Jason Spencer photo
Magda Havas, associate professor of environmental and resource studies at Trent University, speaks to concerned parents about the potential adverse health effects from exposure to Wi-Fi in schools at the Port Credit Legion on Thursday, May 9.
Steve Miller doesn’t want his son to be afraid anymore.
But the demons he's trying to chase away, many simply don’t believe in. Miller is speaking out to municipalities and school boards, asking people to believe, so that his six-year-old son, Jalen, doesn’t have to go to bed scared anymore.
His fight is the same one being taken up by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine which recently sent a letter to the Peel District School Board asking them to reconsider wired connections for Internet in Peel schools as an alternative to Wi-Fi.
Miller is one of the parents who believes he has seen the effects the Academy is concerned about.
“He was five at the time, he was suffering from seeing the ‘big things’,” Miller said of his son. “He had a hard time describing it. We figured out that they were distortions, hallucinations he was seeing all the time, and they just got progressively worse – especially at night. For almost a year he would take his face and drive his face and eyes into his pillow to try and make them go away.”
Jalen has been diagnosed with hypersensitivity to electro-magnetic fields by an environmental doctor, who told his parents the cause of his difficulties could be their cell phones. Their Internet. Their cordless phone. Their Bluetooth.
But it was a roller coaster trip to the diagnosis.
“We took him to the family doctor, and he was on a nebulizer for asthma, so the doctor thought maybe it was that. We got into the spring of 2011, and the asthma was only around in winter so the medication stopped, but the ‘big things’ continued.”
It was an eye doctor next.
“The eye doctor said whatever he’s seeing, his eyes have nothing to do with it.”
Miller said the mystery continued.
In the fall of 2011, it got so bad Jalen began not only complaining about his visions, but was clearly disoriented and dizzy. He said he felt the car (not even turned on) was moving, and his mother was talking too fast.
Rushed to the emergency room for an MRI, which revealed nothing, Jalen went to Sick Kids in downtown Toronto. After multiple visits, doctors had no answers.
“I started doing my own research, I didn’t know what to do,” said Miller. “I went on the Internet and pumped in his symptoms, and I started reading about EMF (Electric and Magnetic Fields), how it can effect children. I saw a testimonial from a kid that sounded exactly like Jalen, and then I found a company called EMF solutions.”
The company tested his home for EMF. They found Jalen’s room was a hot spot for Wi-Fi, and the family immediately disconnected all wireless technology.
Four days later…
“New Jalen,” Miller said happily. “Completely new kid. I couldn’t wait to tell his doctor at Sick Kids, but as soon as I did, he looked at me like I had two heads. Said, sure, you may have found something there. I was like, are you kidding me, we have a new Jalen?”
Almost one year later, Jalen’s symptoms have returned, and now, Miller is part of a group of parents and doctors asking the Peel District School Board to reconsider the installation of wireless Internet into their schools.
Miller thinks the demons came back when Jalen’s school installed Wi-Fi.
The American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) sent a letter to Tony Pontes, director of education for the Peel District School Board, indicating that research was beginning to trumpet the hazards of having children in close contact with wireless radiation for long periods of time. It said that the World Health Organization (WHO) had recently classified exposure to wireless radiation, including Wi-Fi, onto the Class 2b list of carcinogens.
“There is consistent emerging science that shows people, especially children who are more vulnerable due to developing brains and thinner skulls, are affected by the increasing exposure to wireless radiation,” the letter reads. “In September 2010, the Journal of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine Fertility and Sterility, reported that only four hours of exposure to a standard laptop using Wi-Fi caused DNA damage to human sperm. In December 2012 the American Academy of Pediatrics, representing 60,000 pediatricians, wrote to Congress requesting it update the safety levels of microwave radiation exposure especially for children and pregnant women.”
In 2010, the letter also noted Canada’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health heard three days of testimony from international scientists explaining why the national safety guideline (Safety Code 6) is out of date for the increasing exposure to wireless radiation in daily life.
Dr. Jennifer Armstrong, past president of the AAEM, said what Miller is experiencing is status quo for parents and children suffering symptoms due to Wi-Fi signals. Citing the original messages of asbestos and tobacco, she said this is an issue for the 21st century that is seeing more heads buried in more sand.
"We're thinking of a precautionary approach," said Armstrong. "We don't know all the effects this is going to have on children. They're developing and growing, they're more vulnerable, their skulls are thinner, this is microwave radiation."
Armstrong said the very reason society was told not to stand in front of their microwave is what people should be cautious about today.
"Like smoking in the past, the industry and government have left the burden of proof on us to prove it is harmful. Society should be demanding government and industry, if they're going to produce something new, they have to prove it's safe," she said.
Armstrong expressed frustration at the message that much of Canada's Wi-Fi radiation is well below levels outlined in Safety Code 6 stating that even if the signal strength were 50 times less than that outline in Safety Code 6, "it is still worse than the standards in many other countries. That's what you're dealing with."
The acceptance of radiation being an environmental cause for many symptoms isn't there yet, she said.
"Even some of my colleagues think it's hogwash, it's just happening too fast. But we're seeing children vomiting, having headaches, we have adults with hormonal issues, unexplained thyroid problems. But we're not taught to look at the environment in medical school."
For the Region of Peel, Safety Code 6 is just fine for now.
Pontes said the Peel District School Board was more than comfortable in their decision to put Wi-Fi in Peel schools.
"The differences in beliefs may be based on the fact that individual research may be found that suggests a concern, however, given all of the research, understanding those health agencies have reviewed the wealth of information and have reviewed the volume of information that confirms there is no evidence. We are comfortable."
He said the board will continue to monitor the research and attitudes toward wireless Internet.
"Those health agencies we rely on have confirmed they will continue to review research as its forth coming, if at anytime we get anything from them outside of current position, of course, we would follow their recommendation," he said. "I did not spend 35 years in education to harm children. We believe we did our due diligence; we are committing to continue to take their advice if anything changes, and we will also be looking at some randomized monitoring methods.
With regards to Safety Code 6, Peel Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Mowat replied in an e-mail saying, “The Safety Code applies a fifty-fold safety margin for the general public to the level of exposure that has been related to health effects in previous studies. A safety margin is the difference between the exposure levels showing an effect and the limit level. In this case, the Safety Code 6 exposure limit is fifty-times less than the exposure level showing a thermal effect.”
When Industry Canada requirements are met, “Wi-Fi in schools is not harmful to the health of students and staff,” Mowat continued, adding Peel health monitors new information, and is always available to provide the public with accurate information.
He also noted, “Health Canada has requested the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) to conduct a review of Safety Code 6. The RSC has assembled this expert panel and their review is expected to be completed in fall of 2013.”
Peel District School Board trustee Stan Cameron, who represents Caledon schools, stands behind his board on the issue of Wi-Fi in schools.
“The answer is the Peel public health department, Health Canada and the World Health Organization don’t have any concerns in their research, so that is the direction the board is following,” he said.