Mast Debates - the letters

by Staff Writer | posted on 28 November 2006

Not everybody agrees that we're still waiting for the key scientific breakthrough in the wireless "radiation danger" story. Here's a selection of reader responses to last weekend's news piece, which suggested that if someone could genuinely detect a WiFi signal, it would be prize-winning research.

Hi Guy,

While not exactly a scientific observation, a couple of years ago they put UMTS antennae near where I lived (not even closeby, but 1.5 Km away). It coincided with my not being able to get a proper night's sleep for months on end until l moved house. It cost me a job, but now I can sleep.



Thanks for the note. I have to agree that it's not any sort of indication of a physical, causal link which is worth investigating at this stage!

I'm serious, however, about the comment that if such a link could be established, it would be a breakthrough, and one which the researcher involved with would become famous for! Unfortunately, every time I have tried to isolate other causes from incidents of this sort, it has quickly become clear that the cause of the symptoms is at least as likely to be anxiety, as anything else.

If you feel you could demonstrate an ability to detect the presence of a 3G mast if you didn't know it was there, we could both be famous! If you can think of a test which would show that, we should perhaps take it further...?

Guy Kewney

From Darren:

'Mast debaters' strike again, ban Wi-Fi in UK schools

OK. I award you a GOLD MEDAL for the best heading for the context of the article, for year 2006.


From Doctormo

Who wants to bet he just has Monday blues or the walls are padded with Asbestos?

From Peter G

"Burn the witch! Burn the witch!"

This story highlights not the danger of low power microwave radiation but instead the danger of ignorance and a complete lack of any scientific education or knowledge on behalf of the whiners.

"Think of the children! Oh my GOD, think of the CHILDREN!" (just don't watch me feathering my nest...)


It seems pretty clear to me that nobody is trying to profit from this scare.

Guy Kewney

From Owen C

I find it incredible that you continue to poke fun at any attempts to limit the use of microwave / rf devices, as there is an increasing body of evidence which suggests that they do cause very significant health problems - not only cancer, as has been 'known' about for years, but psychological probelms, too (as mentioned in this article). Although a little vitriolic, try reading the reader's letter published on the inquirer's site today.


Thanks for the note. I couldn't help observing that the letter you're quoting is anonymous, which makes it very hard to assign any authority to it. It's also worth noting that it directly contradicts much of the known research collated by the Health Protection Agency...

From Sean E

From your article on wireless being banned in schoolrooms:

"[Stowe teacher Mr.] Bevington describes symptoms which have not previously been assigned to wireless reponse" - and then goes on to describe classic symptoms of a panic attack.

If this is the case, then he has a (perfectly reasonable) anxiety disorder, probably triggered by media reports about the dangers of wireless devices, for which effective treatments exist.

This is a very interesting case, since with someone as sensitive as Mr Bevington, it suggests a simple test for "wireless response". I am sure you know already that I am about to propose a double-blind trial.

I therefore propose the following protocol: bring him into the classroom with the wireless randomly on or off (with no-one in the room aware of the status). If he can successfully detect the wireless emissions 8 times out of 10, then we're into a new area of medical physics, and whoever is doing the trial gets a Nobel prize.

Actually, come to think of it, I could take a day off work to supervise... 

from Fraser M

"This low power WiFi transmitter has caused you to develop psychosomatic symptoms."

"Psychosomatic? Quick turn it of, rip it out, burn it and stamp on the ashes."

Many thanks for this article, I am not so angry that I can bearly see... It's usually Tuesday before this happens...

from Chris K:

"I felt a steadily widening range of unpleasant effects whenever I was in the classroom. First came a thick headache, then pains throughout the body, sudden flushes, pressure behind the eyes, sudden skin pains and burning sensations, along with bouts of nausea. Over the weekend, away from the classroom, I felt completely normal."

That's just the effect of teaching Children for a living, I'd reckon.

from "Supraman":

"I felt a steadily widening range of unpleasant effects whenever I was in the classroom. First came a thick headache, then pains throughout the body, sudden flushes, pressure behind the eyes, sudden skin pains and burning sensations, along with bouts of nausea. Over the weekend, away from the classroom, I felt completely normal."

I was having these symptoms every time I walked into a classroom, before the days of WiFi, mobiles, fluorescent lighting......  

from James P:

"Over the weekend, away from the classroom, I felt completely normal"

Don't most teachers experience that sort of thing? :-)

Given the relative signal strengths, it would be interesting to know if/how Mr Bevington copes with a mobile phone...

from Richard "L":

You write:

"There is a theoretical link between DNA damage and microwave, the reality of which is still unproven despite considerable research."

I'm not sure that's true. I don't know of any theory that suggests microwave electro-magnetic radiation can damage DNA.

I seem to recall there was a study that claimed to have found evidence for DNA damage. But the study caused some puzzlement precisely because it is not clear by what mechanism electro-magnetic radiation in these frequency ranges could cause damage to DNA molecules. So I think it would be more accurate to say that there is no theoretical link between microwave radiation and DNA damage.

Some people are obviously worried that such radiation might cause some sort of ill effects. But there is no *theoretical* basis for such fears.  

from Alex J


A bit pedantic maybe, but the sentence "Joanna Bale wrote in The Times about schools in Ysgol Pantycelyn, Carmarthenshire, Chichester and Buckinghamshire which have dismantled Wi-Fi networks," in the article is gramatically incorrect.

Ysgol Pantycelyn translates to Pantycelyn School so the sentence would read "Joanna Bale wrote in The Times about schools in Pantycelyn School, Carmarthenshire, Chichester and Buckinghamshire which have dismantled Wi-Fi networks,"

I doubt anyone would notice (I'd imagine only a few of the 700,000 speakers of the Welsh language read The Reg) but just thought you might want to know.


from Daniel S

" blah blah... along with bouts of nausea. Over the weekend, away from the classroom, I felt completely normal."

Oh, for heavens' sake. Yes, I get that too. Every Monday morning. And incredibly, I feel much better at weekends. Try Prozac. Worked wonders for me. 

from Daniel S: :


Interesting to note that the teacher experienced severe hot flushes etc from a wireless mast. He went on to note that the feelings disappeared once he was a away from the classroom.

Yes, really original that one. I used that excuse for years to try and get out of school as a student. Strangely enough, the "mystery" ailment never struck on weekends. Of course I was merely told by the teachers to "sit down and stop putting it on".


from Dave B

So the report of ill effects comes from a Classics Teacher?

That's going to be somebody who's pretty well-educated, back in the 1970s--my generation. So we can suppose that, at best, he has some science O-levels. Not bad, but the problem-solving aspect was a bit limited. And then, at A-level, no more science.

So he's nothing special as an observer. He has no particular authority to give any weight to his claims. For all we know, he just doesn't like computers. It might even be ozone from a monitor, for all we know.

And the Classics graduate who ran our school library bought "Worlds in Collision" and shelved it in the Physics section. I'm biased.

Maybe it's an unresolved engram or something. Or maybe an idiot, telling one of those tales full of sound and fury? 

from Chris M:

Wireless networks operate at very similar frequencies to those used by mobile phones but (since they have no need to communicate with a base station that could be several miles away) require only a tiny fraction of the power levels. If there is concern about the effects of wireless networks on the health of children, then children should also avoid coming within a hundred yards of a mobile phone.

Perhaps you could recommend to them a Mediterranean island where there is a suitable lack of such facilities? 

from Dirk K


We keep hearing about the health effects of mobile phone masts, TETRA, wireless network PADs etc etc. Yet everybody (including, I suspect, the people mentioned in your piece) uses mobile phones without the same ill effects.

My problem with this is: dosage. A mobile phone mast has an ERP of maybe 10 watts (much lower in urban areas) at a minimum of 10m up, wireless network PADs are limited to 100mW. In all cases the human involved will be some distance from these devices. The root mean square law applies here and the average body dose (even when standing next to a mobile phone mast) pales into complete insignificance compared to the dosage of the (up to) 800mW of 900 / 1800 Mhz energy irradiating your skull when you chat into your mobile phone.

Is this not yet another scare story perpetuated by non-scientifically trained journos, pushed by equally untrained, scientifically ignorant, interest groups. Is it also not strange that this is largely an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon? One does not see the same level of angst on the continong. Could this be, yet another, example of the failure of (any kind of) universal scientific schooling in this country?

As to the teacher's problem, I strongly suspect that this is more to do with some dodgy power supplies spilling noxious chemicals out of ancient electrolytic capacitors or some transformers whose insulation is starting to break down and vaporising things like low-level PCBs into the classroom environment. You could even make a case for ozone (laser printers), bad ions (old CRTs) etc.

It is a well known fact that IT classrooms have a) closed windows (therefore bad ventilation) b) lots of "workstations" in the same room and c) old equipment ('cos they don't have the money to keep up to date). All this, I strongly suspect, has much more to do with the teacher's problems than "the waves".


Dirk K

from Martin Sharp, at NoMasts

Oh dear, Guy,

I used to enjoy your technical columns in the PC Magazines that I read of old. But I really think that you should read up on the concept of microwaves and stop thinking that all gadgets are good.

As we all know, PC companies and other similar manufacturers just ship these devices out to a price and never do any real testing on them for things like health effects. That's probably OK for CD-ROM drives and hard disks. However, when we're talking WiFi that uses the same frequencies or similar to microwave ovens we are no longer talking about the same type of gadget.

Some well respected Independent scientists have produced some very good studies into the effects of microwave transmitters at even low power like WiFi and 3G masts. Many show ill health effects including DNA breaking.

Additionally, they show the melatonin and immune-system depressant effects which would explain the sort of sleep disturbance and headaches that the poor teacher subjected to wi-fi all day has had to put up with.

In future, please stick to expressing opinions on gadgets you understand and avoid topics you obviously don't!

Oh, by the way, I'm not some sandal wearing wooly jumpered weirdo. I work in the IT industry, briefly in Telecoms, have a technical background and a Physics degree.

If you want some good links to the real information about wi-fi and 3G etc. you won't find them on the Telecoms-sponsored Register site - you'll find them on a site I help maintain - nomasts.org.uk and sites such as www.tetrawatch.net .

If you want an objective debate, please feel free to e-mail me.

Martin Sharp


A cheap shot, Martin. I have never either said, or implied, that "all gadgets are good" - nor do I think it. For what it's worth, The Register, which reproduced the item, doesn't pay me for this story, and if it did, it would still not be a "telecoms-sponsored" item. So you have two completely un-called-for slurs on me to your credit. What sort of "objective" debate should I expect, after that?

Perhaps you could start by giving me real references to all these "scientists" you allude to?

Guy Kewney

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