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Article posted Jan 02 2007, 8:24 PM Category: Health Source: The Times Print

Health fears lead schools to dismantle wireless networks

Joanna Bale

  • Radiation levels blamed for illnesses
  • Teacher became too sick to work

    Parents and teachers are forcing some schools to dismantle wireless computer networks amid fears that they could damage children’s health. More schools are putting transmitters in classrooms to give pupils wireless access from laptops to the school computer network and the internet.

    But many parents and some scientists fear that low levels of microwave radiation emitted by the transmitters could be harmful, causing loss of concentration, headaches, fatigue, memory and behavioural problems and possibly cancer in the long term. Scientific evidence is inconclusive, but some researchers think that children are vulnerable because of their thinner skulls and developing nervous systems.

    At the Prebendal School, a prestigious preparatory in Chichester, West Sussex, a group of parents lobbied the headteacher, Tim Cannell, to remove the wireless network last month. Mr Cannell told The Times: “We listened to the parents’ views and they were obviously very concerned. We also did a lot of research. The authorities say it’s safe, but there have been no long-term studies to prove this.

    “We had been having problems with the reliability of it anyway, so we decided to exchange it for a conventional cabled system.”

    Vivienne Baron, who is bringing up Sebastian, her ten-year-old grandson, said: “I did not want Sebastian exposed to a wireless computer network at school. No real evidence has been produced to prove that this new technology is safe in the long term. Until it is, I think we should take a precautionary approach and use cabled systems.”

    At Ysgol Pantycelyn, a comprehensive in Carmarthenshire, parents aired their concerns to the governors, who agreed to switch off its wireless network. Hywel Pugh, the head teacher, told The Times: “The county council and central government told us that wireless networks are perfectly safe, but as there were concerns we listened to them and decided that the concerns of the parents were of greater importance than our need to have a wireless network.”

    Judith Davies, who has a daughter at the school, said: “Many people campaign against mobile phone masts near schools, but there is a great deal of ignorance about wireless computer networks. Yet they are like having a phone mast in the classroom and the transmitters are placed very close to the children.”

    Stowe School, the Buckinghamshire public school, also removed part of its wireless network after a teacher became ill. Michael Bevington, a classics teacher for 28 years at the school, said that he had such a violent reaction to the network that he was too ill to teach.

    “I felt a steadily widening range of unpleasant effects whenever I was in the classroom,” he said. “First came a thick headache, then pains throughout the body, sudden flushes, pressure behind the eyes, sudden skin pains and burning sensations, along with bouts of nausea. Over the weekend, away from the classroom, I felt completely normal.”

    Anthony Wallersteiner, the head teacher of Stowe School, said that he was planning to put cabled networks in all new classrooms and boarding houses.

    Professor Sir William Stewart, chairman of the Health Protection Agency, said that evidence of potentially harmful effects of microwave radiation had become more persuasive over the past five years. His report said that while there was a lack of hard information of damage to health, the approach should be precautionary.

    A DfES spokesman said: “It’s up to individual schools to decide on this.”

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