The World Health Organization (WHO) has researched electromagnetic fields (EMFs) and their alleged effects on health, concluding that such exposures within recommended limits do not produce any known adverse health effect.
In response to public concern, the WHO established the International EMF Project in 1996 to assess the scientific evidence of possible health effects of EMF in the frequency range from 0 to 300 GHz. They have stated that although extensive research has been conducted into possible health effects of exposure to many parts of the frequency spectrum, all reviews conducted so far have indicated that, as long as exposures are below the limits recommended in the ICNIRP (1998) EMF guidelines, which cover the full frequency range from 0–300 GHz, such exposures do not produce any known adverse health effect. Stronger or more frequent exposures to EMF can be unhealthy, and in fact serve as the basis for electromagnetic weaponry.
International guidelines on exposure levels to microwave frequency EMFs such as ICNIRP limit the power levels of wireless devices and it is uncommon for wireless devices to exceed the guidelines. These guidelines only take into account thermal effects, as nonthermal effects have not been conclusively demonstrated. The official stance of the British Health Protection Agency is that “[T]here is no consistent evidence to date that WiFi and WLANs adversely affect the health of the general population”, but also that “…it is a sensible precautionary approach…to keep the situation under ongoing review…”.
In 2011, International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an agency of the World Health Organization, classified wireless radiation as Group 2B – possibly carcinogenic. That means that there “could be some risk” of carcinogenicity, so additional research into the long-term, heavy use of wireless devices needs to be conducted.
Users of wireless devices are typically exposed for much longer periods than for mobile phones and the strength of wireless devices is not significantly less. Whereas a Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS) mobile phone can range from 21 dBm (125 mW) for Power Class 4 to 33 dBm (2W) for Power class 1, a wireless router can range from a typical 15 dBm (30 mW) strength to 27 dBm (500 mW) on the high end.
However, wireless routers are typically located significantly farther away from users’ heads than a mobile phone the user is handling, resulting in far less exposure overall. The Health Protection Agency (HPA) says that if a person spends one year in a location with a Wi-Fi hotspot, they will receive the same dose of radio waves as if they had made a 20-minute call on a mobile phone.
The HPA also says that due to the mobile phone’s adaptive power ability, a DECT cordless phone’s radiation could actually exceed the radiation of a mobile phone. The HPA explains that while the DECT cordless phone’s radiation has an average output power of 10 mW, it is actually in the form of 100 bursts per second of 250 mW, a strength comparable to some mobile phones.
Most wireless LAN equipment is designed to work within predefined standards. Wireless access points are also often close to people, but the drop off in power over distance is fast, following the inverse-square law. However, wireless laptops are typically used close to people. WiFi had been anecdotally linked to electromagnetic hypersensitivity but research into electromagnetic hypersensitivity has found no systematic evidence supporting claims made by sufferers.
The HPA’s position is that “…radio frequency (RF) exposures from WiFi are likely to be lower than those from mobile phones.” It also saw “…no reason why schools and others should not use WiFi equipment.” In October 2007, the HPA launched a new “systematic” study into the effects of WiFi networks on behalf of the UK government, in order to calm fears that had appeared in the media in a recent period up to that time”. Dr Michael Clark, of the HPA, says published research on mobile phones and masts does not add up to an indictment of WiFi.
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