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Children Being Used As 'Guinea Pigs' In Mass Wi-Fi
Experiment, Warn Teachers
Children are being used as "guinea pigs" to assess the dangers of wireless technology in schools, teachers have warned.
The Professional Association of Teachers has demanded an inquiry into the health implications of installing 'wi-fi' networks in schools across the country.
Studies have found that wi-fi base stations, which link computer networks, can emit more than three times the amount of radiation given out by a mobile phone mast.
PAT general secretary Philip Parkin said the drive to set up classroom wireless networks should be halted until the dangers are known.
Speaking at the union's annual conference in Harrogate, he said: "A full scientific inquiry should be commissioned in order to better understand the issues.
"Schools should be discouraged from installing further networks until the results of such an inquiry are known.
"My real concern is that until there is a full inquiry based on both existing evidence and on newly-commissioned research work, the nation's children are being treated as guinea pigs in a large-scale experiment."
Mr Parkin said he had only a layman's perspective and was not certain that there were health risks linked to wireless technology. But he feared that "there may be".
He continued: "I have heard and read enough to make me concerned.
"I have been made aware of an accumulation of evidence which suggests that the non-thermal, pulsing effects of electromagnetic radiation could have a damaging effect upon the developing nervous systems of children.
"The frequently-quoted current safety limits in operation refer to the thermal effects of such radiation and not the non-thermal effects."
Mr Parkin demanded revisions to the official advice from the Government's education technology agency, which states that wi-fi networks pose "no appreciable risk to children or others in schools".
He said he had written to the then education secretary Alan Johnson, who is now Health Secretary, calling for an investigation.
"Unfortunately, Alan Johnson did not agree with me.
"In his reply to me he directs my attention to the latest advice from the Health Protection Agency, which is that the agency does not consider that there is a problem with the safety of wi-fi."
According to Becta, the Government's education technology agency, there are wireless networks in 70 per cent of England's primary schools and 81 per cent of secondaries. This means about 14,000 schools have wi-fi networks.
Children's minister Kevin Brennan said the agency believes there is no need to advise schools not to equip classrooms with wi-fi.
Mr Brennan said: "The welfare and safety of children and staff in school is absolutely paramount - which is why we have already addressed concerns covering wireless computer networks.
"The Health Protection Agency has consistently advised that they do not consider there to be a problem with the safety of wi-fi.
"It is widely used in homes, offices and in public areas.
"On the basis of current evidence and expert safety advice, Becta believes that there is no need to discourage its use."
In May, the BBC's Panorama programme reported that wireless computer networks in schools can give off greater levels of signal radiation than a typical mobile phone mast.
Phone masts are not recommended for siting near schools without consultation because children are thought to be more vulnerable to radio frequency radiation emissions than adults.
But when Panorama visited a comprehensive school in Norwich and measured the radiation signal strength from a classroom wi-fi-enabled laptop, they found its peak was three times greater then the peak signal strength from a mast.
Chairman of the Health Protection Agency Sir William Stewart called for a review of the health effects of wi-fi in the programme.