Last month in Washington state, local residents protested the installation of smart meters on the grounds that the devices’ wireless signals could pose a health threat. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, parents’ health concerns about wireless internet (wifi) in schools prompted a government field test.
This is a growing trend. Small groups have protested the roll-out of smart meters in at least 17 states, and there are at least 30 international support groups for those who believe they suffer health effects from them and other devices. In West Virginia, there’s even a small community who’ve fled to a radiation-free zone to avoid the effects of wifi and cell phones.
Why people are freaking out about wireless devices
The worries are driven by belief that in some people, the invisible waves of electromagnetic radiation emitted by our modern devices can cause all sorts of immediate health effects, like headaches, dizziness, and chest pains. This is most commonly referred to as electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
(By the way, this is distinct from the worry that cell phones can cause long-term problems like cancer — which, according to our best data, is unlikely.)
But here’s the thing: no matter how reasonable the idea might seem, scientists have tested it for decades, and have found no evidence that the radiation produced by cell phones, wifi, or smart meters actually makes people sick.
“The question is relatively easy to address with experiments,” says James Rubin, a psychologist who’s tested the idea, “and the evidence says that EMF [electromagnetic frequencies] don’t cause symptoms.”
Clinical trials show wifi won’t make people sick
The most common way of testing whether electromagnetic signals cause health problems is pretty straightforward: Researchers put a purported sufferer in a room and secretly turn on and off a device that generates an electromagnetic field (say, a cell phone). The participant is then asked to identify when the symptoms surface. If the participant is correct more often then chance would dictate, that could suggest a link between the radiation and immediate health effects.
The dozens of these studies that have been conducted have uncovered zero people who can report symptoms reliably over time.