5G technology represents a new frontier in cutting-edge next-generation cellular technology. This escalation of traditional communication systems has brought with it numerous health concerns. Top of these is the high level of radiation cellphone users are exposed to.
Some experts contend that the amount of radiation this new network generates will have adverse long term effects on DNA structure, as well as, cause cancer and oxidative damage to cells. Other factions refute these claims terming them as hogwash.
But, is there any valid basis for them? Should you be worried? This article seeks to demystify this.
The Promise of 5G
5G is the future of cellular technology. It brings with it a bright new world with the promise of download speeds that are up to 30 times faster than 4G. It’s the foundation of the self-driving cars we all dream about.
It means virtually no lag time between devices pinging the network. The technology is so advanced that surgeons at King’s College in London are using 5G to demonstrate how they can perform surgery on a (dummy) patient without being in the same room as them. Sounds crazy, right? But, they’ve already done a dry run on this.
The doctor would be able to use a Virtual Reality headset and a pair of specially designed gloves to control a robot that would perform the actual operation in another location. Talk about adding a whole new dimension to the word “real-time”! That’s how fast 5G connectivity is! It’s been dubbed the “internet of skills.”
How 5G Cell Towers Work
5G towers are different from 4G, both functionally and physically. For starters, 5G towers are considerably smaller. So more of them are required to cover the same area that 4G towers otherwise would.
Functionally, 5G towers receive and transmit data on an entirely different radio-frequency spectrum from that of their 4G counterparts. The base station in a 5G network is known as a “small cell.” These are considerably smaller than the “macro-cells” you find in 4G networks.
For this reason, they aren’t as power-hungry as 4G macro-cells. This makes them highly efficient. These small cells play a fundamental role in the operation of the entire network. They emit high-frequency millimeter radio waves, which give them a limited range.
A 5G tower is a small box inside a small cell that is designed to fit on a street lamp or utility post. However, don’t underestimate their compact size. The technology implemented inside these boxes makes all the difference.
Since 5G cell towers are so small, they can easily be integrated with existing structures like utility posts. The best part about them is that they aren’t the eyesores that 4G towers are.
Here’s a full explainer video with the different technologies 5g will be utilizing:
The 5G Concern
Before we can even begin to explore some of the health fears surrounding 5G, it’s worth mentioning that concerns about radiation aren’t anything new. Current 4G cell towers are still controversial. The dangers, controversies, and adverse effects of electromagnetic radiation have been around since time immemorial.
Take electromagnetic hypersensitivity, for instance. It is termed as a hypothetical disease where certain people appear to exhibit debilitating symptoms that stem from the use of cell phones and exposure to any other wireless networks in general.
However, after nearly three decades of testing, experts are still unable to definitively categorize electromagnetic hypersensitivity as a “real” disease.
This is partly attributed to the outcome of “blinded” studies where patients who claim to be hypersensitive to most forms of radiation were unable to tell when they are in the presence of an electric or magnetic field.
The World Health Organization (WHO) even went a step further to recommend that individuals with these so-called symptoms be psychologically evaluated. The real question, however, remains: Is it possible that they are all wrong? Are these physical symptoms that they experience all figments of their collective overactive imaginations?
What do they stand to gain by falsifying their assertions? In retrospect, it seems highly unlikely that individuals in different parts of the world, more so those who live close to cell towers, are all somehow “imagining” their symptoms.
What Research Has Established so Far
In 2011, the WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the exposure to RF radiation as a likely carcinogenic for humans. Since then, there have been extensive studies to support this assertion.
Technology is evolving at a rapid rate, and with it comes the rapid increase in the levels of ambient radiation populations are exposed to every second of the day. RF radiation of a specific intensity heats tissues. But, its energy isn’t intense enough to cause ionization. That’s why it is referred to as “non-ionizing” radiation.
Don’t let the word fool you into believing that since it is non-ionizing, it is harmless. These non-thermal exposure levels of RF have had negative biological effects on humans and animals alike increasing their likelihood of developing cancer. Here’s what research has established so far.
1. The Stockholm Study
A recent study on the RF radiation levels was carried out in an apartment in Östermalm – Stockholm. It had two cell towers located on the roof. Astonishingly, high levels of radiation were reported, with even higher levels in the balconies and bedrooms of the apartment in question.
However, when the downlinks from the base stations were disregarded, there was a 98% reduction in the levels of RF radiation recorded. The study concluded that the apartment was not suitable for living, particularly for children who may be more sensitive to the effects of radiation.
2. The US National Toxicology Program Study
In 2016, the National Toxicology Program (NTP) under the US National Institutes of Health released a report linking the rising incidences of malignant heart schwannoma and brain glioma in rats that were exposed to RF radiation over two years.
The results of this study revealed that RF radiation causes a marked increase in the number of free radicals, which subsequently leads to oxidative stress in animal biological systems. The NTP study further strengthened the affirmation that the IARC needs to reclassify wireless phone radiation as a Group 1 carcinogenic agent.
3. The Buchner and Eger Study
In 2004, a GSM mobile cell tower was built in the village of Rimbach, Germany. Urine samples from 60 inhabitants were taken, and the levels of noradrenaline, adrenaline, dopamine, and phenylethylamine (PEA) were recorded. This was done before the activation of the cell tower. Subsequent urine samples were taken after 6, 12 and 18 months to measure if there were any changes in the levels of neurotransmitters.
The inhabitants were further categorized into three groups based on the exposure levels. The first group comprised those who had less than 60 µW/m2 RF exposure. The second group had individuals who had 60-100 µW/m2. The third group had individuals who had more than 100 µW/m2 of RF radiation exposure.
The results of the study revealed a significant increase in the stress hormones noradrenaline and adrenaline over the first 6 months of the study. Children and chronically ill adults appeared to be more adversely affected.
There was also a decrease in the levels of dopamine during this period, although it did eventually increase after the 6-month mark but not to the levels they were before the activation of the cell tower. PEA levels also decreased during the period. The same trend was observed at the 12- and 18-month mark.
Additionally, households that had wireless devices such as Wi-Fi routers installed seemed to amplify the effects of RF radiation, even in the group that had the lowest exposure levels. Several of the 60 participants also reported exhibiting new symptoms, the most common ones being: headaches, sleep disturbances, concentration problems, allergies, and dizziness.
4. The Khurana Study
Epidemiological studies done on populations living less than 500m from cell towers were reviewed to see if there were any health risk indications from the RF radiation emitted. In a whopping 80% of the studies, the results of the reviews revealed there was an undeniable link between the prevalence of cancer and adverse neurobehavioral problems among the inhabitants of the area.
In yet another review, people living close to cell towers had adverse changes in their reproductive and immune systems. The sustained exposure to RF radiation also harmed the heart’s calcium movement as well as an increase in the number of astrocytoma cancer cells in human and animal biological systems.
5. The India Study
A study on 40 individuals comprising 22 female and 18 male participants aged between 20 and 40 years old in India was conducted. They were all living less than 40m from a cell tower.
All but three individuals used mobile phones daily. None of them had any additional sources of RF radiation, nor did they live near an electric transformer station or high-power electric line.
The results showed a clear indication that RF radiation-induced a decrease in antioxidant levels in the blood. Additionally, adverse DNA damage and an increase in the number of micronuclei present in peripheral blood lymphocytes was also reported.
5G Is Here: Should You Worry?
5G has become intensely controversial with many scientists and citizens’ groups expressing concern over its long term effects. There’s a solid basis for these concerns, given the growing list of evidence from previous studies on the effects of RF radiation on existing populations.
The existing opposition to 5G is founded on two main premises:
1. Frequency Band Operation
The first source of opposition is based on the 5G frequency band operation. The technology runs on several frequency bands, with one of them extending below the millimeter-wave section of the radio-frequency spectrum. This stretches from 30 GHz to 300 GHz.
The millimeter part of the spectrum hasn’t previously been used for cellular communication. However, it has other applications in automobile anti-collision radar systems, airport security scanning systems, and linking the existing cellular base stations to one another.
The existing debates on the subject express concern over whether the millimeter-wave communication channels are being infringed upon by 5G communications. The fact of the matter is 5G networks operate on frequencies close to but not on the actual millimeter-wave section of the RF spectrum.
In instances where high network traffic needs to be accommodated, some 5G systems may use millimeter waves. This, however, is the exception and not the norm.
2. The Numerous 5G Towers Required for Operation
As is the case with previous cellular technologies (GSM, 3G, and 4G), 5G systems also rely on the transmission of data through signals. These are carried over radio waves which form part of the electromagnetic spectrum. So, what makes 5G so different from other forms of RF radiation?
Well, 5G uses high-frequency waves than was previously the case with older telecommunications technology. As a result, the 5G radio waves have shorter wavelengths, which give them lower ranges. So, they can’t travel as far as say, 3G or 4G signals.
This means that for 5G systems to operate efficiently, they have to rely on an intricate network of smaller cellular towers mounted close to subscribers. This enables them to connect to the network.
You’ll often find 5G cell towers mounted on utility poles running along public streets. Each of these small cell towers will incorporate smart antennas that will be able to transmit multiple signal beams. Each of them can be steered to individual subscribers.
Unlike the previous systems that were mounted on top of buildings or on high masts that require high power levels to operate, 5G systems are more power-efficient. In the future, “pico” cells will be mounted inside individual buildings to supplement the small cells mounted on the street utility poles.
Is There Cause to Worry?
There’s no definitive answer to this question. Extensive studies on the subject will need to be conducted to establish if these multiple low-power sources of RF radiation emanating from 5G systems pose greater or reduced health risks than their predecessors.
Questions on the units of radiation measurement? Check out this article demystifying the topic.
What Can You Do About It?
If the prospect of having a 5G cell tower mounted in your building doesn’t sound appealing, you’re likely wondering what you can do to prevent this from happening. Sadly, there isn’t much.
Radiation Exposure in Children
When the US Federal Communication Commission (FCC) classified the introduction of 5G as “high-priority,” it essentially renders you powerless over the whole matter. It paired down certain regulations to give local communities less of a say over the installation and placement of the 5G small cells. However, this has been in litigation so it might change once the ruling is in.
If you are a parent, you have every right to be concerned about a 5G tower being installed near you, given that it is exposing your child to involuntary RF radiation. Lots of activist groups are protesting the installation of 5G towers and any other infrastructure that emits RF radiation, in and around schools. Children are more sensitive to electromagnetic radiation for two major reasons.
Immature Cell Development
Children’s bodies are still growing, so their cells are still immature. When adults, adolescents, and children are exposed to equal amounts of radiation, the health risks for adolescents and children are much higher than that of adults given their physiological and anatomical differences.
Because children grow quickly, the effects of childhood radiation exposure will take years to manifest. On the other hand, as adults continue to age, their tissues are considerably less sensitive to the effects of radiation.
In the 2013 UNSCEAR report, 23 different types of cancers were reviewed to evaluate the adverse radiological repercussions of nuclear accidents and medical procedures that had some level of radiation-exposure. The results revealed that children were more susceptible to developing about 25% of the various tumor types.
These included breast, brain, and thyroid cancer as well as leukemia. Additionally, children were found to have the same radiation sensitivity as adults for 15% of the different types of cancer, including that of the colon.
Children will be exposed to radiation for their entire lifetime, unlike the present generation that has only been exposed to it for a portion of their life. That’s the present reality.
What’s more, adults have larger body dimensions than children. This means that their organs are better shielded by overlying tissues. By the time a child becomes an adult, most of their organs will have been exposed to a large amount of radiation than an adult would have, over the same period.
How Do 5G RF Radiation Levels from Cell Towers Compare to 4G
Presently, the existing cellular network providers are adopting the 5G network system model through a process dubbed densification. This is an effort to handle their ever-growing subscriber base.
Instead of adding new 4G cell towers to their infrastructure, they are adding numerous small 5G cells to facilitate the rapid transmission of data. This has worked to reduce the overall amount of RF signals being emitted to the environment.
Recently updated reviews on studies done between 2015 and 2018 on the levels of environmental RF exposure don’t indicate an increase despite the rising use of wireless communication devices. This is partly due to the improvements made in the efficiency of current RF technologies. This also applies to the power controls of RF emitters.
Regardless of these findings, just because there hasn’t been an increase in the environmental levels of RF emissions doesn’t rule out their presence and negative health consequences. Think of it this way. Just because the boiling point of water hasn’t increased from the existing 100°C to a higher temperature is not to say that it won’t burn you if someone were to pour it on your body.
If a 5G tower is installed near you, despite its power efficiency, it is still emitting RF radiation, and this will have long term repercussions on your health. What constitutes acceptable levels of exposure is still debatable, with many radiation regulatory bodies setting this limit way above the levels that trigger symptoms among some sections of the population.
5G Heating Dangers
A portion of the 5G spectrum, as permitted under international guidelines happens to fall within the microwave region of the electromagnetic spectrum. It’s a well-known fact that microwaves have thermal properties.
This means that when they pass through an object, they generate heat in them. However, according to the ICNIRP, the highest level of 5G RF waves that an individual could be exposed to is so small, that there has been no observable rise in temperature recorded to date.
Worried About a 5G Tower near You? It Depends on Who You Ask
The WHO asserts that RF exposures below the limit set out in the ICNIRP guidelines don’t have any observed consequences on human health. However, there have been lots of studies done to disprove this assertion.
Nevertheless, 5G is still an emerging technology, and extensive research has to be done to ascertain the true effects of its RF emissions. The takeaway is: 5G is still classified as non-ionizing radiation. As seen from already existing non-ionizing RF technologies, they do have negative health effects in the long term.
Should you worry about a 5G tower near you? Well, it depends on who you ask. Do you have a smart meter in your home? Read our blog to find out why you should be wary of them.
Rubin, G James
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