The debate on whether long-term exposure to Wi-Fi is a serious health risk has surfaced again following recent studies and announcements from concerned organizations.
Conditions such as heart arrhythmia, short-term memory dysfunction, insomnia, skin rashes, tinnitus, nausea, and dizziness have all been linked to prolonged exposure to electromagnetic fields for some time, although the World Health Organization (WHO) remains unconvinced.
But one report that will have males worrying concentrates on the effect on reproductive systems. According to scientific studies in Argentina, sperm that was subjected to Wi-Fi exposure displayed reactions ranging from lethargy to structural damage.
The study was pretty basic but did display some straightforward results. Samples were taken from 30 men who were split between those who sat close to a Wi-Fi enabled laptop and those who sat a distance away. Ambient temperature was controlled for both sets of samples.
At the end of the test approximately 25% of the sperm close to the laptop were no longer active, compared to 14% for those situated on the other side of the room. Worryingly, 9% of the sperm near the laptop showed DNA damage.
How much this experiment really tells us about male reproductive risk from keeping your cell phone in your trouser pocket is impossible say at this stage. But it does mean that male infertility joins the ranks of other health concerns that continue to fuel the Wi-Fi debate.
Precautions Rather Than Proof
The Council of Europe pitched into the discussion recently by calling for a ban on mobile phones in schools and a reduction of children’s exposure to other wireless devices such as laptops, baby alarms, and cordless phones.
The report from the Council of Europe was based on a principle of precaution, rather than clear proof of danger from exposure to electromagnetic fields. It holds the view that electromagnetic fields are one of the most common and fastest-growing environmental influences affecting society and that levels of exposure will continue to increase as technology advances.
The Council cited the use of mobile telephones as an example, noting that more than 1.4 million basestations now relay information worldwide. Also, the Council noted the increasing use of wireless networks that use electromagnetic fields to facilitate high-speed wireless Internet access.
A conflicting perspective comes from the WHO, which examined the health implications of electromagnetic fields, particularly those generated by mobile phone signals.
The WHO states that despite extensive research and a recent in-depth review of available scientific literature on the subject, there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health.
Having said that, the WHO also admitted that there are knowledge gaps about biological effects related to exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields. Therefore, further research is needed.
Scientists at the U.K.’s Health Protection Agency support the WHO’s no-risk opinion. Their research measured very small output powers even when devices were transmitting continuously and found the powers would be lower still with the intermittent transmissions that occur in normal use. The effective powers in the direction of maximum emission were in the range 17 to 57 mW and therefore well within the 100-mW limit set for Europe.
Despite that, there is a further important element in this whole Wi-Fi debate—electro-hypersensitivity (EHS), also called electro-sensitivity and electromagnetic sensitivity.
This unproven condition has become documented because of the number of people displaying symptoms including headaches, fatigue, trouble concentrating, problems with short-term memory, insomnia, skin rashes, tinnitus, nausea, and dizziness, which are believed to be caused by spending time in places where cordless phones, cell phones, or Wi-Fi are present.
People have reported these conditions after using Wi-Fi over a period of time, yet the symptoms disappeared when those people were no longer exposed to electromagnetic fields, such as when they were on vacation. But don’t forget that these symptoms can be due to many different diseases and conditions.
Another EHS study by researchers at Trent University in Ontario did find increases in heart rate or irregular heartbeat in some people exposed to a nearby cordless phone. Among those affected, nearly half found their heart rate returned to normal after the cordless phone was unplugged.
Importantly, this was a blind study, meaning that the participants didn’t know if the cordless phone was plugged in or not. It was published in the 23 October, 2010 issue of the European Journal of Oncology.
According to the WHO, the number of people with EHS is unknown. Surveys have shown wide variations but have concluded the incidence appears to be higher in Sweden, Germany, and Denmark than it is in the United Kingdom, Austria, and France. Additionally, EHS is recognized in Canada but has received only minor attention in the United States.
What do you think? Is long-term exposure to Wi-Fi a danger? I’d be interested to receive your views or experiences. E-mail me at [email protected].