Wifi in Australian Schools
There is a varied view across the world of exposure limits to the Radio Frequency Radiation connecting our wireless devices. Science is clearly showing many biological effects. This has led to concern, and questions of how to use our wireless devices with caution.
The Russian Reference levels take account of epidemiological and experimental findings over the last 60 years and are based on real conditions faced by the population (Grigoriev, 2008). In Russia devices must have an on device label warning users it is a source of Radio Frequency Electro Magnetic Fields (RF EMF) and information must be provided that it is a “source of Harmful RF EMF”. Russia has school based education regarding RF-EMF exposure issues.
Many countries have taken action based on the scientific evidence and or warnings of researchers. Other countries have exposure limits 100’s of time lower than in Australia. Australia’s exposure limits is currently 10000mW/m2. In Bulgaria, Italy, France, Poland and Russia have an exposure limit which is 1% of the Australian exposure limit, at 100 mW/m2 . China 0.6% of ARPANSA’s standard (60 mW/m2), Switzerland at 40 mW/m2 (0.4%), Luxembourg at 20 mW/m2 (0.2%) are even lower.
A report into the radiation levels in an Australian school in July 2014, reported the highest reading of 254 mW/m2, was 1/10th of the Australian exposure Standard used. This exceeds the Luxembourg exposure limit by over 10 times, Switzerland 6 x, China 4x Russia, Bulgaria, Italy, France and Poland, more than 2 time the limit. It must be noted this testing took place over the holiday period with 28 laptops streaming in only one classroom. A number of classroom operating laptops during a typical school day may be higher. In Australian schools WAP (Wireless Access Points) are on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week regardless of whether it is being used. This would not be allowed in some countries.
France and Israel have passed legislation to remove WIFI and strictly restrict exposure in school, taking what is called a Precautionary approach. Russia, China and Poland have invested in scientific research, to establish their exposure Standards.
In a recent Monash University study, Mary Redmayne (2015) compared different countries responses to the newer understanding of biological effects.
Prefer wired over WiFi/WLAN in schools and/or pre-schools Austria, Bavaria, France, Israel, Switzerland, Germany, Russia; Frankfurt,
Salzburg; Council of Europe (Redmayne 2015).
Countries which have an education programme in schools and for education professionals include Russia, Tunisia, Turkey; CEHAPE. (Redmayne 2015).
Countries, cities and committees taking steps to minimise RF-EMF exposure include Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, India, Israel, Switzerland, Turkey; Toronto Health Canada; ICEMS, EEA, European Parliament, BioInitiative Group. (Redmayne 2015).
The Russian Federation advises that those under the age of 18 should not use a mobile phone at all; recommends lower emission phones; and requires the following:
- on-device labelling notifying users that it is a source of RF-EMF,
- User guide information advising that ‘‘it is a source of harmful RF-EMF exposure’’
- the inclusion of courses in schools regarding mobile phones use and RF-EMF exposure issues ((Redmayne 2015)RNCNIRP, 2011).
The Russian advisory committee has issued strong research-based warnings about anticipated short- and long-term health implications from not doing so (RNCNIRP 2008, Redmayne 2015).
Grigoriev (2010) advised the thesis held by some that the present forms of RF communications are absolutely safe is both premature and potentially dangerous. It is necessary to educate scientists, politicians, industries and the general public, including parents and children, that mobile communication devices (and hands-free devices) are not toys, and should be used carefully in a responsible manner. There is no room, or time, for complacency on these matters as related to health, and adopting such measures sooner rather than later could prove highly advantageous to all parties concerned (Grigoriev 2010). He went on to advise, to actively introduce, and promote, the adoption of proper precautionary principles.
It is important to realise that all wireless devices, tablets, ipods. cordless phones and laptops all connect through RF EMF. These levels are comparable and may exceed the levels reached by mobile phones and are often used for longer time periods.
In Australia, ARPANSA determine the amount of radiation Australians can be exposed too. This is currently based on a thermal (heating) effect. ARPANSA acknowledges research and the existence of biological effects, but cite whilst science is still establishing what the health effects may be (and what may be a safe level), biological effects have been excluded from the Australian Standard. http://www.arpansa.gov.au/mobilephones/index.cfm
ARPANSA acknowledge the WHO (World Health Organisation) IARC (International Agency for Research on Cancer) classification in May 2011, Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans.
A press release by ARPANSA, June 2011, “ARPANSA welcomes the report and considers that the classification by IARC corresponds to the current ARPANSA advice, including its advice on practical ways in which people can reduce their exposure to the electromagnetic fields produced by wireless telephones. These include: limiting call time, preferring use of land-line phones, using hands-free or speaker options and texting instead of making voice calls. Use of the phone in good signal areas will also usually let the phone communicate with lower power levels and further reduce exposures. ARPANSA has also recommended parents encourage their children to use these methods of reducing exposure.”
ARPANSA’s fact sheet 14 “How to reduce exposure from mobile phones and other wireless devices” (ARPANSA updated July 2014)
Advises “It’s impossible to be completely sure there isn’t some risk. This is particularly true for children where there is little research evidence.”
It includes advice to reduce exposure:
- Time: If there are any harmful effects, then it’s likely that the longer the exposure to RF EME the greater any risk may be.
- Using a wired land-line phone
- Keeping them at a distance, for example placing the wireless router away from where people spend time.
- Reducing the amount of time you use them.
ARPANSA further advises
The science – There is very limited scientific research on the issue of mobile phone use by children.
Energy absorption – It has been suggested that children may experience greater absorption of energy in the tissues of the head when using a mobile phone. Studies that have been conducted to measure the energy absorption from a mobile phone using anatomical models of both child and adult heads have shown mixed results.
Sensitivity – It has also been suggested that children may be more sensitive due to their developing nervous system. It is not possible to directly assess the effect on children however a number of experiments performed on animals have attempted to address the effects of RF EME on the developing nervous system of children.
Long-term exposure – It has been suggested that children may be more vulnerable because their total time of exposure will eventually be greater than that of adults… no evidence has been shown in the animal studies which are indicative of any risks due to long-term exposure in children. However there are limited studies to date which have investigated the impact of long-term exposure to mobile phones directly on populations of children. It should be noted that none of the animal models in the research are perfect surrogates for the effects of RF EME on humans. There is still research required in this area. The difficulty for the researcher is devising novel approaches that satisfy ethics committees.
Recommendations – It is recommended that, due to the lack of any data relating to children and their long term use of mobile phones, parents encourage their children to limit their exposure by reducing call time, by making calls where reception is good, by using hands-free devices or speaker options, or by texting.
Insurance company Lloyds of London have identified radiofrequencies as the next Asbestos, and refuse to cover communications companies.
“[T]his response was received on Feb. 18, 2015 from CFC Underwriting LTD, London, UK agent for Lloyd’s:
“The Electromagnetic Fields Exclusion (Exclusion 32) is a General Insurance Exclusion and is applied across the market as standard. The purpose of the exclusion is to exclude cover for illnesses caused by continuous long-term non-ionizing radiation exposure.ie mobile phones.”
Currently in all Australian schools, networks are continuously emitting a pulsed signal, regardless of whether it is being used. It only makes sense to switch a network off when not in use, to reduce exposure and power saving.
*An Education program to enable students and teachers to use wireless technology with precautions. (Apps downloaded to devices, and device switched to Airplane mode for use. Precautions to be taken with Mobile phone usage.)
*Install switches in the classrooms to enable the network to be switched off when not in use. (Is ARPANSA’s precautionary minimization requirement being considered when WAP are on in classrooms constantly?)
*Consideration of when devices connect wirelessly and if the lesson could be delivered in a precautionary way.
*Ethernet cables installed in classrooms, to eliminate risk to students and staff and provide a faster, more reliable service.
*Students spend long periods of time on their laptops at home. Preference to be given to laptops as opposed to tablets, with ethernet cables in the classroom. The recommendation to parents that preference be given to ethernet internet connections at home.
Researchers involved in EMF research stress Wifi should not be used in schools, they are concerned at the constant background low level pulsing.
More scientific information, and statements by various bodies can be found at
Grigoriev Y (2008). Russian NCNIRP Guidance. New condition of EMF RF exposure and guarantees of population health. Presentation given at EMF & Health – A Global Issue: Exploring appropriate precautionary approaches, The Radiation Research Trust Conference, The Royal Society, London, United Kingdom. 8 – 9 September, 2008. Abstract available at:
Grigoriev, Y. (2010). “Electromagnetic fields and the public: EMF standards and estimation of risk.” IOP Conference Series: Earth and Environmental Science 10: 012003.
Redmayne, M. (2015). “International policy and advisory response regarding children’s exposure to radio frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF).” Electromagn Biol Med: 1-9.