Marek’s Take: 5G deployments are reigniting the RF emissions health debate

5G phone
It appears that every time wireless operators begin to roll out another generation of technology, the debate about RF health effects gets revived. (Getty Images)
Marek's take

Just a few weeks ago a very heated discussion erupted in my Denver neighborhood’s Nextdoor social networking channel. The reason for the debate was the appearance of new 30-foot 5G small cell tower on a nearby block. The discussion thread contained warnings of how RF emissions can cause all type of serious health problems ranging from headaches to cancer.

Eventually neighbors moved onto to other topics but this wasn’t the first time I had heard 5G being blamed for health problems. A few months ago a friend sent me a link to a news segment from a group called RT America in which “experts” warned that 5G signals might cause all kinds of dire health problems including brain cancer and autism. The video was poorly put together and the charts and data shown had clearly been manipulated. Nevertheless, my friend was concerned by the warnings.

I wasn’t the only one to see this video. The New York Times in May did a story on it and other videos that were being produced by the RT America network, which is linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin, and is accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential election. It is now using its disinformation channels to raise concerns about a number of things, including 5G.

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While it was surprising to see health concerns crop up over RF emissions from cell towers in neighborhood chat forums, it was shocking to see so much bad information being passed off as credible news reporting in the RT America video.

Public outcry

The wireless industry has been fighting this battle over health concerns for as long as I can remember. And it appears that every time wireless operators begin to roll out another generation of technology—from 3G to 4G to 5G —the debate gets revived.

And I am not the only one caught off-guard by the outcry over 5G. Russel Lindsay, senior product manager at Anritsu, said that he’s been surprised by the misconceptions about 5G. Lindsay noted that there seems to be confusion over the fact that 5G will be “denser” than previous generations of wireless networking technology and will require more antennas. However, more antennas do not equal more RF emissions. “There is a fear that we need to protect people from this,” Lindsay said. “But what people don’t understand is that the reason for more radios is because of the lower power that these radios produce.”

Lindsay’s observations are echoed by the World Health Organization, which has stated that recent surveys have shown that RF exposures from base stations and wireless technologies in publicly accessible areas (including schools and hospitals) “are normally thousands of times below international standards . . . From all evidence accumulated so far, no adverse short- or long-term health effects have been shown to occur from the RF signals produced by base stations.”

Wireless trade group CTIA has compiled statements from the WHO and other groups as well as studies devoted to this topic on its wireless health facts website.

Despite these assurances, however, in some parts of the world 5G disinformation campaigns are working. Earlier this year the Belgian government stopped a 5G pilot project in Brussels over concerns about 5G and its inability to meet the city’s strict radiation emissions standards. Brussels currently has radiation rules that only allow 5 volts per meter, which is about 50 times stricter than international standards.

And in Switzerland the government has introduced a monitoring system that is intended to measure levels of what it calls “non-ionizing” radiation. The goal of the system is to help calm fears from Swiss citizens that new 5G antennas may be impacting existing radiation levels.

There’s even an anti-cellular activist group in Brussels that many say is behind the city’s radiation rules. That group, called grONDES, blames cell tower emissions for causing many serious health problems.

With cell antennas cropping up in more locations and Russian news agencies distributing bad information, I think the wireless industry is going to need to be more proactive in its efforts to make sure communities understand that 5G is not a health threat. Simply pointing to statements from global health organizations is not going to be enough to combat the 5G conspiracy theories that are circulating.  

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