Wifi health risk paranoia

Thanks to Ed for pointing out a BBC article on the supposed health risks of wireless networks. Some guy goes on about their ‘transmitting a microwave into your brain’, then says:

“I see no evidence to suggest they could be harmful, but it takes an enormous amount of evidence to prove anything. I don’t understand the medical side very well but I do understand the technical side – that of frequency and power. That’s why I decided against installing a wireless network.”

Isn’t that a truly great quote? It’s broken in so many ways! The inventive use of ‘but’; the second sentence cancelling out what it’s trying to suggest; the definitive non sequitur at the end. Inspired.

Others claim they immediately started having headaches after a wireless network was enabled. Every time this is mentioned it’s difficult not to notice that knowledge of the wireless network came before the headaches, never the other way around. It’s very much like people who claim to suffer from ‘electrical sensitivity’, but can’t replicate it under controlled conditions. It all has an air of woo that has apparently turned up with with the introduction of many technologies, such as the original radio transmissions, or ozone from laser printers, or radiation from the first computers. It seems that once these things become commonplace the symptoms disappear.

After giving plenty of time to anecdotes, the article ends with a spokesman for the Health Protection Agency:

“In classrooms, a typical exposure is at 20 millionths of the guideline levels, whereas a mobile phone is 50% of guidelines,” says Dr Michael Clark, science spokesman for the Health Protection Agency.

“Twenty minutes on a mobile phone call is equivalent to a year in that classroom. It’s a completely different level of exposure. These are non-ionising radio waves. They’re not X-rays, or gamma rays, or ultra violet. It’s completely different in energy terms. I’m looking outside now and that’s electromagnetic radiation – visible light. Radio energies are a million times less energetic than ultraviolet light.”

The HPA finds no evidence of health risks, even for people using wifi-enabled laptops on their, um, laps. The World Health Organisation agrees. As the spokesman said, the average power density from using a mobile phone is much greater, but there seems to be no reasonable basis for thinking they cause harm either. As far as I can tell, even the evidence from the most extreme what-would-happen-if-we-glued-twenty-mobile-phones-to-a-baby’s-head-for-a-month studies is inconclusive. I think it’s fair to put this kind of low-frequency EMF radiation way down the scale of things to worry about.