The competition is in full swing to deploy 5G networks around the world. According to GSA’s LTE and 5G Market Statistics – July 2019 report, 293 operators in 98 countries are investing in 5G networks in the form of tests, trials, pilots, planned and actual deployments. Of those, 35 operators in 20 countries are offering 3GPP-compliant commercial 5G services. With that said, concerns over health risks associated with 5G continue to surface, but is there any evidence to suggest that 5G is bad for your health?
Concerns over radiation exposure from 5G mobile antennae and base stations have been raised in Singapore, following Brussels’ move in April to put the brakes on its 5G plans owing to health concerns. Also in April 2019, Switzerland said it would introduce a monitoring system to soothe public concerns over 5G mobile frequency emissions. Petitions against 5G networks have also been reported in New Zealand, Switzerland and the United States.
In the United States, three U.S. Congress members expressed their concern about the potential negative health effects due to exposure to radio frequencies used in delivering 5G wireless service. Andy Kim, a Democrat from New Jersey, Thomas Suozzi, a Democrat from New York, and Peter Defazio, a Democrat from Oregon, say their constituents are worried that 5G radios, which are being deployed atop street lights every few blocks in many communities, may have negative effects that are still unknown.
Although worry surrounding any type of the latest technology is nothing new, some people feel the FCC urgently needs to update its cellphone safety standards, as this has not been done since 1996, including the specific absorption rate or SAR which measures the levels of power absorbed by the human body per a given mass. The SAR safety level has not been review in twenty-five years.
The primary reason for concern with cellular signal is because of radiation and whether it is hazardous to the human body. The lower the frequency on the electromagnetic spectrum the less powerful and less harmful the energy will be and as the frequency gets higher the more powerful, the more dangerous it becomes. The spectrums have been divided into two categories, ionizing and non-ionizing. Non-ionizing radiation is on the lower end of the spectrum and is considered non-harmful. 3G and 4G connectivity, FM radios and cellphones all fall under this class. 5G, however, makes use of millimeter and microwave lengths and thus falls into the ionizing or harmful category.
Majority of studies to date have not found a link between traditional cellphone services and the development of cancer according to the American Cancer Society. However, they have conceded that the studies had limitations. While no one has officially confirmed this radiation leads to cancer, in 2011 the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified it as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”.
According to Michael Wyde, lead toxicologist on the studies, “5G is an emerging technology that hasn’t really been defined yet. From what we currently understand, it likely differs dramatically from what we studied.”
In September 2017, in an appeal to the European Union, more than 180 scientists and doctors from 36 countries warned about the danger of 5G, which they said would lead to a massive increase in involuntary exposure to electromagnetic radiation. The scientists urged the EU to follow Resolution 1815 of the Council of Europe, asking for an independent task force to reassess the health effects.
As of August 2019, “over 230 scientists from more than 40 countries have expressed their ‘serious concerns’ regarding the ubiquitous and increasing exposure to EMF generated by electric and wireless devices already before the additional 5G roll-out. They refer to the fact that ‘numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines’. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plants and animals.”
Besides opposition from scientists and doctors, stories on the health risks of 5G has continued to appear on social media. On 2 August 2019, a video of what appeared to be hundreds of bees dead on the floor around a ‘5G tower’ went viral. The video, which was allegedly recorded in California, sparked debate on the health risks of 5G networks; however, the validity of the claims that the bees deaths were caused by 5G continues to be disputed. Some have stated that it is unclear whether the tower is, in fact, 5G. Others believe the bees are a specific species that die following mating and that the towers are unrelated to the bee deaths.
Following the video, the FCC issued a news release stating that Chairman Ajit Pai proposes to maintain current RF exposure safety standards. After more than six years of public input and review, the FCC said the current exposure levels for cellphones, wireless towers, Wi-Fi routers and all other devices emitting RF signals are safe. Agency officials added that they don’t have any concern for new gear using 5G technology, including gear that uses millimeter wavelength frequencies.
“The available scientific evidence to date does not support adverse health effects in humans due to exposures at or under the current limits,” Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, wrote to the FCC. “No changes to the current standards are warranted at this time.”
Further studies are expected to be published later this year into 5G and whether it poses health risks. For now, mobile operators continue to push forward with trialing and deploying their 5G networks. The competition is still very much on.