Three reasons why 5G is unlikely to cause harm

By Joan Conrow

June 26, 2020

Following persistent conspiracy theories that have resulted in vandalism of 5G towers and attacks on telecom workers, a team of experts has once again considered the health and safety issues around 5G high-speed wireless communications networks.

So, what did they find? While it is obviously absurd to suggest that a biological agent like a virus can be transmitted directly over the electromagnetic spectrum, are there any actual scientifically-justified health concerns about 5G?

The new evidence-based review, which appears in Health Physics journal, concludes that there appears to be “little or no risk of adverse health effects” related to radiofrequency (RF) exposure from 5G systems. The paper was authored by a physician/biologist, epidemiologist, engineers and physical scientists, all working voluntarily and collaboratively on a consensus basis.

The authors explain that 5G “is not specific to frequency” and may be deployed for operating networks currently using frequencies extending from 100s to 1,000s of MHz. It can also operate in the 10s of GHz where the wavelengths are 10 mm or less — the so-called millimeter wave (MMW) band.

MMWs are not new, and are already found in such applications as airport scanners, automotive collision avoidance systems and perimeter surveillance radar security systems. However, the rapid expansion of 5G highspeed wireless systems across the globe “will produce a more ubiquitous presence of MMW in the environment,” the authors noted.

The review prompted the Committee on Man and Radiation (COMAR) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) to issue this statement:

“While we acknowledge gaps in the scientific literature, particularly for exposures at millimeter-wave frequencies, [we judge] the likelihood of yet unknown health hazards at exposure levels within current limits to be very low, if they exist at all.”

COMAR’s consensus statement was issued to counter an increase in alarming claims that people and wildlife are suffering strange and unusual health effects from 5G technology.

“This misinformation together with activist websites expressing even more ominous consequences of 5G — ranging from cancer induction to being responsible for the current coronavirus pandemic — has created substantial and unnecessary public anxiety,” said Jerrold T. Bushberg of the University of California, Davis School of Medicine and vice-chair of COMAR.

Here are the three main reasons why experts agree that health harm from 5G exposure appears unlikely:

  • In contrast to lower-frequency fields, the MMW band does not penetrate beyond the outer layer of the skin and so deeper tissues are not exposed or heated. Tissue heating is the primary potentially harmful effect of exposure to radiofrequency (RF) fields.
  • The introduction of 5G is unlikely to change overall levels of RF exposure. People will continue to receive the most RF exposure due to the “uplink” from their own cell phones and other wireless devices — as they do now — and not from transmission from base stations.
  • RF exposures from cellular base stations, including 5G stations, will remain small and well below current international exposure standards and guidelines in nearly all locations accessible to the public.

“Exposures may be higher near base station antennas, but wireless carriers are still obligated legally to ensure that transmitting facilities comply with regulatory limits,” the authors noted. “Issues related to compliance are quite possible in countries that have adopted ‘precautionary’ limits that are considerably lower than those in internationally accepted guidelines and standards.”

However, overall exposure is expected to be lower with 5G than with 4G base stations because 5G makes more efficient use of transmitter power that can steer signals toward specific users. “Since the 5G beam will exist only while communicating with a user, the longterm time-averaged exposure levels will also be lower,” the authors wrote.

“[S]o long as exposures remain below established guidelines, the research results to date do not support a determination that adverse health effects are associated with RF exposures, including those from 5G systems,” according to the COMAR statement.

The experts did acknowledge limitations in the current body of evidence on possible health and safety effects of 5G exposure and identified key areas for further research, including high-quality studies of the biological effects of MMW.

“So far, no comprehensive surveys of environmental 5G signals have been conducted; few 5G networks are presently in operation, and those are largely demonstration projects transmitting at less than full capacity,” the authors wrote. “Nevertheless, the designs of 5G networks are constrained by the same requirements that apply to previous generations of cellular systems: to provide a signal that is strong enough to be useful within a given cell but not so strong as to cause interference to users in nearby cells. Consequently, on this basis alone, one can expect that exposures from 5G networks will not differ greatly from those associated with present generation networks.”

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