Is 5G Safe?
Mohathir Sheikh & Dr. Austin Mardon
Wireless technology is constantly evolving and the latest generation of wireless systems to be released is 5G. 5G is used to transmit data between electronic devices and services such as mobile devices, self-driving cars, telemedicine, and telesurgery (Nunez, 2021). 5G provides faster and more efficient mobile communications than the previous generations by using higher electromagnetic frequencies. The frequencies range from 2.5 gigahertz (GHz) to several tens of GHz. It is important to note that before 5G, frequencies this high were only used in devices such as security scanners. The way 5G works is by producing energy called electromagnetic radiation which creates an electromagnetic field (EMF). The data is then sent though a method called beamforming, which send signals directly to devices, in contrast to previous generations which sent signals in all directions (Nunez, 2021). Since being released in 2019, the many concerns about 5G’s health risks were raised and are now widespread.
Can 5G Cause Cancer?
The main fear surrounding 5G is the electromagnetic radiation associated with the technology causes cancer (Lee et al., 2020). The main argument being the current radio frequency radiation (RFR) exposure limits the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) adopted are based on research from the 1980s (Moskowitz, 2019). Since then, researchers have studied and published on biological and health effect of nonionizing EMFs. Some of these publications indicate EMF levels below the national and international guidelines are still capable of increasing cancer risk, cellular stress, and genetic damage (Moskowitz, 2019). The introduction of 5G will introduce millimeter waves in addition to microwaves currently utilized in 4G. Furthermore, there are fears the additional cell antennas required due to the short data transmission range of 5G will expose many people to millimeter wave radiation.
The fear that 5G causes cancer is grossly exaggerated. None of the above claims are supported by academic studies and the World Health Organization (WHO) has assessed 5G as not a public health risk (McCaskill, 2021). Furthermore, extensive scientific evidence proves mobile technologies have no adverse health impacts (Lee et al., 2020). After extensive research, the International Commission of Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) reported in March 2020, 5G to be safe (McCaskill, 2021). In fact, the ICNIRP stated the new 5G guidance provides protection against all scientifically substantiated adverse health effects due to EMF exposure in the 100 kHz to 300 GHz range.
In 2017, a small study showed that mobile phones that use frequencies of 1.8 – 2.2 GHz caused tissue heating (Nunez, 2021). Tissue heating refers to the increase in skin temperature as it absorbs electromagnetic energy. However, tissue heating, should it occur, is considered to be short-term and minimal. The FCC also states the general public is exposed to EMF levels too low to cause considerable tissue heating (Nunez, 2021). It is important to note that we are already being exposed to EMFs everyday since they are produced by anything that uses electricity such as microwaves, computers, and power lines. The concerns that 5G causes significant tissue warming that can result in cell damage is not supported by clinical evidence.
Radiation ≠ Radioactivity
One of the largest misconceptions surrounding 5G is that electromagnetic ‘radiation’ is assumed to involve radioactivity. This confusion surrounding radiation can be traced back to the dropping of the nuclear bombs in 1945, in addition to several incidents at nuclear plants in the 75 years since (Lee et al., 2020). As a result, ‘radiation’ is often associated with massive destruction and mortal peril. However, radiation by definition, refers to the process by which an object emits energy that travels through a medium (such as air or water) and is absorbed by another object (Lee et al., 2020). Therefore, 5G does produce radiation, but none of its radioactive radiation.
We are constantly exposed to EMFs in our daily lives without giving it a second thought. The research shows there is no evidence that 5G radiation causes harmful effects to the human body. The power transmission from mobile devices due to 5G is extremely low and peaks at around 1-2 watts (Lee et al., 2020). To illustrate how small that is compared to other household appliances, take an incandescent bulb which generates between 25-200 watts. In a household setting, an individual could be within half a meter to the bulb and be exposed to thousands of times more radiation than individual who was within ten meters, which is extremely close, to a high powered 5G base station (Lee et al., 2020). Other examples, such as the broadcaster transmitter power levels for TVs and FM radios can reach up to 100 000 watts.
The scepticism surrounding 5G will continue to exist and circulate, and it may not be possible to educate and convince everyone about the safety of 5G. However, it is important to stop the spread of fear and mistrust that can negatively impact individuals susceptible to misinformation.
About the Authors
Mohathir Sheikh is an article writer for the Antarctic Institute of Canada. He has a Bachelor of Health Sciences and is currently completing a Business Analytics concentration through the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary.
Austin A. Mardon, CM, PhD, FRSC is an adjunct professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Alberta, director of the Antarctic Institute of Canada, an Order of Canada member, and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.
Lee, P., Westcott, K., Calugar-Pop, C., Wigginton, C., (2020). 5g health risks debunked. (n.d.). Deloitte Insights. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/industry/technology/technology-media-and-telecom-predictions/2021/5g-radiation-dangers-health-concerns.html
McCaskill, S., (2021). 5G towers: Everything you need to know about 5G cell towers. https://www.5gradar.com/features/5g-towers-everything-you-need-to-know-about-5g-cell-towers
Moskowitz, J. M. (2019). We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe. Scientific American Blog Network. https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/we-have-no-reason-to-believe-5g-is-safe/
Nunez, K. (2021). Is 5G Harmful to People? Separating Facts from Myths. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/is-5g-harmful