Health Canada warnings on cell phones need to be clearer and widely heard

In the summer of 2010 I wrote about a group of parents in Collingwood who were fighting to have wifi taken out of their children’s school.  I heard their story while sitting as a member of a parliamentary committee investigating the safety of the microwave radiation emitted by wireless devices like cell phones and modems. 

The committee heard contradictory evidence and warnings from scientists, groups and individuals.  There were claims that Canada’s code that regulates the limit of radiation any device can emit was not strict enough - Health Canada officials disputed this.

Much has changed in the story since that column.  Most significantly, the World Health Organization reclassified microwave radiation from wireless devices as a Class 2b possible carcinogen.  This means there is enough evidence that links it to cancer to merit a warning. In response Health Canada now says your child should limit their time on a cell phone.

Does that mean adults should too? It does mean that wifi, baby monitors, cordless phones and cell phones pose enough of a risk to your children that you should consider limiting their exposure at home. It’s as simple as turning wifi off when not in use, or switching to hardwired systems widely available at electronics stores.  Cell phones can be set to "Airplane Mode" if children sleep on or near their phone. This cancels the radiation, but still allows the phone to  perform other applications or be used as an alarm.

This is one area in which Canada is not a leader and has some catching up to do with European countries especially on warnings. The Council of Europe, which advises the Parliament of the European Union, says all schools should opt for hard-wired internet connections and abandon wifi in these settings.  Here in Canada there has been some movement on the issue. The Saanich District School Board on Vancouver Island officially banned wifi in all elementary schools last April. In September, a private school in Collingwood pulled out its wifi in favour of hardwiring followed by another one in Peterborough in October.

For some this is a difficult issue. These devices are convenient and even emblematic of our modern times. Despite that, we cannot let convenience trump prudence especially when it comes to the health of children.  Health Canada’s warning may not have been heard by enough people and should be more widely broadcast.  People need to be made aware of what the risks are and that there are safer ways to enjoy the benefits of wireless devices.