WiFi worries scare off Londoners

Fears about ill-effects from using wireless internet technology have prompted an unprecedented number of Londoners to dismantle their systems.

A City-wide computer call-out service yesterday reported that almost half of its recent enquiries were from people wanting WiFi removed.

The news comes after a televised probe by the BBC found WiFi frequency radiation levels in some schools emit three times the intensity found in the main beam of mobile phone masts.

The findings, from the broadcaster's Panorama programme, have since been disputed by leading scientists, who claim BBC journalists failed to employ a sound methodology.

Yet for the chairman of the Health Protection Agency, which reports of'no consistent evidence' of health risks to WiFi users, the Beeb's findings are grounds for closer scrutiny.

Sir William Stewart, a senior advisor to the government, said: "I believe that there is a need for a review of the WiFi and other areas... I think it's timely for it to be done now."

Scientists generally agree that WiFi should be safer than mobile phone radiation because WiFi devices transmit over shorter distances, and so can operate at lower power.

A survey cited by the World Health Organisation shows the RF exposures from base stations range from 0.002% to 2% of the levels of international exposure guidelines, depending on factors such as the proximity to the antenna and the surrounding area.

This is lower or comparable to RF exposures from radio or television broadcast transmitters.

However the consensus that WiFi ought to be safer than mobile phone radiation is based only on "current knowledge," the HPA said.

The caution comes as an aggressive roll-out of the technology continues nationwide: in London, the fear of what the WHO calls 'unknown hazards' has compelled users to act.

" I have never seen such a reaction," a spokesman for Scooter Computer, a PC repair service, told the Evening Standard yesterday.

"More than 40 per cent of enquiries from hundreds of customers in the last three days were from people worried about WiFi."

Speaking before the BBC probe, the World Health Organisation cited "media announcements" about WiFi as adding to a "perception" of "undiscovered hazards."

But it reassured: "Considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak radio frequency signals from base stations and wireless networks cause adverse health effects."

And the Health Protection Agency has braved a wider endorsement:" There is no consistent evidence of health effects from radio frequency exposures below guideline levels and therefore no reason why schools and others should not use WiFi equipment."

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