Further research required for Wi-Fi safety: Report

Canada’s safe exposure guidelines for Wi-Fi radio waves are acceptable, but more research is needed to clarify the potential cancer risk, according to an expert panel.
In April, the Royal Society of Canada eight-member panel released its report, Review of Safety Code 6: Potential Health Risks of Radiofrequency Fields, taking the position that the restrictions put in place by the code provide adequate protection from radiofrequency fields.  The code sets out limits on exposure to the radiofrequency fields emitted by wireless devices — including everything from Wi-Fi equipment to television and radio broadcast antennas — in an effort to protect the health of workers and the general public.
Canadians 4 Safe Technology (C4ST), a non-profit organization that raises awareness about the potential dangers of wireless radiofrequency fields, spoke out against the report and is calling for stricter guidelines on wireless technology. 

“Technology is constantly changing, getting more and more powerful,” explained Frank Clegg, CEO of C4ST. “As these things become more powerful and are used more in society, Health Canada has a responsibility to stay on top of the technology.”  

The growing use of these technologies means more needs to be done to educate Canadians, according to Clegg.

“Employers should educate their workers on how to use the technology safely,” he said. “Just about every workplace has Wi-Fi installed, and there’s certainly tremendous benefits. The challenge that we see is that the Safety Code limits are so high.”  

About three per cent of the population identifies as having electro-sensitivity. Those who consider themselves hypersensitive to radiofrequency fields report symptoms ranging from skin rashes to heart palpitations, ringing in the ears, numbness in the extremities, headaches and/or insomnia.

“Some people are affected so severely they can’t work,” said Clegg. “Depending on how sensitive you are, there are people who have had to quit their jobs.”

Health Canada said in a statement that Safety Code 6 is designed to protect people of all ages and sizes from all forms of exposure to radiofrequency fields, including the continuous exposure experienced by the majority of working Canadians.

“The limits established in Safety Code 6 incorporate large safety margins to provide a significant level of protection for all Canadians, including those working near radiofrequency sources,” the statement read.  

Employers have a duty to protect workers from overexposure and to accommodate employees who are especially sensitive, Clegg said.

Wireless networks should be set at lower levels and break areas free from radiofrequency fields should be designated for electro-sensitive workers.

“Know that there are electro-sensitive individuals and accommodate them ahead of time,” he said. “We’re not saying don’t use technology, we’re just saying use it safely. It’s about being educated, being aware. I would encourage employers to get in front of this now, be aware now, and they’ll have more
productive employees.”

C4ST believes ongoing exposure to radiofrequency fields could cause workers to develop hypersensitivity. According to Clegg, “You can develop sensitivity, so it’s in employers’ best interests to get in front of it because they could be creating more electro-sensitive employees in their workplace, which isn’t good for anyone.”

Employees suffering from electro-sensitivity are more likely to take sick leave, and C4ST reports the Canadian Human Rights Commission has identified electro-sensitivity as a recognized condition.

While the Royal Society of Canada panel found no evidence that would indicate negative health effects from exposure to radiofrequency fields below the limits recommended by Safety Code 6, it did recommend Health Canada continue to research the possibility of electro-sensitivity as well as the possible link between cancer and the exposure to radiofrequency fields.