For the vast majority of Canadians (and people all over the world, to be fair), technology is no longer a luxury–it is a necessity that people believe (for good reason) makes life easier and better.
But while few would argue that our current levels of connectivity are a bad thing, some local residents are questioning whether experts are being cautious enough when it comes to grand-scale Wi-Fi and 5G rollouts.
While Health Canada has determined that Wi-Fi poses little risk to those who are exposed to it, some residents and activists doubt the research into the relatively new technology is as fulsome as it should be. Some residents are also concerned about the eventual introduction of 5G cellular network technology, arguing that it could potentially harm Canadians–especially children.
Since 5G is quite new (and not yet available in Canada), the Region of Peel, which is comprised of Brampton, Mississauga and Caledon, is set to receive a report documenting the health and safety impacts of the technology in the fall.
At a recent regional council meeting, Caledon resident Cristina Zampiero called on council to explore 5G technology further, while also encouraging the region to consider removing Wi-Fi (but not the internet, computers or modern technological devices) from schools.
She also suggested that cell phones should be hardwired, turned off or set to airplane mode while in schools to prevent exposure to current 4G technology.
“Today, I’m here to talk about 5G and wireless health dangers and removing wireless from our schools,” she began.
“Science and medicine are warning that wireless radiation causes damage to DNA. The scientific debate is over the 4G levels to which we are currently exposed. Next-generation 5G will exponentially increase these [electromagnetic] fields,” she said.
Zampiero told insauga.com that her concerns over Wi-Fi grew when she became a mother, and she’s been researching the topic ever since.
“When I gave birth, I became concerned. I had a kid and thought ‘uh oh, I have to put this kid in school and it’s microwave soup there’. Sending those waves through the air has its drawbacks,” she said.
Zampiero said she has her doubts about Health Canada’s conclusions on wireless technology in its Safety Code 6 guidelines, and she’s not alone.
Over the past few years, organizations such as Canadians For Safe Technology (C4ST) have been sounding the alarm about illnesses that some health experts have linked to wireless technology, such as electrical sensitivity.
Prior to a recent Wireless Technology Symposium at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, doctors and scientists appeared at Queen’s Park to encourage the provincial government to “take steps to protect public health” before the roll-out of wireless 5G.
“My clinic is already assessing patients from across Ontario who are sensitive to microwave radiation from their wireless devices including cell phones, Wi-Fi, and an increasing number of smart appliances,” said Dr. Riina Bray, medical director of the Environmental Health Clinic at Women’s College Hospital, in a statement released in May 2019.
“We expect wireless 5G to add to this burden.”
While it’s not yet clear if wireless technology can indeed trigger malignant tumours in people, the World Health Organization (WHO) has published some literature on electromagnetic hypersensitivity (the illness that doctors expressed concern over at the Wireless Technology Symposium).
The WHO says that Electromagnetic hypersensitivity (or EHS) is characterized by a variety of non-specific symptoms, which suffers attribute to exposure to electromagnetic fields.
According to the WHO, common symptoms include skin irritation such as redness, tingling, and burning sensations and general fatigue (tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation, and digestive disturbances.
The WHO says the collection of symptoms is not part of any recognized syndrome, which indicates the illness isn’t likely to be caused by a different ailment.
As for how many people suffer from the illness, the WHO says a survey of occupational medical centres estimated the prevalence of EHS to be a few individuals per million in the population. That said, the organization notes that a survey of self-help groups yielded much higher estimates and that approximately 10 per cent of reported cases of EHS were considered severe.
C4ST says that scientists from dozens of countries are now warning their governments about the emerging health problems reportedly associated with wireless radiation, claiming that daily human exposure to microwave radiation is already more than a trillion times higher than it was before cell phones.
C4ST also quoted Dr. Anthony Miller, professor emeritus with the University of Toronto and adviser to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, who said that “many scientists worldwide now believe that radiofrequency radiation should be elevated to a Class One human carcinogen, on the same list as cigarettes, x-rays, and asbestos.”
But is wireless technology dangerous?
At this juncture, Health Canada says that Wi-Fi is safe.
It’s also important to note that while both Wi-Fi and 4G/5G use wireless technology to power devices, they’re not quite the same thing.
Wi-Fi is the second most prevalent form of wireless technology in Canada next to cell phones, and it allows devices such as computers, smartphones, and video game consoles to communicate data wirelessly.
Health Canada acknowledges that some people are concerned that radiation from Wi-Fi equipment could cause health problems and that children may be at particular risk in school environments, as Wi-Fi equipment emits radiofrequency fields (RF).
But the agency says that if the technology is emitted at recommended levels, it’s safe and doesn’t need to be avoided.
According to Health Canada, the RF energy given off by Wi-Fi is a type of non-ionizing radiation. Unlike ionizing radiation (such as the kind emitted by x-ray machines), RF energy from Wi-Fi equipment and other wireless devices cannot break chemical bonds.
“While some of the RF energy emitted by Wi-Fi is absorbed in your body, the amount largely depends on how close your body is to a Wi-Fi enabled device and the strength of the signal,” Health Canada says.
“Unlike cellular phones where the transmitter is in close proximity to the head and much of the RF energy that is absorbed is deposited in a highly localized area, RF energy from Wi-Fi devices is typically transmitted at a much greater distance from the human body. This results in very low average RF energy absorption levels in all parts of the body, much like exposure to AM/FM radio signals.”
When it comes to cell phones (4G notwithstanding), Health Canada does say that some precautions should be taken.
According to Health Canada, there are a small number of epidemiology studies that have shown brain cancer rates may be elevated in long-term/heavy cell phone users–but not every study has confirmed this finding.
Health Canada says that in 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified RF energy as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
The health agency says that, since the jury is out, more research into potential health concerns associated with cell phones is required.
“The IARC classification of RF energy reflects the fact that some limited evidence exists that RF energy might be a risk factor for cancer. However, the vast majority of scientific research to date does not support a link between RF energy exposure and human cancers. At present, the evidence of a possible link between RF energy exposure and cancer risk is far from conclusive and more research is needed to clarify this ‘possible’ link. Health Canada is in agreement with both the World Health Organization and IARC that additional research in this area is warranted,” Health Canada’s website reads.
Zampiero told insauga.com that few people know that even cell phone manufacturers provide safety warnings to consumers.
“People are addicted to their phones, but every cell phone’s instruction manual says to keep it 15 mm away from your body.”
As far as 5G goes, Health Canada says that although the upcoming technology will function as a significant evolution of today’s 4G LTE wireless networks, the country’s current safety protocol is appropriate for the rollout.
“5G will provide the infrastructure to allow for more data and connectivity, the Internet of things with billions of connected devices, and tomorrow’s innovations in various fields such as healthcare, public safety, transportation, agriculture, and smart cities. 5G will operate in both the lower frequency spectrum (below 6 GHz) as well as at higher frequencies called millimetre wave spectrum (above 6 GHz),” Health Canada said on its website.
Health Canada says the current Canadian limits already cover the frequency ranges that will be used by 5G devices and antenna installations.
“Similar to current wireless devices and installations, 5G devices will need to meet RF exposure requirements before they can be sold in Canada. Antenna systems operators using 5G technology will continue to have the same RF exposure compliance obligations. Furthermore, compliance with RF exposure requirements will continue to be an ongoing obligation,” Health Canada says.
But while many experts have declared the technology safe, residents such as Zampiero fear that Wi-Fi and 4G/5G technology is today’s cigarette–thought to be harmless now, but declared dangerous much later.
When presenting to council, Zampiero mentioned a study conducted by the U.S Department of Health and Human Services that found that cell phone radiofrequency radiation was associated with the development of malignant tumours in rodents.
The National Toxicology Program (NTP) study found that that high exposure to RFR (900 MHz) used by cell phones was associated with clear evidence of tumours in the hearts of male rats, some evidence of tumours in the brains of male rats and some evidence of tumours in the adrenal glands of male rats.
While the results are concerning on their face, the study authors said that some 5G waves aren’t expected to penetrate the body as deeply.
“As the 5G network is implemented, some of the signals will use the same lower frequencies as the older technology previously studied by NTP. Additionally, concern has been raised because the 5G network will also use higher frequencies, up to 60,000 MHz, thereby exposing wireless consumers to a much broader spectrum of frequencies,” the study reads.
“The higher frequencies, known as millimeter waves, can rapidly transmit enormous amounts of data with increased network capacity compared to current technologies. Millimeter waves do not travel as far and do not penetrate the body as deep as the wavelengths from the lower frequencies. Millimeter waves are likely to penetrate no deeper than the skin, as opposed to the lower frequencies that have been shown to penetrate at least three to four inches into the human body.”
Zampiero is disputing Health Canada’s assurances that wireless technology is safe, as the results from the NTP study contradict its conclusions.
“Health Canada standards are wrong,” she told council.
“The study repeatedly found evidence of cancer. What about babies, children and pregnant women? Where is the accommodation for those with electrosensitivity sickness? It’s not enough to routinely meet concerns [by saying] emissions are well within Health Canada guidelines. These guidelines indicate acceptable radiation levels which are orders of magnitude above what has been demonstrated as safe when non-thermal effects are considered.”
Zampiero argues that Health Canada’s Code 6 is not protective and that in countries such as India and Italy, some organizations have taken steps to hardwire fibre optic cables in certain facilities.
She’s been calling on other facilities–especially educational ones–to consider eliminating Wi-Fi and 4G while keeping technology accessible in the classroom.
“Hardwiring is safer, faster and more secure and would avoid wirelessly radiating millions of unsuspecting citizens. The writing is on the wall, please pause the 5G rollout. Would you truthfully want to live next to a cell tower given the choice? Cell towers placed too close to people violate our human right to protect our health,” she told council.
Zampiero told insauga.com that while she’s dedicated to increasing awareness of potential dangers associated with wireless technology, she is not anti-technology.
“Kids need their tech, but they don’t need it radiating on them. If you plug it in, it doesn’t emit. Kids are amazing at tech and they’re more evolved, but I don’t want to send my baby to a school with a Wi-Fi router.”
School boards have been quick to adapt to new technology, but some educational institutions have decided to hardwire devices to err on the side of caution–including the Caledon East Children’s Centre daycare.
“Cristina did a presentation to our board of directors a few weeks ago. After that, the board took a vote to temporarily hardwire the office as opposed to using the Wi-Fi and do so on a trial basis and see what impact it has on us,” said Brenda McNairn, executive director of the facility.
McNairn told insauga.com that the transition was relatively simple.
“We had to buy an ethernet cable and adapter. Each classroom in the daycare used to access their tablets via Wi-Fi. They don’t use it a lot for programming within the classroom for the kids. The impact on the classroom was fairly minimal,” she said.
Back in the summer, McNairn said the facility was in the process of getting one computer hardwired.
“We’re a small business, so it was a minimal impact–$120 to buy a cable and adapter. This is a small change for us. We decided to do this on a trial basis to see if it was possible.”
McNairn said her facility decided to make the change because it wasn’t difficult to mitigate potential risk to children.
“It’s our responsibility to care for other’s people children and we don’t want to put these kids at unnecessary risk. The research is in its early stages, but Cristina presented the board with a lot of data and research from countries around the world who have taken that step back to be hardwired.”
McNairn also acknowledged that the decision was an easier one to make in a smaller facility with fewer children.
“A school with 2,000 children might be a different story. Our clients are 15 months to six years of age, so we don’t have computer stations that the kids use on a regular basis. We were able to hardwire the office.”
McNairn said the decision garnered praise from a parent who was relieved to see the daycare agree to hardwire.
“We did have one parent say that she made the decision to not put her child in full-day kindergarten because we had made the decision to hardwire, so that’s a big impact on one family,” she said.
While Zampiero believes Canada needs to act, her campaign to have Wi-Fi removed from schools and 5G studied more aggressively is taking off at the local level–hence her appeal to regional council to demand more from experts.
“This is the most important function of our government since Wi-Fi causes cancer. It does not belong in our schools because kids absorb 75 per cent more radiation. There are laws banning it in Australia, India, Spain, Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Germany, Israel, Cyprus and Finland. Please regulate tighter restrictions,” she said.
“You did it for peanut allergies. To not respect developments in science and warnings of top scientific experts would seem crazy. Would you have your child ingest something that hundreds of peer-reviewed studies say is harmful just last week?”
During the presentation, Zampiero suggested that wireless technology could be “the greatest environmental and safety threat of our time,” adding that governments might be slow to act on warnings because telecommunications companies are such economic behemoths (a concept explored in this 2018 UK Guardian article about the link between cell phone use and cancer).
“Please don’t tell me it’s not within your jurisdiction. The two takeaways are our kids need to learn about technology from safely hard-wired devices, not wireless. With respect to 4 and 5G, appropriate testing must happen before it’s allowed to roll out.”
During her presentation, Zampiero referred to the Oregon legislature’s recent decision to pass a bill to study the effects of Wi-Fi radiation on children–a move that she believes to be a positive one.
After Zampiero’s presentation, councillors said that she’s not the only one asking questions about the safety of 5G and wireless technology.
“This is a question that has been vexing residents for quite some time and as the communications sector continues to evolve and move towards 5G technologies, the kinds of questions you are posing here today, I can attest are intensifying,” said Peel Regional and Brampton City Councillor Paul Vicente.
Vicente asked Dr. Jessica Hopkins, a medical officer of health for the Region of Peel, for an update on the report slated to come to council in the fall.
“Staff are currently conducting a review of the health evidence related to this issue and we will report back in the early fall to regional council on that,” Hopkins told council, adding that staff had been in touch with other public health agencies, including Health Canada.
Vicente also questioned some studies linking wireless technology radiation to cancer, saying more information is needed about the amount of radiation and the animals it’s exposed to.
“I know one of the things that folks tend to read a lot about is studies [about] radiation that comes from cell towers. One of the things that’s not explained very well is, first of all, the types of radiation used but also the intensity and the proximity of that radiation to the animal that’s being tested, and so that’s an important factor,” he said.
“One of the ideas behind 5G as an evolution of telecommunications technology is that the energy levels are meant to be much lower than even the 4G communications technology. So we’re looking forward to seeing what the science really says and how it affects [people] because the fact is is that radiation is everywhere and what really affects whether or not it has an impact on rates of cancer or tissue damage is the level of the energy that is being used. We look forward to that information coming and to having that information presented to council for its consideration.”
Caledon and regional council Johanna Downey asked Hopkins how Health Canada’s Code 6 compares to health regulations in other countries.
“Health Canada set Safety Code 6 to protect the public. This is science-based and similar to the requirements and other countries including the United States the European Union, Japan, Australia, New Zealand,” Hopkins said.
But while it’s not clear what, if any action Canada or Canadian organizations will take to limit Wi-Fi and 4/5G exposure (or whether action should be taken barring more research into the potential health impacts on residents), Zampiero is hoping she can convince more schools to hardwire.
“Tech is a wonderful thing, but we’re making some mistakes with it,” she told insauga.com.
“With 5G, what are we going to get that we don’t already have? We already have the speed with fibreoptics, but this microwave stuff is used in stealth military weapons. I hope that we rely on unbiased, independent research on health effects with 5G. I want people to do their due diligence. I can opt-out of going to a Tim Hortons with Wi-Fi, but I can’t opt-out of sending my kids to school.”
Should schools begin to hardwire, Zampiero hopes a ripple effect ensues–but she isn’t targeting bigger institutions at this time.
“Being free of Wi-Fi all day, every day is better for your body. I hope that together, we can get it taken out of the schools. If schools turn it off, do I hope for a ripple effect? Sure. I’m not going that far yet, but if it’s not on at school or in your home, that’s less of it. I care about kids and about people. This [5G] hasn’t been tested.”
A report on the potential health impacts of 5G technology will be made available to council in the coming weeks.