24 September 2008



Story Image

Adults may be safe, but what are the effects on youngsters exposed to radiation?

Tuesday September 16,2008

WITH wireless internet and mobile phones now in constant use in our schools and homes, TESSA THOMAS asks if youngsters are being exposed to hazardously high levels of radiation.

When Leah Homan is anywhere near a phone mast, her body alerts her – even before the mast comes into view.

“I get a sort of tingling and dizziness and sometimes a headache and then I know there’s one not far away.”

Leah, 12, is sensitive to the radiation from masts and other mobile telecommunications equipment. When she was two, a tumour was found around one of her kidneys. Fortunately it was discovered in time and removed.

Her mother Jackie feared that a phone mast close to their home in Sefton, Liverpool, may have been to blame, although this cannot be proven.

Even though Leah made a full recovery, as a toddler she was restless and later had difficulty sleeping and concentrating at primary school, where she needed extra help to compensate for her attention problems.

She still suffers intermittent insomnia, brain fog, headaches and the familiar tingling, which is worse when she’s near a computer and the wireless router is on.

In a world where most people are now close to a mobile mast or wi-fi network and live normal lives, such a reaction seems surprising. But more children are becoming sensitive to electromagnetic emissions from telecoms equipment.

And the number is set to increase inexorably, says pathologist Dr George Carlo of the Science and Public Policy Institute in Washington, who spoke at a recent Radiation Research Trust conference

Information carrying radio waves are everywhere – from wireless computers, cordless phones, mobile phones and masts. At least half of all primary schools and three-quarters of secondary schools in the UK now have wi-fi.

According to Dr Carlo, mobile telecommunications were launched without enough research to assess the risks to health and with little awareness of the extent to which children would be using the technology.

There are guidelines for safe exposure to emissions, implemented in the UK through the Health Protection Agency (HPA), but there are several problems. First, they take into account only the risk of damage caused by the body being heated up by the emissions. By contrast, the effects may be deep inside the tissue and cannot be felt.

Second, their upper “safe” limit is considerably higher than that in several other countries – 10 times as high as in Russia.

Also, the limits were based on the effect on a healthy adult of a half-hour exposure. Children not only spend much longer than anyone anticipated in front of laptops or with a mobile glued to their ear but have a different biological make-up that makes them more vulnerable.

“They have thinner skulls so the radio waves can penetrate more readily,” explains Dr Carlo. “A greater percentage of their bodies are water and they have a higher proportion of ions in their interstitial fluids, both of which increase absorption of radio waves. Also, their cells are dividing, making them more vulnerable to genetic damage.”

Symptoms include fatigue, sleep problems, tingling, neck pain, dizziness, headaches and nausea. Sceptics say there is no proof and these complaints could have many causes.

One study, reported in the British Medical Journal in 2006, concluded that electromagnetic sensitivity could be psychological. James Rubin and his team at the Institute of Psychiatry found that when people who said they were sensitive to radio waves were tested with real or sham waves, they were as likely to say that the dummy waves caused a headache.

“It doesn’t mean that their headaches were any less real but it did mean that they weren’t directly connected with the assumed cause,” says Rubin.

However, it is worth noting that the study was partly funded by mobile phone companies. A lot of the other symptoms of electromagnetic sensitivity – digestive problems, depression, memory loss – have a compound effect. This means that the longer the exposure goes on, the worse the problems are likely to get. “No one has any idea what chronic long-term exposure will do to children,” says Dr Carlo.

Some schools have decided against taking any risk and removed their wireless networks. The head of Ballinderry Primary School in Lisburn, Northern Ireland, Ian Thomson, announced recently that “the advantages of wi-fi seemed to be outweighed by the risks”, so he discontinued it.

What is worrying, says Dr Michael Kundi, head of environmental health at Vienna University, is that while children are more vulnerable than adults, there is no official threshold for emissions indoors – which is where youngsters are most often in the line of fire.

“Wi-fi may be limited in its power but that doesn’t mean it is safe for children. We have no evidence of that yet,” he says, adding that there are ways to configure networks in the classroom to limit emissions but few teachers know about them.

Although other countries – including Israel and Italy – are adopting lower exposure limits, the HPA says there is still insufficient evidence to issue separate guidelines for children.

23 September 2008

McGuinty faces major challenges: Star editorial

The Ontario Legislature resumes sitting today after a three-month recess. In the coming days, its order paper will be filled with earnest legislation like amendments to the Mining Act (to give First Nations more of a say in prospecting and mining on their traditional lands), a measure to limit toxic emissions by industries, and a ban on the use of hand-held cellphones by motorists.

There will also be an economic statement, likely in November, with some short-term fixes for the ailing provincial economy.

And in the daily question period in the Legislature, Premier Dalton McGuinty's government will come under attack for not doing enough to address the economic slump.

But McGuinty should be able to withstand the barrage, given the weakened state of the opposition, with one lame-duck leader (the NDP's Howard Hampton, who is stepping down next year) and the other on probation (the PC's John Tory, who was given a tepid endorsement by his party earlier this year).

Behind the scenes, however, McGuinty will be wrestling with two enormous decisions that will shape the province's future.

The first is whether to keep the budget balanced or to let it slide into deficit if, as expected, the current economic slump continues and significantly erodes the provincial revenue base.

The second is what kind of reactor to choose to replace the aging nuclear power plants at Pickering and Darlington.

On the deficit, even bank economists have said that, given the circumstances, it ought to be under consideration. But so far McGuinty has stuck doggedly to the goal of a balanced budget.

"Obviously if we anticipate that our revenues are going to slow down, as I've said many times in the past, we're going to have to do in government what families do at home," said McGuinty last week. "You've got to make some adjustments and you've got to make sure you're focusing on your priorities."

Thus, with one eye on the fiscal storm clouds, McGuinty has sought to dampen expectations of government assistance. He told municipalities last month not to expect instant relief from the downloading of provincial services onto their plates. And last week he suggested the timetable for his promise to reduce poverty will have to be stretched out.

So no new spending initiatives. But even existing spending – on schools, hospitals, roads, transit, courts, jails and so on – will come under pressure if the recession deepens and the treasury is further squeezed. It remains to be seen whether McGuinty's commitment to a balanced budget is sustainable in that circumstance.

As for the decision on a new nuclear reactor, in hot competition for the multi-billion-dollar contract are: Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), the homegrown company whose design is now in place in the province's power plants; French-owned Areva; and U.S.-based Westinghouse.

The McGuinty government would like to give the nod to AECL, which is owned by the federal government. But Ontario wants Ottawa to back up any sale with guarantees to cover cost overruns. So far, those guarantees have not been forthcoming, as Stephen Harper's government has wrestled with its own decision whether to keep AECL or sell it.

Both these decisions are due to be made next spring (the deficit in the annual provincial budget, the reactor likely in a separate announcement). The behind-the-scenes struggles that precede the decisions will be more ferocious – and hugely more significant – than the daily battles on the floor of the Legislature between the government and the opposition parties.


Major Challenge is getting rid of McGuinty

At what point will Ontarions ever get choices for good government? The current system is only about getting votes and not doing anything that benefits us. Mr. McGuinty was a reckless promiser in opposition and his party had even tried to get rid of him. He has been elected by playing the game (twice now) with no real strategic plan. You got wonder at a guy who now wants to use a web based petition when many such as tax payers association, support for parents of autistic children and even the small business association have used similar tactics with him with absolutely zero positive results. Can you say PR?

Posted by Ignorance is Bliss

don't bite the hand...

McGuinty never thought about how he's going to pay for all his massive increases in civil servants and their salaries. A strong public sector always requires a strong private sector. Someone has to pay the bills.

Posted by scamper

Grow up and govern

Have you received your property assessment yet? Lets see some real leadership and halt this annual insanity courtesy of MPAC. Mr. McGuinty road the coattails of fear in the '07 election on the religious schooling issue. It was a non starter. Mr. Tory could have OVERNIGHT turned this entire platform 180 degrees by promising a total revamp of this insane, bully pulpit tax grab. He didn't. Where were the NDP and Howard Hampton? If they raised this issue , they allowed it to be muted. The middle class is being fleeced and all the while wooed with empty promises in this campaign. WAKE UP

Posted by Steve Canyon


Sure, lets bring more competition to the provision of hydro power. Remember when Mr. Eaves let the rates for electricity float after full deregulation, and everyone hand to pay market price? The government had to step in again to prevent the public outcry from becoming riots in the streets. If we are already so incensed by the collusion of the oil conglomerates, how will it be when the electricity generators and distributors do the same thing? But by all means, Mr. Jones, lets have more competition.

Posted by sobersecondthought

Econimic denials and foolishness

McGullible was too busy boasting of irrelevant issues like banning smoking and pitbulls - the real easy stuff - how proactive. Mr Flaherty urged McG to start cutting taxes across the board, including the health tax. Instead, McG sulked and felt he was victimised - now, Ontario is in a recession and all he can do is give the doctors a big raise and shuffle the cabinet - liberals are all alike - why face reality when you can blame your foolhardyness on someone else.

Posted by freebel

Cost Over Runs

Let's end the old boys club once and for all. Ontario is shy on competition: there's very very little in hydro and very very very very little in education. This results in complacency, lack of accountability, mediocrity, and inefficiency. As Bob Rae said, " We can do better" Ontario would thrive with an injection of competition into it's highly protected socialized public work force.

Posted by Templeton Jones

No Short Term Fixes

The crisis in manufacturing has been brewing for a long time. Expect to see many more small companies in Ontario close. In the globalized economy, consolidation is a critical trend. Mass is king. Our cpompanies are typically one tenth the size of American companies. Guess who closes first when the market contracts?

Posted by Herschell Hollywood