Videos and text by TIM FAULKNER/ecoRI News staff
KINGSTON, R.I. — The world is embracing wireless technology just as some health experts and safety advocates say there should be less exposure to the invisible waves of energy and radiation.
Cell phones, Wi-Fi systems, cell towers, and wireless devices such as tablets, headphones, and Amazon’s Echo radiate a persistent level of radiofrequency radiation that is suspected of contributing to a range of health problems such as cancer, developmental disorders, and chronic ailments.
But wireless exposure is expected to increase with the proliferation of so-called “smart-home” systems, the “smart-grid” electric system, 5G cell service, and the wireless transportation network expected to facilitate driverless vehicles.
The potential health problems associated with this technology was the subject of the documentary Generation Zapped shown Feb. 21 at the Kingston Free Library.
The film argues that because telecommunication companies and electric utilities have a lot invested in wireless technology they aren’t forthcoming about the health risks. The film noted that regulatory agencies such as the Federal Communications Commission and the Environmental Protection Agency are staffed by former telecom employees who resist public awareness and regulation.
Verizon says there are no studies definitively proving the health risks. But in the fine print of many disclaimers for wireless products, telecom companies acknowledge health concerns and most like Apple suggest keeping cell phones away from the head and body.
There is a lot of research on the radiation exposure from cell phones and one of the most cited is a study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences that found evidence of tumors in rats and mice. The authors noted that the tests may not have the same results in humans and argue that comprehensive research is needed.
Cecelia Doucette keeps a blog of the debate over the heath effects of wireless telecommunication and she clearly comes down on the side of being very concerned.
As she moderated the showing of “Generation Zapped,” Doucette explained that cell phones are particularly pernicious, because they emit wireless frequencies from five or six built-in antennas. Each smartphone has separate antennas for calling, data, Bluetooth service, Wi-Fi, location tracking, and a hotspot.
Doucette embraced advocacy for wireless safety while raising money to bring the wireless “21st-century classroom” to public schools in her hometown of Ashland, Mass. She soon learned of the exposure of wireless Chromebooks and iPads after reading the book version of “Generation Zapped.”
Both the book and film draw a connection between cell phones and breast cancer and brain tumors. Wireless devices can lower sperm counts, increase risks of reproductive problems in women, and put children at risk for developmental disorders, according to some research.
“Generation Zapped” also highlighted people suffering from electromagnetic hypersensitivity, a condition triggered by wireless and other sources of electromagnetic fields (EMFs). The condition causes varying degrees of fatigue, dizziness, headaches, and problems with concentration and memory.
“While some individuals report mild symptoms and react by avoiding the fields as best they can, others are so severely affected that they cease work and change their entire lifestyle,” according to the World Health Organization.
Doucette has helped Massachusetts write legislation and safe-technology policy and works with school districts and other organizations to understand and assess wireless health concerns.
She admitted that it may be too late to reverse the looming wireless transformation, but noted that the risks from exposure can be reduced with a few simple steps. Doucette suggested using wired headphones or the speakerphone option when talking on a cell phone, and changing the Internet connection from Wi-Fi to a wired connection or at least turning off the Wi-Fi router when not in use. And always make an effort to keep wireless devices as far away from the body as possible.
Doucette noted that some schools and libraries in Europe are reducing exposure by reconnecting to wired networks or reducing exposure to wireless systems and devices. She encouraged asking municipal and school officials to convert buildings to fiberoptic and ethernet cable for communications.
“The message is not ‘No technology,’” Doucette said. ”We love our technology, but it’s high time we learn to use it safely and hold our cities and towns accountable for putting safe technology into our schools, into our neighborhoods, and into our public spaces.”