Here we go again. The Council of Europe has resurrected the hoary old chestnut that RF radiation from mobile handsets and wireless broadband connections is harmful to human health and that, therefore, they should be banned from schools. Martyn Warwick reports.
The membership of the Council of Europe is drawn from 47 member states and although the Strasbourg-based advisory body has no power over policy-making in the European Union it is an influencer and many of its earlier recommendations have been included in European legislation. Which is why alarm bells should be ringing in the telephony industry.
I'm sure there are many teachers who would be delighted by such a ban - but not necessarily on the grounds of public health. No, they'd be more than happy to see the end of texting in the classroom and all the bullying and cheating that this out-of-control phenomena engenders.
Over the years there have been many investigations into the effects of RF radiation from telephones on the human body but none have produced convincing evidence that they cause diseases such as cancer.
Some critics say this is because the industry in general and handset manufacturers in particular have contrived to ensure that the results are skewed in their favour, but this is not the case. Many investigations have been carried out by scientists and scientific bodies with impeccable independent credentials and no industry axe to grind.
However, although many studies have found no correlation between RF output and illness, the same old subject and scaremongering still pops up every now and then.
This time the Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs of the Council of Europe has opined that "wireless technologies have potentially harmful effects on humans and thus is recommending that "immediate action is required to protect children." As well as lumping wireless Internet connectivity and mobile and cordless phones into the mix, the committee also wants baby monitors banned. What's next? Portable radios?
So, the Council has issued a "draft resolution" calling on governments to "take all reasonable measures to reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields" from mobile and wireless web access devices. This will now go forward for approval by the council's full Parliamentary Assembly. for approval. And thus the bureaucratic wheels go round and expensive committees justify their continued existence.
The committee's conclusions are in direct conflict with those reached by World Health Organisation (and the UK's Department of Health).
The WHO, an organisation predicated on the application of real scientific rigour in its investigatory practices says exposure to the RF radiation emitted by mobile wireless Internet devices poses little or no risk to human health.
These findings are echoed by many others including the UK's Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research Programme, that, back in 2007 declared that there is no association between mobile phones and ill health.
Indeed, Professor Les Barclay, the vice-chairman of the Programme, says “We haven’t had mobile phones for very long and there are now studies going on to look for longer-term effects. However, there is very little evidence at the moment for harmful effects. The powers that mobile phones emit are getting less and less, and they are well below the limits set by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. Banning mobile phones and wireless networks in schools is a step too far in my eyes.”
While teachers would be delighted to see the introduction of a requirement that all pupils must hand-in all mobile devices at the beginning of the school day and reclaim them at its end, the fact of the matter is that many educational establishments now routinely use wireless networks and their banning would cause widespread disruption to and in the schools system.
Furthermore, these days, many schools expect homework and projects to be done on and submitted via mobile laptops and other computing devices. Is that also to end?
The Council of Europe Committee has 87 members (all on fat expense accounts) and is chaired by that renowned technophile Lord John Prescott, former deputy prime-minister under Tony Blair and more commonly known in Britain as "Two Jags Prezza" because of his obsession with Jaguar cars when he was a leading politician.
The Council does put forward some sensible suggestions such as that thresholds should be mandated for levels of long-term exposure to microwaves of the types emitted by mobile phones, that devices should clearly be labeled to show the incidence electromagnetic fields coming from them and list any health risks associated with their use. It also recommends boosting research into new antennae and mobile phone technologies.
That said, a blanket ban on the use of mobiles and other wireless devices within schools is both excessive and unnecessary and is a classic example using a sledgehammer to crack a nut. But, of course members of these councils do have to justify their sinecures from time to time and this is obviously another such occasion.
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