5G dangers debunked: Is there any health risk from 5G signals?

Do 5G phone networks pose any kind of danger? That’s the key question surrounding the current rollout of 5G technology in the US and UK.

There have been protests against 5G, while some campaigners have succeeded in convincing local authorities to pause rollout. However, the amount of misinformation online on the topic is staggering.

We’ve purposely used official Government and health body advice in this feature rather than relying on information from 5G vendors and networks who obviously have a commercial interest in 5G deployment. 

So what’s the bottom line? 

5G networks use radio waves in much the same way as other technologies and forms of communication. But 5G networks use higher-frequency waves than older mobile networks. 

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there are “no new implications for 5G”, saying that “the conclusions reached based on the current body of scientific evidence covers [5G] frequencies”.

In the UK, Public Health England (PHE)’s view is that “the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health”. 

UK regulator Ofcom has now carried out a full UK study into the technology. It measured 16 5G sites in 10 towns and cities across the UK looking at locations where 5G use “is likely to be highest”. These locations included shopping centres and transport hubs. 

Ofcom says: “At every site, emissions were a small fraction of the levels included in international guidelines, as set by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). And the maximum measured at any site was 1.5% of those levels.”

The ICNIRP is an independent non-profit organisation. 

The 5G tech used in both the US and UK adheres to the ICNIRP guidelines and network operators are committed to complying with them. 

Possible small increase to exposure to radio waves

It is, however, true that there could be a “small” increase in exposure to radio waves. Public Health England (PHE) says: “It is possible that there may be a small increase in overall exposure to radio waves when 5G is added to an existing network or in a new area.

“However, the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health.”

What about high-frequency 5G (mmWave)?

More spectrum is being made available for 5G. The highest frequencies being discussed for future 5G are around 10 times higher than those used by current mobile networks, up to a few tens of gigahertz (GHz).

In urban areas, high-frequency (millimetre wave or mmWave) tech will be used to maximise capacity and speed. This has already rolled out to numerous US cities (albeit with very limited coverage) and will also come to the UK and Europe in late 2020 or 2021. It’s these higher-frequency signals that cause most concern about 5G health.

However, as PHE points out, these high-frequency signals have been used before and have “been present in the environment for many years”. They’re still categorised as ‘non-ionising’ like the signals used to deliver radio, TV and Wi-Fi.

It’s true that mmWave is higher-frequency than the wavelengths used for broadcast, but they’re still lower frequency than visible light. And they certainly don’t fall into the ‘ionising’ category like x-rays or ultraviolet.

These waves don’t go very far and are blocked by walls and even the human body. PHE says that, while fewer studies have been carried out at higher frequencies, “the biophysical mechanisms that govern the interaction between radio waves and body tissues are well understood at higher frequencies and are the basis of the present ICNIRP restrictions.

“The main change in using higher frequencies is that there is less penetration of radio waves into body tissues and absorption of the radio energy, and any consequent heating, becomes more confined to the body surface.”

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