Devra Davis on Using WiFi in Schools
Devra Davis is an epidemiologist and founder of the Environmental Health Trust, a non-profit public health organization working to reduce the amount of radiation from cellphones and WiFi that kindergarten and middle school children are exposed to. She’s also the author of the book Disconnect, and more than 200 studies on the subject.
A Q&A with Devra Davis
Why are you concerned about children’s exposure to microwave radiation from WiFi and cellphones?
Current Government limits do not account for the unique physiology of children. The U.S. Government Accountability Office noted in 2012 that phones and tablets are tested based on 19-year-old systems that base their safety recommendations on a large male body and do not take into account the differences in younger people. Those differences can cause children to absorb relatively more radiation. The brains and immune systems of children are still developing; they are not just little adults.
How can I find out if there’s WiFi in my kid’s school? What can I do about it?
The Environmental Health Trust has developed materials for teachers and parents to explain why this issue is so important, and what schools can do to ensure student and teacher health and safety.
Governments and national health authorities are recommending precautions worldwide. The Israeli National Center for Information on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection has issued general guidelines banning WiFi in schools for young children, and they advise that teachers use wired computers. France has a similar law on the national level. Many schools around the world are replacing wireless systems with wired systems, and teachers’ unions have taken a stand calling for reduced exposure as a safety in the workplace issue.
We recommend you talk to other parents and organize a meeting with teachers and administrators to share this important information. Let them know that over 20 countries are advising precautionary policies.
What can be done in the home to reduce use of WiFi?
First, inventory wireless devices in your home: Walk through your home, noting all the wireless devices you have, from wireless computers, to speakers, to gaming consoles. One device at a time, replace wireless devices like your mouse, keyboard, and printer with wired ones. Most WiFi-enabled devices can actually be hardwired, and sometimes all you need to do is get an inexpensive piece of hardware.
An important first step is making sure you have corded home telephone. In the U.S., most cordless DECT home phones actually emit nonstop radiation just like a WiFi router, whether or not you are using them. In Europe, eco-dect cordless phones that only emit radiation when receiving and sending a call can routinely be purchased, but in the US they can be obtained through a special order. Forward cell phone calls to your home corded line so you can decrease the time your cell phone is in use.
Every parent should be aware that they can stop the radiation on their phone, tablet, or computer by simply switching to airplane mode and turning the WiFi and Bluetooth connections off. Put the phone on this setting when you are not using it. Always be sure emissions are turned off when you hand a child a tech device. Try to minimize your use of a transmitting device when your children are near.
Teach your family and children how to turn off antennas that they are not using on their tablets, computers, and phones to reduce radiation. Of course, use speaker mode or an earpiece (airtube style is best), and avoid using devices where signals are weak. Use an automatic timer so that your WiFi router is turned off at night, or turn it off manually. You can also purchase a router that includes an ethernet connector and change network settings to the lowest possible power for WiFi.
Be sure to remove all wireless and screen devices from children’s bedrooms. Avoid blue-light emitting devices prior to sleep, as these interfere with the formation of melatonin. Sleep is essential to help children’s and adults’ bodies detoxify from the modern world. Do not sleep with cell phones or tablets.
What’s the Environmental Health Trust doing to create more government accountability?
We are ensuring that elected officials are fully informed so that they can act.
For example, we wrote an open letter to the Secretary of Education last year about wireless in schools. We have held scientific briefings, and are working with states like California, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Pennsylvania, and Maryland to support efforts to fully inform the public about this issue. We also are working with health professional organizations such as the Pediatric Scientific Societies, where we and other health experts such as Martha Herbert, M.D. Ph.D., Harvard, Catherine Steiner-Adair, Ph.D, pediatric neurologist Maya Shetreet-Klein, and others will be presenting a symposium on Children, WiFi and Health in Baltimore at the end of April. As an international organization, we are working with hospitals, governments, and universities around the world to educate their decision makers on the science and how to safeguard their citizens.
We have also made recommendations to companies involved in producing safer devices and solutions. I encourage people to contact firms and request safer technology solutions so that you have a choice as a consumer. For example, every router should have a hard switch on the box to turn the wireless emissions off and on. Cell phones should be manufactured that go into sleep mode so they are not constantly transmitting signals and can be only be used with a headset or speakerphone.
I am more than optimistic. I believe that people are waking up to this issue more than ever before. Once they understand how simple it is to reduce exposure, they start making safer choices. In some ways, it is just a matter of changing a few habits and making smarter choices about how and when you use technology. Changing government regulations may take a bit longer, but it is inevitable that this will occur considering the incredible groundwork that has been laid here in the U.S. and around the world. Learn more about WiFi in schools at www.ehtrust.org.