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Thu 3 May 2007 12:00 AM

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WiFi health concerns need to be addressed

Are wireless networks responsible for putting the health of the nation's youth at risk?

When Craig Barrett, chairman of Intel and eminent figure in the IT industry, last month visited Lebanon, he was widely cheered for announcing plans for wireless networks in schools in the country. If reports from the UK are to be believed, he should have been sternly criticised, with children lining up at the school gates to block entry to anybody trying to install wireless kit.

While wireless networks are generally held to be a good thing - especially by vendors of wireless networking kit - they are currently being blamed in the UK for everything from health problems in children to a shortage of bees.

Yes, bees. Apparently the radiation given off by wireless systems - including mobile phones, WiFi networks and other high-tech gadgets - is interfering with bees' navigation systems. Lest you think that less chance of getting stung while sitting in the garden is a good thing, concerned ‘experts' have been quick to point out bees' role in pollination of plants and maintaining the world's food supply. Albert Einstein allegedly said that if bees disappeared, man would have only four years left on Earth.

While mass starvation seems a little bit further off than that, serious bodies in the UK have nonetheless called for wider studies on the health effects of WiFi systems before they are rolled out further in schools.

Vendors have been quick to point out that the current crop of scare stories is skimpy on evidence; this is certainly true (especially about the bees). However, that would just seem to suggest that serious studies that realistically assess the potential dangers of such technology should be conducted as soon as possible. It would be good to see governments working with technology firms to conduct such studies. That way, we could all avoid getting stung.

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