The city’s public health department says it expects to contact Toronto Hydro in the coming days to learn more about its plans to blanket the city under a giant wireless hotspot.

Toronto Hydro’s telecom subsidiary plans to install wireless WiFi transmitters on streetlight posts throughout downtown and beyond over the next three years to provide Torontonians who pay a fee with near-ubiquitous broadband Internet access.

The initiative, while widely applauded, is drawing criticism from some citizens concerned about the potential health effects of a wireless system sending signals into every nook and cranny of the city.

“I do not want my daughter exposed to this unwanted health risk,” Helen Armstrong wrote in a letter to the Star. “Why should we all become guinea pigs?”

Gil Hardy, a spokesperson for Toronto Public Health, said it’s still early and the department is trying to learn more about the project.

Dave Dobbin, president of Toronto Hydro Telecom, said the company’s research has found no health risk involved with its WiFi plan. The technology also complies with Health Canada safety standards, he said.

“Cordless phones, garage door openers, baby monitors … there’s a lot of stuff that has used this spectrum for a long time,” said Dobbin. “If something concrete comes along and says this is bad, we will take immediate action at that time.”

No health concerns have been raised in Fredericton, N.B., which in 2003 became the first city in Canada to blanket its downtown core with WiFi technology, said Maurice Gallant, who headed the project.

WiFi technology is “essentially the same stuff as radio signals,” said Gallant, who heads e-Novations, the not-for-profit company operated on behalf of the City of Fredericton.

“There’s been a lot of research in this area. There’s no link that’s ever been established as far as I know.”

One difference between Toronto and Fredericton, Gallant noted, is that in his city, wireless access is free in the downtown core because the municipality believes that, like a sidewalk, intellectual infrastructure should be accessible to all.

Concern over the potential health effects of wireless signals has been around since the early 1990s, with most of the attention focused on cellphones.

While most studies suggest signals pose no apparent health risks, many scientists and some health authorities have urged caution, saying it’s too early to rule out possible health effects because many cancers and illnesses take more than a decade to manifest themselves.

Some have chosen a precautionary approach. Lakehead University in Thunder Bay has banned WiFi hotspots in certain public areas until more is known about its health effects.

The public health department of Salzburg, Austria, advised a ban last year on WiFi in all schools and kindergartens because of “seen” symptoms from exposure, including headaches, concentration difficulties, restlessness and memory problems.