Potential hazards of wi-fi technology in
ePolitix.com speaks to Philip Parkin, general secretary of Voice: the union for
education professionals about the potential effects of wi-fi technology in schools on the health of
Question: You have strong views on wi-fi in schools, what are your concerns
about the potential effects on children?
Philip Parkin: There are a number of them. There seems to be an
increasing quantity of evidence being produced around the world which suggests that exposure to
electromagnetic radiation can have long-term health impacts both on children and adults but particularly
children. Exposing young children (from birth to 12 years of age) to electromagnetic radiation can produce
changes in cell formation, genetic changes, and potential cancers.
It is a considerable concern that in schools we are installing wi-fi systems and we
have no clear evidence that they are safe. My concern is that until they are declared to be safe and proven
to be safe we should not be installing them in schools. The difficulty is that once installed in schools,
they are switched on constantly whether the children are using them or not, they are exposed to that level of
Question: Do you think government has fully grasped the potential long-term
consequences of wi-fi in schools?
Philip Parkin: No, the government has not. The government is
avoiding the issue. I would not like to say that there are industrial or overriding interests involved in
this but there is no question that the large communications organisations are quite powerful. We are not
trying to turn back the tide as far as technology is concerned but we have to be sure that as well as doing a
job for us, and there is no question that wi-fi does a wonderful job, we have to be absolutely sure that it
is safe. This is something the government has not been prepared to grasp.
We have been talking about this for nearly three years. I am very pleased and
interested to see that finally some of our colleagues in the other teaching associations have started to show
some interest in this. At ATL's conference over Easter a motion was passed mandating their leadership to
lobby the government on the potential dangers. I am very pleased to have other people on board with our
Question: What are the scientists saying and is government listening to
Philip Parkin: I attended a conference on electromagnetic radiation
last September which brought together many of the leading scientists on this issue from around the world and
there are contrasting views. There are scientists who say the dangers are clearly proven and there are real
issues here that governments around the world have to grasp and there are other scientists who are saying
there is no danger and no notice should be taken of the scaremongers.
Scientists do not say anything with one voice, but there is advice out there. For
example, our own Health Protection Agency gives clear advice on children using mobile phones and that
children should only use mobile phones in emergencies, and yet no one takes any notice of
We are seeing more authorities – abroad, national, regional, and local authorities –
who are taking action on this. Last week I learned that a city in northern France is withdrawing wi-fi from
all of its schools. There is clear concern, particularly around Europe and parts of the United States about
Question: How many wireless networks are being installed in schools? Are
parents given any choice over this installation?
Philip Parkin: We do not know. There was a report two or three
years ago which suggested that up to 50 per cent of schools had wireless networks at that time. That was more
of an estimation rather than actual knowledge, though. Considerably more have most probably been installed
since then but in some schools these are only partial networks, they are not necessarily covering the whole
school. This is something that really needs further investigation that we need to learn more
In some cases some parents are being consulted but in most cases they are not. The
advice that schools receive from the government agency that deals with this, Becta, is that until there has
been a proven hazard then there is no hazard so they should go ahead and install them. In certain parts of
the country parents are expressing some disquiet about this and are lobbying schools about the installation
of wireless networks. There have been examples of schools which have taken them out and there is a school in
the North East at the moment where parents are lobbying the school about the proposed installation of a
wireless network. The same thing is happening in Northern Ireland.
I do not think parents are aware of the issues surrounding wi-fi. There was a
Panorama programme about the issue a couple of years ago which raised awareness of it but the interest soon
died. It is allied with concerns about the location of mobile phone masts. This is the same technology, with
the phone masts operating all the time. People are concerned about that but do not necessarily relate the
effects of mobile phone masts with that of wireless technology. Many parents are very happy to have wireless
technology in their own homes.
Friday 8th May 2009
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