Concerns about Wi-Fi connectivity are plentiful: potential security risks, lack of a signal and the cost to connect among them. But some New Mexico city residents are taking it one step further, claiming they're suffering from allergic reactions to Wi-Fi.
Now theSanta Fe group has banded together, claiming signals emanating from hot spots and Wi-Fi in public buildings are causing symptoms of electromagnetic hypersensitivity.
One Santa Fe resident told local TV station KOB-TV that Wi-Fi and the electromagnetic fields it radiates are causing him severe discomfort and that he's stumping to ban Wi-Fi signals in public buildings because he and others are allergic to the radio waves.
"I get chest pain," Arthur Firstenberg told the TV station. "It doesn't go away right away. I suffer for a couple of days."
Firstenberg, 57, added: "If I walk into a room of a building that has Wi-Fi, my most immediate sign is that the front of my right thigh goes numb. If I don't leave, I'll get short of breath, chest pains and the numbness will spread."
Firstenberg isn't alone. He said he and dozens of other folks are "electro-sensitive" and they plan to fight Santa Fe's proposal for Wi-Fi hot spots in public places, claiming that it is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The Santa Fe city attorney has been notified.
Santa Fe City Councilor Ron Trujillo battled back, saying Santa Fe residents need to get with the times and embrace wireless technology, noting that the city is already blanketed by wireless signals. "It's not 1692, it's 2008," Trujillo said. "Santa Fe needs to embrace this technology. It's not going away."
The city council plans to look into the claims.
Solution providers say they've heard little about Wi-Fi-related allergies.
"I don't recall ever hearing anything like this before," said Alan Bryant, director of business development at Teltech Communications, an Edwards, Colo.-based wireless solution provider and Proxim Wireless partner. "I think it's an isolated incident, but it could require some further investigation."
Banning Wi-Fi, Bryant said, would be a drastic measure and unplugging all wireless devices would be a hasty solution. "Is there any tie between this and what happened in 1947 in Roswell?" Bryant asked, recalling the UFO investigations outside the New Mexico town more than 60 years ago. Bryant said his recommendation for Wi-Fi allergy suffers would be to "take two aspirin and call me in the morning."
The World Health Organization, while acknowledging that some symptoms may be attributable to electromagnetic hypersensitivity, said little is known about Wi-Fi and its link to a possible allergic reaction.
"EHS [electromagnetic hypersensitivity] is characterized by a variety of nonspecific symptoms that differ from individual to individual," the WHO states on its Web site. "The symptoms are certainly real and can vary widely in their severity. Whatever its cause, EHS can be a disabling problem for the affected individual. EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF [electromagnetic field] exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem."
Regardless, the WHO indicates that symptoms can range from redness, tingling and burning sensations to fatigue, tiredness, concentration difficulties, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitation and digestive disturbances.
But, according to the WHO, laboratory studies have found no true link between the symptoms and exposure to EMFs or Wi-Fi.
"The majority of studies indicate that EHS individuals cannot detect EMF exposure any more accurately than non-EHS individuals," the WHO said. "Well-controlled and conducted double-blind studies have shown that symptoms were not correlated with EMF exposure."
The WHO suggested that symptoms experienced by EHS sufferers may be completely unrelated to EMF--for example, the flicker of fluorescent lights, glare and other visual problems; poor ergonomic design of computer workstations; or poor indoor air quality, workplace stress or living environment.
"There are also some indications that these symptoms may be due to pre-existing psychiatric conditions as well as stress reactions as a result of worrying about EMF health effects, rather than EMF exposure itself."