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Using Wi-Fi has Cost Me My Life
Sunday Express (UK), August 5, 2007 (pp 50-51)

With teacher’s chiefs urging the Government to suspend the use of Wi-Fi networks in the classroom until their safety has been definitely confirmed, Joani Walsh reports on the symptoms of electro sensitivity and talks to the victims who say that their lives have been devastated by the effects of wireless technology.

Case Study

FAISAL KHAWAJA, 28, above, trained in photography and had been assisting a professional advertising photographer -working for clients such as Mercedes, BT and Starbucks -for only a year when he says he began to feel ill using mobiles and wireless laptops.

MY JOB was to keep everyone happy so I spent hours on my mobile, liaising between equipment suppliers, ordering props, talking to clients. After a year in the job, I began to get headaches on the side of my head where I'd use the mobile, along with a feeling of pressure inside my ears when I was on the phone. They even began to ooze clear liquid.

At first the problem would last for minutes, then hours, then days. And then I started developing symptoms when I used cordless land lines, too. I developed a red rash on my cheeks and nose, my face seemed hot and prickly, my head felt foggy and I was no longer able to focus. I couldn't form sentences and my jaw would feel locked, as if I was talking through sand.

The flashlights we used in the studio began to have the same effect and then the digital cameras. When I couldn't even use a laptop any more -essential for storing and transmitting photography - because my fingers used to burn when I touched the keypad, I had to resign. I lost everything I'd trained for.

I've had to move gradually farther and farther out of London and into the countryside the more masts and wi-fi networks have increased - if my neighbor goes wireless, I have to find somewhere else to live.

I've ended up in a house in the Cotswolds with no neighbors for 50 yards in any direction. I've been lucky in that my girlfriend, Laura, 29, has moved with me and has even retrained as an upholsterer as I'm trying to make a living as an artist so that we don't have to rely on technology for work. We've had to start all over again.

Michael Bevington knows exactly what it’s like to feel allergic to modern life.

Head of classics at Stowe public school in Buckingham, the father of three became so ill after the school installed wi-fi in his classroom last year that, within a week, he was ready to give up a early 30 year career rather than risk his health by continuing to work with what he believed to be the cause of the symptoms. “I immediately began suffering from headaches, heart palpitations, nausea and pains all over my body whenever I was in the classroom after Wi-Fi was installed,” Michael says. “And yet they eased when I left the classroom and dissipated completely at weekends.”

Michael , who is in his early 50s, checked on the internet for other people reporting headaches connected to Wi-Fi and was astonished to find hundreds of cases across the world of people claiming to suffer exactly the same symptoms and believing they were caused by mobile phones, mobile phone masts and Wi-Fi technology that allows computers to connect to the internet wirelessly. It is a phenomenon that has become known as electro sensitivity.

“I was shocked,” he says. “There are so many people suffering, surely we cannot deny there might be a problem with this technology.”

Michael’s situation has improved since his head teacher agreed to remove the Wi-Fi from the classroom but his concerns about the effects of its use in schools remain and were made public last week through his union, the Professional Association of Teachers. At its annual conference, general secretary Philip Parkin called for a full scientific inquiry and proposed that schools should be discouraged from installing further networks until the results are known. Until then, Mr Parkin said, his real concern “is that the nation’s children are being treated as guinea pigs in a large scale experiment.” he added: “I have never before been involved in a debate which provokes such polarization of opinion and such venom in some participants.”

Mr Parkin is primarily concerned with the impact of Wi-Fi on children, whose developing bodies and nervous systems are seen to be more susceptible to the effects of electromagnetic fields and microwave radiation. – both of which are present in the mobile phone and Wi-Fi technology.

But the polarization to which he refers is being sharply felt by adults such as Michael, who believe they are electro sensitive. And it was felt most pointedly the week before Mr Parkin’s speech when the results were published of a study by the University of Essex investigating whether short-term exposure to mobile masts increased symptoms in people who believe they are electro sensitive. According to the results, it did not.

One of the psychologists involved in the study, professor Elain Fox, was reported as saying: “We do know there is a very large literature showing that the placebo effect – the power of belief – is very powerful,” and adding that she is “pretty confident that it is not the electromagnetic field causing these systems.”

These results are disputed by sufferers of and experts in electro sensitivity, who point to the 12 "self-reported sensitive" who withdrew from the study, some of them complaining of such an escalation in symptoms as a result of the exposure required of the study, they were physically unable to continue.

One of those "self-reported sensitive" who withdrew was businessman Brian Stein, claiming he suffered a repeat of the internal bleeding he says he experiences whenever he is exposed to mobile phone masts or, indeed, Wi-Fi.

Mr Stein, head of a multi-million-pound food manufacturing company that supplies supermarket giants including M&S and Tesco and who lives in Nottingham, asks: "How can this be psychosomatic? Maybe my gut is in league with my brain in deluding me." Mr Stein says he has undergone internal investigation but that doctors have been unable to find a cause of the bleeding. He is angry that, having risked his health to participate in the study, his apparent adverse reaction to the mobile phone mast signals to which he was exposed ended up discounting him from the results. "It's a joke," he says.

FOR all his money, Mr Stein can't watch his favorite football team, Liverpool, on TV drive a car, travel on an electric train or stay in a hotel with Wi-Fi.

Dr Michael Clark, of the Health Protection Agency (HPA), an independent body set up to protect Britons' health, is in some agreement with Professor Fox, saying: "If you think something will harm you, you get real symptoms."

Alasdair Philips is director of Powerwatch - which he describes as "trying to be an independent advisory group on the effects of electromagnetic fields" - and of EMF fields, a company that supplies measuring instruments and screening materials mainly used by people who believe they may be electro sensitive.

'Sometimes people have so many triggers they only have to see a mast, for example to feel ill'

HE SAYS: There are people who think they are electro sensitive and believe they are being zapped by everything and everybody. And there are people who feel grotty and are looking for something to blame.
But there are also people who are genuinely electro sensitive. Sometimes they have so many triggers - mobile phones, cordless phones, mobile phone masts, microwaves, wireless computers - they only have to see a mast, for example, to feel ill. But that doesn't mean all of their symptoms are in the mind." Mr Philips is a member of the Department of Health's UK SAGE EMF Advisory Group, the Mobile Operators' Association Stakeholder Group and Sir William Stewart's HPA EMF Discussion Group looking at advice to be given to the general public on electromagnetic fields (EMF).

When it comes to the official advice on Wi-Fi, Sir William, who is head of the HPA, is reported as saying it would be "timely to carry out further studies as this new technology is rolled out".

"It is emerging technology," says Dr Clark, "and there is a need for more information, particularly on the levels of exposure there may be in the classroom from a Wi-Fi system."

However he adds: "On the basis of the studies so far carried out in-house, the agency sees no reason why Wi-Fi should not continue to be used in schools."

But, as Philip Parkin of PAT says: "I'm not saying there is a problem with wi-fi in schools, I'm saying we don't know there isn't."

Both Mr Parkin and Mr Philips, remain hugely concerned about the lack of information and research on Wi-Fi in schools and urge them to stop using it.

"Absolutely no work has been done on Wi-Fi specifically and its effects on children," says Mr Philips, "and until there is, schools should go back to plugging in computers."

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