The Department of Health appears to have been wrong-footed by an MP who called for an investigation into whether Wi-Fi networks pose a danger to health.
Dr Ian Gibson, former chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee, last week called for the Department of Health to set up an inquiry into the apparent dangers of Wi-Fi communications. He said that the threat should be seriously examined and that another inquiry should be carried out like the Stewart report into mobile phone radiation.
The Department of Health has been unable to confirm whether it is taking Gibson's claims seriously, or whether it will launch an inquiry. Calls to the Department from ZDNet UK have been met with no clear response this week.
Gibson spoke out after two schools banned wireless networks from their premises over health fears. Of the two schools, the most notable case was a classics teacher at the prestigious Stowe School in Buckinghamshire who said he had suffered "sudden flushes, pressure behind the eyes and burning sensations", from his school's Wi-Fi network.
These reports sparked a stream of comments on ZDNet's UK's news blog. Most comments on the blog dismissed the concerns as overly dramatic, although one reader claimed that research had found Wi-Fi radiation affecting animals in lab tests.
The original Stewart Report of 2000 found no evidence that mobile phone use caused damage to health, but recommended a precautionary approach. Compared to mobile phone networks, Wi-Fi networks use much less power and operate at frequencies less able to penetrate the human body, two factors that reduce the likelihood of health effects on current evidence.
"Any new technology will always be subjected to criticism as being dangerous initially. There is currently no conclusive evidence that Wi-Fi is a cause for health concerns. It seems to me quite dramatic to suddenly ban Wi-Fi," commented Carsten Sorensen, senior lecturer in Information Systems at London School of Economics. But Sorensen cautioned that the IT industry must not ignore the opinions of health experts. "It is not possible to avoid engaging in a sensible debate on these issues across the barrier between medical and IT professionals," he added.
One Wi-Fi operator, The Cloud, was immediately sceptical and laughed off Gibson's concerns.
Gibson is a former Dean in Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, and is now one of the city's two MPs. Norwich has become the first city in the country to deploy a free public Wi-Fi network across its city centre.