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By: MarkJ - 16 May, 2011 (11:24 AM)
wi-fi wireless network mastban wireless and mobile networks in europeThe Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) has controversially called for Wi-Fi wireless networks and mobile phones to effectively be banned from schools. The council's Committee for the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs (CEALRA) found that such devices emit electromagnetic fields that could be "potentially harmful" to "the environment and human health". Break out the tin foil hats?

The report does at least admit that the real world health impact has "not yet been fully elucidated and a number of scientific uncertainties continue to exist", before somewhat contradicting itself a few lines later to say that "there is sufficient evidence of potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic fields".

Council of Europe Report Conclusions

The potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic fields on the environment and human health have not yet been fully elucidated and a number of scientific uncertainties continue to exist in that regard. Nevertheless, anxieties and fears remain in wide sectors of the population over the health hazards posed by the waves, and also of the demands voiced by high-level scientists, by groupings of doctors and by the associations of concerned citizens which abound in many Council of Europe member states.

After analysing the scientific studies available to date, and also following the hearings for expert opinions organised in the context of the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs, there is sufficient evidence of potentially harmful effects of electromagnetic fields on fauna, flora and human health to react and to guard against potentially serious environmental and health hazards.

The council essentially wants "to invoke the application of the precautionary principle", particularly on behalf of children, and to see the imposition of "effective, urgent preventive measures" (i.e. banning mobile phones, wi-fi and other very low frequency EM emitting devices from schools [e.g. microwave ovens etc.]).

However, its report has also faced a barrage of criticism, not least due to its use of one or two questionable data sources that have a sometimes shaky history of getting their "evidence" peer reviewed (for example).

In addition, the weight of real scientific evidence and advice, such as from the UK Department of Health, World Health Organisation (WHO), Manchester University, Britain’s Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme (MTHRP) and others have found it difficult to prove a link between very low frequency EM fields and harmful effects upon human health.

Meanwhile a recent Eurobarometer study from the European Commission (EC) found that 48% of Europeans were concerned or very concerned over the potential health risks posed by mobile telephony. Clearly people are worried and indeed some studies have advised keeping the very youngest of children and babies away from wi-fi and mobile phone equipped devices, albeit just as a precaution.

It's important to stress that the above body (council) is separate from the European Union (EU) and has no real legislative powers over matters of public health. The EC itself also cites a lack of evidence for any adjustment to current "exposure limits".

None of this is to say that a problem might not exist; just that there have been plenty of studies already and the vast majority of real scientific work has failed to establish enough evidence for harmful effects. Mind you, banning mobile phones from schools might not be an entirely bad idea, albeit more to limit distraction from work than anything else. What do you think?
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