5G and Health Concerns

What is the difference between 4G and 5G?

5G is significantly more powerful than 4G in terms of latency(10x), connection density(10x), experienced throughput(10x) and network efficiency(100x). However, 5G will also utilize millimetre waves along with microwaves that were used from 2G to 4G. What makes this significant is that 5G has a limited radius and cellular antennas are required for every 100 to 200 meters for it to work effectively. This means that hundreds of new antennas would need to be built in neighbourhoods, cities and towns. According to The Environmental Health Trust, they estimate that a transmitter or a small cell will be present in every two to ten homes.
Millimetre waves can also be consumed by human skin and even in layers of the cornea(eye). Due to this, there is a belief that short-term exposure can affect a human’s nervous system, immune system and cardiovascular system. Meanwhile, long-term exposure to 5G could affect skin, eyes and other parts of the body exposed to 5G.

Are there any health concerns for 5G?

Despite all of the benefits that 5G may provide, such as faster connectivity and larger bandwidth, there is still major uncertainty with the technology. As of today, 5G technology is still very new to society making its health effects unfamiliar.

5G technology comes from its millimetre-wave technology which uses high-frequency radio waves. These waves may provide faster speeds, but their range is limited. This means that carriers will have to provide a large number of small access points for 5G to function effectively. These facts have created concerns about how the millimetre -waves could be more dangerous than traditional frequencies and how the access points will be much closer to homes and could expose these homes to more radiation as a result.  

In terms of the radiofrequency radiation, 5G contains a significant amount of radiation over 4G. 4G has a frequency of up to 2.5 GHz, while 5G excels that number by having a frequency of up to 95 GHz. If 5G were to reach its highest frequency at 95 GHz and came in contact with human skin, it would feel like your body is “on fire”. This frequency range can penetrate 1/64 of human skin, meaning that it could damage and affect an individual’s skin. Typically, millimetre waves are used for crowd control in hostile crowd environments(e.g. riots). By doing so, the targeted individuals would flee the beam instantly due to the burning effect that it produces when used. These millimetre waves have the same frequency as the maximum frequency of 5G, which demonstrates that there is reason to be concerned about the effects of 5G’s frequency. 

However, millimetre waves are not the primary way that carriers will use to deliver 5G service. For example, T-Mobile offers the most extensive 5G service available today. In doing so, it uses a band of lower frequencies which television broadcasts have used. On the other hand, Sprint Mobile, Verizon and T-mobile have used low to mid-band frequencies for 5G. Millimetre-wave based services are currently only available in a handful of locations due to the time and expenses required to create a large number of access points. 

There is not much evidence against 5G or 4G in terms of health effects. However, there has been a lot of documented health effects from 2G and 3G radiation. This long-term exposure to radiation has caused swellings such as neck tumours. The consistency of tumours has also increased as the exposure to long-term cell phone usage has increased over the years.

Zebrafish experiment:

According to studies from Oregon state, the radiation does not seem to be harmful as it is mainly benign(unharmful). To view the health effects of exposure to 5G, researchers used embryonic zebrafish. This zebrafish develops similarly to humans, so its reaction to 5G is perceived to be similar to how a human would react. With this in mind, researchers of the journal, PLOS ONE, exposed zebrafish for two days to 5G radiation as an experiment. The results of this experiment were that the zebrafish mortality was unchanged. The results were expected, except that they found a modest impact on zebrafish embryos, which will be further investigated in the future. To gather more research, the same zebrafish will be used at a gene level to study how their development is affected as they grow from embryos to adults. More tests will also be done to the zebrafish with higher frequencies and exposure levels to see how they would react to the changing cell phone industry. 

No definite research on long-term health effects

Research done by the multi-institutional Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research (ACEBR) has also conducted research to determine the health effects of 5G. Professor Andrew Wood of the team believes that there could be multiple health concerns when exposed to 5G for long periods. “There are concerns of subtle effects as long-term exposure could create certain types of cancer, but there is not enough evidence behind this other than epidemiological and animal studies,” claims Wood. Wood also mentions that there could be other health concerns, however. “As frequency increases, the depth of penetration into biological tissues goes down, so the skin and eyes, rather than the brain, become the main organs of health concern,” says Wood. This means that the power levels of devices in IoT may not be high, but long-term exposure to the radiation could have some health side effects.

Does 5G create exposure to electromagnetic fields?

Some scientists believed that the exposure to electromagnetic fields generated by the device of a 5G network could create health problems. Some studies report that the symptoms of “electro-sensitive” people when exposed to the electromagnetic fields of a 5G network include stress, headaches, heart problems and impaired cognitive functions (e.g. memory) in children. However, this is far from a scientifically proven diagnosis and there is no definite link between electromagnetic fields and these symptoms.

Other experiments done on cellphone towers and radiofrequency(RF) waves:

Currently, there have not been many studies linking cell phone towers and cancer risk and the studies that have been done provide unclear answers. One British study compared families of young children with cancer to families of children without cancer. This study found no link between a mother’s exposure to the towers during pregnancy and the risk of early childhood cancer. Another set of researchers in Taiwan compared children with and without cancer. They found that there was a slightly higher risk of cancer in towns that had been exposed to cell phone towers. However, when the RF exposure of the towers was categorized differently the finding was not as clear.

In terms of the effects of frequency waves, the National Toxicology Program recorded an increased risk of cancer among male rats when exposed to low-frequency waves. The rats were exposed to RF waves over many hours of a day, from birth to throughout their lives. Uncommon heart, brain and adrenal gland tumours were discovered in the male rats from this experiment. The researchers said that tumours in these male rats were similar to the previous research done on heavy cell phone users. However, these results should not be directly correlated with humans because of the difference in body reactions. Furthermore, female rats and both types of mice did not experience this risk, meaning that the experiment should not be thoroughly relied upon as it could have been an inaccurate study.

What do major health organizations say about 5G?

The World Health Organization (WHO) and many health authorities in various countries state that 5G does not pose a danger to human health. In 2011, the WHO classified RF radiation, stronger than 5G’s average frequency, as a Group 2B agent. These groups are assessed based on their likelihood of being a possible carcinogen. Group 2B is a class with things such as caffeine, meaning that 5G’s frequency is no more harmful than drinking a cup of coffee in this regard. 

A WHO fact sheet dating back to 2002 has indicated that over 25 000 articles have been published regarding non-ionizing radiation. However, none of them confirms the existence of the health effects from exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields.

Furthermore, millimetre waves from many other devices such as microwave ovens, computers and cell phones are non-ionizing, meaning that they are not powerful enough to reach the cells of the human body. The higher frequency parts of the spectrum consist of x-rays and gamma rays, which can break molecular bonds and cause cancer. 5G emits frequencies that are around typical broadcast frequencies and far below ionizing radiation such as shortwave UV light, x-ways and gamma ways.

Currently, the WHO is performing a health risk assessment from exposure to radio frequencies. This assessment will cover the entire radiofrequency range, including 5G, and it will be published in 2022. 

Overall, as more research is conducted on 5G’s health effects, we will then get a better idea of how its radiation levels will or will not affect us in the future.

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