The recent flap over the installation of smart meters has made me think. I currently sleep three meters away from a modem and 2.4 GHz wireless hub. My wife plugs her iPhone into a speaker/dock 30 cm from my head.
Our home has a 2.4 GHz cordless phone, two laptops, a tablet and an Xbox 360, all communicating wirelessly. When we do a search for a wireless network, probably a dozen of my neighbours' connections show up in full or close-to-full strength.
Smart Meters are coming as well and I'm guessing about 14 new antennas will be transmitting data from the 98 units in my housing complex. There are radio towers and CN Rail microwave towers not far from where I live.
If we could see radio waves, I imagine it would be kind of scary — like walking through a fog of very low-level radiation. Some of the signals would be weak, others strong. Cumulatively, it could be excessive.
While I do believe all of these devices are safe on their own, like most things in moderation, I worry about the cumulative effect of these waves and our daily exposure to something that's so new that there's still no definitive research as to whether or not it's safe or what the safe limits may be.
Right now radio frequency radiation is internationally classified as a potential carcinogen (coffee is actually on the same list, so it's pretty broad) and people are being urged to adopt the precautionary principle and use hand-free systems for cell phones, keep WiFi out of bedrooms and schools, that kind of thing.
One day a study may prove that the waves pose no threat to human health in any concentrations. Aside from a few people that are hypersensitive to the waves, maybe it's nothing to worry about.
But while there's even a slim chance you could be harming yourself, disrupting your sleep, giving yourself headaches or causing other side effects like confusion, memory loss or stress in yourself and others — just some of the side effects noted after test subjects have been exposed to electromagnetic fields — why take the chance? Especially when one of the results could be cancer?
While we may not have a say about BC Hydro's smart meters — and I personally suspect that we'll see time-of-day billing by the end of 2013 — there are things we can do to limit our exposure to other types of electromagnetic waves.
Although this is hardly scientific, maybe the best place to start would be unplugging everything in your home that emits radio waves, whether it's the baby monitor or your WiFi. Individuals that claim to be sensitive to the waves claim that the feeling of relief is immediate and tangible.
If you don't notice any difference, maybe you should sleep that way and spend half a day or so with no wireless exposure. Did you sleep better? Do you feel any better? Are you thinking any more clearly?
If you're still not sure, turn everything back on and then repeat the test again in a few days, and then a few days after that. Like the majority of people, you could be immune to the immediate side effects of radio waves.
If you have a cell phone, there are a lot of alternatives to placing the unit to the side of your head. Most smart phone headphones have earphones with built-in mics, or hand-free loudspeakers.
If you're putting the phone in your pocket you can turn it off — or if you're playing games or reading a book, switch to airplane mode to shut off your phone's antennas.
Within your home, there's a lot you can do. Getting rid of your cordless phone is an easy step, although potentially an inconvenient one. Wired phones are relatively cheap, however, and the sound quality is usually a little better.
Getting rid of WiFi is a little trickier. Right now I can't swap out my modem/wireless hub because I subscribe to Telus Optik TV, and right now that's the only modem/router supported.
Right now I'm looking at ways to get it out of the bedroom, but in the meantime I'm going to start turning it off at night. The phone charger can stay, but the phone goes on Airplane Mode while I sleep.
If I can turn off the antennas, or Optik TV allows for different modems, then I'll take the next step and wire my home for Ethernet.
That would be a huge undertaking if I wasn't already planning to replace all the baseboards and upgrade the floors in my house, but with a weekend of work I could do it. It's better to install wiring in walls, which requires cutting through the drywall and studs.
For coax, speaker wire, Ethernet cables, phone cables and other low voltage wires you can go behind baseboards and trim, although I'll need to make a few small holes in floors/ceilings to feed wire between floors.
There are a lot of how-to guides online how to hardwire your home. Whether you do it to cut down on wireless radiation or to speed up your connections, it's a worthwhile project.