Mark Goldberg

Fox Group Dispatch

Back to school

I admire the way some writers are able to express themselves with a masterful command of language. I remember hearing Pat Conroy speak at an event in Alberta; I was so impressed that I bought and read every book of his I could find. Flying back from LA yesterday, I read Terry Fallis’ “The Best Laid Plans.” Maybe it was Fallis’ preoccupation with imperfect grammar that sensitized me to apply a critical eye to the WiFi report by the Ontario English Catholic Teachers Association (OECTA).

I hope that some of the members of the association are embarrassed by the failing level of scholarly research in the report. For that matter, I hope that most members of the association are actually able to detect that this report brings shame to a group of teachers. Read the Science Blogs review of the report if you need help understanding why OECTA may want to review the composition of its Health & Safety Committee.

Even the least scientific members of the union should have noticed that barely an infinitive was not split and the authors made the classic error mixing up “i.e.” and “e.g.”

Others dissecting the scientific shortcomings of the report, such as OpenFile, noted the logical leap that took a Statistics Canada report on environmental sensitivities and extrapolated it to include electromagnetic frequency sensitivities. This quote appears in the OECTA report – the redundant use of quote marks and double indentation is in the report:

“Approximately 3 percent of the population (over 1 million Canadians) has been diagnosed with environmental sensitivities (ES) which include multiple chemical sensitivities (MCS) and electromagnetic sensitivity.”

The quote is footnoted as: “Park J and Knudson S. Medically Unexplained Physical Symptoms. Statistics Canada. 12-1-2007.”

But that report doesn’t contain such a quote. The Statistics Canada report doesn’t even deal with electromagnetic sensitivity. What do teachers do to students who turn in reports with such flaws?

Interestingly, I found a wonderful refutation of the junk science on the website of the most outspoken academic who campaigns against wireless infrastructure. Health Canada’s Director General in the Environmental and Radiation Health Sciences Directorate wrote to Trent University’s Professor Magda Havas saying:

From: Beth Pieterson
Subject: Re: microwave radiation
Date: October 24, 2011 9:14:06 AM EDT
To: Magda Havas
Cc: Beth Pieterson

Dear Dr. Havas,

Your correspondence to the Honourable Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health on October 8, 2011, regarding your concerns about radiofrequency (RF) energy exposure from a variety of wireless devices, was forwarded to my office for response.

To begin, I must point out that cellular phones and other wireless devices (e.g. Wi-Fi) and their associated infrastructure (e.g. cell phone towers) are regulated by Industry Canada. Health Canada’s mandate on the issue of human exposure to radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy, such as from cell phone towers and other wireless devices, is to carry out research into possible health effects, monitor the scientific literature related to such effects, and develop exposure guidelines such as Safety Code 6 (Limits of Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy in the Frequency Range from 3 kHz to 300 GHz, 2009). To ensure that public exposures fall within acceptable guidelines, Industry Canada has developed regulatory standards that require compliance with the human exposure limits outlined in Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 (2009). For issues of non-compliance of wireless devices with the exposure limits outlined in Safety Code 6, please contact Industry Canada.

When developing the exposure limits in Safety Code 6, Health Canada scientists consider all peer-reviewed scientific studies and employ a weight-of-evidence approach when evaluating possible health risks from exposure to RF energy. This approach takes into account both the quantity of studies on a particular endpoint (whether adverse or no effect), but more importantly, the quality of those studies. Poorly conducted studies (e.g. inadequate exposure evaluation, lack of appropriate control samples or inadequate statistical analysis) receive relatively little weight, while properly conducted studies (e.g. all controls included, appropriate statistics, complete exposure evaluation) receive more weight. The exposure limits in Safety Code 6 are based on the lowest exposure level (threshold) at which scientifically-established human health hazards occur. Safety factors have then been incorporated into these limits to add an additional level of protection for the general public and personnel working near RF sources.

Health Canada scientists monitor the scientific literature on this issue on an ongoing basis and Safety Code 6 is periodically updated to take into account recent scientific data from animal, in vitro and epidemiological studies that were carried out worldwide. Safety Code 6 was last updated in October 2009. The limits recommended for general public exposure to RF energy are designed to provide protection for all age groups, including children, on a continuous basis. Based on a thorough review of scientific data, Health Canada has concluded that there is no scientific basis for the existence of any short- or long-term adverse health effects or of cumulative effects associated with RF exposure at levels below the limits outlined in Safety Code 6. These limits are consistent with, if not slightly more stringent, than the science-based standards used in most countries (e.g., the United States, the European Union, Japan, Australia and New Zealand).

Recently, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified RF energy as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Class 2B). In fact, a Health Canada scientist was part of the IARC Expert Working Group that examined this issue. The IARC classification on RF energy reflects the fact that some (limited) evidence exists that RF energy may be a risk factor for cancer. However, the vast majority of scientific research to date does not support a link between RF energy exposure and human cancers. Health Canada is in agreement with both the World Health Organization and IARC that additional research in this area is warranted.

Based upon the uncertainty surrounding a possible long-term risk of cancer, Health Canada recently updated its advice to cell phone users describing practical ways of reducing exposure to radiofrequency (RF) energy from these devices. This advice pertains only to cell phone use and not to RF energy exposures from other wireless devices (such as Wi-Fi, Smart Meters, baby monitors), since the intensity and distribution of the RF energy absorbed within the body from these devices are very different than from that of cell phones.

Some of the RF energy emitted by wireless devices is absorbed by your body, however the amount depends on how close your body is to a wireless device and the strength of the signal. Unlike cellular phones, where the transmitter is held close to the head and much of the absorbed RF energy is deposited in a localized area, RF energy from wireless devices such as Wi-Fi is typically transmitted at a greater distance from the human body. This results in very low average RF energy absorption levels in all parts of the body, similar to exposure from AM/FM radio broadcast signals.

Public exposure to RF energy from wireless devices, such as Wi-Fi and cellular phone towers, is far below the limits specified in science-based exposure standards such as Safety Code 6. Based on the very low exposure levels and the weight of evidence from peer-reviewed scientific studies to date, it is Health Canada’s position that public exposures to RF energy from wireless network devices do not cause adverse health effects in people. This conclusion is similar to that arrived at by the International Committee on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), the Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR, European Commission), and the World Health Organization. Therefore, Health Canada does not consider additional precautionary measures are warranted to further reduce RF energy exposure below the limits currently outlined in Safety Code 6.

Thank you for writing.

Beth Pieterson
Director General / Directrice générale
Environmental and Radiation Health Sciences Directorate / Direction des sciences de la santé environnementale et de la radioprotection HECSB / DGSESC AL 4908D
Health Canada / Santé Canada
Ottawa, ON K1A 0K9

“RF energy from wireless network devices do not cause adverse health effects in people.” That’s the bottom line.

Did the OECTA even consult with Health Canada?

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