Hazards of Wifi

Our town, Sebastopol, had passed a resolution in November to permit a local Internet provider to provide public wireless access. This week, fourteen people showed up at a City Council meeting to make the claim that wireless caused health problems in general and to them specifically. These emotional pleas made the Council rescind its previous resolution.

So, a few people in this town strongly believe a wide variety of problems are caused by low frequency electromagnetic radiation (EMF). Some label the problem as “electromagnetic hypersensitivity” or EHS. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on “Electrical Sensitivity.” It reports that the World Health Organization found that “there is no scientific basis for the belief that EHS is caused by exposure to electromagnetic fields.”

An online petition collected 235 “signatures” opposed to public Wifi in Sebastopol. The resolution reads: “The convenience of this technology does not warrant the increase in radiation and the potential risks to the health of our community.”

Here’s a typical comment from someone signing the petition:

I have had health challenges, and my body cannot handle wifi…it gives me headaches and makes me very sick. I would be unable to go to the store, shop. I have enough problems being limited in my travels, it is outrageous that a place so environmentally conscious would create this in our/my hometown. In Europe they are much more advanced than us, and there wifi is not allowed in cities in the European commonwealth.

The person organizing the petition believes that people don’t understand the harm that electromagnetic radiation and basic electricity is doing to them. On a local bulletin board, the opponents cite bioinitiative.org.
One person writes:

We are urged us to switch from regular incandescent light bulbs to compact
fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs, to save energy. However, there is a very good
reason NOT to use CFL bulbs. They create electromagnetic frequencies proven to be
extremely detrimental to human health.

Others write about living without electricity, except for the brief period they are using their computer to write messages in support of the petition.

One can see the fear spreading. Science should be a way to dispel such fears but it is clear with this group of people that science cannot be trusted. They put forth the idea that science should be able to prove that there is no harm and therefore eliminate any risk, and without such proof, we should not move forward. They use this logic to recommend a “precautionary” approach, which is their keyword for a “know-nothing, do-nothing” approach.

Yet another person writes:

Research is increasingly showing a correlation between adverse health symptoms and emf radiation exposure. Local and national governmental bodies in other western countries are paying attention and are beginning to legislate limits to exposure to wi-fi radiation by prohibiting it in certain locations. The trend towards increasing international concern is clear. Why are we so sanguine in this country?

Of course, the research is not specified. I can’t find much about governments banning wifi except a college in Ontario and a European directive on radiation that threatens to eliminate MRI scans. The article “Wifi Woo” in Junkscience.blogspot.com is interesting.

The effect of the resolution would have been to add a few wireless access points downtown. There are already several hundred in private homes and businesses in town. The same people who oppose public wifi still walk along streets and into buildings where they are invisibly bathing in wifi. Will this small group of people now demand that we outlaw wireless in public areas, just to accommodate their fears?

Now, I don’t know that wireless (or electricity) is without harm. I can read the research that does exist and learn more — if I have the time and reason to do so. However, I do not like the smell of fear, and when people justify actions based on their own fears, I become suspicious that the concern is unwarranted. If it wasn’t wifi, it would be flouride. Something is needed to affix to their anxiety. I can only be glad that they weren’t alive when the city decided on electrification a century ago.

I plan to write an editorial for our local paper. I’d appreciate hearing from you on this issue if it has come up in your community.