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University Bans wi-fi as Health Concern 693

BaltikaTroika writes "A Canadian university has banned wi-fi, since the university President sees a possible link between electric and magnetic fields and brain tumors. According to the head of the university, "the jury's out on this one, I'm not going to put in place what is potential chronic exposure for our students." Is anybody outside of this university's administration concerned about this?"
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University Bans wi-fi as Health Concern

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  • Should I Be (Score:4, Funny)

    by NerdENerd ( 660369 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @01:58AM (#14782582)
    I have a wifi router under my couch, hope my nuts are OK!
  • by Benwick ( 203287 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @01:58AM (#14782583) Journal
    But it's not like all those other electro-magnetic waves just hit the walls of the campus and stop dead in their, uh, tracks...
    • by SEWilco ( 27983 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @04:10AM (#14783039) Journal
      If he's worried about electromagnetic waves he should ban electrical use on campus, magnets, and wave a compass around all steel desks and filing cabinets.. then have them degaussed (someplace else, of course, to keep the evil degaussing waves away).

      And, of course, inspect all staff for magic magnetic bracelets and fire those wearing them. Except those working in the school's Department of Magick.

  • by LackThereof ( 916566 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @01:59AM (#14782585)

    Better ban cordless phones, too, and everything else that uses 2.4 Ghz.
    • "... president Fred Gilbert won't allow it until he's satisfied EMF (electric and magnetic fields) exposure doesn't pose a health risk, particularly to young people."

      The article makes it obvious he was trying to be a big hero at a town hall meeting. In actuality, he knows nothing about electromagnetism, but is not afraid to pretend that he does. We see a lot of that in recent years, as people pretend to know more about computers than they do.

      Anyone worried about radio waves causing cancer can try to make that theory work. There is a huge barrier, however, in the form of a very very small number: Planck's Constant []. Planck's constant = 6.626068 × 10-34 m2 kg/S. It's that 10**-34 that makes it difficult for low-energy electromagetism like wireless transmissions to interact with chemical reactions. Thirty-four zeros is a LOT of zeros after the decimal point.

      Off topic: I've linked to the Encyclopedia Britannica above because the article about Planck's constant is very short. The article in Wikipedia is long. I've frequently seen the Encyclopedia Britannica be misleading because of the severe limitation placed on size of the articles due to paper costs. Wikipedia does not have that problem.

      Cheney: Killing small animals and Iraqis for fun and profit.
      • When dealing with radiation, most physicists like to use electron-volts (eV) instead of Joules (or m^2 kg /s^2). One eV is 1.602x10^-19 J, so Planck's Constant (h) becomes 4.14x10^-15 eV S. I ran some rough estimates using visible light (500 nm) and microwaves (about 3 cm). Visible light has an energy of 2.5 eV, or right at the low end of chemical reactions. Microwaves have an energy of 4x10^-5 eV which have no chance in hell of initiating chemical reactions. Other people have pointed out, though, that
    • There's a MUCH more serious threat. We know that as the frequency of this electro-magentism goes up so does the threat. Now, 2.4 GHz is pretty high frequency. However, we're constantly bathed in radiation that has SUCH a high frequency we don't even use the same units to measure it! At MUCH higher energies than mere wifi! Why, you probably have an emitter right above your head, right now!

      It's common practice for parents to put a source of this dangerous energy in their children's bedrooms so that they
  • by Chalex ( 71702 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @01:59AM (#14782590) Homepage
    Have they also banned cell phones? Because students tend to hold those next to their heads instead of on their lap. Since the power drops off as 1/r^3 (roughly), the distance between your brain and the antenna is a big deal.
    • See, now we have to pan wireless keyboards and mice... oh, and cordless phones, too - those operate on the same bandwidth as wireless networks, so obviously they're a HUGE problem. Seriously, this is just being afraid of new technology. I guarantee you this guy never thought about all the wireless stuff being used CONSTANTLY by people on campus.

    • by Raindance ( 680694 ) <johnsonmx&gmail,com> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:15AM (#14782658) Homepage Journal
      You're absolutely right.

      And aside from this proximity issue, cell phones often get above 1 Watt of output. Wifi devices tend to be between 20 and 100 miliwatts.

      Anecdotally, I get a terrible headache that lasts for hours if I talk even 30 seconds on a cell phone. I'm probably not typical, but I'm certain cell phones aren't as harmless as most folks (and regulatory agencies) think.
      • by Quirk ( 36086 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:21AM (#14782679) Homepage Journal
        ... I get a terrible headache that lasts for hours if I talk even 30 seconds on a cell phone.

        And would this be when your mom calls to ask you what you plan to do with your life?

      • by nmos ( 25822 )
        Anecdotally, I get a terrible headache that lasts for hours if I talk even 30 seconds on a cell phone. I'm probably not typical, but I'm certain cell phones aren't as harmless as most folks (and regulatory agencies) think.

        I wonder if it could be something about the audio compression that's bothering you rather than the RF. Some people have similar reactions to things like monitor flicker etc.
        • I would call that a low probability hypothesis, but it's interesting to think about. I'll be switching to a hands-free headset soon, and we'll see how that works out.
      • cell phones often get above 1 Watt of output.


        Maybe old analog phones. Modern digital phones are rated at a maximum output of 200 milliwatts. I've read that the typical output is somewhere between 1 milliwatt and 5 milliwatts. I've studied more about CDMA phones than other technologies, and I think they adjust the output power every 40 milliseconds, based on the signal strength of the receiver (tower).

        What's the typical power output of a cordless phone in the house? I'm guessing it's more than

    • power difference (Score:3, Interesting)

      by j1m+5n0w ( 749199 )
      Most wireless cards are about 35 milliwatts. Cell phones usually on a somewhat nearby frequency and, I believe, somewhere between 200-600 milliwatts (someone please correct me if that's wrong) and right next to your head. (As others have pointed out that radio follows the inverse square law, not inverse cube.) Also, the duty cycle is probably less for most wireless applications; if you're just surfing the net, the connection is idle most of the time, and is therefore the wireless card is not transmitting
  • More tags (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MeanMF ( 631837 ) * on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:00AM (#14782591) Homepage
    [+] Tinfoil, helmet
  • DIfference? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kickboy12 ( 913888 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:00AM (#14782593) Homepage
    How's wifi different than any other radio signal? Sure, it's a different frequency and bandwidth, but radio waves are passing through us all the time. Are they gonna ban radio stations now cause it might be cancerous?

    Seems a little far-fetched.
    • How's wifi different than any other radio signal?

      Because it's a powerful new technology. I'm not kidding here. This is how non-techs actually think about these things.
    • Re:DIfference? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by lahvak ( 69490 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @09:01AM (#14783703) Homepage Journal
      How's wifi different than any other radio signal?

      It costs the college money to implement, they don't have the money, so they are looking for any excuse so they won't look bad for not having it.
  • by EraseEraseMe ( 167638 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:00AM (#14782594)
    Carcinogenic inks in the paper
    Vending Machines
    Pesticides on the grass
    Asphalt roads
    Air Conditioning
    Natural Gas heating
  • by jcr ( 53032 ) < .ta. .rcj.> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:00AM (#14782595) Journal
    I don't know of ANY wi-fi product that even radiates half a watt. What a pack of blithering luddites.

  • He says... (Score:2, Funny)

    by jayhawk88 ( 160512 )
    ...while talking on his portable phone and listening to the radio.
  • But Canucks really can't take the risk of losing any more brain cells.

    What? This thread is going to be stupid Canadian jokes, stupid American jokes, and some dufus trying to prove how smart he is by showing some fucking thing about ionizing radiation.

    We ought to send those guys some aluminum foil hats.
  • by macsox ( 236590 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:01AM (#14782601) Journal
    When I graduated from the University of Tinfoilhats, Ottawa campus, in 2001 with my degree in Paranoia Studies, I thought my hallowed school would never make the mainstream media. And, more importantly, that I wouldn't know if it was, because paying attention to the mainstream media allows the brain worms to eat your thoughts.
  • Like say "Lakehead, A Canadian University".

    Having gone to university in Ontario, it wouldn't surprise me if this were based on a study from Lakehead's engineering department (if they have one).
  • by xtal ( 49134 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:03AM (#14782609)
    I've read the article, and this, I hope, is a joke.

    There are many benefits to studying at Lakehead University. Ubiquitous wireless Internet access, however, isn't one of them.

    I'm sure living in a grass hut is nice and all, and yes, everything (might) cause cancer.

    This place deserves what's about to happen. I hope, maybe, that something was taken out of context. Maybe. Otherwise I don't even know where to start.

    100% safe? NOTHING is 100% safe. Nothing is even 100% certain in science, except maybe that you will fail dynamics if you don't do your homework.. heh

    • Lets worry about something that very well might be harmless because student mortality is otherwise so low that wifi is the biggest potential cause of death. Drugs, alcohol, tobacco products, unprotected sex, automobile accidents, and plain old stress related suicide and illness don't rate anywhere on the list of things to worry about after all. I'd have to guess that more people have died from injuries caused by freak accidents with soda machines than from wifi so should we see if soda machines have been ba
      • more people have died from injuries caused by freak accidents with soda machines ... should we see if soda machines have been banned too?

        Ban only the machines that have an electrically operated access door at the height about 30" from the ground. All other machines are safe.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:04AM (#14782611)
    Gee, where have we all been hearing THAT phrase lately?

    Fact: Nobody has ever demonstrated in a repeatable, peer-reviewed, properly-controlled study that low-level RF radiation at nonionizing wavelengths has any biological effect whatsoever. For every study that shows correlated effects, two more show none at all.

    Fact: WiFi adapters, even the gray-market 100 mW jobs you buy on eBay, transmit 1/10 to 1/100 the power of a cell phone.

    Fact: Your microwave oven leaks more 2.4-GHz energy than your WiFi card emits intentionally. For best results, cut a 1" slit in package wrapper and rotate dish after 2 minutes on HIGH.

    Fact: DNA damage from 2.4 GHz radiation at athermal levels would require a form of matter-energy interaction that is currently unknown to physics. There's a guaranteed Nobel Prize for anyone who can document such an interaction, because as far as anyone knows, we pretty have all the fundamental interactions covered at this point. Get cracking!

    (Probable) fact: This joker has some sort of financial interest in a local commercial ISP whose business would be threatened by a campus-wide network. Nobody that stupid runs a university... but conflicts of interest aren't exactly unheard-of in that line of work, are they?
  • Ban Girls (Score:4, Funny)

    by Dante Shamest ( 813622 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:06AM (#14782619)
    Ban Girls! They're too distracting. Like this one, she's
  • by mcc ( 14761 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:09AM (#14782627) Homepage
    that the earth is one giant magnetic field
    • Or the 60Hz magnetic fields created by our electrical wiring and infastructure
  • by coolgeek ( 140561 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:09AM (#14782629) Homepage
    The very same university that banned masturbation because of concerns over loss of sight.
  • A quick back of the envelope calc gives a wavelength of 12.491 cm. Thats too big to have any kind of effect on the brain.

    • Thats too big to have any kind of effect on the brain.

      I think some brains are capable of malfunctioning all on their own. :-)
  • by l3prador ( 700532 ) < minus city> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:12AM (#14782638) Homepage
    What is he, crazy?

    Hasn't he ever heard of magnetic therapy? []
  • If they are going to ban wi-fi for health concerns they need to ban cell phones. I think an average student who has a phone glued to his or her ear (as is the case on most campuses in America) gets exposed to quite a bit more microwaves than wi-fi. Most good-sized campuses probably even have cell phone towers on-campus or right next to campus to handle the load.
  • Wardriving the area (Score:3, Interesting)

    by drewzhrodague ( 606182 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:13AM (#14782649) Homepage Journal
    Has anyone wardriven that area? I betcha there would be far more signals from access-points and wireless cards than they could possibly keep all turned off. Policing that environment would not be a fun job: "Yes, I know it's cool and useful and makes, but we can't have that here."
  • Maybe now we'll be reading fewer articles like this: 0

    We all know this is really about cheating, distractions, porn, and piracy though. It has nothing to do with brain tumors, most likely. If it does... why are these people running a university, again?
  • most stupid ban (Score:3, Insightful)

    by beast6228 ( 472737 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:20AM (#14782677) Homepage
    This is the most stupid ban I've seen in a long time.

    Yes, the high frequencies that wireless networks use can be dangerous to cells,since higher frequencies and radio waves are more dense. but basically the whole spectrum can cause damage as well. As we speak now, there are radio waves passing through our bodies. These come from television, amateur radio, broadcast radio, public service radio, cell phones and other wireless services.

    Wireless networks are generally low power and you would have to be sitting directly near your antenna before you would be affected. A cell phone will probably fry your brain faster, since it's right next to your head.

    An amateur radio operator told you that!
  • After all, 100% of all cancer patients live within the Earth's magnetic field. Thus magnetic fields must cause cancer.
  • I hope no one tells him neutrinos, he'll either want to ban the sun or put up a light-year thick lead barrier over his nuts.
  • The school will probably see an increase in average GPA as students can no longer download pr0n wirelessly!
  • by SuperBanana ( 662181 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:34AM (#14782735)
    "the jury's out on this one, I'm not going to put in place what is potential chronic exposure for our students"

    No, the jury isn't "out on this one". That would imply there is evidence that WiFi causes any sort of health consequences- and further, that it is equal to evidence it does not. That's simply not the case.

    People have been looking for this supposed cancer/mind-ray/whatever link to cell phones and other wireless devices. They still haven't found it. That doesn't say "the jury is out"- it says "research conducted thusfar has found no evidence."

    It's like doing a study on whether there are little green moon men. Twenty research projects are conducted, scouring the moon with telescopes and satellites, and researchers say, "well, we haven't seen any green moon men." Then some nutjob comes along and says that "the jury is out on whether there are little green men on the moon!", simply because the researchers (like proper scientists) guardedly said "we didn't see any moon men", not "there are no moon men."

  • by TeknoHog ( 164938 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @02:35AM (#14782741) Homepage Journal
    the university President sees a possible link between electric and magnetic fields

    No shit, Maxwell!

  • piracy over wifi.... living at a college or college town affords you QUITE a few of wireless routers. If you aren't paying for one and get service through it, you could do all sorts of very nasty activty... Maybe the university sees it as more of a "lets protect our less computer savvy students so we don't get looked at badly."
  • I hate getting stuck in a computer programming class where the instructor ignores the computer and overhead projector to write each and every line of code on the whiteboard. I get so bored that I start sprouting tumors. Is the administration going to do anything? Actually, nearly the entire computer department was cancelled this semester. Instead of tumors, I'm no closer to graduating. Ugh!
  • If this dude heads outdoors once in a while he probably exposes himself to more known harmful radiation from the sun than he would ever get from some low power wireless routers. Also I wonder how many devices have RF emmisions in this band that aren't coherant but would still cause similar damage that this dude hasn't thought about. When I say that I'm meaning devices that aren't designed as RF transmitters but release RF emmisions anyway (lots of devices do).
  • ...the university President sees a possible link between electric and magnetic fields and brain tumors.

    Easy solution: tinfoil hats. Keeps those nasty EM waves out and presto, no brain tumors.
  • Better get rid of those 2.4 ghz cordless phones, cell phones, microwaves, LCDs, and every other source of stray EMF while we are at it. Oh, wait, I forgot police radar guns. And smoke detectors, they have radioactive material in them. And those nasty florecent lights that contain mercury.

    I know, let's return to the good old days of yore, circa 1830. Then we will be safe!
  • by coofercat ( 719737 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @06:01AM (#14783334) Homepage Journal
    This guy's obviously a bafoon, but he's got half a point (misdirected, but still...). I think we all know the link between mobile phones and cancer (despite what the telcos say). There's also a suspected link between mains electricity (and it's associated fields) and cancer: ws/2002/10/06/nemf06.xml&sSheet=/news/2002/10/06/i xhome.html []

    So the point being, the frequency is irrelevant, it's all to do with the magnetic and electric fields. When one or both of these are far in excess of ambient, they cause problems.

    The new-age movement goes further to infer that all electrical devices give off 'bad vibes' in the form of positive ions (which make you feel tired, depressed etc). Clearly, transmitting devices are designed to propagate a signal, so it follows that they create more of these ions. Again, there's some science behind this, although arguable.

    It looks like this guy is a bit misguided, but looking out for such things. For it to be any use at all, he'd have to ban phones, high current cables, and most of the engineering department, oh, not to mention around about every computer on campus.
  • by evolve2k ( 956662 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @06:34AM (#14783396)

    People in my office have raised concerns over Wifi and health and I was unable to find anything useful which explained the issues and where the 'generally safe watermark' is if there is such a thing, I would still like to see this issue advanced by someone clear on specifics of emmision levels and related health/scientific research.

    Wikipedia's page Wireless electronic devices and health [] stated the following:

    "According to a study currently being carried out [] by the World Health Organization.
    "Electromagnetic fields of all frequencies represent one of the most common and fastest growing environmental influences, about which anxiety and speculation are spreading. All populations are now exposed to varying degrees of EMF, and the levels will continue to increase as technology advances. As part of its charter to protect public health and in response to public concern, the World Health Organization (WHO) established the International EMF Project in 1996 to assess the scientific evidence of possible health effects of EMF in the frequency range from 0 to 300 GHz."
    Wireless LAN
    Although it is generally agreed that EMF levels for wireless LAN devices are much lower than mobile phones, there seems to exist less public understanding of the safety or otherwise of wireless LAN devices than there is for mobile phones. Many wireless LAN manufactures seem to indicate that they are operating towards specific predefined standards which are totally safe. Wireless LANs work by setting up microwave communication in the ranges of 2.4 to 5.8 GHz, depending on the technique that is used (WiFi, WiMax, OFDM, etc). The system is comprised by a base station (called access point, or AP) which establishes point-to-multipoint communication with a number of subscriber units or SUs, to which client computers are connected. Both devices are bidirectional and have antennas that emit at a certain RF power. By definition, the SU stands very near to the computer operator, and the communication link is constant, i.e., not only when there is a call, such as in a mobile phone. In small work and home environments, the AP is also usually very near to human beings, sometimes a few centimeters away. Therefore, the situation, in terms of safety standards, such as ICNIRP, may be surpassed and a higher danger to health may be posed, in relation to other mobile wireless techniques."
    Anyone else want to quote some sources which may shed further light..
  • Let's do the math (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ancient_Hacker ( 751168 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @08:19AM (#14783595)
    What really worris me is a university president that is ignorant of basic physics and math. Let's do a back-of-the-web-page calculation:

    Assume: Sunlight is electromagnetic radiation too.

    Full sunshine hits you with about 1000 watts per square meter.

    Assume: Your body has one square meter of frontal surface area (John Belushi, not Kate Moss).

    So on a sunny day you're getting hit with 1000 watts of electromagnetic radiation, heating you up considerably. Much as if you were in a restaurant-strength microwave oven.

    Assume: I'm too lazy to look up the exact power, so let's assume a Wi-Fi antenna puts out one whole watt (greatly exaggerated).
    Also assume you're standing three feet from the antenna.

    A rough guess: your body is going to intercept about 1/40th of the emitted radiation.

    So we have on the one hand, sunlight at 1000 watts, and wi-fi at 1/40th of a watt, a difference in intensity of 25,000 times.

    And while exposure to sunlight for like 10 years will eventually cause wrinkles and skin cancer, very few students or staff stay in school for the proportionally requisite 250,000 years, three feet from a hot-spot antenna.

    More likely you'll die of terminal boredom.

  • by beyonddeath ( 592751 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @09:25AM (#14783810)
    If you have ever done any research on universities in canada you would know that lakehead isnt exactly the best school to attend, either academically or otherwise. So this is no real surprise as they are just trying to appeal to some strange subset of youth that think cell phones are dangerous to use so as to boost admissions.

    The way I figure at least these people will get a little education, better than not attending a university at all, so let Lakehead have its coffee.

  • by Qbertino ( 265505 ) <> on Thursday February 23, 2006 @10:46AM (#14784373)
    I see a lot of wannabees rant about this university being run by unscientify crackpots. And that the sun and radio and tv is more radiation blah blah ...
    I've got news for you: Microwaves damage health. Period.
    The debate is at which intensity do they start doing that.
    I generally turn my Wifi of if I'm not using it and have stopped carrying my cellphone close to my body, since it's on all day. I turn it off at night. I also hold it away from my head when I make a call until the cell handshake is over and the remote connect is there. My Siemens M35 even has a beep to indicate when the connect is there. Smart people the Siemens engineers, aren't they?
    Handshake you ask? That's the high-power meep-meep-meep you hear in nearby active FM radios just before you make or recieve a call. It's what establishes the conection to the cell network for communication. I even know a woman who can sense the cellphone handshake (she has e-magnetic field sensetivity) from meters away and has the habbit of anouncing cellphone calls seconds before a phone rings. Fun to watch with unsuspecting others near by :-) . Her life isn't that fun though. When her neighbor above leaves his 20" CRT on she can't sleep. She's got other trouble with that aswell and people often don't believe her and think she's crazy.
    On it goes:
    My father was a high profile radar electronics engineer - with Military (Nato, Cruise Missile), Airbus, Nasa/Grumman Aircraft (Lunar Module, Space Shuttle, etc) and some others. He forbid us to have a Microwave oven (they ALL leak Microwaves) and steared clear and went the other way whenever we got to close to a radar bubble when going hiking.
    There are people who've had terminal brain tumors due to intense cellphone usage and I work with doctors (medical IT) who keep all equipment far away and well cased according to TCO.

    Bottom line:
    Don't think it's not unhealthy just because most people don't care. A little common sense and forsight is needed when handling technology. You don't get universal flawless wireless conectivity without a tradeoff. Anyone who believes that is a crackpot himself.
  • by Fantastic Lad ( 198284 ) on Thursday February 23, 2006 @11:57AM (#14785056)
    Wow. What a body count.

    The posts here read like a grassrooting effort by some telco, except it's probably just a bunch of ignorant geeks who believe whatever they're told by big multinationals and their own beloved government. Oh, it hurts to read this site somedays. . !

    There have been a lot of studies by reputable researchers which suggest that low power EM has numerous detrimental effects on the nervous system which have nothing to do with ionizion and cell destruction due to microwave heating. There are other mechanics [] at work.

    Yes, I've met hysterical protesters who have used super-soakers to shoot magic indian water at cell towers. They do look silly. --As do hoards of poorly informed parents with bad research and high emotions.

    But even sillier are people who cannot make the distinction between a valid concern and an emotional protester with a squirt gun. Think: What if somebody came along jumping up and down with a goofy hat and spittle flying from his mouth insisting that the Earth orbits around the Sun? Would you be so disgusted and put off that you would instantly flee into the welcoming arms of the alternate corporate/government sales pitch for a Flat Earth? You might think you wouldn't be fooled, but the evidence of every day public behavior strongly suggests otherwise. A good example is the current war in Iraq; a lot of people here bought that pack of lies when the government came selling them. Indeed, most people garner most of their knowledge from television, and television has a vested interest in misleading us.

    Honestly. A little critical thinking from all the so-called skeptics is in order here, I think.


"There is no distinctly American criminal class except Congress." -- Mark Twain