Our cell phones have become our constant companions, from the moment our phone alarms wake us up in the morning to the moment we plug in our phones and say goodnight. We are constantly checking our social media, responding to texts, calling coworkers, emailing our bosses, or sending photos to family members. We get our news from our phones, check on the weather, learn about what’s happening in our friends’ lives, and figure out what’s going on in the world — all from our small, handheld devices.
Most of us can’t leave the house without our cell phones anymore, though we once happily lived without them. We’re always after the newest model of smartphone, looking to increase our data plans, and excited about better technology that will allow us to stream videos faster and have less of a wait time as data-heavy sites load.
Our current 4G system was first launched in 2009, so it’s been quite a while since it has gotten a significant upgrade. Plans have been underway for several years for a massive upgrade internationally to a 5G system.
2020 is the year that it’s going to be rolled out in major cities around the world. But, while it will make some drastic improvements to the speed of communication, is it safe for human health? This question puzzles many and we discussed the pros and cons of cellphones in a previous article. Let’s dive right into 5G wireless technology, what we know about it, and where we’re headed.
What is 5G?
5G stands for fifth generation. It’s a reference to the fact that 5G is the fifth generation of mobile phone infrastructure and technology. It’s a massive upgrade from 4G, in every way. The technology of 5G creates incredibly fast download and upload speeds, making everyone’s speedy communication dreams come true. It’s even the key to making things like self-driving cars truly useful, among other types of tech in the “Internet of Things” that currently isn’t as practical on a 4G network.
5G runs on radiofrequency radiation, just like all previous versions of digital cell phones. This radiofrequency has waves that are much bigger and wider, however. That means that current cell phone towers aren’t as useful for 5G since the waves can’t get through trees or buildings like lower frequency 4G waves can. This requires all cell phone companies (like Verizon and AT&T) to completely rewire cell phone coverage so that small cell towers (called base stations) are set up every couple of buildings.
Of course, this means that cities will have 5G long before anyone else has it. Some areas might not see it for years to come. But, eventually, it will be the go-to tech for using the internet, as many companies are already finding it more practical than fiber optics for offering home WiFi to their customers.
What is Radiofrequency Radiation and How Dangerous is it?
Radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation is a type of radio wave that carries energy through the air. It’s considered non-ionizing, which means it doesn’t have enough power to penetrate through the skin and cause damage to cells during RF exposure. It’s in the same electromagnetic spectrum as visible light, radio waves, and microwave ovens.
Generally, this type of radiation is considered harmless since it doesn’t have the power to alter cells. Even the higher frequency bands of electromagnetic fields that 5G uses is considered harmless since it is still non-ionizing up to 300 GHz (gigahertz).
Higher levels of radiation are considered ionizing, which means they can cause damage to cells (increasing cancer risk) and can cause all kinds of health hazards. These include x-rays and gamma rays. They are completely different in the way they interact with the world around them and are far more destructive.
There’s even a possibility that 5G technology might carry less risk, since these types of waves can’t even get through trees or other solid objects. They easily fall apart when coming into contact with just about anything, meaning they are low-range even though they are considered high-frequency waves.
This, of course, doesn’t mean they are 100% guaranteed to be safe since it’s still radiation exposure. Scientists are carrying out studies to try to truly measure the safety of RF waves, especially as 5G is being rolled out worldwide. But according to scientific theory and multiple studies that have already been performed, it seems to be quite harmless.
Can Radiation From Cell Phone Signals Cause Cancer?
There is very little proof that a non-ionizing EMF can cause cancer, since it can’t even penetrate a cell to cause damage. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t cause cancer, necessarily, but there is no obvious mechanism that would lead researchers to believe that it does.
Multiple studies have shown varying results, but generally, any issues researchers have seen in studies on cancer seem to be related to other environmental factors and not cell phones. Yes, studies such as the National Toxicology Program study subjected rats and mice to high levels of RF waves and found that some of the animals got tumors. But when you consider the conditions for the study, you realize that it causes us to ask more questions than we get in answers.
Only male rats got the cancers, they were subjected to direct and constant high levels of RF waves to their whole bodies (much higher than we humans ever experience), and they — oddly enough — ended up living longer than the female rats and male/female mice. Did the EMFs cause the rats’ cancer? Further studies might help us better understand the answer to this question.
That said, long term studies are being carried out to ensure that cell phone radiation isn’t causing health problems to humans (such as brain tumors). Scientists have had a challenging time designing a study that would actually mirror the human real-world experience in an accurate way. So they continue to create new studies that might give us all a peek into what cell phones are doing to our bodies and our health.
One more possible theory in a long line of theories is that cell phones might be causing greater oxidative stress in the human body, which can — over time — create the right conditions for cancer to grow. This route isn’t a direct link between cell phones and cancer, but it is a possibility to be considered.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) lists cell phones and radiofrequency electromagnetic waves as “potentially carcinogenic.” However, they also include other seemingly innocuous substances in this list. This particular list isn’t about suggesting something is for sure cancer-causing, but instead a list of items that might carry a risk and need to be studied further.
Does 5G Pose a Greater Risk to People?
Many studies are carried out on rats and mice. As we’ve heard time and time again, “people aren’t rats or mice” and so any results from these studies aren’t quite that useful. Studies conducted with humans often rely on participants self-reporting their habits from the past, which is unreliable and produces confusing results. It’s challenging to create reliable studies on human habits in the real world!
It’s likely that if EMFs do cause health issues, it will be a while before we truly know. It took 2-3 decades before epidemiologists were able to figure out that cigarettes were causing lung and mouth cancers, simply because it took that long for the cancers to develop in a large enough population. It is possible that we’ll have more information in the next 10 or so years.
Since we’ve been surrounded by radiofrequency radiation for so many decades in one form or another, however, it’s reasonable to believe that cell phones aren’t causing unusual health issues for most and that 5G is most likely safe for the majority of people.
What Anti-5G Advocates Say
There are many activists, scientists, and doctors that are warning the public against 5G and cell phone use entirely. They say that it is quite dangerous and causes a myriad of health conditions, including cancer. They have a wide range of theories about why RF radiation is unsafe, but most of their ideas focus on the increasing rates of cancer and other diseases that correspond to the increase in these waves running throughout our world.
Professionals and activists have been warning about the possible dangers of our constant improvements in technology, ever since the installation of electricity in communities throughout the world. Generally, they think that the electricity and RF waves interfere with our bodily processes and cause damage to our cells.
While many of them are concerned about the increase in cancers (especially brain cancer), they also point to other health issues and decreasing well-being among people worldwide. Epidemiologist Dr. Sam Milham has been warning against the dangers of electricity and cell phones for many decades. Other proponents of this view include Dr. Mercola and the organization Center for Electrosmog Prevention.
Some of these perspectives focus on rational concerns about biological effects that have a basis in scientific theory. Studies might be appropriate to look into some of the claims that could be truly concerning.
What 5G Proponents Say
The majority of scientists and public health officials believe that EMFs appear to be safe and most likely don’t cause harm to the human body. They say that because of the nature of the waves that make up 5G, it is highly unlikely that these waves can even penetrate the skin in a way that could cause damage.
Many who are excited about 5G say that it will help us overcome the pitfalls of previous technology, making our world an even safer and better-connected place to live. Using these specific millimeter waves, we’ll be able to use advanced technology, such as self-driving cars, with more accuracy. The Internet of Things will become more useful, as 5G can create better connectivity and less lag-time.
These people also see 5G as giving more people access to the internet and WiFi, with better use of radio waves so that bigger files can be accessed by more people. This means higher quality video calls, sharing photos and videos at lightning speeds, and fewer calls dropped due to insufficient cell phone ranges.
In short, 5G will radically change our world in ways that will make it more technologically advanced than we’ve experienced thus far. We’ll be able to do more, which means business in countries will become more advanced and competitive.
Essentially, the countries that have access to 5G first will do better in the global economy and come out as business leaders with an edge on all markets.
What Do Regulating Agencies Say?
The US FDA and other regulatory agencies have analyzed the available research and concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to say that cell phones are dangerous to human health. Regulatory agencies throughout the west are keeping an eye on emerging research, while acknowledging the benefits that 5G wireless networks will bring to the US and other western countries.
These benefits include better healthcare technology, which is seen as a health effects benefit to outweigh the seeming risks associated with the rollout of 5G. However, as research continues to be carried out on cellular technology, these agencies will continue to assess the risk of these radiofrequency waves.
Additionally, agencies like the EPA, the IEEE, the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements set rules, standards, and regulations for how 5G should operate for the highest safety of human health. The FDA, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and other governmental agencies follow and regulate the cell phone networks to ensure that these rules are followed by all cell phone companies.
Can Local Governments Prevent 5G Installation?
Several cities — such as San Francisco — have tried to slow down the installation of 5G cell towers, amid protests from worried consumers and agency administrators. However, according to the Telecommunications Act of 1996, they don’t have the legal authority to prevent communications networks from being installed by companies like Verizon and AT&T.
The idea behind this law is that if every city wanted to conduct their own adverse health effects tests before installing these services, technologies like 5G would take years to be implemented, slowing down growth and communications advances dramatically.
So, cities and states are, instead, required to trust the FCC and follow their regulations outlining how these technologies should be installed, used, and maintained.
Conclusion: Is 5G Safe?
It’s impossible to assuredly state that 5G is completely safe at this time. But it’s also impossible to say that it’s not safe. The currently available research just doesn’t give us a solid answer one way or another. The idea behind the safety and health risks of 5G is based on scientific theories and a long-standing usage of radiofrequency radiation for other types of technologies.
As it stands, it’s unlikely that 5G causes the drastic health issues that many anti-5G advocates on social media say it might. However, there are some concerns (such as the oxidative stress issue) that could be a problem for certain types of people and need to be studied further.
If you are concerned about 5G and general cell phone safety, you can opt to take precautionary measures in your home. Use hands-free wired headsets to talk on the phone to keep the RF waves away from your head. Or talk to your friend via speakerphone.
You can try keeping your electrical devices out of your bedroom while you sleep, which is a good practice for other health effects. Some people even choose to turn off their Wifi in their home at night, to give themselves a break. Get involved in your local government’s conversations about 5G to find out what kinds of precautions they’re taking and how you can be an empowered local consumer.
Thoughts from an IAWP Graduate
“We keep hearing that 5G does this and that, but we don’t know exactly what it will do to our bodies. I like to take a proactive approach and decided to start unplugging my WiFi router at night to see if it made a difference in how I felt. I noticed that I sleep better, feel less frazzled and wake up calm! Now, I recommend this to all of my clients. Try unplugging from WiFi and see how you feel!”
–Kim Goeltom, IAWP Certified Wellness Coach and Creator of Empowered Living for Superwomen
Stay Positive and Keep Balanced
The world is always focused on more and more innovative technologies and we’re not going to stop that (and maybe we shouldn’t, depending on your perspective). It’s important to learn how to feel empowered in a big, global world. Take the time to research all perspectives on the 5G issue and decide what feels right for you and your family.
Stay positive in your approach to reduce stress hormones in your body (something we all already have too much of). Approach your tech use with an overall healthy attitude and spend lots of time away from devices. Teach your children to balance their time on devices with time outside. Revive the ol’ board game night, play ball outside with the kids, and go on walks with your friends. New technology is here to stay for quite some time and we can be healthier by emphasizing ways to make it less prominent in our lives where possible.