Health concerns over Wi-Fi technology exposure in schools

FOX 5's Laura Evans reports.

- When it comes to school, many parents consider it a second home for their kids and when the students go to their classroom, parents expect a safe environment.

But some believe their schools are not doing everything they can to keep their kids safe and it could lead to serious health consequences.

Today's technology is taking kids on a virtual trip to the moon and a myriad of other places in the universe. Montgomery County Public Schools is the first school system in our area to partner with Google to offer the Expeditions Pioneer Program. Smartphones inside cardboard boxes are helping take the kids to the location virtually.

“The first I heard of Google Expeditions is when my 9-year-old came home and told me about the exciting field trip she took in the all-purpose room,” said Laura Simon.

But she questioned the safety of the kids putting smartphones to their heads and next to their eyes.

“The kids were complaining of headaches, nausea and dizziness and they had eye strain, and there was a Google rep there that just said, ‘Just take a few minutes. This is normal,” Simon said.

Simon is a member of a parent organization called Safe Tech for Schools Maryland. The group is fighting for the safe use of technology in the classroom.

It's not just Google’s Expeditions Pioneer Program that has them concerned. It is the whole technology program in the Montgomery County school system.

Montgomery County Public Schools recently purchased 40,000 laptops and Chromebooks for student from third grade to high school. They upgraded the Wi-Fi by installing routers or access points – some right in the middle of the classroom ceiling over student desks emitting radio frequencies all day long.

Lisa Cline's 8-year-old son has his own school-issued Chromebook.

“I’m concerned that he is getting exposed to radiation, even low levels, without my consent, but mostly without knowing what it's going to do to him long-term,” she said.

Neither Cline nor the rest of the parent organization is asking to get rid of the technology. They simply want it used safely.

“This is a health issue, and at MCPS, it's being treated like a technology issue,” said Cline.

“They need to teach students how to use their devices safely and there should not be wireless in the schools,” said Theodora Scarato of Safe Tech for Schools Maryland.

Sherwin Colette, the chief technology officer for MCPS, declined an interview with FOX 5. But in a Board of Education meeting last September, he said reducing Wi-Fi in his school system makes no sense.

“We cannot live by a precautionary principle on this count that says, ‘Ooh, because we may not know something, we must do nothing and we would hardwire all devices.’ It makes no sense,” said Colette at the September meeting.

“I think that the Montgomery County schools are misinformed and they are making a huge mistake that is compromising the health and safety of the students and the teachers,” said Dr. Devra Davis.

She is an expert on bioelectric magnetics and the founder of the Environmental Health Trust, a non-profit working to protect kindergarten and middle school children from health risks of cellphones and Wi-Fi systems. She has done more than 200 studies on the subject and said even relatively low exposure can interrupt normal brain or reproductive development in a child.

“We think that this is going to be related to leukemia and possibly lymphoma later on as well,” said Dr. Davis. “The question is do you want to experiment on your children?”

In 2011, the World Health Organization classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, including Wi-Fi and cell phone signals, as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

Some scientists said radiofrequency waves don't cause cancer. But more and more experts in the field are coming forward expressing concern.

The American Academy of Pediatrics along with the Government Accountability Office are urging the FCC to adopt up-to-date radiation standards. The current standards are 20 years old and don't account for a child's use.

More than a dozen scientists and pediatric neurology experts from Harvard to the California Brain Tumor Association have written letters to MCPS, joining the parent organization in urging the school system switch to wired technology.

“To hear people – oncologists and epidemiologists – saying I don't know about this stuff, that's good enough for me,” said Cline. “I don't want my child to be the guinea pig in that experiment.”

We reached out to the FCC with questions and they also declined our request for an interview. But they released this statement saying:

"The U.S. has among the most conservative standards in the world. As part of our routine review of these standards, we are soliciting input from multiple stakeholder experts, including federal health agencies and others, to guide our assessment."

Russia, Italy, France, Switzerland, China and Belgium are among more than 20 countries have enacted policies to reduce Wi-Fi exposure in schools.

There are communities here in the U.S. that are also taking action to reduce or even ban Wi-Fi exposure.

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