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15/09/2009 - UK HPA release new WiFi measurement results

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) have Press Released their initial findings on the signal levels from WiFi.

Dr Simon Mann, head of the Physical Dosimetry department at CRCE, presented the team's findings at the HPA's annual conference at the University of Warwick today. They first made them public at the BEMS Conference at Davos, Switzerland, in June, when they published some summary data from their £300,000 study into the typical exposures from WiFi.

When the study was announced, we explained why it would be a complete waste of time, and a large amount of public money, revisiting ground already done by formal testing laboratories elsewhere in Europe. As expected, they agreed not only with the figures done by the Swiss ITIS lab who did formal tests, but also with the measurements we took on the Panorama programme we got so badly criticised for.

In fact, the HPA found readings slightly higher at 1 metre away from the laptops than we did, but they are still very close to our Panorama findings. The HPA readings from 14 sample laptops commonly used by schools and colleges varied from 0.72 (+/- 0.014) volts per metre to 1.31 (+/- 0.003) volts per metre.

The new HPA findings only address the microwave radiation from single laptop computers (i.e. only one at a time - not a class of 25+ WiFi laptops active in the same room), and do not include the extra emissions from the generally more powerful WiFi/wLAN Access points in the classroom which are also exposing the children. Some classrooms have up to 4 Access Points to adequately cope with the number of laptops in use in the class.

As we pointed out in the BBC Panorama programme, these are signal levels that exceed typical exposures from a mobile phone mast 100 metres away. We, and Panorama, have been completely vindicated in our measurements and comments on this issue. At the time, the UK Government DFES tried to get the BBC programme stopped (a Court Injunction to stop the filming at the Norwich school) as it challenged their roll-out of WiFi in schools program. This official interference prevented Panorama being able to complete the film as planned and, as a result, it was a weaker programme.

Despite finding these levels, they still miss the point (as we were concerned they would, hence the criticism two years ago), that just because these exposure levels are way below ICNIRP general guidance levels, that does not make them safe. We discuss the problems in some detail in our HPA WiFi Memorandum document.

The most commonly reported adverse effects to low-level electromagnetic signals are headaches, concentration difficulties, learning and memory problems, chronic fatigue, depression, and behavioural problems. These symptoms are present in many ADHD cases. Since 1997 there has been a four-fold rise in children diagnosed with ADHD - indeed the National Institute for Clinical Excellence now estimates that as many as 5% of children have this problem. The cause of this rise is, so far, unknown.

In the light of Dr Havas' Canadian schools work on "dirty electricity" and improvements in children diagnosed with ADHD, it is possible that background microwave exposure plays a role in this rise and we believe that it should be among the issues examined. It is important also to control for any placebo effect. The various reports of adverse effects on well-being suggest that the adverse symptoms start to show in more sensitive people exposed to background peak signal levels above about 0.05 volts per metre. Typical signal levels, which have effectively been confirmed by the HPA-RPD, in classrooms in schools with WiFi are between 5 and 30 times higher than this.

The literature is still hinting that levels of 0.6 V/m upwards, typical for those using the wirelessly enabled laptops measured by the HPA, may increase the risk of cancer [Wolf 2004,Eger 2004] and a number of other somatic neurological symptoms [Santini 2002,Santini 2003,Navarro 2003,Bortkiewicz 2004,Nikolova 2005,Yurekli 2006,Abdel-Rassoul 2007,Preece 2007,Augner 2008].

The HPA Press Release today states: "There is no consistent evidence to date that exposure to RF signals from Wi-Fi and WLANs adversely affect the health of the general population." In scientific bureaucrat speak this admits that there is evidence of these signals adversely affecting some people. At least that is not a complete denial.

Their advice on handset use also remains precautionary, according to point 15 in the minutes of one of their board meetings in June

Andrew Goldsworthy, retired lecturer in Biology at Imperial College in London, has also made a number of pertinent comments on the reasons why the findings from the HPA WiFi study are not in the least reassuring.

Links

BEMS session where the data was presented - BEMS 2009 Davos session where the data was presented
IT'IS website - Independent Swiss IT'IS dosimetry laboratory
IT'IS exposure assessment data - IT'IS slides on wireless exposure assessment data
Panorama programme story - Powerwatch's Panorama programme story
Response to Ben Goldacre - Response to Ben Goldacre's criticism

References

1. P Wolf R, Wolf D, (April 2004) Increased incidence of cancer near a cell-phone transmitter station, International Journal of Cancer Prevention, 1(2) April 2004 [View Author's abstract conclusions]
 
2. P Eger H et al, (November 2004) The Influence of Being Physically Near to a Cell Phone Transmission Mast on the Incidence of Cancer, Umwelt Medizin Gesellschaft 17,4 2004 [View Author's abstract conclusions]
 
3. P Santini R et al, (July 2002) Investigation on the health of people living near mobile telephone relay stations: I/Incidence according to distance and sex, Pathol Biol (Paris) 2002 Jul;50(6):369-73 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
 
4. P Santini R et al, (September 2003) Symptoms experienced by people in vicinity of base stations: II/ Incidences of age, duration of exposure, location of subjects in relation to the antennas and other electromagnetic factors, Pathol Biol (Paris). 2003 Sep;51(7):412-5 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
 
5. P Navarro EA et al, (December 2003) The Microwave Syndrome: A Preliminary Study in Spain, Electromagn Biol Med 22(2-3): 161-169 [View Author's abstract conclusions]
 
6. P Bortkiewicz A et al, (2004) Subjective symptoms reported by people living in the vicinity of cellular phone base stations: review, Med Pr. 2004;55(4):345-51 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
 
7. P Nikolova T et al, (October 2005) Electromagnetic fields affect transcript levels of apoptosis-related genes in embryonic stem cell-derived neural progenitor cells, FASEB J. 2005 Oct;19(12):1686-8 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
 
8. P Yurekli A et al, (2006) GSM base station electromagnetic radiation and oxidative stress in rats, Electromagn Biol Med 25(3):177-88 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
 
9. P Abdel-Rassoul G et al, (March 2007) Neurobehavioral effects among inhabitants around mobile phone base stations, Neurotoxicology. 2007 Mar;28(2):434-40 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
 
10. P Preece AW et al, (June 2007) Health response of two communities to military antennae in Cyprus, Occup Environ Med. 2007 Jun;64(6):402-8 [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
 
11. P Augner C et al, (September 2008) GSM base stations: Short-term effects on well-being, Bioelectromagnetics. 2008 Sep 19. [Epub ahead of print] [View Author's abstract conclusions] [View on Pubmed]
 

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