Reality Check: No, your Wi-Fi isn’t dangerous

Worried that Wi-Fi might be damaging your health? Well, you shouldn't be - and here's why

James Billington
18 Jul 2015

There’s no need to run in fear from the Wi-Fi router lurking in the corner or wear a tin-foil hat every time you use Google. Let’s put this one to bed: Wi-Fi isn’t going to cause you any harm.

There are scores of scaremongering articles on the internet warning people of the hidden dangers of Wi-Fi; that the radiation emitted from routers has caused people headaches and insomnia, and is potent enough to kill plants. However, you’ll find none of these articles have any credible scientific evidence. Most are shamelessly jumping on the bandwagon and speculating over health risks in order to peddle anti-radiation products. There are several hard facts to prove that Wi-Fi is harmless, so let us put your worries to rest.

The short answer to whether Wi-Fi is dangerous: no, it isn't. The explanation as to why is simple, but a bit longer.

The wrong kind of radiation

Fears surrounding Wi-Fi signal start when you mention the word radiation. Thanks largely to nuclear weapons, radiation conjures up images of deadly, invisible waves, with the power to turn us into mutants. While it’s true a Wi-Fi router does emit radiation, it’s within the radio-frequency (RF) band – a low-energy, non-ionising, non-harmful type. Science has proven it to be far, far too weak to give you any kind of radiation poisoning.

There are two kinds of radiation: ionising and non-ionising. Ionising radiation is the kind we (and comic-book writers) know all about. Nuclear reactors and X-rays produce ionising radiation and have the energy to penetrate our cells and change DNA composition – something that causes cancer.

But non-ionising radiation doesn’t. The likes of Wi-Fi, radar and Bluetooth are all forms of non-ionising radiation; there’s even non-ionising radiation being beamed onto us from cosmic rays on a constant basis, but these don’t cause us to sprout extra limbs or panic every time we leave the house. The truth is that the sun has far more radiation than a Wi-Fi router, yet we don’t run for cover every time we step out of the shadows.

Non-ionising radiation can harm you: as Cancer Research points out, ultraviolet light from the sun or sunbeds can, with overexposure, cause skin cancer. But Wi-Fi is in a totally different level; it’s like comparing the power of a sports car to that of a Tonka toy.

Wi-Fi isn’t as strong as a microwave

The fact that Wi-Fi signals operate on the same frequency as a microwave (2.4GHz) doesn’t help alleviate concern. Sure, microwaves have had their fair share of scientific scrutiny – all of which has yet to prove there is a link between use and cancer. But despite being on the same frequency, a Wi-Fi signal is around 100,000 times less intense than that of a microwave, scattering its signals in all directions over longer distances. The signal strength of Wi-Fi diminishes from the source very quickly. It follows the inverse-square law: so the further you are from the router, the less powerful its signal.

The World Health Organization explains that radio-frequency exposures in wireless technologies are thousands of times below international standards of safety. The only recorded case of RF exposure causing any health impact at all was a slightly raised body temperature – and this was at an industrial facility where very intense high-field RF was present. Think of radiation like a laser: light by itself is perfectly harmless, but amplify it into the concentrated beam of a laser and it can cut through metal. It’s all about quantity and concentration.

Any product that slings radio signals through the air such as mobile phones, baby monitors or Bluetooth headsets can have even rational people fretting like they’re head-deep in Chernobyl fallout. In reality there’s as much radiation as that coming from your television, radio or wireless doorbell.

One newspaper article reported on an experiment conducted by Danish students, where trays of growing cress died when placed next to a Wi-Fi router. The implication was that wireless signals could be more harmful to us than we think – but critics rightly smashed holes in the findings.

First, we have to remember that this experiment was done by school students, not qualified scientists, and the control environment would be far from high-tech lab standards. The overriding consensus is that the heat from the router is the likely culprit, simply drying out the seedlings and turning the cress brown. Despite a thumbs-up from the WHO and scientists, there continues to be a witch-hunt about the “harmful” effects of Wi-Fi. Stories like this 'cress incident' sensationalise the results and perpetuate the myth. Don’t believe the hype, people. You can take your router out of the cupboard, you can surf the web without worry, your Wi-Fi is harmless to your health.

Unless, that is, you’re using it to watch an excessive number of cat videos – and that’s another problem altogether.

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