PAT PILCHER checks the science behind 5G and looks at growing anti-5G noise.
An unfortunate side effect of Vodafone’s announcement that they’re to switch on 5G in December has been the growing volume of concerns – along with the accompanying pseudoscience – expressed by opponents of the new technology.
Despite a mounting body of scientific evidence that 5G poses no real health risks, many remain staunchly opposed to its implementation.
So, what are the facts? How valid are anti-5G concerns? Will faster mobile data give us all cancer or cause us to glow in the dark?
The root cause of most concerns goes back to early 2000 in Florida, where Broward County Schools were considering switching to student laptops and wireless networks. They decided to check if there were any health risks with the move and approached Bill Curry, a consultant and physicist.
His findings caused considerable alarm when he reported that adopting wireless networks was “likely to be a serious health hazard”. The most troubling evidence in his report was a graph that he labelled “Microwave Absorption In Brain Tissue (Grey Matter)”. Curry’s chart showed that radiation to the brain increased as the frequency of the wireless signal increased.
Since then, Curry’s chart and dire warnings have been embraced by a growing number as the radio frequencies used in mobile networks and home Wi-Fi continued to rise.
Moves to the fifth generation of mobile technologies have seen similarly dire warnings starting to flood Facebook and other social media. As part of their initial 5G launch in December, Vodafone is using the existing 4G radio spectrum. 5G Opponents have expressed concerns around Vodafone’s use of millimetre spectrum radio, a higher part of the radio spectrum.
A quirk of physics means that radio waves of higher radio frequencies are less able to penetrate walls and go through solid objects. Because of this, 5G networks will require that many microcell sites transmitting in the millimetre band are deployed to achieve coverage.
The sad and somewhat perplexing thing is this: Curry’s research is flawed, and has since been thoroughly debunked. Counter intuitively, experts say that higher frequency radio waves are safer, not more dangerous. Experts universally agree, however, that extremely high-frequency energetic radiation such as x-rays and UV do pose a health risk.
Experts say that 5G does not use ionizing radiation. It instead uses a radio frequency that lies between microwave and Infrared radiation, which is less energetic than visible light. They say that if 5G was harmful, then seeing should also be very dangerous. Of course, it isn’t. Everything we see is the result of our peepers absorbing low energy non-ionizing radiation – visible light.
So, in “science-speak”, it works like this: 5G radio signals are non-ionizing and are a form of electromagnetic energy that does not carry enough energy to ionize atoms. They don’t have enough power to play billiards with the DNA in human tissue and cannot cause cancer with regular smartphone use. The high-frequency radio waves used by 5G cannot penetrate human skin. It is known as “the shielding effect” and is something Curry’s research failed to take into account.
Sadly, these facts eluded the US arm of RT, the Russian state broadcaster who portrayed 5G as something “that will kill you” in their news segment titled “5G Wireless: A Dangerous Experiment on Humanity“. For those lacking a degree in physics, the RT story makes for alarming viewing, but as the New York Times points out, it is in Russia’s interests to create fear around 5G. Any country that gets an early lead in 5G stands to gain an economic, scientific and industrial advantage.
US intelligence agencies had long since identified RT as meddling in the 2016 presidential election as an arm of Putin’s government. RT America may be trying to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt around 5G, but in February, Putin announced the launch of Russian 5G networks.
RT has run 7 anti-5G stories in the last 12 months, all of which have been embraced by anti-5G advocates. Social media platforms are now filled with dire warnings of our impending doom once 5G is switched on.
So, what exactly has got the anti-5G crowd so concerned? Checking online shows that most are saying that the radio spectrum used by mobile networks is harmful “radiation”. Many online anti-5G posts confuse radio waves with radiation at the far end of the electromagnetic spectrum (e.g. x-rays and ultraviolet rays). UV radiation and X-rays are at the opposite end of the electromagnetic spectrum to radio waves.
A link often used by the anti-5G crowd to give their views more credibility is a federal study conducted in 2018. It found that cell phone signals might cause brain cancer in some male rats. What is not said is that the study used lower frequency radio. The rats’ exposure to radiation was also far more than what would constitute heavy cellphone use by most people.
According to researchers at Cornell University high-frequency radio waves are not absorbed by the human body and will only cause illness at the energy levels well over those found in smartphones and Wi-Fi connected devices. For any of the damage cited by 5G opponents to happen, you’d need to be right next to a cell site antenna for a considerable period.
The other factor to consider is this. With tobacco, the side effects became widely known because of the growing numbers of people who have lung cancer, emphysema and other tobacco-related illnesses. With the WHO estimating that over 5 billion people use mobile phones, I’m wondering where the hospital wards filled to bulging with people living with brain cancer are?
Either way, I suggest you do your own research, check reputable sources and then make your mind up.