Parents vote to shut off Wi-Fi at Ont. school

Parents are asking an elementary school in Meaford, Ont., to shut down Wi-Fi internet access over health concerns despite authorities saying there is no scientific evidence that the technology is harmful.

Parents are asking an elementary school in Meaford, Ont., to shut down Wi-Fi internet access over health concerns despite authorities saying there is no scientific evidence that the technology is harmful.

"After learning the whole story about how risky Wi-Fi is, parents voted to protect their children's health and plug the computers back in with hardwires," said Andrew Couper, a member of Saint Vincent Euphrasia Parent Council, in a statement issued Monday.


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"This is something every school council across Canada should be questioning."

The parents group has about 210 members, and 88 per cent of those polled said they want the Wi-Fi shut off, Couper said in an interview. The parents believe Wi-Fi at the school, which has about 350 students, is causing a number of symptoms among students, including headaches and an inability to concentrate, all of which disappear on weekends.

The decision whether or not to shut off the Wi-Fi, however, rests with the Bluewater District board that governs the school, which is located in the town about 180 kilometres north of Toronto on Georgian Bay.

Couper said Paul Wehrle, the school trustee for the municipality of Meaford, told him the process could take a long time, possibly years. Wehrle had no opinion on the parents' position but said he would present their views at a board meeting next month.

Parents were supplied with studies done by the Royal Society of Canada and LEX Scientific, an environmental consulting firm based in Guelph, Ont., that expressed concerns over long-term exposure to Wi-Fi signals.

None of the parents who want the wireless access cut off have Wi-Fi at home, Couper said.

"Everyone says we can't escape it, but I'm escaping it quite well, and my children are, too," he said.

A number of schools have debated banning Wi-Fi over similar concerns. Health Canada issued an advisory in August, when the issue initially surfaced, stating that wireless internet is not harmful to anyone's health.

"Health Canada continues to reassure Canadians that the radiofrequency energy emitted from Wi-Fi equipment is extremely low and is not associated with any health problems," the statement said. "Based on scientific evidence, Health Canada has determined that exposure to low-level radiofrequency energy, such as that from Wi-Fi equipment, is not dangerous to the public."

Health Canada's position was backed up in August by the Simcoe Country District School Board, which ruled against cutting Wi-Fi in its schools.

Couper said Health Canada is not paying attention to the possible long-term effects. While the LEX study, which tested the school, found radiation levels to be below official guidelines, it could not say what long-term exposure may result in.

"I'm not sure what goes on there at Health Canada, but they should be paying attention to these studies because they must know they exist," he said. "Maybe they're tied to the industry too close, but meanwhile, we have kids in our school that are being exposed to this six hours a day, five days a week for 14 years. We have scientists telling us this is not safe."


Peter Nowak


Peter Nowak is a Toronto-based technology reporter and author of Humans 3.0: The Upgrading of the Species.