Doctor and activist

Is 5G Safe?

24 March 2020

I am bombarded by posts warning of the dangers of 5G transmission towers.  There were similar dire warnings when microwave ovens came out, so I was inclined to dismiss this, but decided that I should read up.  This is the result.

We need to put all this into its theoretical framework.  Electromagnetic radio waves are in a spectrum from long waves with low frequency, (radio waves), to very short waves with high frequency (gamma rays, as found from decaying nuclei).  The waves all travel at the speed of light so the wavelength and the frequency are inversely related.  Visible light, i.e. what human eyes see, is a band in the middle.  In general, the shorter wavelength (high frequency) end of the spectrum is towards ionising radiation, which disturbs atoms and can cause cancers.

Starting at the long wavelength (low frequency) end there are radio waves, then microwaves, then infrared, which humans feel as heat, then visible, then ultraviolet, which causes sunburn and can cause skin cancer, then X-rays, and finally gamma rays, which are highly carcinogenic, but do not penetrate very far.  Only ultraviolet and above are considered ionising and so capable of causing cancer.

Electro-Magnetic Frequencies-(EMF)- the 7 categories

Region Frequency (Hz) Wavelength (m) Energy (eV)   Size Scale
Radio waves < 109 > 0.3 < 7x 10-7 Mountains, building
Microwaves 109 – 3×1011 0.001 – 0.3 7×10-7 – 2×10-4  
Infrared 3×1011 – 3.9×1014 7.6×10-7 – 0.001 2×10-4 – 0.3  
Visible 3.9×1014 – 7.9×1014 3.8×10-7 – 7.6×10-7 0.3 – 0.5 Bacteria
Ultraviolet 7.9×1014 – 3.4×1016 8×10-9 – 3.8×10-7 0.5 – 20 Viruses
X-rays 3.4×1016 – 5×1019 6×10-12 – 8×10-9 20 – 3×10 4 Atoms
Gamma Rays > 5×1019 < 6×10-12 > 3×104 Nuclei

You will note the third column in the table which has the amount of energy transmitted, which increases massively as the wavelength shortens and the frequency increases.  The fourth column gives an idea of the relative wavelengths.

As electronic communications have increased there has been increasing competition for ‘bandwidth’, which means frequency ranges to transmit data.  Years ago radio stations and TV stations competed for bandwidth, hence there were relatively limited number of broadcasting licences and these were competed for.  Note on the radio dial, the ABC AM stations have the lowest frequencies.

5G uses frequencies of 6 x108 – 6 x 109– 6 x 10and 2.4 x 1010– 8.6 x 1011.  You will note that the lower of these two bands in the microwave range, which is also where Wi-Fi and remote control devices for TV sets operate.  The higher of the two bands is just into the infrared part of the spectrum, so it might be expected to produce some heat.  As stated above the shorter wavelengths do not penetrate as far as radio waves, which is why 5G will need a lot of transmission towers.

In that neither microwaves nor infrared currently cause problems for humans, it is assumed that they will not cause cancer, and the heating effect will not be significant.  All these effects are dose-dependent, but it is assumed that the heating effect will not cause long-term harm at the doses likely to be experienced.  If the sparrows did drop dead as some have alleged, the question would be whether they were perched very close to the transmitter and were not aware of the heating effect and did not move.  This seems unlikely.  There has been research in humans which shows a heating rise of one degree (1oC) rise in temperature at a Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of 4 Watts per Kg (W/Kg), so the allowed dose is 0.08 W/Kg, which the towers comply with.

There have not been any epidemiological studies, presumably because these are both very difficult to do and the question has only recently been asked. The question would be, is there any health effects of exposure to electromagnetic radiation at a frequency of 6-100Ghz ( = 6 x 109– 1011)?  It would be very hard to get 2 populations matched for everything except their exposure to this particular frequency and follow them for years and compare!  There are some studies both in vivo (cells or tissues) or in vivo (live animals or humans), but these studies have not generally distinguished between the temperature effects and any other effects.  Since the radiation at this frequency only penetrates a few millimetres, it is assumed that any effect is merely a temperature change.  At these doses the human temperature-regulating mechanism easily copes with the situation. Smaller animals or insects would be more affected as that distance of penetration is a greater percentage of their bodies, but it would seem that the temperature effect is the major one.

The conclusion of the study were:

  • Regarding the health effects of MMW in the 6–100 GHz frequency range at power densities not exceeding the exposure guidelines the studies provide no clear evidence, due to contradictory information from the in vivo and in vitro investigations.
  • Regarding the possibility of “non-thermal” effects, the available studies provide no clear explanation of any mode of action of observed effects.
  • Regarding the quality of the presented studies, too few studies fulfill the minimal quality criteria to allow any further conclusions.

In short, of the studies that did show an effect, they did not show that it was not a temperature effect, and no one postulated any credible mechanism for other effects.  There were not enough specific studies in this frequency to draw any other conclusions.

The amount of data that can be transmitted with the new technology will be huge and computers will talk to computers allowing regulation of practically everything and following of practically everyone. This may well be quite useful in a practical sense and possibly unsafe in a political context, but it is unlikely that the 5G technology itself is likely to be medically harmful.  The idea that it is somehow related to the COVID-19 virus outbreak is so absurd as to be not worth responding to.

I attach the paper from which my conclusions are drawn- it is not an easy read.

Arthur Chesterfield-Evans

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