From Medical News Today:
As 5G wireless technology is slowly making its way across the globe, many government agencies and organizations advise that there is no reason to be alarmed about the effects of radio frequency waves on our health. But some experts strongly disagree.
The term 5G refers to the fifth generation of mobile technology. With promises of faster browsing, streaming, and download speeds, as well as better connectivity, 5G may seem like a natural evolution for our increasingly tech-reliant society.
But beyond allowing us to stream the latest movies, 5G has been designed to increase capacity and reduce latency, which is the time that it takes for devices to communicate with each other.
For integrated applications, such as robotics, self-driving cars, and medical devices, these changes will play a big part in how quickly we adopt technology into our everyday lives.
The mainstay of 5G technology will be the use of higher-frequency bandwidths, right across the radiofrequency spectrum.
In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has auctioned off the first bandwidth — 28 gigahertz (GHz) — that will form the 5G network, with higher bandwidth auctions scheduled for later this year.
But what does 5G have to do with our health?
In this Spotlight, we look at what electromagnetic radiation is, how it can impact our health, the controversy surrounding radio frequency networks, and what this means for the advent of 5G technology.
An electromagnetic field (EMF) is a field of energy that results from electromagnetic radiation, a form of energy that occurs as a result of the flow of electricity.
Electromagnetic radiation exists as a spectrum of different wavelengths and frequencies, which are measured in hertz (Hz). This term denotes the number of cycles per second.
Power lines operate between 50 and 60 Hz, which is at the lower end of the spectrum. These low-frequency waves, together with radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, and some of the ultraviolet spectrum — which take us into the megahertz (MHz), GHz, and terahertz spectra — make up what is known as nonionizing radiation.
Above this lie the petahertz and exahertz spectra, which include X-rays and gamma rays. These are types of ionizing radiation, which mean that they carry sufficient energy to break apart molecules and cause significant damage to the human body.
Radiofrequency EMFs (RF-EMFs) include all wavelengths from 30 kilohertz to 300 GHz.
For the general public, exposure to RF-EMFs is mostly from handheld devices, such as cell phones and tablets, as well as from cell phone base stations, medical applications, and TV antennas.
The most well-established biological effect of RF-EMFs is heating. High doses of RF-EMFs can lead to a rise in the temperature of the exposed tissues, leading to burns and other damage.
But mobile devices emit RF-EMFs at low levels. Whether this is a cause for concern is a matter of ongoing debate, reignited by the arrival of 5G.
In 2011, 30 international scientists, who are part of the working group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), met to assess the risk of developing cancer as a result of exposure to RF-EMFs.
The working group published a summary of their findings in
The scientists looked at one cohort study and five case-control studies in humans, each of which was designed to investigate whether there is a link between cell phone use and glioma, a cancer of the central nervous system.
The team concluded that, based on studies of the highest quality, “A causal interpretation between mobile phone RF-EMF exposure and glioma is possible.” Smaller studies supported a similar conclusion for acoustic neuroma, but the evidence was not convincing for other types of cancer.
The team also looked at over 40 studies that had used rats and mice.
In view of the limited evidence in humans and experimental animals, the working group classified RF-EMFs as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).” “This evaluation was supported by a large majority of working group members,” they write in the paper.
For comparison, Group 2B also contains aloe vera whole leaf extract, gasoline engine exhaust fumes, and pickled vegetables, as well as drugs like progesterone-only contraceptives, oxazepam, and sulfasalazine.
Despite the classification of RF-EMFs as possibly carcinogenic to humans, other organizations have not come to the same conclusion.
The IARC is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Yet, the
According to the International EMF Project
“The project is overseen by an advisory committee consisting of representatives of eight international organizations, eight independent scientific institutions, and more than 50 national governments, providing a global perspective. The scientific work is conducted in collaboration with the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). All activities are coordinated and facilitated by the WHO Secretariat.”
The results of the project have not been published yet.
At present, the WHO
In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission state that “At relatively low levels of exposure to RF radiation — i.e., levels lower than those that would produce significant heating — the evidence for production of harmful biological effects is ambiguous and unproven.”
Dr. Lennart Hardell, from the department of oncology at Örebro University, in Sweden, is an outspoken critic of the WHO’s decision not to adopt the IARC’s classification of RF-EMFs as possibly carcinogenic.
In a 2017 article in the
“Being a member of ICNIRP is a conflict of interest in the scientific evaluation of health hazards from RF radiation through ties to military and industry,” Dr. Hadrell writes. “This is particularly true, since the ICNIRP guidelines are of huge importance to the influential telecommunications, military, and power industries.”
The BioInitiative report, issued by 29 medical and scientific experts — of which Dr. Hardell is one — states that “Bioeffects are clearly established and occur at very low levels of exposure to [EMFs] and radiofrequency radiation.”
The report, part of which was updated earlier this year, highlights links to DNA damage, oxidative stress, neurotoxicity, carcinogenicity, sperm morphology, and fetal, newborn, and early life development. They also propose a link between RF-EMF exposure and a higher risk of developing autism spectrum disorder.
The group urges governments and health agencies to establish new safety limits to protect the public.