Is WiFi technology potentially harmful to your health and the environment? It's a question as old as the technology itself but one nobody seems to be able to answer definitively. On each side of the aisle, though, there's enough evidence to support a "yes" or "no" answer.
It's time the industry demystify this issue. Although the controversy fades in and out depending on current market trends, it will not completely go away until the mystery surrounding WiFi technology is finally tackled head-on by everyone involved. Companies that develop and market products embedded with WiFi technology should take the lead on this and inform consumers on their findings.
Recent developments here in Europe show why an Ostrich-like stick-the-head-in-the-sand approach won't work. Researchers used to focus on the potential impact of WiFi on humans, but more work is being done on how the technology may also affect our environment.
The latest WiFi conflagration ignited in the small Dutch city of Alphen aan den Rijn after township officials, worried about the health of some 36,000 trees, asked scientists to conduct an investigation into the potential impact of WiFi on the environment. The city asked for the study after discovering that 70 percent of its trees were exhibiting signs of abnormalities, such as "nodes or bark degeneration," according to a report.
Professor Andre van Lammeren, an associate professor of plant cell biology at Wageningen University in the Netherlands took the offer and conducted small-scale, controlled research that seemed to back up the theory that WiFi transmissions can hurt trees.
Although Professor van Lammeren admitted his study was inconclusive, it still generated outrage in some quarters and was seized upon by many who believed WiFi transmissions could hurt the environment. For the Green movement, the almost deafening silence on the report from high-tech companies was another call to action. If the industry is not actively responding and showing its own evidence that WiFi is safe, it must be because the market is hiding something from the public. Is it?
I don't believe so, but a better campaign to provide additional evidence on the issue is required. The Wi–Fi Alliance has tried to champion the issue and has rejected the idea that the technology is dangerous to consumers.
I am not an alarmist, but technology products have permeated every segment of our society, and we should know how they affect our environment. WiFi, for instance is now being used in schools, hospitals, homes, and everywhere people and companies can leverage the lower cost options it offers.
Some scientists disagreed with van Lammeren's findings, and the researcher has himself cautioned against drawing any conclusions from his study. Opponents said there was not enough scientific evidence to substantiate the research findings, but there have not been enough scientific findings to disprove the concerns raised.
I would like the industry to look more closely at studies like this and show evidence regularly about the safety of the technology. We should also not hesitate to conduct rolling studies on technologies currently in the marketplace to determine how these affect people, animals, and the environment.
If the evidence points to low, limited, or no risks at all, we can all sleep better. If it shows high-level impact, then steps must be taken to moderate usage and advise consumers on best practices to limit or eliminate the negative impact. At the extreme end, technologies that research evidence indicates are quite dangerous to people and our environment should not be deployed or its use extremely limited. High-tech manufacturers owe this much to their societies, consumers, and shareholders.
Whether substantiated or not, reports similar to the one from the Dutch city of Alphen aan den Rijn raise an awareness that should not be ignored or blindly swept aside. For me, the controversy surrounding WiFi safety raises another troubling question: How safely can technology and living things coexist? It's a question we'll still be asking decades from now, but to some extent we do deserve answers as new technological developments are added to the ones we have today.
The consumers want more, not less, transparency.