Mark Bridge writes:
Europe’s leaders want mobile phones and WiFi networks banned in schools. Well, that’s what the headlines appear to say.
Except - as often seems to be the case with most mobile phone health warnings - things aren’t that simple. So let’s start at the beginning.
The Council of Europe has been around for over 60 years. It has 47 member countries and is concerned with democratic principles, from human rights to safer medicines. It’s probably best known for being the organisation behind the European Court of Human Rights. However, as an organisation, it can only advise and doesn’t make laws. It’s not the European Union, it’s not the European Parliament and (despite the similar name) it’s not the European Council.
Having said that, its opinions tend to be listened to by European legislators. You’ll often find references to PACE - the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe - in EU and EC documents.
Right, so that’s the CoE. Now to those headlines.
The CoE’s Committee on the Environment, Agriculture and Local and Regional Affairs has recently published a report entitled The potential dangers of electromagnetic fields and their effect on the environment. In that report (which is dated 6th May but has only been picked up by the media in the past few days) the committee proposes a draft resolution that recommends taking “all reasonable measures to reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields, especially to radio frequencies from mobile phones, and particularly the exposure to children and young people”. It goes on to propose banning “all mobile phones, DECT phones or WiFi or WLAN systems from classrooms and schools” and also anticipates legislation to “to keep high-voltage power lines and other electric installations at a safe distance from dwellings”. It wants to act in this way because “waiting for high levels of scientific and clinical proof can lead to very high health and economic costs”.
From one perspective this sounds like “shoot first, ask questions after”. From another, it’s designed to protect us from an unknown and as-yet-unproven danger. Others would suggest there’s no evidence any kind of action is needed.
However, before we start writing headlines about bans, let’s consider what this document is. It’s a report that is being passed to the Parliamentary Assembly for approval… or otherwise. At this stage, it doesn’t represent the views of the Council of Europe. And even if it did, the European Commission has already made its own somewhat less-controversial views about electromagnetic radiation perfectly clear.
If the Council of Europe makes any recommendations about mobile phones, WiFi and health, we ought to pay attention.
Until then, let’s not get too carried away.