and turns it on that it feels like his skin is burning. I did not believe him at all so I asked a few follow up questions. It seemed that it was not just our monitor, but all electronics, that gave him this reaction. He said that if he walked into a Future Shop that it would cause a burning sensation all over his body. He then began to explain to me the various ways he went about avoiding this problem, including special headphones he would wear. Yes headphones. It became clear that the customer had other issues that did not involve electromagnetic radiation. Since that time the references to this phenomenon have exploded on the internet and around the world.
Why am I writing about this? Back in 2010 I posted this. It was about a school banning wireless internet. And now we have this. The Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association(OECTA) is recommending all schools disable their Wi-Fi networks. This is a position paper released by the OECTA. In it, they recommend school turn off wireless networks and use traditional wired networks instead. It is only 8 pages long, including appendix, so feel free to read it. At this point in writing this post I was just going to mention how ridiculous this all was but instead I decided dig a bit deeper because this is getting out of hand.
There are a number of very broad claims made by the paper and each seems to be well cited. If you want to read up to page 5 you will see this:
“Approximately 3 percent of the population (over 1 million Canadians) has been diagnosed with environmental sensitivities (ES) which include multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) and electromagnetic sensitivity.”
And this is the article by Park and Knudsen they cite for it. We run into a problem here because the quoted text does not appear in that article. Go ahead and check that if you like. On top of that the article is titled “Medically unexplained physical symptoms.” That really should give some indication how compelling an argument can be made by citing it. Directly after that they have:
“Some studies show that adults who are electrically sensitive react to this frequency (2.4 GHz) at levels 0.3 percent of SC6 Guidelines.”
The study they cited can be found here on page 273. This is the main argument behind the article and when searching for this article I noticed that every website that cited it appeared to be dedicated to letting everyone know how horrible 2.4 gigahertz radiation is (That is the frequency that Wi-FI and many cordless phones work on). Written by Madga Havas, PhD from the University of Trent and published in the European Journal of Oncology it appears to offer evidence of EHS. Unfortunately there exists a very compelling rebuttal which you can read here. In short, it mentions that the European Journal of Oncology may not be the most reputable journal around and that the methods used in the study were imperfect and likely lead to a false conclusion. That one you should read because it does a really good job of picking apart the original study.
The OECTA does actually forget to mention one of the most popular articles on this topic.
This is a meta analysis of all studies about EHS. A meta analysis looks at all studies on a topic to see if any conclusions can be drawn from them. Using 31 studies they conclude that the effect has never been proven to exist.
If there are health issues that arise from extended Wi-Fi exposure then I am all for shutting it down until we come up with an alternative. I live in a appartment where at any point I can see 15-20 wireless networks. If there were any credible evidence to support the claim I would not have a basis for this post and would likely be guranteed to get whatever Wi-Fi is supposed to cause. At this point turning off the networks is silly and there is no reason to do so. With the publication of this paper I suspect we will start to see more schools turning off their networks and that is sad. This is a teachers association – you know, the people that teach the children – and they could not take the 10 minutes required to verify their information before they posted this embarrassing position paper. I really question how well these same people can set educational standards.