Worried About 5G’s Health Effects? Don’t Be!

Posted on April 12, 2020

Top speed, convenience and instant gratification…that’s what we all expect from the internet. And from the way we are wired, the more we get it, the more we want it—and better! 

But as the available networks become overwhelmed, providers are looking for the next big technology solution; the fifth generation is already here—5G. Of course, it’s very natural to wonder if the forthcoming, more powerful technology has any potential hazards for human health and the environment.

As carriers across the world rush to install 5G technology networks, some people are citing fears that this next gen wireless technology could pose far-reaching health risks. This seems to have sparked Covid-19 and 5G conspiracy theories during this global health pandemic. So... I sought to find out if you really have to be worried.

More than 180 scientists and doctors from across the globe (36 countries) recently made an appeal to the EU warning against the dangers of 5G. According to the critics, the new technology could lead to massive spikes in involuntary exposure to electromagnetic radiation. 

On the other hand, the telecommunications industry experts have accused scientists of “fear mongering” over the 5G wireless technology and that since the research is funded by the public, they owe the public ethical responsibility to guarantee their safety. 

This blog delves deeper into this peer-reviewed scientific research work and we hope by the time you finish reading it, your guess will be as good as ours. 

Indeed, there’s little if any reason to even imagine that 5G frequencies are riskier than the other types of electromagnetic radiation such as visible light

Earlier in the year in the US, the Portland, Oregon city council moved a resolution requiring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to share its research findings about the potential health risks of the 5G wireless technology.  

Last May, the House of Representatives in Louisiana made a resolution asking the state Department of Environment Quality and Department of Health to initiate a study about the environment and potential health effects of the 5G network.

In the meantime several Bay Area towns, Sebastopol and Mill Valley included, are plannng to stop carriers from setting up the 5G infrastructure.

"The impending roll out of 5G technology will require the installation of hundreds of thousands of 'small cell' sites in neighbourhoods and communities throughout the country, and these installations will emit higher-frequency radio waves than previous generations of cellular technology," US representative Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon) wrote in a letter to the FCC echoing earlier concerns about the latest technologies involving 5G.

There are real concerns as to how the 5G technology is being installed in the United States. And these concerns relate to security issues, the possibility of interfering with weather forecasting systems as well as the FCC stream-rolling local regulators in the name of fast-tracking the roll out of 5G network. 

In Australia, negative media is limited at this stage and for good reason. The latest major setback was during August 2018 when Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia would not allow Huawei in the the market. Huawei is the giant Chinese tech company that is suspected to have ties with the Communist Party, to build the country's 5G network.

However, concerns raised over potential health impacts of the new 5G technology seem to have been blown out of proportion.

If you have not been worried about previous cellular service generations causing cancer, you shouldn’t be worried about 5G either

Most health-related issues about the impact of 5G emanate from a millimetre-wave technology which is high-frequency radio waves expected to deliver faster speeds. 

The catch here is that the millimetre-wave transmission is far less reliable in longer distances than the transmission that uses lower frequencies which mobile carriers have been conventionally using. 

To ensure that the 5G service is reliable, everywhere over millimetre-wave frequencies, mobile carriers will be required to have a higher number of smaller access points.

This has birthed two fears: First, the impact of millimetre-wave signals could be riskier than the traditional frequencies; and two the higher number of access points, with some being closer to households, might expose many to stronger radiation than the 4G service.

However, millimetre waves are not the only or primary way through which carriers can deliver the 5G service. Telstra 5G Mobile delivers the most ubiquitous 5G service available today. However, it relies on a band of low frequencies previously used in television broadcast. Meanwhile, other competing mobile internet providers gave re-purposed some of the “mid-band” spectrum it employs in 4G to offer 5G.

Currently, the primary focus of the wireless industry is the use of mid to low band frequencies for the new 5G since installing a hundreds of thousands of millimetre wave access points would be cumbersome and costly. 

In essence, 5G is expected to continue riding on similar radio frequencies that have been the underlying technology for radio and television broadcast, mobile services, satellite communications, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi.

Where 5g Fits in the Electromagnetic Spectrum

When carriers finally roll out the millimetre-wave coverage, there will be no need to worry given that visible light, radio waves and ultraviolet light all form part of the electromagnetic spectrum. 

The parts of the spectrum with higher frequency include x-rays and the gamma rays which are referred to as “ionising radiation”. Now these are the most damaging radiation as it can break molecular bonds and even cause cancer.   

Radio waves including millimetre waves and the visible light are generally non-ionising which means they do not break molecular bonds. They contain higher frequency than the conventional broadcast frequencies; though they have weaker frequency than those of visible light and far lower than the ionising radiation like the x-rays, gamma rays and the shortwave ultraviolet light.

Calling it 5G and changing the frequency does not change the relevant biological health factor, which is energy.

Robert DeMott, an expert toxicologist specialising in risk assessment at Ramboll, a consulting firm

Another expert, Eric S. Swanson, professor of nuclear physics at the University of Pittsburgh says that visible light is one of the most common sources of higher-energy, higher-frequency electromagnetic energy than the millimetre waves or mobile phone frequencies. But this does not mean that continuous exposure to non-ionising radiation won’t have negative side effects. Generally, electromagnetic energy generates heat which apparently is the “one and only” health risk posed by radio waves, according to Demott.

This is backed by research on the biological effects of non-ionising radiation such as millimetre waves. In a study published in 2005 by the International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety at IEEE, an engineering professional organisation, the over 1,300 peer-reviewed research on the biological effects of radio frequencies discovered that there there were “no adverse health effects that were not thermally related”.

To safeguard against effects related to heat, the FCC in conjunction with other regulators have set limits regarding the amount of energy to be emitted by wireless devices. "The normal consensus is that you don't need to worry about a temperature increase of less than one degree Celsius because our bodies change by one degree Celsius in and of their own activities all the time, even at a cellular level," DeMott says.

In conclusion

5G technology can’t replace 4G rather it will accompany 4G into the near future and potentially in the long run. More research needs to be done to ensure the cited synergistic effects from exposure do not cause harm. I mean, obviously the health issues raised are serious and deserve serious attention. Otherwise there’s no need to get too agitated about 5G.