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Canada Education Networking Wireless Networking

'Wi-Fi Illness' Spreads To Ontario Public Schools 663

An anonymous reader writes "Readers of Slashdot might be familiar with Lakehead University's ban on WiFi routers a few years ago in Thunder Bay, Ontario because of 'health concerns,' a policy apparently still in effect. Now it seems a group of concerned parents in a number of communities in Ontario have petitioned the local school boards over similar concerns at public schools, where their kids are apparently experiencing 'headaches to dizziness and nausea and even racing heart rates' — symptoms that appear only when they are in school on weekdays, not on weekends at home. 'The symptoms, which also include memory loss, trouble concentrating, skin rashes, hyperactivity, night sweats and insomnia, have been reported in 14 Ontario schools in Barrie, Bradford, Collingwood, Orillia and Wasaga Beach since the board decided to go wireless ...' Besides Wi-Fi signals, could there possibly be any other logical explanation for kids having more symptoms of illness on school days than at home on weekends or in the summer?"
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'Wi-Fi Illness' Spreads To Ontario Public Schools

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  • by Overzeetop ( 214511 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:34PM (#33258434) Journal

    "Besides Wi-Fi signals, could there possibly be any other logical explanation for kids having more symptoms of illness on school days than at home on weekends or in the summer?"

    Um, being in school doesn't count as a reason?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:41PM (#33258480)

      As my mom used to call it... "Schoolitosis"

    • by Peach Rings ( 1782482 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:48PM (#33258542) Homepage

      That's obviously the joke.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Mashiki ( 184564 )

        Living in Ontario, I heartily agree. I'll be however, that if you look at most of the schools you'll find one of a few things. Either they have new or recent construction and made airtight(trapping fumes). The buildings are full of toxic mold, which is pretty common around here(again probably renno'd and then made airtight). Or, you may have a school built on one of a variety unique places, like garbage dumps, or some type of toxic gas outlet-which isn't being vented properly. Again that's pretty damn

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:52PM (#33258574)

      Unfortunately it overshadows a real problem. I felt crippling anxiety in school for 10 years (dropped out when I was old enough) and it was a waste of a good childhood. There are real reasons kids can feel this way. It doesn't have to be excuses, even if that was the easy thing to blame my problems on.

      Of course WiFi didn't exist back then so it wasn't that, but I can understand how kids would feel awful at school and fine at home.

      School can be a very uncomfortable place to be in, and an almost impossible place to learn in.

      • by jcr ( 53032 ) <> on Sunday August 15, 2010 @05:42PM (#33258888) Journal

        I can understand how kids would feel awful at school and fine at home.

        Hear, hear!

        I'm convinced that forcing children to sit and pay attention for hours on end is a lousy way to teach them anything at all. Kids are naturally curious, but schooling makes far too many of them hate learning.


        • by AK Marc ( 707885 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @06:59PM (#33259248)
          As long as you use your hatred of "schooling" to fix it, not sabotage it, then I agree with you.

          School is bad, but better than the alternative. So rather than using its problems as a reason to destroy it, its problems should be addressed to improve it.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by HiThere ( 15173 )

            Students aren't in any position to reform the system, so sabotage, by one means or another, is their only reasonable response. Many teachers seem to feel equally incapable, but they have a few other choices.

            (It's unfair to expect every teacher to start a Summerhill, or John Woolman, or other alternative school. But they could change jobs. Given how poorly they are normally treated, I'm surprised that they don't all quit after their first year.)

            But for children...just how to you propose that they should f

      • by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @06:11PM (#33259050) Journal
        I, too, am allergic to work. Unfortunately, the government does not recognise this as a disability, so I had no option but to become a consultant.
        • by daveime ( 1253762 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @09:19PM (#33259930)

          How about Aspergers, the medical condition whereby you are a complete cunt to everyone you meet.

          Or ADHD, attention deficit whatnot Facebook shiny bewbs what-was-I-saying ? That's always good for discussion, until you lose interest in explaining it to people.

          You could try Tourettes, that even allows you to swear at your coworkers and bosses, and be congratulated for being a brave person.

          There's plenty of "medical" conditions for people who are allergic to work.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by siride ( 974284 )
            Those are all real conditions, if overdosed. When you meet someone who actually has the condition, you can tell there is something different about them. A real Asperger's "sufferer" definitely "feels" different. They aren't just assholes or socially awkward. It's like they just don't get it. Hard to explain, but definitely there.
    • by PrecambrianRabbit ( 1834412 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:57PM (#33258610)

      In 5th grade, I always felt sick during math class, which was taught by a teacher that I really didn't like.

      In my defense, their understanding of mathematics would have made any thinking person ill :-D.

    • Wi-Fi is the obvious culprit. The spectral evidence is clear and this apparently isn't the first time it's caused problems in children... []

    • by anagama ( 611277 ) <> on Sunday August 15, 2010 @07:28PM (#33259374) Homepage
      Other possible actual causes, aside from just wanting to play hooky, could be allergic reactions to chemicals (some cleaners are really nasty) or some kinds of mold.

      As for wifi, that should be easy to test -- do the kids get sick in malls? Somehow I doubt it, but lots of stores use wifi. If the kids don't feel the same in the mall (except perhaps when walking withing 50' of a "Body Shop" store's stench), then it's not likely wifi.
  • Yeah... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by mewshi_nya ( 1394329 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:34PM (#33258436)

    because stress NEVER causes any of those symptoms...

  • I don't know.... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Rod Beauvex ( 832040 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:35PM (#33258440)
    " ..Besides Wi-Fi signals, could there possibly be any other logical explanation for kids having more symptoms of illness on school days than at home on weekends or in the summer?"

    Maybe kids don't like being in school? I found myself more active and alert when at home as opoposed to school when I was attending.
  • WiFi at home? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by leenks ( 906881 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:35PM (#33258444)

    Don't people in Canada have WiFi at home? Surely if the illness was WiFi related they'd be suffering at home, in cities, on planes, or any other populated place?

    • by cosm ( 1072588 ) <> on Sunday August 15, 2010 @06:37PM (#33259154)
      Exactly. I, for one, am sick and tired of the 'blame everybody but the self' mentality that pervades society. It creeps up more and more everyday. I don't know how the Canadian legal system works, but wouldn't the burden of proof lie with the parents? Can they cite one study, just one fracking conclusive study that proves that it is these routers and acess points causing the children, oh the poor freaking children's ailments? Seriously. Show me one study where it has been positively shown that signals that fall in the range of the wifi consortium jurisdiction are causing people to get sick. Prove it. Prove it. Prove it. Evidence, or GTFO.

      And people wonder why education gets worse. These damn parents are so sue happy, they just attack attack attack the schools every damn opportunity that presents itself. So the schools become so hamstrung in bureaucratic idiocy that they are afraid to do anything because some snot-nose little johnny's parents might sue.

      This. Two things. Taking personal responsibility and the scientific method. The sooner society actually adopts these two solid mentalities, the better off we all will be. Until then this world will continue to be run amok by victimized-its-not-my-fault-blame-the-world-can-i-get-some-money-too asshats.

      End rant.
    • by jd2112 ( 1535857 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @07:03PM (#33259262)
      It's probably the dihydrogen monoxide in the water suply.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by cgenman ( 325138 )

      Take three of the schools. In school 1, have an IT guy totally turn off the WiFi without telling anyone. In school 2, have the same IT guy say that he's turning off the WiFi, but have it go black and broadcast just as much as usual. In school 3, blanket the parents with information that the WiFi is being shut off, then don't change a thing. Take a look at what effects this has on student / parent complaints.

  • It's Black Mold (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:36PM (#33258454)

    I'll bet dollars to doughnuts it's a mold problem in the school. My guess is stachybotrys. Look It up, the symptoms match perfectly.

    • Re:It's Black Mold (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cptdondo ( 59460 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @05:00PM (#33258632) Journal

      Mold my butt. If the kids are getting sick from radio waves, take away their cell phones. That'll cure'm quick!

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by sznupi ( 719324 )

        Don't forget about modulated electromagnetic fields produced by headphones of any portable audio player! Basically inside of the skull!!

        Close to hippocampus, too - a part of brain crucial in long-term memory!

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by ScrewMaster ( 602015 )

        Mold my butt. If the kids are getting sick from radio waves, take away their cell phones. That'll cure'm quick!

        No shit. Have a tech bring a spectrum analyzer in and end the discussion once and for all. Odds are, they're getting a hell of a lot more exposure to ionizing radiation from the cell phones they have jammed into the sides of their pretty little heads that from some roof-mounted WAP that's fifty or sixty feet away.

        I feel sorry for the kids, I really do ... not because they're feeling ill, they'll get over that, but because they're being raised by morons.

      • by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @07:56PM (#33259506)
        Hah. Your most reminds me of a story about a school janitor that had problems with the school girls putting lipstick on and kissing the bathroom mirrors (leaving lipstick kiss marks.)

        No amount of telling the girls not to do it stopped them, so one day they brought the girls into the bathroom in small groups and the janitor says "let me show you how hard it is to clean lipstick off mirrors" and then promptly sticks a mop into one of the toilets, takes it out dripping wet, and then proceeds to scrub the mirrors with the toilet-water.

        After that day, the girls never kissed the mirrors again.
  • Hmmm.... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pspahn ( 1175617 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:36PM (#33258456)

    Could there be any other explanation? Uh, well of course. Schools are hotbeds of spreading sickness, this is nothing new. For this to really mean something, how about they look at places that have a lot of wifi going on without all the germ spreading. Maybe they could look at dense urban areas that have a lot of wifi yet everyone lives in their own apartment and aren't picking their nose and then getting a drink from the water fountain.

    School boards are so.... Yea.

  • GODDAMN IPHONES??? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Bananatree3 ( 872975 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:38PM (#33258472)
    And the parents happily shell out for their kid's iPhones, yet protest school board meetings against WiFi in schools.
  • by Psychotic_Wrath ( 693928 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:39PM (#33258474)

    The symptoms, which also include memory loss, trouble concentrating, skin rashes, hyperactivity, night sweats and insomnia

    Thats funny I read about this as a kid.

    'I cannot go to school today, ' Said little Peggy Ann McKay. 'I have the measles and the mumps, A gash, a rash and purple bumps. My mouth is wet, my throat is dry, I'm going blind in my right eye. My tonsils are as big as rocks, I've counted sixteen chicken pox And there's one more-that's seventeen, And don't you think my face looks green? My leg is cut-my eyes are blue- It might be instamatic flu. I cough and sneeze and gasp and choke, I'm sure that my left leg is broke- My hip hurts when I move my chin, My belly button's caving in, My back is wrenched, my ankle's sprained, My 'pendix pains each time it rains. My nose is cold, my toes are numb. I have a sliver in my thumb. My neck is stiff, my voice is weak, I hardly whisper when I speak. My tongue is filling up my mouth, I think my hair is falling out. My elbow's bent, my spine ain't straight, My temperature is one-o-eight. My brain is shrunk, I cannot hear, There is a hole inside my ear. I have a hangnail, and my heart is-what? What's that? What's that you say? You say today is...Saturday? G'bye, I'm going out to play! ' Shel Silverstein

  • Ridiculous (Score:4, Insightful)

    by WillyWanker ( 1502057 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:39PM (#33258476)
    This is so ridiculous. It could be ANYTHING in the environment at these schools. Tainted water, Chinese drywall, toxic mold, contaminated food. The list is endless. But I can tell you one this it's not is the wi-fi.
    • Re:Ridiculous (Score:5, Insightful)

      by bsDaemon ( 87307 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:46PM (#33258522)

      Maybe the kids are munching on Chinese routers while swimming in a contaminated pool? But seriously though, those all sound like classic symptoms of public school in general. I suffered most of them myself when I was in school, and the 802.11 standard wasn't published until about the time I started high school, and I didn't start to think of it as commonplace until a actually fairly recently (like, last 5-6 years or so). We certainly didn't have any APs in my school.

      It's probably mold... or the soul-crushing depression of academic slavery.

    • by Bigjeff5 ( 1143585 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:47PM (#33258530)

      Hey man! No way!

      It's the radio waves man!

      They're trying to control your mind man!

      But like, they screwed up man!

      They tweaked the flux capacitors too high and shit man!

      And now they are making the kids sick instead of washing their brains out man!

      (please read in the voice of Cheech)

  • Yes (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:41PM (#33258482)

    "Besides Wi-Fi signals, could there possibly be any other logical explanation for kids having more symptoms of illness on school days than at home on weekends or in the summer?"

    Yes, it is called "Believing shit that isn't real." Our minds can have powerful effects on our bodies and in particular on how we feel, since ultimately the mind is what does the feeling. So people believe that something causes a given set of symptoms, thus they experience those symptoms.

    Happens all the time with the WiFi types. People have been up on the evils of "radiation" for a long time, WiFi is just their newest target.

    Personally what I think the school needs to do is this: Tell people "Ok, for the next two weeks we are shutting down WiFi, you let us know if you get any better." However don't actually shut it off. Have the APs stop broadcasting SIDs and accepting connections, but leave the radios broadcasting at full power. Then after that say "Ok we are turning back on now, in a test mode, no data for two weeks. tell us if you feel worse." At this point shut the APs down completely.

    At the end, when people say that during the "off" time they were fine and during the "on" time the problems came back, you get to reveal the test results and say STFU.

    Seriously, if there is something to this WiFi thing how come we can't get any laboratory results on it? The answer to that is because there is nothing to it, it is all in the heads of the people who allegedly have the problems.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by theskipper ( 461997 )

      The only problem with that scenario is if they still reported feeling ill. Then if you admit that the WiFi was on, the response will be "Aha, that proves it was the WiFi!", fully accepted even with the logical inconsistencies.

      When all along it was a mold problem, or some other. Of course the next week the evil WiFi will be removed, the symptoms continue and a new RF culprit is put in the crosshairs.

      I think there should be a mainstream term for how people react to situations like this, junk science is too

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jimicus ( 737525 )

      At the end, when people say that during the "off" time they were fine and during the "on" time the problems came back, you get to reveal the test results and say STFU.

      Seriously, if there is something to this WiFi thing how come we can't get any laboratory results on it? The answer to that is because there is nothing to it, it is all in the heads of the people who allegedly have the problems.

      The only reason nobody's done this is because they don't fancy the political implications of publicly proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that the people complaining are neurotic fools. Even if you're not in a position where your job is elected regularly, the chances are you ultimately report to someone whose job is up for re-election.

  • Predictable (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Peach Rings ( 1782482 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:44PM (#33258504) Homepage

    How much do you want to bet that these concerned parents are credulous proponents of alternative medicine?

    I can imagine their rapt attention at reading how much danger their kids are in, and they trust someone with MD after their name (as if it's not a diploma mill degree anyway) more than an engineer or physicist.

    This whole subject is dominated by that folk etymology mentality where something that sounds smart and appeals to an aging housewife's intuition gets spread around at bridge games and finds its way into Reader's Digest or whatever checkout aisle trash they flip through on the toilet these days.

  • by Kitkoan ( 1719118 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:50PM (#33258556)

    My guess, it's the parents. The parents want the children to be sick and press/force it upon the children to be sick. Its a common incident in lawsuits.

    Parent: "Its ok, just tell me that your getting sick from the stuff at school. You don't need to hide it, just tell me."

    Child: "But I'm fine, nothings wrong."

    Parent: "Please, you shouldn't bottle these things up. Just tell me that its making you sick and I'll make it stop. Now please, don't hide these things from me."

    Child: "But there really isn't anything wrong."

    Parent: "Now we've talked about this, you don't need to keep secrets from me. Just tell me its making you sick because I know it is. So just be honest and go ahead and tell me its making you sick and then we can go have ice cream. And then we can talk to everyone about this because they will like to hear what you have to say."

    Child after hearing they will get a reward and lots of positive attention for agreeing to claim it makes them sick: "Yes mommy, it makes me feel really ill and sick. Can we have that ice cream now?"

    Keep instilling that its making them sick after a while mind over matter will happen and you'll have a child with a minor form of hypochondria that will claim its the school since they are getting rewards for it and lots of positive attention, the two things most children want it abundance.

    • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @05:49PM (#33258934)

      Kids don't want to go to school. I know I didn't when I was a kid and I was even good at school. I was always happy for an excuse to stay home from school. Didn't often work for me, since mom was a teacher and fairly clever, but still.

      So kid doesn't want to go to school says "But mom, I feel sick!" and make up some symptoms. Mom says ok and lets them stay home. Mom notices that these symptoms only happen when the kid has been going to school. Never on the weekend, never during summer. Mom goes and looks them up online, rather than asking a doctor, and finds the anti-WiFi nutters. She says "Oh my god, this must be it!" The kid, of course, latches on to it as it means less time in school.

      I'm sure it is a combination of these two as well as others (like kids who legitimately feel like crap in school because of stress). It all adds up to a manufactured panic about WiFi.

      Hell maybe I should get in on this! In recent years, as WiFi has rolled out all over work, I've had less energy than I used to. I am tired easier, and seem to just be over all a bit slower than I was. Not drastic, but noticeable. Must be the WiFi... ...

      or maybe the fact that I'm 30, and have gained weight. Nah, couldn't be that, must be the WiFi.

    • by TheTurtlesMoves ( 1442727 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @05:54PM (#33258966)
      Its much worse than that. A parent can lead the child on in a way that the child *believes* its true. Even at quite old ages (~10) this is true and makes children's testimony very unreliable. This has come out after some child abuse cases. But heres the real rub. Leading statements like "did he do this to you", and "did he touch you there", has strong effects on our imagination. At all ages we can has some sort of experience from situations that we imagine. At a young age we often can't distinguish between real and imaged situations. They child not only believes it happened, but is traumatized in the same way as if it really happened.

      I don't have the references handy and i can't be bothered looking them up. But a few high profile cases have turned out to be total BS because one partner assumed, led the child on, and got the courts rolling on it. However there would be physical trauma related to the accusations. There was none. It never happened.
  • by pedropolis ( 928836 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @04:54PM (#33258592)
    Have they checked the air quality and ventilation of these buildings before ascribing blame to some new technology? Sick school syndrome is real and to blame for many of the symptoms believed to be caused by the offending gamma-powered wi-fi routers.
  • by bolt_the_dhampir ( 1545719 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @05:11PM (#33258692)
    The lady who made them do it was feeling a lot better, and didn't have headaches anymore, until she saw me surfing wirelessly using a router located on the floor below. Signal strength was still perfectly fine...
  • ...otherwise many of their cordless phones would be emitting the same "wifi" signals that wireless routers do.

    Perhaps the children are suffering from stress caused by video game, Internet, phone, and texting withdrawals at school.

  • by MrLint ( 519792 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @05:48PM (#33258930) Journal

    Via IRC :

      Exposed to deadly WiFi radiation, young Peter Parker finds himself
    with all the powers of a wireless network device... and all the problems of a
    high school student!

      Must... route... packets... Gwen Stacy's life... in balance... musn't
    let Aunt May's Facebook page... go down.... ARGHHH!

  • by cdrguru ( 88047 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @10:24PM (#33260268) Homepage

    A lot of people believe that EM spectrum radiation is harmful in many different ways.

    We can either fight them on every front they raise or we can agree with them that there MIGHT be such a danger. People have believed this since the introduction of electricity, so thinking that someone we are going to convince these people they are wrong just isn't going to happen. It has nothing to do with ignorance or some peculiar regligious belief - it is just a belief in something beyond current knowledge.

    Besides, how the heck does anyone really know what we don't know yet? The real answer is nobody knows. It is unlikley, even incredibly unlikely, but there is no way to convince people that it couldn't be happening.

    We aren't talking about WiFi routers alone. Every source of EM radiation is suspect, down to the level of detectability. If it can be detected, then it is possible that it is having some kind of unknown effect. Probable? No. But just barely possible. And it doesn't necessarily have to affect everyone, just those that are somehow sensitive.

    What needs to be understood is until this is dealt with on a human (not just scientific probability) level, it is going to continue to prevent construction of EM-emitting objects. Like power transmission lines. And cell towers. And there will be complaints about every device like a WiFi router.

    How would such proof be managed? I don't know. But I do know that fighting individual battles over Wifi routers, cell towers, radio stations, power lines and every other sort of EM-emitting device is pointless. The non-believing majority will lose out to the minority that believes. As Mr. Obama said just recently, we are a country of religious freedom and it would be wrong to unfairly oppress a religious minority that believes WiFi is harmful. At least without absolute proof that they are wrong.

  • Could be the water (Score:5, Interesting)

    by gman003 ( 1693318 ) on Sunday August 15, 2010 @11:40PM (#33260648)

    I can't speak for all schools, but my old middle school had horrible water. I actually did a side-by-side microscope comparison of fresh-from-the-tap to mudwater, and the school had more bacteria. Less sediment, but still more bacteria.

    First time a teacher regretted me actually doing my homework.

Can anyone remember when the times were not hard, and money not scarce?