Frivolous Lawsuits over ‘Wi-Fi Sickness’

This article was originally posted on RealClearScience.

Last week, the Worcester Telegram & Gazette reported that the Fay School in Southborough, Massachusetts was sued by parents who believe that the school’s wi-fi signal is making their 12-year-old son sick. According to the article, their child:

“…suffers from Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome, a condition that is aggravated by electromagnetic radiation. The boy was diagnosed after he frequently experienced headaches, nosebleeds, nausea, and other symptoms while sitting in class after the school installed a new, more powerful wireless Internet system in 2013, the suit says.”

Reading this drivel has given me a headache, nosebleed, and nausea. (Maybe I suffer from Ignoramus Hypersensitivity Syndrome?)

Let’s be crystal clear: There is no such thing as Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity Syndrome (EHS). Your body is not affected in any meaningful way by the microwaves used by wi-fi devices or cell phones. This is because they are very, very low power. A microwave heats food using about 1,000 watts, while a wi-fi router emits about 1 watt. Also, keep in mind that this power dissipates rapidly with distance, which explains why WiMAX towers don’t cook people. In addition to all of this basic physics and logic, a systematic review published in 2010 in the journal Bioelectromagnetics concluded that “repeated experiments have been unable to replicate [electromagnetic hypersensitivity] under controlled conditions.”

In short, physics and biology have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that EHS is not real. So case closed, right? Alas, probably not.

A few years ago, a parent in Portland, Oregon (where else?) sued the public school system for the exact same reason. Though the suit was eventually dismissed, the school district spent $172,000 fighting it. The Fay School had better prepare for a protracted battle, especially since the plaintiffs are seeking $250,000 in damages.

All of this goes to show one thing: The judicial system is too slow, inept, and scientifically illiterate to handle medical lawsuits. An entirely separate legal system should be set up to handle such cases. Instead of judges and juries, doctors and scientists should determine verdicts. And verdicts ought to be rendered rapidly, particularly for lawsuits based on pseudoscience.

Much fuss has been made over the years in regard to tort reform. Creating a medical court system would be a great way to start.