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Is WiFi Safe?

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Channel: BrainStuff - HowStuffWorks
Categories: Health   |   Science   |   Technology  
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You've probably heard that wireless internet (WiFi) is dangerous. But is it true? Lauren breaks it down.

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Are you there BrainStuff? It’s me, Lauren. Do you ever think about how with wireless internet floating around us that we’re all just wading through gigabytes of HTML, mp3s, jpegs, first-person shooters, and entire videos… like this one?

Even if you don’t have a router and avoid the library and your local coffee shop, WiFi is everywhere. So your next question might be whether all that WiFi is safe or not.

First, the term “WiFi” just means “a wireless network,” not “wireless fidelity”. Common misconception. These wireless networks translate data into radio signals and then transmit and receive those signals via antennas.

So… WiFi is made of radio waves. These are part of the broad range of frequencies that make up the electromagnetic spectrum.

We know that some radiation on that spectrum -- like gamma rays, X-rays or high-frequency ultraviolet light -- can be dangerous. These waves are known as ionizing radiation. They’re so high in energy that they can break apart atoms and damage our DNA.

But the non-ionizing wavelengths are too low in energy to ionize atoms or molecules. Since radio waves (like WiFi) are non-ionising, they tend to be safe.

The intensity of a WiFi signal is rather low. WiFi is most often transmitted at a frequency of 2.4 gigahertz, about the same as most microwave ovens.

For comparison, a light bulb emits non-ionizing radiation up to 400 nanometers, which converts to 749,481 gigahertz. That makes light bulbs over 62,000 times stronger than WiFi.

Wireless network routers also broadcast further distances than microwave ovens, which is important, because every time you double the distance of a radio wave you only get a quarter of its energy.

That’s the “Inverse Square Law of Physics!” Which means WiFi’s intensity drops off sharply the further you get from a device emitting it.

Despite WiFi being broadcast at this safe frequency, there are some controversial health concerns associated with the radiation it emits.

And while there is no definitive link, the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) does recognize that some studies show preliminary connections between these types of radiation and human illness. They categorize it a Class 2B Carcinogen: Something possibly carcinogenic in humans at given exposures. But your actual wireless internet connection doesn’t seem to be harmful.

And if you’re still concerned… your other option is to wrap yourself up in aluminium foil to keep a few of these frequencies at bay. ...No, really. Aluminum foil creates a sort of Faraday cage, which disrupts electromagnetic signals.

Sellman, S. (2009). The WIRELESS DILEMMA: An Inconvenient TRUTH ABOUT A CONVENIENT TECHNOLOGY. Total Health, 30(4), 74-76.

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