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07 May 2018

Hyperactive through Wi-Fi ?

Hyperactive through WLAN?
By Eckhard Stengel, fr.de, 5 May 2018

Environmental physicians publish a study summary on radiation effects, which is worrying. The [German] Federal Office for Radiation Protection, however, doubts the validity of the results.

Always connected to the world: Starbucks visitors.  The branches of the
coffee house chain are a safe haven for anyone looking for a WLAN.
Photo: rtr
WLAN here, Wi-Fi there, Wi-Fi everywhere: Many smartphone and laptop users would like to constantly go via local wireless networks to the Internet - not only at home, but also on the move in buses and trains or shopping. The degree of danger of the soon ubiquitous WLAN radiation is disputed. The Oldenburg-based journal "Environment - Medicine - Society", of the Association of Ecological Physicians and other environmental medicine associations, has now published an evaluation of more than a hundred studies on this topic. According to the study, wireless local area networks (WLANs) can already have harmful effects on health and behavior even below the applicable limit values.

The study overview, however, is controversial. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection of an "unscientific approach" and assures: "In compliance with the existing limit values, no health-relevant effects have been proven to date." Nevertheless, the authority also recommends as a precaution, "to minimize personal radiation exposure".

The study overview was written by the biologist and editor of the information service "Strahlentelex / Elektrosmog-Report", Isabel Wilke, on behalf of the environmental and consumer organization "Diagnose: Funk".

WLAN often runs on the frequency of a microwave

"Biological and Pathological Effects of Radiation of 2.45 GHz on Cells, Fertility, Brain and Behavior" is Wilke's essay, in which she summarizes more than a hundred studies, mostly on animal experiments. Even the introduction is likely to amaze many amateurs: WLAN systems often work with the same frequency as microwave ovens, namely 2.45 gigahertz (GHz).

According to the studies, such high-frequency microwave radiation is said to have an influence not only on fertility, cancer development and brain functions, but also on the heart, liver and thyroid gland. Wilke also mentions negative effects on learning, memory, attention and activity. For example, an experiment with rats in 2008 showed that after 2 hours of irradiation on 21 days with low field strengths (16.5 microwatts per square centimeter), the behavior had changed: "The irradiated animals proved to be hyperactive."

In 2014, other researchers observed ants on their running tracks. According to Wilke's summary, the animals showed "disturbed behavior" just a few seconds after switching on the WLAN router. Only after six to eight hours, their foraging had normalized again, although the router was only on for half an hour.

In one of the few experiments with humans, influences on the brain waves, which are measured by an electroencephalogram (EEG), were also shown in 2011. According to Wilke, the measure of attention decreased in male subjects, whereas in females it increased.

Another chapter: Reproduction and fertility. Radiation of low field strength produced "physiological stress reactions" in pregnant mice in 2013 led to the death of the embryos, writes Wilke. And WLAN radiation from laptops on their laps lowers the quality of human sperm, as a 2012 study has shown.

Even bacteria seem to be influenced as shown in studies from 2015 and 2017. According to this, resistance to antibiotics increased in irradiated coliform bacteria, Klebsiella and Listeria.

But how should WLAN-rays cause all such effects? "Many studies identify oxidative cell stress as a mechanism of action," Wilke writes. This refers to the increased formation of reactive oxygen molecules, better known as free radicals, which also play a role in carcinogenesis.

Federal Office for Radiation Protection advises cable connections

Some of the listed experiments showed effects especially in young animals. This is another reason why author Wilke calls for renouncing "Wi-Fi" in  educational institutions of all ages. But this is also recommended for bedrooms, workplaces, lounges, sickrooms, lecture theaters and public transport. At least the devices should be switched off and power-controlled.

The Federal Office for Radiation Protection (FSO) also advises to favor cable connections while surfing and not to install central WLAN access points "in the immediate vicinity" of places "where people are constantly present, for example at work". Unlike Wilke, however, the FSO does not justify these recommendations with real dangers, but only with pure precaution. The goal was to "minimize possible but not yet recognized health risks".

Spokesman Jan Henrik Lauer, asked by the FR for an assessment of the Wilke work, accuses the biologist of unscientific methods. There are about 2 800 experimental studies on the disputed frequency range. Wilke had only noticed about a hundred of them. "It seems as if 'systematic' studies have been selected that show health-relevant effects without taking into account in any way the quality and informative value of the study design," criticizes Lauer. If one evaluates the totality of all studies, then one can recognize no "frequency-specific danger of WLAN".

The BFS spokesman underpinned his criticism with examples: If a laptop impaired sperm quality, then this could also be due to the battery heat. It is indisputable that an EEG is influenced by high-frequency fields; but from the point of view of EEG experts, such effects are not relevant to health. Oxidative stress is a natural process; In 2008, the Robert Koch Institute could not confirm a causal relationship between environmental pollution, oxidative stress and certain diseases. And on the behavioral studies, Lauer says that ants "have little relevance to human behavior." The results of mouse and rat experiments could only partly be transferred to humans - although Lauer admits, when asked, that this also applies to the many reassuring studies.

It is not true that Wilke does not deal with unnerving studies. She mentions a few - but she denies their significance. In part, they were financed by the mobile industry; in part, the researchers had used unrealistically high field strengths, although there are now studies that show just the lower field strengths effects. Furthermore, according to Wilke, experiments without findings are no proof that the studies are wrong.

On the criticism of the FSO, Wilke said when asked, depending on the database, you will find several hundred studies, but not 2 800, as claimed by the FSO. She had reviewed the work "from the beginning to the end for consistency" and quoted those which were consistent. Although it is true that oxidative stress is normal in a certain context, it is true that it is increasingly noticeable in the case of WLAN radiation. Wilke's conclusion: "For many years now, the FSO has been taking the long-outdated position that there are no non-thermal effects, and it has been proven many times over that there are many effects."

Sometimes even the manufacturers play it safe. Wilke has found in the user manual of a telecom WLAN router, the note that the device should not be "in the immediate vicinity of bedrooms, children and lounges" and set up "in order to minimize the burden of electromagnetic fields".

Eckhard Stengel, Correspondent, Bremen, To the profile of the author

Original article in German:

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