15/10/2007 - HPA announce entirely pointless WiFi study
The UK Health Protection Agency (HPA) announced last Friday that they would conduct a systematic programme of research into Wireless Area Networks and their use. Looking at the press release it appears that this is likely to be a complete waste of Taxpayers money (all £300,000 of it!) and will not further anyone's understanding of the situation.
"There is no scientific evidence to date that WiFi and WLANs adversely affect the health of the general population. The signals are very low power, typically 0.1 watt (100 milliwatts) in both the computer and the router (access point) and the results so far show exposures are well within ICNIRP guidelines. Given this, there is no particular reason why schools and others should not continue to use WiFi or other wireless networks. However there has not been extensive research into what people's exposures actually are to this new technology and that is why we are initiating this new programme of research and analyses. We have good scientific reasons to expect the results to be re-assuring and we will publish our findings."
Professor Pat Troop,
Chief Executive of the Health Protection Agency
Taking this at face value, it looks like the whole point of the research is to assess what actual typical exposure levels to microwave radiation are likely to be from Wireless networking devices. It seems that these are then going to be compared with current ICNIRP guidelines to see if there is a risk to health. Sadly, as many will already be aware, this is a completely pointless waste of time, energy, and a significant amount of public money. It has also already been done to some degree:
In the WHO "Base Stations & Wireless networks: Exposures & Health Consequences" workshop in June 2005, Neils Kuster presented an overview of exposure assessments as calculated by the "Foundation for Research on Information Technologies in Society" in Switzerland. Entitled "Assessment of Human Exposure to Electromagnetic Radiation from Wireless Devices in Home and Office Environments", this paper covered DECT units, wireless access points, bluetooth dongles, baby monitors and other wireless devices (e.g. computer keyboards and mice). The findings were interesting, with typical exposures from a Wireless access point around 4 V/m for those 20cm away, and 1 V/m for those 1m away (ironically, these figures are almost identical to those we measured on the Panorama program that we received so much criticism for - sounds like our figures weren't too bad after all!).
"Worst-case peak spatial SAR values are close to the limits for the public or uncontrolled environments, e.g., IEEE802.11b and Bluetooth Class I.
Professor Neils Kuster,
Foundation for Research on Information Technologies in Society
Maximum incident field exposures at 1m can significantly exceed those of base stations (typically 0.1 - 1 V/m). At very close distances the derived or reference exposure limits are violated."
Of course, the ICNIRP guidelines electric field levels for microwave radiation at 2.4 GHz is around 61 V/m, far in excess of those measured by Kuster and Powerwatch. At the moment, both WHO and the HPA are adamant that ICNIRP are the only guidelines worthy of considering with regards to health and safety legislation, and they know as well as we do that the typical exposures to wireless networking devices will be far below this, as demonstrated by the sentence "We have good scientific reasons to expect the results to be re-assuring and we will publish our findings." in the top quote. So why is money being wasted on the research?
For those that have been keeping up-to-date with EMF literature over the last 20 or so years will know the answer by now -- ICNIRP guidelines are simply inadequate to cater for the steadily increasing amount of literature showing replicated and significant non-thermal effects to exposure from non-ionising microwave frequency radiation.
Only a few weeks ago we released a news story covering the highly misreported MTHR programme findings, and included in our commentary a link to some 26 peer-reviewed and published papers showing non-thermal effects of microwave radiation far lower than ICNIRP guideline levels. Unless these are adequately addressed this entire two year project will not only be a waste of public money, but also is likely to issue bland reassurances to the general public based on outdated science, thus setting the whole process back further.
 - Base stations & wireless networks: Exposures & health consequences, 15-16 June 2005, WHO workshop, Geneva, Switzerland - [View on WHO website]
 - Assessment of Human Exposure to Electromagnetic Radiation from Wireless Devices in Home and Office Environments, presentation by Neils Kuster - [View full PDF]
 - Panorama - a WiFi Warning, Powerwatch News Archives - [View story]
 - Panorama results and response to criticism from Ben Goldacre et al - [View story]
 - How did the MTHR report get so misreported? - [View story]
BBC News Coverage of the study
Also in the news
MRI faces ban despite little evidence
Whilst on the topic of the precautionary principle and the evidence for exposure to radiation, MRI scans appear to be facing EU legislation that may render them unusable for diagnosis for diseases such as cancer. There seems to be considerably less evidence to support the existence adverse health effects from MRI scans than there is for mobile phones. Unlike mobile phones, MRI scanners also have the advantage that they may indeed be responsible for saving people's lives through improved diagnosis.
There may be a case for this legislation, but if so it is certainly less than the case for precautionary guidelines on mobile phone usage.
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