Is WI-FI harmful?
For the last few months in Victoria, there has been a fair bit of talk about the fact that BC Hydro is switching from older analog meters to smart meters. These are the meters that monitor electricity usage in our homes, and your electricity bill is based on the information they record. The new meters will not require a meter reader to physically take a reading at every house in Victoria; instead, the smart meters will transmit information to BC Hydro via wifi.
Unfortunately, many of those opposed to the smart meters have confused speculation with facts, and have presented these speculations as fact. We will try to deal with some of these speculations over the next few posts.
One of the first points raised by those opposed to smart meters is that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently reclassified radiofrequency signals as a Class 2B carcinogen. What does this mean?
This reclassification was announced via WHO press release No 208, dated May 31, 2011 ‘IARC Classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as Possibly Carcinogenic to Humans.’ (The IARC is the International Agency for Research on Cancer). The press release can be found at <http://www.iarc.fr/en/media-centre/pr/2011/pdfs/pr208_E.pdf>
It would appear that many people, including many in the media, reported this story without reading the press release, never mind the research methodology that led to the announcement. In the first paragraph, the press release states clearly that the the “classification of Radio Frequency (RF) Magnetic Fields is based on an increased risk for..a type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use.”
Not wifi. Cell phone use.
Furthermore, the classification is based on a possible risk, not an actual risk. That’s what a Class 2B agent means.
The IARC has 5 classes of agents that may or may not be carcinogenic. This list can be found at http://monographs.iarc.fr/ENG/Classification/index.php. The Group that is classified as ‘Carcinogenic to humans’ contains 107 agents. Group 2A, ‘Probably carcinogenic to humans’ contains 59 items. Group 2b, into which cell phone use falls, contains 267 agents. These include the following:
- Bracken fern
- Safrole (sassafras oil)
- E-glass fibres
- Talcum powder
Radiofequency electromagnetic fields (includes radiofrequncy electromagnetic fields from wireless phones).
Along with these items are a host of other chemicals that sound very intimidating, like Titanium dioxide and Sterigmatocystin. There are even scarier-sounding compounds classified into Group 3, ‘Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans’ and Group 4 ‘Probably not carcinogenic to humans’. For most people who are not chemists, it’s pretty challenging to evaluate these agents.
However, the purpose of the lists maintained by the IARC is to let the public know whether their expert review of the evidence shows that there is, in fact, a proven, causative link between cancer and certain agents. Unless that link is proven, it should not be assumed. Wifi and smart meters are not on the list.
Perhaps there is a possibility that cell phones cause an increased chance of getting glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, but at the moment that is unknown, and there is no evidence at all that smart meters cause any kind of cancer. In fact, there is no evidence of harm whatsoever, but more on that later.
I recommend everyone who is interested or concerned about this issue, to read the press release, and also be sure to read the footnotes.
Many people cite the research conducted by Dr. Magda Havas of Trent University. Her research, which purports to link wifi to a variety of maladies, is unsupported by other scientists. Prof. Havas is not a cancer specialist, nor is she an expert in human health. Her PhD is from the Department of Botany at U of T. For a more thorough debunking of her work, see the following article by Brian Dunning at Skeptoid.com. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4273> .
It has appears that the concerns about the smart meters have been from an uninformed and kneejerk reaction. Many of the concerns posed are on the BC Hydro website. In my experience, representatives of BC Hydro have been open to comments and queries.
Here are some other links that you may find of interest:
BC Center of Disease Control (BCCDC) FAQs Do cell phones cause cancer? Statement from Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall
As well, the folks at ScientificVictoria.org have also been addressing the issue of concerns about wifi in local area schools.