TECH

Study Claims WiFi Is 'More Dangerous' To Kids

14/01/2015 11:22 GMT | Updated 14/01/2015 12:59 GMT

A study has asked regulators to re-address whether exposure to WiFi signals can be harmful to children - despite widespread scientific agreement that there is no danger.

The study quoted by Forbes appears in the Journal of Microscopy and Ultrastructure -- which is not widely cited online, and whose board members in large part work at the King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia. (The study was funded by the Saudi Society of Microscopes, which currently has 31 followers on Twitter.)

It states - based on what it says is an analysis of other papers, not 'new' primary research - that young adults, children and babies are more at risk from certain radio frequency signals than adults. It concludes that thinner skulls and "more absorbent" brain tissue means that their exposure to them should be regulated even more tightly than it is for adults.

It is true that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (part of the World Health Organisation) actually lists RF/EMF as a Class 2B Carcinogen - meaning that at certain exposure levels, under certain conditions, it can maybe be harmful enough to cause cancer. Other substances on that list include diesel, carbon, lead and chloroform. This list is repeated by Forbes, who point out that standards on safe level of exposure have remained unchanged for almost two decades.

The problem is that this is often taken to mean that WiFi at the levels commonly experienced by most people can "cause" cancer - or even autism - claims forcefully disputed by the majority of scientists. WHO, by contrast, say that "there is no risk from low level, long-term exposure to Wi-Fi networks".

And no, this study doesn't change that. Let's find out why.

child using tablet

The study (and Forbes) requests that safety information and warnings be made far more visible to the general public. It even suggests alerting girls who might keep their smartphones in their bras or hijabs, or to young children who are found to be constantly using an iPad or other wireless device.

Forbes writer Robert J. Szczerba states he simply wants to apply common sense rules to a technology that has been -- in his view -- overlooked by manufacturers.

Manufacturers like Apple do extensively test and list detailed information about RF signals on their website - in the case of the iPhone 6 this information recommends you carry your device 5mm away from your body to maintain safe standards (1.6 watts per kilogram) as required by law in many countries.

The effects of RF and WiFi signals on adults and children have been extensively looked at elsewhere.

In the UK an independent advisory group on non-ionising radiation, headed by Professor AJ Swerdlow, produced a detailed report on RF that said there was no evidence that demonstrated "any adverse health effects of RF field exposure below internationally accepted guideline levels".

It also said that "there is increasing evidence that RF field exposure below guideline levels does not cause symptoms and cannot be detected by people, even by those who consider themselves to be sensitive to RF fields".

That review also looked at studies into RF exposure in children - particularly as it related to reaction time, rather than cancer or other illness.

It said that one 2004 study which exposed 32 children aged 10-14 in a double-blind test found no significant effects of exposure. Another 2005 study found no significant results in a similar experiment.

The report did say that "caution is needed in interpreting the effect of exposure on simple reaction time, particularly since the effect replicates those observed in earlier studies of adults".

But it also concluded that "there is no convincing evidence that RF field exposure below guideline levels causes health effects in adults or children".

Forbes notes that the study it quotes tries to link RF exposure to cancer but admits it takes 30 years on average for a tumor to develop - meaning a link (if one exists) is difficult to prove.

Ultimately the most authoritative recent study by independent analysts in the UK says there is no definitive evidence that WiFi signals can be harmful at the current levels of exposure experienced by most adults and children. Others will disagree. Let the science continue.

As Forbes says, "more longitudinal studies will be done to verify or contradict the findings so far". Indeed.