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I am most likely being an overprotective parent but since the birth of our newborn, my wife and I have been wondering about credible studies dealing with Wi-Fi and health concerns. I love my Wi-Fi, it's the cornerstone to all my gadgets and computer setup through out my house, and it makes my world easier plain and simple, but having a newborn enter that world changes the way I think about everything.

Now before people start writing that Wi-Fi is safe because they use it in hospitals and schools, let me be clear, I'm aware of all that, but the idea of having it 24/7 for years to come around this little person that is our responsibility to look out for makes me want to have a definitive answer to the subject.

I will put on my tin foil hat and await for some well thought out/educated answers.

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closed as too broad by slhck Apr 26 at 11:47

There are either too many possible answers, or good answers would be too long for this format. Please add details to narrow the answer set or to isolate an issue that can be answered in a few paragraphs.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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This would be on topic at Skeptics, Biology, Physics but it is completely off topic here. The question has nothing whatsoever to do with computers or their usage and computer experts are not qualified to answer it. –  terdon Feb 19 at 13:23
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@terdon It would be on-topic at Parenting as well. –  Beofett Feb 19 at 13:43
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To those voting to close with the reason that the question "is on topic on Skeptics". Yes, it is, but that doesn't mean it's off topic here. Don't seek to migrate good and interesting questions away from the site. The question has something to do with computer technology everyone of us uses daily. For discussing the topicality of this question, Meta Super User is the place to go. –  slhck Feb 19 at 14:44
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16 Answers 16

Disclaimer. This is very simplified explanation, mistakes are (mostly) intentional.

Radiation can be separated into two categories: ionizing radiation and non-ionizing radiation.

In layman terms, ionizing radiation is radiation that can "break" the molecules that make up things.

Non-ionizing radiation, on the other hand, just passes through objects or is converted to heat when it hits them.

Wi-Fi networks operate on the same frequency as a microwave oven: it uses non-ionizing radiation, when it hits the objects it is just converted into heat, it does not change the composition of the object itself. It is harmless, at most it will heat your body, but a very, very, veryyyy tiny amount that is not even measurable.

Ionizing radiation is dangerous. Examples of it are ultraviolet rays and nuclear radiation. It not only heats you but it changes the composition of the molecules that make up your body. They can modify the DNA on your cells, causing cancer.

Example: sunburns. It burns after long, unprotected exposure to the sun not because your skin got hot. The UV rays of the sun damaged the DNA of the skin cells, and the body reacts with the burning sensation.

Conclusion. Wi-Fi is harmless.

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+1, agree, but also, it's worth noting that the amount of WiFi energy it'd take to heat up your skin so you could feel it or have it burn you (like a microwave oven) would be more power than the power adapter that your router comes with can physically produce. The power adapter would melt long before it could deliver that amount of current. And the device would never pass FCC testing. –  ÃŁŁǫǛȉЖΦΤїҪ Feb 19 at 0:16
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allquixotic's comment is especially relevant due to one additional argument that could be invoked by the Tinfoil Hat Brigade: there is actually some research regarding cancer incidence due to reoccurring thermal trauma - see e.g. here. –  TheTerribleSwiftTomato Feb 19 at 9:53
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A sun burn isn't caused by heat (alone). It's primarily caused by UV rays. Both (sunburns and melanomas) are in the end caused by overexposure of sun radiation (infrared (heat) and ultraviolet rays). Also I'd consider it important that there are tons of things causing far higher amounts of radiation in your typically household, like mobile phones (during connection attempts) or DECT phones. WiFi is really on the low end of radiation stuff. –  Mario Feb 19 at 10:34
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@NothingsImpossible Actually the non-ionising-microwave radiation is still capable of modifying the structure of some molecules. Have a look at this article: pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/jf970670x it's quite interesting to see how the B12 vitamin is degraded much faster when heated with microwaves with respect to conventional hot-water heating. The lesson is: biological systems are not inanimate matter, a tiny amount of the right thing can destroy one delicate process with important consequences! There's no need to be paranoid, but certainty leads to ignorance. –  DarioP Feb 19 at 16:39
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@MarcksThomas - But how much effort has actually gone into finding any potentially harmful effects? There's no money in it (and a lot of money against it), so the research doesn't get done. There is virtually no solid science behind the claim that ER is "harmless". –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 20 at 0:46
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Perfectly safe.


The term "radiation" is often used to scare people. Let's get it straight. There's two factors - frequency and intensity. Frequency has a far larger effect on how damaging radiation is. WiFi and other radio communications use a very low frequency - far below visible light.


Radiation that actually causes issues, could potentially cause cancer, etc., is usually ionising radiation - they have a very high frequency and can cause mutations in DNA, possibly leading to cancer (more info on that process). The frequency required to be ionising? At least 1,000,000 GHz. That's literally a 500,000 times higher frequency than what WiFi transmits on, 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz. Non-ionising radiation, which WiFi falls under, does little more than transfer heat.

Did you know light is also EM radiation? Yup. In fact, light (~500,000 GHz on the near-infrared side, ~750,000 GHz near-ultraviolet) is much closer to ionising radiation than WiFi. Sunlight actually contains some ionising radiation (UVB, UVC - UVA can also cause DNA damage, but it's not in the same way). But you're not going to hide in your house for the rest of your life, are you?


Apart from frequency, there is intensity. Non-ionising radiation can also be damaging - but this really only applies to higher intensities. And ionising radiation is not always dangerous - our bodies can cope with lower intensities, which is why we don't all die in the sun (vampires are another matter...). WiFi has a transmit power usually far under 1 Watt (I've seen figures for 200 mW). And most of that energy never reaches you - by the inverse square law, you only get about 1/distance squared of that. In layman's terms - the energy spreads equally in all directions. 10 metres away? 1/100 * 200 mW = 2 mW. That's nothing.

Microwave ovens (which operate on a similar frequency as WiFi) transmit ~1000 Watts, and it's highly focused inside that metal box. Only maybe 1 W can be released through the shielding, and even that is considered perfectly safe. To put all this in perspective, sunlight (which is a higher frequency, and therefore more energetic) is about 1000 W per square metre when it hits the ground, half of which is visible light or higher.


You might also find some interesting sources and studies cited on a similar question on Skeptics.SE.

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The source. I hope it helps.

The short answer is no.

The longer answer is that the intensity of a Wi-Fi signal is around is 100,000 times less than a microwave oven. The oven is a targeted device that operates at very high voltages and short distances. Wi-Fi routers operate at very low voltages, broadcast in all directions, and are used at relatively long distances.

If you are extremely fussy about Wi-Fi, then make sure you sit 1m (or more) away from the router, and don't use your laptop on your lap. Put it on a table or tray instead. I don't think there is a risk, but you may feel safer if you remove a non-existent risk.

enter image description here Large resolution version

sources

Also check this out: http://skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/1178/are-wifi-waves-harmful

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I say lose the XKCD chart. That chart's about ionizing radiation (like nuclear radiation), not about radio waves, which are non-ionizing. A huge source of confusion in these discussions is when someone says "radiation", and people think of nuclear bombs (ionizing radiation). Yes, radio waves "radiate" from the antenna, but light also "radiates" from a bulb; that doesn't make it the scary thing we think of when we say "radiation". –  Spiff Feb 19 at 2:37
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"Wi-Fi signal is around is 100,000 times less than a microwave oven" : yes, but the Wifi signal may be "on" 24/24 7/7 (86400 seconds per day) if you're downloading a lot, whereas the microwave oven is "on" only 30 seconds per day... –  Basj Feb 19 at 7:31
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@Spiff the whole point of the chart is the small dot below the group of blue squares: "cell phone's transmitter does not produce ionizing radiation and does not cause cancer". The same applies for Wi-fi, although this could have been explained better. I.e. the chart tells you that sleeping next to someone causes more cancer than mobile phones (and wi-fi). –  bigbadonk420 Feb 19 at 9:51
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By analogy, it takes about 2 grams of lead (as a bullet) to kill you. Therefore any amount of lead substantially less than that is harmless, even if administered repeatedly over your lifetime. –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 19 at 20:58
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@bigbadonk420 If that's the point, then it's a terrible chart to make that point. Talk about what a journalist would call "burying your lede"! It's a huge chart about the completely wrong kind of "radiation", and the take-away is supposed to be this tiny datum lost in the fine print? I still say lose it. –  Spiff Feb 19 at 21:53
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People have been flooded with transmissions for many years, WiFi, Radio, GPS, Mobile Data, Bluetooth, you are surrounded by signals, removing WiFi from your home wouldn't help, I'd recommend putting a Faraday cage up in place of your tinfoil hat. There has been no credible study as to any damage radio signals(which have been around for longer than my grandfather has been alive) cause to the human body, and even so WiFi is going to cause less damage than radiation from the sun, as someone who has been surrounded by WiFi since birth I can safely say that you've got more important things to worry about. Furthermore no credible studies have been done about WiFi that prove it more unhealthy than a standard microwave, your time might be better focused on baby proofing your home than shutting down APs.

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@Slowki I actually think that you raise a useful point: we are all flooded by various signals, and removing one single source that you have control over (e.g. your home Wi-Fi) won't do much if anything. –  landroni Feb 19 at 8:15
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You managed to survive all the time you spent sitting in front of a CRT screen didn't you? And those things make your lil' wifi box look feeble. Listen, if you don't stop worrying about everything that could possibly go wrong you're going to pass all your anxiety on to your children, and that's something that could actually harm them.

BTW: I hope you're not planning on driving them anywhere in a car. Those things are dangerous.

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I'd note that microwaves (at roughly the same part of the spectrum as wifi) have been used for communication for ages, at significantly higher levels than what you'd use at home. Baby Monitors often use this frequency, and I haven't seen too much literature on the effects of these on children.

That said Princeton University has a policy statement on this which has a few interesting quotes.

One of the most noteworthy points is that the RF levels present in all locations were so low that the levels were close to the lower limit of detection of the RF survey equipment. The maximum spatially-averaged level measured was 10.9 Volts2/meter2, directly below an access point antenna. This measurement should be compared to NJDEP’s allowable limit of 20,000 Volts2/meter2, spatially averaged over the dimensions of the human body. The NJDEP limit does not differentiate between exposure of the general public and occupational exposure.

_

Another survey report is available online which provides the results of a survey performed at a school in Australia. The survey included RF field measurements of 22 Wireless Access Points with various transmit power levels and access mode configurations and in classrooms, meeting rooms and other open areas to measure ambient RF levels in the environment. The Hazard Survey concluded that “All measurements were found to be well below the general public reference level with the maximum reading measured from the wireless network of only 5% of the general public reference level. The maximum environmental reading was 0.0049% of the general public reference levels and the maximum reading when 10 cm from the school notebook computers was only 1% of the general public reference level.” Details of this survey can be found in the references at the end of this statement.

In short, there's so little RF radiation that its hard to detect, and far below levels that would cause an issue.

Most of this refers to 2.4 ghz signals - 5 ghz signals are shorter range and are attenuated at shorter ranges, so moving the AP would solve any concerns you have.

If all this doesn't convince you, consider tempest shielding the baby room.

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I realize this is not a real answer to your question, it's some sort of different point of view, but bear with me for a moment. Did you ever try to look at it from a practical point of view? Fact is: you are surrounded by "WiFi", it's not just your router. I'm not talking about your router, but all wireless communications going on all the time almost everywhere. Think about it, you neighbor has Wifi, your phone runs on "WiFi" (same microwaves, different frequency), and that's just the start, in fact the world is flooded in microwaves in all sort of frequencies. Just think about cell towers that cover huge areas with cell-phone traffic, you really think your WiFi router can even compare in terms of emissions with those towers?

Practically speaking, as much as you wish to protect your new-born, there's no way to protect him from this tech. The only realistic thing you can do is, how others said before me, avoid to stay near (a few meters away) direct sources of microwaves, like routers, phones and all things that work wireless.

That said, I saw studies made in Sweden claiming that talking on your cell phone (remember, same tech as WiFi) for prolonged periods of time altered the electric state of blood cells in the vessels that where directly near the phone's antenna. But that's the only study I heard of that had any evidence that microwaves could alter your body. However you could easily avoid this effect by using earphones while on the phone, because it only happened when the antenna was very near the blood vessel.

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The fact that 2.4 GHz radiation is not ionizing does not mean that it cannot damage some complex and delicate organic macromolecules. The stress that the electric field puts on them can induce degradation, see for instance B12 degradation in microwave ovens.

The wifi signal comes with a much smaller voltage with respect to a microwave oven and I tend to agree with people saying it is harmless. However there's probably no one on the Earth that can say that every single molecule and every single process in the human body in not harmed by such field, also because we do not know everything down there!

I am not suggesting to unplug all the wireless things (I would not do): if they have an effect, it is probably negligible, but the most rated question are a bit too categorical.

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Some real sources

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/mind-control-by-cell/

The researchers monitored the brainwaves of 120 healthy men and women while a Nokia 6110 cell phone—one of the most popular cell phones in the world—was strapped to their head. A computer controlled the phone's transmissions in a double-blind experimental design, which meant that neither the test subject nor researchers knew whether the cell phone was transmitting or idle while EEG data were collected. The data showed that when the cell phone was transmitting, the power of a characteristic brain-wave pattern called alpha waves in the person's brain was boosted significantly. The increased alpha wave activity was greatest in brain tissue directly beneath to the cell phone, strengthening the case that the phone was responsible for the observed effect.

...

If cell phone signals boost a person's alpha waves, does this nudge them subliminally into an altered state of consciousness or have any effect at all on the workings of their mind that can be observed in a person's behavior? In the second study, James Horne and colleagues at the Loughborough University Sleep Research Centre in England devised an experiment to test this question. The result was surprising. Not only could the cell phone signals alter a person's behavior during the call, the effects of the disrupted brain-wave patterns continued long after the phone was switched off.

"This was a completely unexpected finding," Horne told me. "We didn't suspect any effect on EEG [after switching off the phone]. We were interested in studying the effect of mobile phone signals on sleep itself." But it quickly became obvious to Horne and colleagues in preparing for the sleep-research experiments that some of the test subjects had difficulty falling asleep.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12881192

Effects of high-frequency electromagnetic fields on human EEG: a brain mapping study. Kramarenko AV, Tan U. Author information Abstract

Cell phones emitting pulsed high-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF) may affect the human brain, but there are inconsistent results concerning their effects on electroencephalogram (EEG). We used a 16-channel telemetric electroencephalograph (ExpertTM), to record EEG changes during exposure of human skull to EMF emitted by a mobile phone. Spatial distribution of EMF was especially concentrated around the ipsilateral eye adjacent to the basal surface of the brain. Traditional EEG was full of noises during operation of a cellular phone. Using a telemetric electroencephalograph (ExpertTM) in awake subjects, all the noise was eliminated, and EEG showed interesting changes: after a period of 10-15 s there was no visible change, the spectrum median frequency increased in areas close to antenna; after 20-40 s, a slow-wave activity (2.5-6.0 Hz) appeared in the contralateral frontal and temporal areas. These slow waves lasting for about one second repeated every 15-20 s at the same recording electrodes. After turning off the mobile phone, slow-wave activity progressively disappeared; local changes such as increased median frequency decreased and disappeared after 15-20 min. We observed similar changes in children, but the slow-waves with higher amplitude appeared earlier in children (10-20 s) than adults, and their frequency was lower (1.0-2.5 Hz) with longer duration and shorter intervals. The results suggested that cellular phones may reversibly influence the human brain, inducing abnormal slow waves in EEG of awake persons.

And that after only searching for 5 minutes.

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Would WiFi have the same effect, and is it dangerous? Your source says: "Horne does not feel there is any need for concern that cell phones are damaging." and "The arousal effects the researchers measured are equivalent to about half a cup of coffee, and many other factors in a person's surroundings will affect a night's sleep as much or more than cell phone transmissions" –  fgb Feb 19 at 18:15
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@fgb -- So you'd give coffee to an infant, in the months when it's brain is most plastic??? But, realy, the point is that these (and many other) studies illustrate that "low-level", "safe" electormagnetic fields do affect the brain (and other parts of the body), when all the "accepted" standards claim there is NO effect. (And those "accepted" standards have been used to justify not doing any more research, even though the standards have very little basis in fact.) –  Daniel R Hicks Feb 19 at 18:20
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The short answer is no, it's not harmful. WiFi operates on the same frequency as baby monitors, remote controlled cars, wireless phones, bluetooth headsets, security alarms, microwaves and so on. The difference between a microwave (something potentially harmful) and a WiFi signal is that the WiFi signal is about 100,000 times less than a microwave. There is nothing to be worried about.

TL;DR: Yes it is safe

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Most of the answers are correct regarding known facts about non-ionizing radiation. But I'll go personal here and advise to reconsider this as a father. You are better having a clean feeling about your child's safety without being superstitious.

Nevertheless I need to play a bit the devil's advocate

More

  • Martha R Herbert, PhD, MD in her letter Los Angeles Unified School District references a paper that contains 550 citations regarding this matter.

  • There is also a lot of activity at schools about this matter. Some schools around the world are "banning" wifi (lmgtfy).

  • Also it is said that plants don't grow near routers (google it, sounds more like a story)

I am not answering this to be the valid answer. I think that one is already given.

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As many peoples already answer, there are many reliable source saying that WiFi is safe. Now, if you are really paranoid about it, there is a couple of things you can do to lower the baby exposition to the WiFi (not that any of those will have a measurable effect outside of making you feel better about it :o) ):

  • some routers/access points have a setting for signal attenuation. If you don't have a huge house with concrete walls, it's likely you can reduce the signal strength and still have a good coverage
  • some routers/access points have scheduling options. You may cut WiFi during the night.
  • cut your phone's WiFi during night (a lot of free apps allows you to do it automatically). That will reduce the volume of data transiting on your WiFi network during the night.

Bottom line: I don't say you have to take those steps, and your baby will be safe if you don't, but we know that we are not always rational when it's about things like our children security. If it makes you feel better about it, go and do it. It cannot hurt.

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This advice is about as valid as suggesting someone taking homeopathic pills. As there is no chance the pills or the wifi are going to have any effect, even minor trouble is not worth taking. –  nbubis Feb 19 at 2:18
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I do agree, but as i say we're not into rational thinking here. Healthy people who think they are sick do fell better after taking homeopathic pills (they may feel the same if they had taken sugar candies, but this is out of topic here). If the op feels better after spending a few minutes tweaking his router settings, why not doing it? –  LeFauve Feb 19 at 3:29
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Whether or not Wifi may have an impact is pretty irrelevant as long as people are allowed to use cell phones in your vicinity. In particular if there is Internet coverage using mobile services. Wifi covers short distances. The involved field strengths are orders of magnitude lower than those of cellphone communication.

You'll do much more for your child's sleep if you switch your mobile phone off (yes, off, turning it silent does nothing) and thus keep it from talking with the next cell tower several times an hour.

If you want to get paranoid about the effects of electromagnetic fields, at least get paranoid about the largest offenders first.

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One thing you need to consider with all the anecdotal "evidence" is that people being able to detect whether a Wifi device is on or not might not actually do so based on the electromagnetic emissions of Wifi itself.

Routers are one of many devices using typically semi-cheap power supplies. Those can cause high-frequency acoustic noise, just like CRT-based television sets did. If you are sensitive to that, it may well cause headaches and annoyance. Children have quite better hearing at higher frequencies. So putting some walls/doors between your Wifi routers (and other things with switching power supplies) and your child, while not doing much for the actual Wifi signal strength, may still improve its sleep.

This kind of stuff is hard to trace without special equipment since most microphones, particularly good ones, roll off beyond the standard audible frequencies, and that's actually good for the quality of digital recordings since it decreases sampling artifacts.

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I agree with all the answers that say "No danger", but:

I once knew a woman who would complain that she could 'feel' the wifi in her home after her husband installed a wifi router in 2007 or 2008. She couldn't tell if the wifi was on or off right away, but after some time she did 'feel' it and it made her feel uncomfortable. We thought it was a placebo but in any case her husband turned it off. A few months later while they were visiting us, as they had done many times before, she mentioned that she felt uncomfortable and asked if we had wifi. In fact, I had just recently set up a wifi router. They had been to our house numerous times before, and sure enough when I installed wifi she was able to detect it.

Again, I agree that wifi is a "drop in a bucket" but it seems that some people can sense it. I've witnessed this firsthand.

I would like to stress that the links below were not added by me but rather added by someone who probably should have left a comment instead.

Popular Science ran an article a few years back about Per Segerbäck, a man with electromagnetic hypersensitivity.

http://www.popsci.com/science/article/2010-02/disconnected

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electromagnetic_hypersensitivity

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Also, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_bias An anecdote remains an anecdote. An experiment has a hypothesis and a test to verify/reject it. –  ValarDohaeris Feb 19 at 8:30
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Or maybe the woman has a thing about wifi, and says that she feels uncomfortable because of the wifi every time she goes to a new house. And because everyone has wifi the people there say "OMG we do have wifi, how amazing you can sense it". Your experiment is so not a controlled experiment. –  stib Feb 19 at 11:11
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Not an answer, just an opinion (does this question have an answer?)

Truth is, disabling your wireless device is just a drop in the bucket, as the old saying goes. If you think about it, some kind of radiation (cellphone, TV, radio, cosmic rays, etc) is/are going through and/or interacting with your body as you read this. The long term effects are just barely starting to surface, as we were all enjoying the benefits of having the technology without much regard to the future. Sort of like our dependence in oil (but that's for another rant.)

As such, turning off WiFi at your location will minimize your sons exposure to a strong signal, but cell phone and other signals will still be a factor. It's like eating in the non-smoking section of a restaurant. If half of the restaurant smokes, and the other is smoke-free, do the carcinogens stop at the divider line? Nope. They continue on to your side of the building.

I would check this post over at Gizmodo, which depicts what the world would look like if we could see wireless signals.

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Of course it has an answer. Sunlight has a far larger effect, and we've been dealing with that for as long has humans have existed. WiFi and other radio com transmits non-ionising radiation - very little direct effect (UV from the sun does go into ionising territory). It's also extremely low intensity, orders of magnitude lower, in comparison. –  Bob Feb 18 at 23:38
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