Some Ontario Teachers Urge WiFi Caution

by Jordan Richardson on February 14, 2012

The Ontario English Catholic Teacher’s Association (OECTA) is preaching caution when it comes to new installations of WiFi in Catholic schools.

A committee formed by the union says it spent nearly a year reviewing research and concerns by parents, concluding that schools should choose to be cautious and cease installing WiFi in schools.

“We’re not saying rip them out of the building,” said OECTA president Kevin O’Dwyer. “My sense is that there’s enough doubt out there that we should hold off until there’s more research.”

This is despite health and education officials in the country asserting that the levels of electromagnetic radiation emitted by wireless routers are not dangerous, of course, and it flies in the face of the general scientific understanding at this point. There is “doubt” pertaining to WiFi, but that doesn’t mean that said uncertainty is legitimate from a scientific standpoint.

“We believe that the OECTA goes overboard in advocating an overly cautious approach to the use of Wi-Fi technology in schools,” says Iain Martel, chair and spokesperson for the Committee for the Advancement of Scientific Skepticism. “There is no plausible mechanism by which such technology could cause harm, and no good evidence of any harm.”

The OECTA represents 45,000 teachers in the province and cites research from the World Health Organization that states a possible link between radiation from some wireless devices, like cell phones, and some types of cancer. The WHO classified cell phone radio frequency electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic in nature” and the ball was in play; cell phones were in the same deadly field as gasoline, benzene, X-rays, coffee, night shift work (uh oh!), and asbestos. The WHO study did not process any new information, relying on already existing studies to compile the resulting warning.

The WHO study also did not particularly link cell phones and their sort of radiation to cancer in as strong of terms as some suggest. And, as usual, there’s a fundamental misunderstanding with respect to types of radiation.

Health Canada and Ontario’s Agency for Health Protection and Promotion have stated that WiFi is safe for use in classrooms, just like the Ontario government rejected legislation pertaining to cell phone warning labels. And when the issue of WiFi in classrooms went to a vote in Ontario, the Elementary Teachers Federation of Ontario voted against banning it.

The reality is that it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to escape the “rigours” of WiFi. Wireless Internet connections are everywhere, from coffee shops to public libraries to parks. While I understand the notion of erring on the side of caution to some extent, one has to wonder where the line will be drawn on things that are potentially “dangerous.” And the added confusion certainly doesn’t help bring any clarity to concerned parents.

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