Families' fears over city Wi-Fi

KIM BRISCOE
30 April 2007 10:12

The city's pioneering wireless network was introduced by “stealth”, according to families who say they were given no choice over having transmitters near their homes.

The criticism comes as a national debate rages over concerns that the wireless technology may pose a health risk. Wi-Fi networks emit radiation in the same way as mobile phones and masts, and campaigners are calling for comprehensive research to be undertaken into the impact they have on health.

The transmitters, installed in Norwich city centre as part of the £1.1m Norfolk OpenLink project launched in August last year, are rated at 0.1 watts. This is reasonably low compared to the average mobile handset, which emits radiation pulses up to 2W.

Norfolk County Councillor Andrew Boswell, who has been contacted by several families worried about the proximity of transmitters to their homes, said people have a choice about owning a mobile phone - but not about the siting of Wi-Fi transmitters.

“The residents were very concerned for all sorts of reasons and not knowing what the health risks were,” said Mr Boswell.

“The transmitters aren't very powerful, but if we get a full-blown scheme the power will be increased, and Ofcom could potentially allow them up to 10W. I think they should do the consultation they should have done in the first place and wherever a transmitter is they should make it clear to the residents they have put the transmitter there and speak with them about their concerns and reassure them. They have been very cavalier in the way they have carried out this project in respect of people's health.”

Norwich is one of the first places in the country to have a free Wi-Fi service, with more than 200 aerials attached to lampposts providing coverage so people can log on to the internet through laptops anywhere in the city.

Ann Carey, project director for Norfolk Openlink, said: “It is important to stress from the outset that the project complies with all current health and safety standards.

“We certainly would not have implemented the project if there had been any proven risk on the safety of Wi-Fi and presently there is no guidance from the Department of Health and other professional bodies that says Wi-Fi is unsafe. We gained formal approval from cabinet before proceeding with the project and have also kept members of the county council updated throughout the process. Members could have scrutinised the proposals, but did not do so.”

Recent research has shown radiation from mobiles and masts could be linked to cancer in people living nearby.

It is believed the Professional Association of Teachers will this week write to Education Secretary Alan Johnson to demand an official inquiry because of its own concerns over Wi-Fi.

The networks are banned in Salzburg in Austria, while Stowe School, in Buckinghamshire, removed Wi-Fi from part of its buildings after a teacher developed headaches and nausea.

Last November, Dr Ian Gibson, a long-time supporter of the Evening News Put Masts On Hold campaign and a cancer expert, said he wanted more research to be done on wireless technology after some schools elsewhere in the county ditched their wireless networks.

Children warned over laptop computers:

Children should be discouraged from putting their laptops on their lap when using wireless internet connections because of potential health risks - an expert has warned.

Professor Lawrie Challis, who heads the committee on mobile phone safety research, said youngsters should be monitored as public concern continues over emissions from wi-fi networks.

He said children should be kept a safe distance from the embedded antennas on wi-fi enabled laptops until more research is carried out.

“With a desktop computer, the transmitter will be in the tower,” he said. “This might be perhaps 20cms from your leg and the exposure would then be around one per cent of that from a mobile phone.”

But he said if a laptop was placed straight on the lap when using wi-fi, people could be around 2cm from the transmitter, and receiving comparable exposure to that from a mobile phone.

“Since we advise that children should be discouraged from using mobile phones, we should also discourage children from placing their laptop on their lap when they are using wi-fi,” he said.

In 2005 the Health Protection Agency (HPA) published a report - Mobile Phones and Health 2004 - which supported the need for future research of all new technologies including wi-fi.

The organisation said in a statement: “Wi-fi devices are of very low power much lower than mobile phones. The HPA and (our chairman) Sir William Stewart have always pressed for more research into these new technologies.”

What do you think of the city's Wi-Fi network? Write to Evening News Letters, Prospect House, Rouen Road, Norwich, NR1 1RE, or e-mail eveningnewsletters@archant.co.uk or visit //www.eveningnews24.co.uk/forum

Copyright © 2007 Archant Regional. All rights reserved.

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