Second Ont. school shuts down WiFi over safety concerns

The debate over the safety of public WiFi has been reignited as two Ontario schools elect to shut down their WiFi networks.

Wayside Academy in Peterborough, Ontario has followed the lead of Pretty River Academy in Collingwood amid concerns from parents about how safe WiFi networks really are.

"We had a number of parents approach us within our school and they had some concerns about the health risks around WiFi," said Adam Parker, principal of Wayside Academy, in a story. "We already had a no electronic policy in our school for our students so we went on step farther and air on the side of caution (sic)."

Roberta Murray-Hirst, principal at Pretty River Academy who first took the step to remove WiFi, says that she took the precaution for the same reason Wayside Academy did:

"We like to be proactive and obviously safety is a concern," said Murray-Hirst in a CTV story.

While Wayside Academy and Pretty River Academy are both private schools, with about 60 and 150 students respectively, larger schools are concerned about the effect WiFi can have on students, too.

Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont. had a long-standing WiFi ban that was only reversed last year, after a campus survey found overwhelming support for the service. One group of students marked the momentous change with a short YouTube video, complete with tinfoil hats.

Despite the proactive attitude of Wayside, Pretty River and Lakehead, the actual health risk that WiFi poses is still up for debate. In 2006, the World Health Organization released a fact sheet stating the only effect they had found as a result of exposure to radio frequency (RF) signals was an increase in body temperature by less than a degree. According to a CTV story, a statement from the WHO in May 2011 suggested RF signal radiation has a similar health effect to DDT, lead and car exhaust. Ultimately, though, they still suggest it is safe but requires further study.

In Ontario, the final decision on WiFi isn't much clearer. Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Arlene King, says that wireless internet technology isn't a threat to children in schools, according to a CBC story.

Instead, Dr. King recommends that parents and WiFi users look carefully at where literature is coming from and to trust information from well-recognized organizations, like the WHO.

(Reuters Photo)