Schools in wi-fi health warning

STEVE DOWNES The safety of thousands of children has been called into question as it was revealed that tests on wireless internet at a Norfolk high school found radiation from a laptop was three times higher than from phone masts.

STEVE DOWNES

The safety of thousands of children has been called into question as it was revealed that tests on wireless internet at a Norfolk high school found radiation from a laptop was three times higher than from phone masts.

Experts called for an immediate inquiry into the safety of the cutting-edge wi-fi technology, which is now being used at between 50-70pc of all Britain's schools.

There were also calls for a full investigation into the radiation levels from Norwich's pioneering wi-fi network, which is one of the first of its kind in Britain.

The technology, which is powered in the city by more than 200 aerials attached to lampposts, allows people to log on to the internet anywhere without plugging laptops in.

The radiation revelations will be aired on tonight's BBC Panorama, which sent an expert to Hellesdon High School, near Norwich, to carry out tests on laptops in a science lab.

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Norwich North MP Dr Ian Gibson, a cancer expert who was interviewed for the programme, said: “There needs to be an inquiry into whether there are dangers from wi-fi in schools.

“It has been introduced without any investigation into its effects on people's health. If it's safe, people ought to provide data to prove it's safe. If there's radiation coming out at unsafe levels, people have got to know.”

He added that an “independent assessment” needed to be carried out on Norwich's wi-fi network to “reassure the public”.

Hellesdon High headteacher Bill Gould said he was unable to comment on the Panorama programme or findings.

Government advice recommends mobile phone masts are not sited near schools without consultation as children are thought to be more vulnerable to radio frequency radiation emissions than adults.

But when Panorama visited Hellesdon High and measured the radiation signal strength from a classroom wi-fi -enabled laptop, it found its peak was three times greater then the peak signal strength from a mast.

Paul Fisher, head of resources and efficiency at Norfolk County Council, said: “We wouldn't put wi-fi in schools if we weren't satisfied it is safe - and the research and information we have has shown that the small amount of energy from wi-fi systems is a lot less than from mobile phones.

“We make sure that all equipment meets national safety standards and are in continuous dialogue with our suppliers on matters of safety.”

He added: “Panorama have not approached us with their findings but, clearly, we will looking to see what they have to say on Monday night.”

Philip May, headteacher at Costessey High, near Norwich, said a new school block had been built to incorporate wi-fi, but the school had not yet installed it.

He said: “It's on our medium term plan, but clearly we need to watch theses developments with interest. When it comes to children's health, it is better to be on the safe side.”

The chairman of the Health Protection Agency, Sir William Stewart, also calls for a review of the health effects of Wi-Fi in the programme.

Sir William told the series: “I believe that there is a need for a review of the wi-fi and other areas... I think it's timely for it to be done now.”

Philip Parkin, general secretary of the Professional Association of Teachers, said: “I think schools and parents will be very worried about it.... I am asking for schools to consider very seriously whether they should be installing wi-fi networks now and this will make them think twice or three times before they do it.”

The government states there is no health risk from wi-fi and cites the World Health Organisation's view that there are “no adverse health effects from low level, long-term exposure”, the programme reported.

A Department of Health spokesman said: “Current evidence does not suggest that there is a health problem with wi-fi but we look to the HPA to advise government on these issues.”

t Panorama: Wi-Fi - A Warning Signal will be broadcast at 8.30pm on BBC1.

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