Concern about Wi-Fi health danger spreads to NZ from British schools

A British furore over wireless internet technology - Wi-Fi - use in schools is raising similar concerns here.

Britain's top health-protection watchdog wants the network, which emits radiation, to be full investigated because of the concern for students' health.

Wi-Fi - described by the British Department of Education and Skills as a "magical" system that means computers do not have to be connected to telephone lines - is being taken up rapidly in schools there, with estimates that more than half of primary schools - and four-fifths of secondary schools - have installed it.

But some scientists have expressed fears it could cause cancer and premature senility.

Internet safety watchdog NetSafe executive director Martin Cocker said last night that many primary and secondary schools here used Wi-Fi and the present thinking was that the technology was safe.

"That's our understanding and that's the understanding of New Zealand schools.

"Obviously, if that's not the case that's going to be pretty alarming. It would be of great concern to schools because they have really adopted the technology and many schools have extensive wireless networks."

The cost of wireless transmitters was low.

"Most laptops now come with the capability to receive wireless signals built in. It's a technology that is saturating the education and commercial markets."

Mr Cocker did not have an exact number of schools using the technology but said most larger schools would have some sort of wireless capability.

"If there's any indication that it has any negative effects then we would encourage a more thorough study. We will definitely be interested to know what happens in the UK. If it is damaging to children's health then it is alarming."

Several European provincial governments have already taken action to ban, or limit, Wi-Fi use in the classroom.

This week, the British Professional Association of Teachers is to demand an official Government inquiry.

Virtually no studies have been done on Wi-Fi's effects on pupils, but it gives off radiation similar to emissions from mobile phones and phone masts.

Recent research has linked radiation from mobiles to cancer and brain damage. And many studies have found disturbing symptoms in people near masts.

Professor Olle Johansson, of Sweden's Karolinska Institute, who is concerned about the spread of Wi-Fi, says "thousands" of articles in scientific literature demonstrate "adverse health effects" from Wi-Fi.

"Do we not know enough already to say, 'stop'?"

For the past 16 months, the provincial government of Salzburg in Austria has been advising schools not to install Wi-Fi, and is considering a ban.

- STAFF REPORTER, INDEPENDENT

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