The Vancouver School District plans to start installing wireless internet service in some schools, despite a warning by the World Health Organization that the signals could be a possible carcinogen.
School Board Chair Patti Bacchus said the service is being installed because the district is out of step with an educational technology that is increasingly conducted online and with students armed with laptops and smartphones.
"We're looking at making sure that there is a reasonable access to Wi-Fi so that we can enable students to access all of those educational resources," said Bacchus.
The initial focus will be on secondary schools Bacchus says, but a request for proposals issued last month shows the school district is seeking a contractor to provide service for 100 sites.
Last spring the World Health Organization classified wireless technology as possibly carcinogenic, leading two Ontario private schools to shut off their wireless services.
But Bacchus says the Vancouver district is sensitive to those concerns and will move cautiously.
"We certainly recognize that there still are concerns and there are parents who have concerns — particularly about the safety of wireless technology," she said.
"We are proceeding cautiously, focussing initially on the secondary schools, but also trying to work with that and of course always monitoring whatever information is out there — what the current research is," she said.
Colin Redfern, the acting chair of Vancouver's District Parent Advisory Council says they support wireless service in high schools, but not elementary schools.
"We just need to have a greater perspective on risk," he said.
The service could be installed as early as next month in some schools.
WHO studies evaluate risk
In May 2011, the WHO's International Agency for Research on Cancer did a review of existing research on the effects of exposure to such electromagnetic fields. It found that, for most cancers, the available evidence was inadequate to make any conclusions about risk.
But in the case of glioma,a type of brain cancer, the evidence was significant enough to warrant classifying radio frequency electromagnetic fields as "possibly carcinogenic to humans," a WHO category known as 2B, and to warrant further study of a possible link between wireless use and cancer risk, the group said.
Coffee and the pesticide DDT are also classified as "possibly carcinogenic to humans" by WHO.