Progressive Librarians Guild Statement on WiFi in Libraries and the Precautionary Principle

June 16, 2008

Often unaware of the potential risks to both library staff and the public, libraries have adopted wireless technology as a means to bridge the Digital Divide and in order to fulfill their mission under the Library Bill of Rights.

Research on the health effects of wireless technologies (2.4GHz and 5.0GHz bands) and electromagnetic (microwave) radiation indicates wireless technology, among other effects, may cause immune dysfunction, increased risk of brain tumors and acoustic neuromas, childhood cancers, breast cancer, Alzheimer’s disease (European Environment Agency, Bioinitiative Working Group, 2007), and genotoxicity. Research also indicates that public health standards are inadequate in offering guidance on the use of wireless technologies in community spaces.

The Precautionary Principle can act as a policy guide in which to critically debate the risks and benefits of wireless technology. The European Environmental Agency, Bioinitiative Working Group and the International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety through the Benevento Resolution have called for the application of the Precautionary Principle in the use of wireless technology. In the United States, the Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle (1998) states

When an activity raises threats of harm to human health or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically...

Therefore, exposure to wireless technologies in the above bandwidths is a public health issue that library workers should address philosophically as a profession and directly in terms of daily library operations, programs, and services. European library workers have taken steps calling for such an examination based on the current research on health effects of wireless. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France has forgone installation of a public wireless system and the staff of the Sainte Geneviève Library (Paris V) has called for a discussion on wireless technology safety in university and public libraries based in part on the conclusions reached by the European Environmental Agency BioInitiative Working Group (2007,4, 26):

Although this RF target level does not preclude further rollout of WI-FI technologies, we also recommend that wired alternatives to WIFI be implemented, particularly in schools and libraries so that children are not subjected to elevated RF levels until more is understood about possible health impacts. This recommendation should be seen as an interim precautionary limit that is intended to guide preventative actions; and more conservative limits may be needed in the future.

Based on this information, Progressive Librarians Guild recommends that via their professional organizations, information workers address the risks of wireless technology in public spaces, take steps in learning about the risks of wireless in terms of exposure and impact on library services, monitor wireless technology in their facilities, critically evaluate and adopt alternatives to wireless technology especially in children's sections of libraries, create warning signage on risks of wifi throughout their libraries, and act as a community resource in the public education on wireless technologies.

Notes

1. Wireless-B, or “IEEE 802.11b” standard operates on the 2.4 GHz band.Wireless-G, or IEEE 802.11g, using the same frequency band, but capable of higher speeds. Wireless-A (IEEE 802.11a) uses the 5.0 GHz band, a higher data transfer. Wireless-N, using both 2.4 and 5.0 GHz bands, with proposed data transfer capability exceeding wired networks. See “Wireless Standards,” http://compnetworking.about.com/cs/wireless80211/a/aa80211standard.htm.

2. Genotoxic or genotoxicity: capable of causing damage to DNA. See Lai, below, a review of the literature on wireless and genotoxicity.

3. Benevento uses 0 to 300 GHz as a baseline for recommendations.

4. 2400 MHz mentioned in the Bibliothèque Nationale de France press release is synonymous with 2.4 GHz.

5. Inexpensive AC gauss meters which measure 1-5 GHz can be found on the Web at stores such as EMF Safety Superstore.

6. For example, one alternative is the Panasonic HD-PLC power line network adapter uses electrical wiring (power outlet) as a link between a PC and modem. The adaptor is available through amazon.com.

7. Thanks to Carolyn Raffensperger and Ted Schettler at the Science and Environmental Health Network, Rebekah Azen, SJSU SLIS students Abe Ignacio, and Milton John Kleim, Jr. for their comments.

References

American Library Association. Library Bill of Rights. 1948, 1996 (accessed May 29, 2008).

Anders Ahlbom, et al. “Epidemiology of Health Effects of Radiofrequency Exposure: CNIRP (International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.” Environmental Health Perspectives 112 no. 17(2004): 1741–1754 (accessed May 27, 2008).

Collaborative on Health and the Environment. Consensus Statement on Electromagnetic Radiation Draft, October 10, 2006 (accessed May 22, 2008).

Environmental Research Foundation. Precaution Reporter #67, December 6, 2006 (accessed May 22, 2008).

European Environmental Agency. “Radiation Risk from Everyday Devices Assessed.” September, 2007 (accessed June 1, 2008)

European Environmental Agency, BioInitiative Working Group. Bioinitiative: A Rationale for a Biologically-based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields (ELF and RF) August 31, 2007 (accessed May 22, 2008).

The French National Library Renounces WiFi,” Press Release, April 4, 2008. English | Francaise:La Bibliothèque Nationale renonce au Wi-Fi,”4 Avril 2008, (accessed May 27, 2008).

Harremoës, Poul, eds., et al. Late Lessons from Early Warnings: the Precautionary Principle 1896-2000. Environmental Issue Report No. 22, European Environment Agency, January 10, 2002 (accessed June 1, 2008).

IEEE. “Wireless Fidelity – WiFi” (accessed May 22, 2008).

International Commission for Electromagnetic Safety. Benevento Resolution, Benevento, Italy, on February 22, 23 & 24, 2006 (accessed May 22, 2008).

Labor Institute, NYC. Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs): A Training Workbook for Working People. New York: New York (State). Occupational Safety and Health Training and Education Program, 199?.

Lai, Henry. "Evidence for Genotoxic Effects – RFR and ELF DNA Damage." European Environmental Agency, BioInitiative Working Group. Bioinitiative: A Rationale for a Biologically-Based Public Exposure Standard for Electromagnetic Fields. August 31, 2007. Section 6, 1-43 (accessed May 22, 2008).

Lakehead University. “WiFi Policy.” January 1, 2004 (accessed May 22, 2008).

Lee, S. et al. "2.45 GHz Radiofrequency Fields Alter Gene Expression in Cultured Human Cells." FEBS Letters (Federation of European Biochemical Societies) 579 no. 21 (2005):4829-36.

Science and Environmental Health Network. The Precautionary Principle (accessed May 22, 2008).

Thatcher, Diana. "Librarians: Keep Public Library Wi-Fi Free." Sante Fe New Mexican June 8, 2008 (accessed June 8, 2008).

WEEP. “French Library Gives up WiFi.” April 7, 2008 (accessed May 22, 2008).

World Health Organization. Electromagnetic Fields and Public Health: Exposure to Extremely Low Frequency Fields. June, 2007 (accessed May 30, 2008).

Wingspread Consensus Statement on the Precautionary Principle, January 26, 1998 (accessed May 22, 2008).

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Update:

3/7/15: France bans WiFi in nursery schools.

5/31/2011: IARC classifies Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans.

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