The Council of Europe has issued a new draft resolution calling for a ban on the use of mobile phones and Wi-Fi technology in all schools in its 47 member states, including Malta.

Mobile phones should be banned from schools to protect children from potentially harmful wireless signals, says the resolution, based on a report approved by the CoE’s Environment Committee.

However, Environmental Health director John Attard Kingswell said there was no cause for alarm and stressed that Malta was following developments closely.

“This is still a draft resolution and there still needs to be plenty of discussion on the subject. If and when the European Union issues any legislation we will adopt it,” he said when contacted.

The report, issued two weeks ago, stresses that European governments should “take all reasonable measures to reduce exposure to electromagnetic fields” emitted from wireless devices, including mobile phones.

In the report, which was downplayed by the European Commission, the committee said it was crucial to avoid repeating the mistakes made when public health officials were slow to recognise the dangers of asbestos, tobacco smoking and lead in petrol.

The draft report, unanimously approved by the committee, will be debated by the CoE’s Parliamentary Assembly. The views do not necessarily represent those of the Committee of Ministers, the council’s decision-making body consisting of member states’ foreign ministers.

It has long been claimed that the electromagnetic radiation emitted from wireless devices, including smart phones, broadband routers and cordless telephones, could harm brain development. However, experts never reached a conclusive decision.

The resolution coincides with a World Health Organisation warning issued last week that mobile phone use can increase possible cancer risk. Before this announcement, WHO had always assured consumers no adverse health effects had been established. WHO experts meeting in France last week warned that the use of mobile phones might increase the risk of developing certain types of brain tumours and consumers should consider ways of reducing exposure to such appliances.

A working group of 31 scientists from 14 countries meeting at WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer ( IARC) said a review of all the available scientific evidence suggested mobile phone use should be classified as “ possibly carcinogenic”.

The classification, which puts mobile phone use in the same broad IARC cancer risk category as lead, chloroform and coffee, could spur the UN health body to review its guidelines on mobile phones, the scientists said. However, they agreed more lengthy and detailed research was needed before a more definitive answer on any link could be given.

The Malta Communications Authority said when contacted it was closely following the latest scientific developments from the Council of Europe and WHO.

However, both the Maltese telecoms regulator and the EU are insisting the use of such devices is “ presumed safe” and there is no cause for alarm.

Reacting to the latest developments, European Commission spokesman Aikaterini Apostola played down the issue saying there was no new scientific evidence that mobile phones caused cancer.

While making its clear the CoE had nothing to do with the EU and had no say as to how member states should act, Ms Apostola said all mobile and Wi-Fi equipment put on the EU’s market was “ presumed to be safe” as long as it conformed to its directives.

“EU standards were developed to respect the exposure limits proposed on the limitation of the exposure of the public to electromagnetic fields. The purpose of these exposure limits is to provide a high level of protection of the health of the public,” she said.

Ms Apostola said such scientific validity was regularly assessed and “ no scientific rationale could be found that would justify a change in the exposure limits”.

On its part, the MCA, which regulates mobile telephony in Malta, said that although health issues were not its competence, all Maltese communications networks, including those used for mobile telephony services, had to adhere to EU electromagnetic exposure limits.

“These limits were adopted by the EU and endorsed by WHO,” it insisted. Asked for his reaction after voting in favour of the CoE report, Nationalist MP Joseph Falzon, who sits on the organisation’s Environmental Committee, said these issues should be carefully analysed and studied as the subject was of a highly technical nature.

“Once potential hazards are identified and verified, appropriate measures should be taken to reduce to acceptable limits or eliminate, if possible, the risks involved.”