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25 November 2016

Criticism of the Wi-Fi Directives for Use in Schools in the Canton of Geneva

Criticism of the Wi-Fi directives for use in primary and secondary schools in the canton of Geneva
by Meris Michaels, 25 November 2016

Following is our criticism of the Wi-Fi directives for use in primary and secondary schools in the canton of Geneva, cited by the Geneva State Councillor in charge of education in reply to ARA's letter on digital technology in schools.  They are based on WHO and ICNIRP recommendations, acknowledge only thermal effects on health, and do not take into account the growing numbers of electrohypersensitive persons.  They are outdated and ignore the many independent scientific studies showing biological health effects.

The directives were issued in November 2010 and updated in June 2015. They cite WHO Fact Sheet no. 304 on EM fields and public health dated May 2006 - the link to the French version is invalid.  It concludes, "considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."

Texts from the Federal Office for Public Health are also cited, including the one on WLAN [Wi-Fi], offering the following advice to people who prefer to minimize their personal exposure to reduce electromagnetic fields in their home or office:

- Only switch your WLAN on when you need it.    With laptops, in particular, it is a good idea to switch the WLAN off as otherwise the device will repeatedly try to connect to a network, leading to unnecessary radiation and a shorter battery life.

-  Don’t hold your laptop close to your body while it is connected to a WLAN.

-  Wherever possible, install the access point one metre away from places where you work, sit or rest for long periods of time.

Following are excerpts from the directives, translated from French:

With the growth of use of technologies for teaching and development of tools allowing a roaming access to the Internet, access to Wi-Fi is a necessity for schools...

Recent studies show that Wi-Fi is not a proven danger to health, taking into account some precautions...

Switzerland applies the recommendations of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).  The only health effects from high frequency radiation shown scientifically are thermal effects...

Contrary to mobile telephony, Wi-Fi is not used with a device held to the ear during transmission of data, but at a distance from the body.

The OFSP observes that the radiation generated by wireless network is too weak to cause detectable health effects.  This applies as well to children and adolescents.  It concludes that to date there is no need for regulation, concerning neither the growing number of public connections nor radiation or health impact.

In an aide-mémoire on the subject, WHO says "recent studies show that exposure to radiofrequencies from base stations and wireless technologies in public spaces (including schools and hospitals) are normally thousands of times lower than international standards."

Wireless technology should not replace all wired installations in schools.  It is however necessary to diversify access to the Internet, allowing use by pupils or teachers of portable computing with the aid of laptops and other devices, to compensate for the lack of work stations for use by teachers.  Since more and more mobile devices lack wired connections, Wi-Fi is becoming indispensable.  Note Wi-Fi allows access to the Internet and not to educational resources.

Given the higher radiation near antennas, in particular within the radius of one meter, these should be placed high up and in places where no one remains permanently within its immediate vicinity.

by Meris Michaels

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