Potential Health Effects of Wi-Fi in Our Schools


By Chuck Rairdan

I can certainly be counted among those who support the application of technology to improve learning conditions in our schools. With the rapid advance of new technologies and other innovations, however, there can also be unintended consequences or, in this case, health effects that are not always recognized or understood at the onset of these advances.

As our living, learning, and work spaces are becoming increasingly saturated with radio frequency and electromagnetic frequency (RF/EMF) emissions, there is an emerging body of independent research, literature, and personal testimony that is elucidating the effects of heightened RF/EMF exposures.

Children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to the effects of RF/EMF radiation on both their cognitive health and overall well-being.  Likewise, there is an increasing number of adults who are being correctly diagnosed as suffering from excessive RF/EMF exposures or who become sensitive to their influence, similar to the way an allergy or food sensitivity develops.

With all the microwave/cell phone tower transmissions, Wi-Fi, cell phone, TV, appliance, and smart meter emissions, we are now living in a set of environmental conditions that didn’t exist at current levels 5-10 years ago and which are now increasing exponentially.

As the latest electronics go almost exclusively wireless, we are venturing into territory where the cumulative effects of RF/EMF emissions on human health have gone largely untested, or at least unrevealed.

Will we unwittingly participate in a movement that exhibits the potential to significantly impact the health of our children? Here is a link to a recent Forbes article that summarizes the published state of knowledge on this subject:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/robertszczerba/2015/01/13/study-suggests-wi-fi-exposure-more-dangerous-to-kids-than-previously-thought/

While the determination and progress made by DJUSD to implement Wi-Fi throughout all school sites is admirable, it may be prudent at this point to pause until more is known about potential health effects of persistent RF/EMF exposures.

With the amount of time our kids spend on campus and with all the other sources of exposure, it is a question that warrants serious consideration.  And with safety being the utmost concern, it would also be unfortunate from a fiscal standpoint if considerable resources were expended on infrastructure that ultimately proved to be untenable or in need of a major reconfiguration.

It may be that some high tech systems are best left hardwired or configured in a way that minimizes potential health impacts.

The French government is in the process of dismantling Wi-Fi in its public schools due to increasing awareness of the associated health risks. Belgium and India are also passing laws and taking steps to increase public awareness.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently reclassified RF/EMF emissions as a 2B carcinogen, similar to lead, and has called for a fundamental reassessment of the current exposure standards.

The European Council has recommended the banning of cell phones and Wi-Fi in European Union schools until more is known about the health impacts of these technologies, particularly on children and adolescents.

If we are to consider ourselves a truly progressive society, shouldn’t we be taking steps to learn from those experiences and initiatives to avoid making similar mistakes?

Recent history has its share of cautionary tales where the momentum of innovations or modern conveniences has outpaced a clear understanding of the associated risks, sometimes with painful consequences.

I would recommend that we wade into this emerging issue with eyes fully open and do our best to get it right the first time around, wherever the evidence leads.  DJUSD aspires to be a 21st century leader in education. Perhaps we have here an excellent opportunity to test those waters.

Chuck Rairdan is a Davis resident and ran for school board in November 2014.


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33 thoughts on “Potential Health Effects of Wi-Fi in Our Schools”

  1. Biddlin

    In the developed world, EMFs/RFs are inescapable. Wi-Fi in schools is a very small contributor. Would you also work to remove it from virtually every home, cafe, truck stop and public library?  As stated in the Forbes article, that study was based on very limited data sets and was done by a single, small entity and is by no means conclusive. The organisation “Cancer Research UK says,”Research has looked into the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) produced by electricity in the home and from overhead power lines as a possible cause of cancer. No conclusive link has been found so far. The most recent research studies seem to show that this type of electromagnetic energy does not increase the risk of cancer.”That seems to be the position of most scientists, on the matter.


    1. Napoleon Pig IV

      Thus said the tobacco industry pigs many decades ago. It was clear then and is clear now that whatever generates a profit for industry will be sold to sheep, in part through the assurance of scientific studies that seem to show that X does not increase the risk of Y. Oink!

  2. wdf1

    I am interested but skeptical of this issue.  The sun shines all kinds of EMFs/RFs — light waves, UV radiation, IR, radio waves, microwaves — on Earth and has done so for billions of years.  I would like to understand why this issue, in 2015, deserves special concern.

    1. tribeUSA

      wdf1–most of the suns EM energy is emitted in  wavelengths in and near the visible; the amount of microwave radiation near a cell tower is many orders of magnitude greater than the background from sunlight and other natural sources (i.e. signal to noise ratio is very large near cell towers). I’d like to get the exact numbers on this; the energy flux received from a microwave tower (which will decrease with the square of the distance from the tower) relative to the background natural energy flux of microwave sources. However, I am certain that the ratio of man-made signal to background natural noise is getting larger every year; i.e. most humans have never before in history been exposed to the level of microwave radiation that is now typical in most towns and cities (or also emitted by your cell-phone or stupo-electric-meter or other source even if you’re out in the country).

  3. DurantFan

    Residents of Davis are strongly encouraged to reduce their carbon footprint (to have a Mickey Mouse sized carbon footprint) while they are also being encouraged to expand their electronic footprint (to have a Goofy sized electronic footprint). They will know of our hypocrisy by our limping.  

    With an ever expanding electronic footprint, residents of Davis are being exposed to ever increasing levels of EMFs.   2015 may be the year when the additive levels of  chronic wireless EMF exposure moves into the more acute or detrimental levels in humans.   Unfortunately, it appears that the young children of today will be the guinea pigs for this “experiment.”

  4. odd man out

    Whenever topics of this nature appear on DV, I quickly turn to our local leading skeptic, Davis resident Bob Carroll (retired Sac City philosophy prof and editor of the most excellent resource, the Skeptic’s Dictionary –www.skepdic.com). Here’s Bob’s take on this issue: http://skepdic.com/emf.html



    1. tribeUSA

      Re: skeptics dictionary,

      Yes, it is absolutely factual that microwave radiation does not have any significant ionizing effect. However, it is not only ionizing radiation that interacts energetically with human tissue. This skeptics article is not balanced. Two areas (off the top of my head) that it does not address:

      (1) The fact that microwave radiation, while energetically weaker, penetrates further into human tissue than does higher-energy radiation (e.g. uv ionizing radiation is nearly completely absorbed by outer layers of the skin; whereas microwave energy penetrates deeply into the body–thru thin layers of wood, plastic, brick, wallboard, etc. which is why reception is still possible in most home structures and behind vegetation and other natural barriers).

      (2) The difficulty in performing tests for long-term chronic exposure; as compared to the relative ease of testing for short-term acute exposure, which are most of the tests cited by the skeptics article.

      So the good news is that testing indicates that acute or short-term exposure does not appear to have significant impacts on human health. There is still substantial uncertainty on the long-term effects of long-term chronic exposure. Yes, the youth of today are the guinea pigs for this–perhaps only 3% of them will have any significant long-term exposure effects on their health; which translates into a mere 12 million people in the USA in 50 years if the population begins to stabilize near 400 million.

    2. tribeUSA

      another point of confusion I see in the discussion here:

      all emf radiation is not the same. In terms of photon energetics;

      power-line emf<am radio emf < fm & tv emf < microwave < visible < uv < x-ray < gamma ray

      Each energetic (or wavelenth or frequency) class of radiation is physically different and can be expected to interact differently with the human body; and so its health effects must be studied separately. Medical studies of the effect of power-line emf or radio wave emfs on the human body have little or no bearing on the effects of microwaves on the human body.

  5. hpierce

    How many of your children have cell phones?  Home computer systems that are linked by wi-fi? With the proximity to the face/head those (cell phones) are probably much more dangerous than wi-fi in schools.  Inverse square rule.

    1. Chuck Rairdan

      hpierce, you rightly point out that cell phone use may represent a much more pressing source of exposure. The recent spike in brain tumors in adolescents attributed to cell phone use may be a canary in the coal mine regarding the bigger picture of increasing ambient and acute RF/EMF exposures.  Many of the health conditions that could be linked to these exposures may very well take years to manifest. I say “could” because on the current path we are seeing with these technologies, we are the experiment. And the young people we are responsible for protecting are the most vulnerable physiologically. I realize your comment was only about relative exposure levels, but if I may expand upon that, the effects of these emissions can be demonstrated on a molecular level, so for me it’s not such a stretch to think that our bodies, complex systems that they are, would be immune to lower-level chronic exposures.

      The human body has amazing defense and repair mechanisms but, as with any potentially toxic influence, it’s a question of dose and duration of exposure, and each individual has different thresholds.  As such, the approach to managing the health and welfare of our public school environments cannot be laissez faire.  If someone is concerned about, sensitive to, or has a health condition related to RF/EMF exposures, then individuals and families can arrange their home environments to minimize those effects and avoid public settings where there are concentrated RF/EMF fields. At some point, though, it does become a public health issue as more and more people are affected.

      To envision the future landscape of these technologies based on the current public domain research or level of understanding is, I think, a bit like how when you watch a futuristic film from, say, as early as 20 years ago and the specifics of how the producers interpreted the future can sometimes be almost laughable within the current times. Some of the abstractions presented in those films, however, can be eerily spot on.  The thing is, were not dealing with abstractions here but potentially serious health impacts for large segments of our populations.  That these technologies will or should continue rolling out en masse based on current awareness levels may play out like some of those 1970’s futuristic films, but with real life consequences. Because the public lacks sufficient longitudinal data on the mounting evidence of these health impacts, the specifics of our future landscape depends on what we do with this issue going forward from today.

      I also liken the status quo path forward to the false choice that we’ve seen with the past assertion by some of those who stand to profit the most that we can’t have a healthy environment and a robust economy simultaneously: it’s one or the other, take it or leave it, a zero sum game. We don’t have that luxury here, never have actually. So, if we presume there aren’t alternatives to safely maintain and improve the benefits of an information society and modern conveniences, that approach then serves to avoid the challenge before us. To claim progress on the backs of our health is not true progress.

        1. Chuck Rairdan

          Here are a some studies/summaries indicating a causal relationship to increased incidence of brain tumors from EMF exposures. While the science is hardly settled, that past studies claiming no causation are being questioned and a large, multinational study in Europe has been initiated to better assess these risks is telling. I won’t pretend that all the resarch out there is rock solid or without flaws, and that cuts both ways in this ongoing debate.  But the questions we are dealing with are multi-factoral, meaning it is difficult to control for and isolate any one particular variable to show a patent correlation. What we need are well-designed longitudinal studies that better assess the risks and interactions across the whole spectrum of RF/EMF exposures, cell phone usage being among the more acute and recurring exposures:




          1. Don Shor

            This is what I was afraid of. Dr. Hardell is definitely an outlier in the field of this research. Here’s just one critique of Dr. Hardell’s team and methods:

            Whenever one group of researchers keeps finding a result that no other group seems able to replicate or that otherwise disagrees with what everyone else is finding, that’s a huge red flag for me. Remove those studies, and even the wisp of a hint of a shadow of the association between cell phone use and cancer found in this study disappears. I’d have a lot more confidence in this seeming association in “high quality” studies if the association didn’t depend upon a single researcher and if this researcher was not also known for being an expert witness in lawsuits against mobile phone companies. Don’t get me wrong; these studies could be correct, but replication is one of the checks on research in science-based medicine. If other groups can’t replicate Dr. Hardell’s work, I wonder why. Is it something about the methodology? Is it something specific about Swedes? Is it something about the population? Are there confounders unique to his work that aren’t operative elsewhere? Until I see other researchers independent of Dr. Hardell and using a variety of different analyses find the same results, I don’t have a lot of confidence in them. Even the authors acknowledge that a weakness of their study is that “we did not explore potential confounding factors in the studies by Hardell et al that reported positive results not found by other study groups.”

            Sorry, Chuck, but there is no credible evidence of harm by cell phones or emf exposures.

        2. hpierce

          Don… (with my tongue fully in cheek), didn’t the late Johnnie Cochran (OJ’s attorney) die of a brain tumor attributable to cell phone use?  Even if it doesn’t fit, you can’t acquit.  [sorry, couldn’t resist…. my bad]

        3. Chuck Rairdan

          Credible in this case is a matter of opinion, one among many. And quoting one passage doesn’t define the results. As I indicated, the science is not settled on this question, but it is a serious question that is being compelled by the available evidence. So I think we can just agree to disagree on how to proceed from here.

  6. Frankly

    It seems to me that it is largely the same or similar group of people proclaiming the idiocy of those arguing against the scientific theories of antropogenic climate change that then ignore the science on EMFs/RFs, GMO and vaccinations.

    Apparently science is to be accepted only when it supports our biases.

    1. David Greenwald

      I think you’re off there. I think you have a very small subsection of crunchy granola liberals who are anti-vaccination and you’re trying to tie them to climate change issues. That’s really distorting the issue imo.

      1. hpierce

        Can’t answer for Frankly… but “science” that has their conclusion before assembling the data (or selectively selecting it, discarding data that does not fit with their hypotheses and conclusions) [often one and the same, for some “science”], analyzing their data with the same metrics, is pseduo-science, not science, in my opinion.

        Something about “figures don’t lie, but liars can figure”.  Based on my read (and I do) of the studies to date, the low levels of EMF’s in a classroom are background noise, but I will not choose to live directly under very high voltage transmission lines, nor would I choose to have a cell phone working upside my head 24/7/365.  Far too many of the studies I’ve read are either alarmists or deniers.  Don’t think either of them are correct, but I side on the reality that I and mine are not likely to suffer significant morbidity, much less mortality, from EMF’s.

        If you believe EMF’s are super dangerous, why do you have electricity coming into your home, much less using a computer?

        1. wdf1

          I thought I had clarified my position here.  At present I’m not concerned about the EMF/RF issue that Rairdan raised in this article.  If I should be, I’d genuinely appreciate better sources explaining why I should worry.  Don Shor has highlighted some solid skepticism that needs to be addressed.

        2. South of Davis

          hpierce wrote:

          > I will not choose to live directly under very high voltage transmission lines,

          I wouldn’t either, but is not related to EMFs, it is because they make noise (humming) and since many people are worried about them it might reduce the value of my home when I sell.

          > Far too many of the studies I’ve read are either alarmists or deniers.

          As many of the regular readers of this site know I am often “skeptical” of “studies” since it is rare to EVER see a “study” that does not support what the group that paid for it wanted (remember the tobacco company reports in the 1960’s that said smoking was not bad for you).

          With that said I read a great report from the Prudential Real Estate Group about 15 years ago where they hired real scientists and looked at real cancer data to decide if it was worth the risk to loan millions of dollars to the owners of commercial and multifamily properties near the high voltage lines again.  Based on the report that said there was no risk, Prudential actually reversed a ban on making the loans that started in the late 80’s or early 90’s.

          P.S. While I am sad to hear about the small number of kids with cancer that live under power lines it is important to remember that a small number of kids that live on farms 50 miles from a high voltage power line (and in some cases living “off the grid” without ANY power line) also get cancer…

    2. Tia Will

      For those interested in the facts regarding the increasing incidence in pediatric brain tumors, from Up to Date as last revised on 2/3/15 :  “Incidence rate increased for all age groups from 1975 to 1980 and 1987 to 1992. This change in incidence did not occur progressively from 1975 to 1994, but jumped to a higher rate after 1985. This increase has been attributed to the increased availability of magnetic resonance imaging, which likely resulted in improved diagnostic sensitivity rather than an actual increase in incidence “

      Therefore we do have a “spike” following 1985 , but not related to increasing cell phone use, but rather to improved diagnostics.  This is also a major factor in early breast cancer detection. Of course with improved detection just as when you screen an entire population when you have not previously done so, you will get a “spike” in incidence. This does not mean that the condition was not there previously, just that you were unable to detect it since you either were not looking, or could not see it. Especially when the conditions being looked at are likely to be multifactorial it is extremely important to separate out coincidence from causation before leaping to any conclusions.

      An interesting factoid from the same article ‘In Germany, the incidence of childhood CNS tumors is lower, with a reported rate of 2.6 per 100,000 children <15 years based on epidemiologic data from 1990 to 1999 [4]. This is as compared to “the estimated incidence of primary non-malignant and malignant CNS tumors is 5.4 cases per 100,000 person-years for children and adolescents ≤19 years of age in the United States. If this comparison holds today, what would be interesting to compare would be the relative exposures of children in the US to those in Germany. Anyone up for researching that ?

      1. South of Davis

        Tia wrote:

        > Therefore we do have a “spike” following 1985 ,

        > but not related to increasing cell phone use

        In 1985 the average cell phone cost ~$1,500 and the average bill was ~$150/month ($0.40 Peak/$0.20 Off Peak + Long Distance without ANY free minutes).

        It was not until 1995 that the first rich “kids” started to get cell phones (and not many “kids” had them until the family share plans came out in the late 90’s and early 2000’s).

  7. Don Shor

    Likewise, there is an increasing number of adults who are being correctly diagnosed as suffering from excessive RF/EMF exposures or who become sensitive to their influence, similar to the way an allergy or food sensitivity develops.

    As with the previous claim, please provide your evidence for this assertion. “Excessive emf exposure sensitivity” appears to have no basis.

    From Wikipedia: The majority of provocation trials to date have found that self-described sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity are unable to distinguish between exposure to real and fake electromagnetic fields,[3][4] and it is not recognized as a medical condition by the medical or scientific communities. Since a systematic review in 2005 showing no convincing scientific evidence for it being caused by electromagnetic fields,[3] several double-blind experiments have been published, each of which has suggested that people who report electromagnetic hypersensitivity are unable to detect the presence of electromagnetic fields and are as likely to report ill health following a sham exposure, as they are following exposure to genuine electromagnetic fields, suggesting the cause to be the nocebo effect.[5][6][7]

    1. tribeUSA

      This is a trial on the accuracy of perceptions of a small number of people (likely with hypochondriacal tendencies) with regard to emf exposure. This study was not designed to address the presence or absence of actual (as opposed to subjectively perceived) effects of emf, and provides no evidence to  address this question.

  8. Davis Progressive

    i remember looking into this issue about 20 years ago when cellphone first came out.  the problem here is that radio waves like cell signals are low frequency waves.  it seems unlikely that wifi would have an impact and radio waves and other signals that we are exposed to everyday wouldn’t.  i think we need to look at more likely culprits.

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