5G, or the Fifth Generation of cellular technology will soon appear over the next few years. Many people fear it as a source of potential health risk. There are many conspiracy theories populating the internet and an abundance of stories and postulation posts on Facebook that are ‘crying wolf’ about 5G and the doom it will cause on people’s health.
Some of the claims have no basis in fact and are truly made up stories that are so dramatic to read that the goal is to attract followers and simply go viral to the benefit of the person posting these fantasies.
As a result, the risk for stupidity is deemed to be very high….
But, with that said, 5G does offer radio frequency radiation and this topic is never to be dismissed without proper scientific research and evaluation. For 5G cellular to go forward, it must be safe. It is not worthy of any deployment if it does harm us.
Let us review the current scare threats that are flooding the internet today.
Does 5G cause or trigger the Coronavirus? No, it does not. These two issues are completely unrelated. None of the conspiracy theories that try to link 5G and the coronavirus even make sense. The virus is spreading in countries without access to 5G, the frequencies from 5G cannot harm your body, and COVID-19 is caused by a contagious virus that is in no way related to electromagnetic waves. Even the general correlation between 5G and COVID-19 does not stand up to scrutiny: they are both global phenomena happening at roughly the same time, but as soon as you look at specific countries, the correlation falls apart. The vast majority of countries have not even deployed any 5G as of this writing. Of the 5G that is installed, it is in a minuscule test scenario and is extremely limited. In some countries, it may be just a handful of towers operating out of the tens or hundreds of thousands of towers installed. Even where it is being tested, no spectrum in the 24 GHz, 28 GHz, or 38 GHz has been deployed as the global standards are still emerging and the regulatory agencies within each country have yet to even decide on the millimetre wavelengths to be used and licenced. This is the case in Canada with regulatory approves expected in November 2021.
Some of these theories suggest that the novel coronavirus can be transmitted through 5G or that 5G suppresses the immune system. Both are untrue. To understand why 5G and the virus are not linked, you have to understand why 5G radio waves are not powerful enough to damage the cells in your body alone or transmit a virus. Much like 4G or 3G before it, the radio waves used in 5G are low frequency and non-ionizing radiation. These are on the opposite end of the electromagnetic spectrum to ionizing radiation sources like X-rays, gamma rays, and ultraviolet rays.
These 5G radio waves simply aren’t strong enough to heat your body and weaken your immune system. “The idea that 5G lowers your immune system doesn’t stand up to scrutiny,” explains Simon Clarke, associate professor in cellular microbiology at the University of Reading.
Likewise, radio waves and viruses are not transmitted in the same way. The novel coronavirus spreads from one person to another, typically through tiny droplets of saliva produced when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or breathes. The only types of viruses you can transmit via radio waves are ones that affect computers, not humans.
The broader 5G fears have largely been addressed by regulators, scientists, and independent groups. While some implementations of 5G use millimeter-wave (mmWave) band transmissions, a higher frequency of radio waves than 4G or 3G, regulators in the UK have recorded 5G electromagnetic radiation levels well below international guidelines. The International Commission on Non‐Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) also found no evidence suggesting 5G poses a risk to human health.
The ICNIRP updated its guidelines last month, following a seven-year study. “5G technologies will not be able to cause harm when these new guidelines are adhered to,” said ICNIRP chair Eric van Rongen.
In Canada, similar studies has been conducted and Health Canada, who regulate the use of RF energy here under its guidelines referred to as ‘Safety Code 6’ have expressed similar agreement concerning the risk of radiation and have observed less radiation compared to other sources of cellular technology and radios in general.
In the USA, the IEEE standards are applicable and they also agree that the risks are not evident.
It is worth pointing out that the latest health fears about radiation are not happening in a vacuum. Concerns about 5G are the latest iteration of decades of headlines about the dangers of electromagnetic radiation. We have seen controversies about everything from the health risks of Wi-Fi to smart meters.
Electromagnetic hypersensitivity, for example, is a hypothetical disease in which certain people experience debilitating symptoms in the presence of radiation like cell phones and Wi-Fi. But despite people claiming such sensitivities for at least 30 years, systematic scientific reviews have found that “blinded” victims cannot tell when they are in the presence of an electromagnetic field, and the World Health Organization now recommends psychological evaluation for people so afflicted.
Likewise, decades of studies have found no link between cell phones and cancers like brain tumors.
At the root of all concerns about cell phone networks is radiofrequency radiation (RFR). RFR is anything emitted in the electromagnetic spectrum, from microwaves to x-rays to radio waves to light from your monitor or light from the sun. Clearly, RFR is not inherently dangerous, so the problem becomes discovering under what circumstances it might be.
Scientists say that the most important criterion about whether any particular RFR is dangerous is whether it falls into the category of ionizing or non-ionizing radiation. Simply put, any radiation that is non-ionizing is too weak to break chemical bonds. That includes ultraviolet, visible light, infrared, and everything with a lower frequency, like radio waves. Everyday technologies like power lines, FM radio, and Wi-Fi also fall into this range. (Microwaves are the lone exception: non-ionizing but able to damage tissue, they are precisely and intentionally tuned to resonate with water molecules.) Frequencies above UV, like x-rays and gamma rays, are ionizing.
Dr. Steve Novella, an assistant professor of neurology at Yale and the editor of Science-Based Medicine, understands that people generally get concerned about radiation. “Using the term radiation is misleading because people think of nuclear weapons – they think of ionizing radiation that absolutely can cause damage. It can kill cells. It can cause DNA mutations.” But since non-ionizing radiation does not cause DNA damage or tissue damage, Novella says that most concern about cell phone RFR is misplaced. “There’s no known mechanism for most forms of non-ionizing radiation to even have a biological effect,” he says.
5G will have More Transmitters
A common complaint about 5G is that, due to the lower power of 5G transmitters, there will be more of them. The Environmental Heath Trust contends that “5G will require the build-out of literally hundreds of thousands of new wireless antennas in neighborhoods, cities, and towns. A cellular small cell or another transmitter will be placed every two to ten homes according to estimates.”
Says Dr. Novella, “What they’re really saying is the dose is going to be higher. Theoretically, this is a reasonable question to ask.” But skeptics caution you should not conflate asking the question with merely asserting that there is a risk. As Novella points out, “We’re still talking about power and frequency less than light. You go out in the sun, and you’re bathed in electromagnetic radiation that’s far greater than these 5G cell towers.”
It’s easy to find claims online that the greater frequency of 5G alone constitutes a risk. RadiationHealthRisks.com observes that “1G, 2G, 3G and 4G use between 1 to 5 gigahertz frequency. 5G uses between 24 to 90 gigahertz frequency,” and then asserts that “Within the RF Radiation portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, the higher the frequency, the more dangerous it is to living organisms.”
But asserting that the higher frequency is more dangerous is just that – an assertion, and there is little real science to stand behind it. 5G remains non-ionizing in nature.
In fact, in the photograph below taken on a rooftop near densely populated residential condominium section of Toronto, this is an example of one of thousands of office, apartment, hospital, and building rooftops that host an abundance of antennas of a variety of frequencies and applications. Most have existed for decades. A recent visit to any hospital will show rooftops with cellular base stations on all corners of the facilities. Yet, this is a hospital loaded with experts that no better and they do not object to these antenna farms. Yet, individuals seem to know more than trained medical experts, regulators, engineers, and RF industry practitioners. This disconnect in expertise is mind-boggling to comprehend.
The FCC – responsible for licensing the spectrum for public use – weighs in as well. Says Neil Derek Grace, a communications officer at the FCC, “For 5G equipment, the signals from commercial wireless transmitters are typically far below the RF exposure limits at any location that is accessible to the public.” The FCC defers to the FDA for actual health risk assessments, which takes a direct, but low-key approach to addressing the risks: “The weight of scientific evidence has not linked cell phones with any health problems.”
So, is 5G really a threat to mankind? No, it is not.
A lot of these coronavirus 5G conspiracy theories have originated from active disinformation campaigns. A New York Times report from last year warned that Russian campaigns were actively exploiting 5G health fears. RT America, a Russian government-funded TV network, aired a report more than a year ago in which an RT reporter claimed 5G “might kill you.”
A European Union task force has also been tracking many of the disinformation campaigns, warning that “some state and state-backed actors seek to exploit the public health crisis to advance geopolitical interests.” So, it is up to each of us to filter out these false reports and educate ourselves as to what the truth is based upon science and facts. Ignore the hyperbole of the internet and especially Facebook.
Now, Facebook, WhatsApp and YouTube have all announced plans to do more to stem the flow of falsehoods.
In the past, Facebook has come under fire from American conservatives for alleged bias when it has moved to ban people or limit the spread of misinformation.
But for now, while a few free-speech advocates are pushing back against the crackdown on the conspiracy theorists, the social media companies are facing far less opposition than when they have silenced figures from the extreme right.
When individuals make up their minds and fall for the traps of false posts on the internet, it creates a massive ‘clown vortex’ of stupidity that sucks in more people who are ill-equipped to comprehend even the basic concepts of the physics pertaining to radio frequencies and RF energy. The solution is education and the pursuit of knowledge and information. But, it must be from creditable, trusted, informed, and respected sources. Not from some made up post on Facebook or a video on YouTube.
A far bigger problem is dealing with the sheer volume of misinformation about the falsehoods related to 5G flowing across the various platforms.
What we hear from all of these social media platforms is that they still do not really have the internal mechanisms to deal with the tsunami of false information that they are currently seeing. So, these conspiracy theories will unfortunately continue into the near future. Which is very sad as it empowers the evildoers and scares the uneducated needlessly.
Cellan-Jones, R. (2020). Tech Tent: Social media fights a fresh flood of fake news. BBC News. Retrieved on April 14. 2020 from, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-52245992
Johnson, D. (2020). How Worried Should You Be About the Health Risks of 5G? How-to-Geek, LifeSavvy Media. Retrieved on April 14. 2020 from, https://www.howtogeek.com/423720/how-worried-should-you-be-about-the-health-risks-of-5g/
Warren, T. (2020). Why the 5G coronavirus conspiracy theories don’t make sense. The Verge. Retrieved on April 14. 2020 from, https://www.theverge.com/2020/4/9/21214750/5g-coronavirus-conspiracy-theories-radio-waves-virus-internethttps://www.theverge.com/2020/4/9/21214750/5g-coronavirus-conspiracy-theories-radio-waves-virus-internet
About the Author:
Michael Martin has more than 35 years of experience in systems design for applications that use broadband networks, optical fibre, wireless, and digital communications technologies.
He is a business and technology consultant. A recent contract was with Wirepas from Tampere, Finland as the Director of Business Development. Over the past 15 years with IBM, he has worked in the GBS Global Center of Competency for Energy and Utilities and the GTS Global Center of Excellence for Energy and Utilities. He is a founding partner and President of MICAN Communications and before that was President of Comlink Systems Limited and Ensat Broadcast Services, Inc., both divisions of Cygnal Technologies Corporation (CYN: TSX).
Martin currently serves on the Board of Directors for TeraGo Inc (TGO: TSX) and previously served on the Board of Directors for Avante Logixx Inc. (XX: TSX.V).
He has served as a Member, SCC ISO-IEC JTC 1/SC-41 – Internet of Things and related technologies, ISO – International Organization for Standardization, and as a member of the NIST SP 500-325 Fog Computing Conceptual Model, National Institute of Standards and Technology.
He served on the Board of Governors of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) [now OntarioTech University] and on the Board of Advisers of five different Colleges in Ontario. For 16 years he served on the Board of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE), Toronto Section.
He holds three master’s degrees, in business (MBA), communication (MA), and education (MEd). As well, he has three undergraduate diplomas and five certifications in business, computer programming, internetworking, project management, media, photography, and communication technology. He has earned 15 badges in next generation MOOC continuous education in IoT, Cloud, AI and Cognitive systems, Blockchain, Agile, Big Data, Design Thinking, Security, and more.