The prevalence of wireless technologies has spawned a telecommunications revolution that increasingly exposes the public to broader and higher frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum as we transmit data through a variety of devices. The telecom industry is promoting the replacement of the current cellular network, known as 4G, with a new generation of higher frequency 5G wavelengths to power the “Internet of Things,” promising faster data processing, amazing new gadgets, and a lifestyle that mirrors science fiction. However, 5G will require a massive telecommunications network with many more wireless antennas, resulting in greater radiofrequency radiation (RFR) and increased health risks.
In an article published in Environmental Research, Cindy Russell wrote that, because this is the first human generation to experience “cradle-to-grave lifespan exposure” to high levels of human-made microwave radiofrequencies, the “true health consequences” of exposure will not be known for years or decades. Her article documented a range of questions regarding the safety of RFR in 2G, 3G, and 4G wireless technologies and it recommended precaution in the rollout of 5G technology.
RFR exposure has been classified as a potential 2B carcinogen, according to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, and research has indicated that use of mobile phones could contribute to the formation of brain tumors. Other studies have concluded that RFR exposure is associated with DNA breaks (related to cancer), oxidative damage (which can lead to tissue deterioration and premature aging), disruption of cell metabolism, increased blood–brain barrier permeability, melatonin reduction (which can lead to insomnia), and many other illnesses and conditions. (For Project Censored’s previous coverage of these findings, see John Michael Dulalas, Bethany Surface, Kamila Janik, Shannon Cowley, Kenn Burrows, and Rob Williams, “How Big Wireless Convinced Us Cell Phones and Wi-Fi are Safe,” and Julian Klein, Casey Lewis, Kenn Burrows, and Peter Phillips, “Accumulating Evidence of Ongoing Wireless Technology Health Hazards.”)
The effects of 5G technology on humans and the environment have been subject to fewer studies than the effects of 5G’s predecessors, as Russell and other experts have noted. The addition of this 5G radiation to an already complex mix of lower frequencies will likely contribute to negative public health outcomes—both physically and mentally. The new 5G technology utilizes high-frequency millimeter waves (MMW), which give off the same dose of radiation as airport scanners. Continuous exposure to transmitters in close proximity to homes and workplaces may pose serious risks.
Yael Stein of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University is a strong critic of the new 5G network. As Jody McCutcheon reported in an article for Eluxe Magazine, Stein has raised concerns about the adverse effects of MMW on human skin. In a July 2016 letter to the Federal Communications Commission, Stein advocated against 5G millimeter wave technology, noting that, with adoption of it, we should expect “more of the health effects currently seen with RF/microwave frequencies including many more cases of hypersensitivity (EHS), as well as many new complaints of physical pain and a yet unknown variety of neurologic disturbances.” The Eluxe article noted that the Department of Defense “already uses a crowd-dispersal method called the Active Denial System, in which MMWs are directed at crowds to make their skin feel like it’s burning.”
5G technology is not only bad for humans, it harms plant and animal life as well. Eluxe reported that one study found low-intensity MMW exposure causes stress responses in the cells of wheat shoots, which could have consequences for human food supplies. The 5G infrastructure would also pose a threat to our planet’s atmosphere. The implementation of this massive telecom network will require the deployment of many short-lifespan satellites propelled by hydrocarbon rocket engines. Another study cited by Eluxe found that launching these rockets will give off enough carbon to pollute global atmospheric conditions.
There is little or no substantive corporate media coverage of 5G health concerns. A May 2018 CBS News report observed that US wireless companies anticipate installing 300,000 new antennas, “roughly equal to the total number of cell towers built over the past three decades,” to support new 5G networks. CBS reported that this has caused “outrage and alarm in some neighborhoods, as antennas go up around homes.” Yet CBS’s coverage made no mention of the coalition of 52 grassroots organizations, Americans for Responsible Technology, that has called on the Federal Communications Commission to delay deployment of 5G infrastructure due to “emerging science linking exposure to RF microwave radiation with serious biological harm,” as Jason Plautz reported for Smart Cities Dive.
Instead, corporate news reports have focused on the proposed benefits of 5G—including, for example, faster data speeds, 3D imaging, and investment opportunities—while emphasizing lack of consensus among experts regarding any attendant health risks. This tendency can be seen in a November 2018 CNN article, “Federal Health Agencies Disagree over Link between Cell Phone Radiation and Cancer,” which reported on “confusion and controversy” regarding science in a split between the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.
Furthermore, corporate media often frame their stories in terms provided by the technology industry. For example, a February 2019 Washington Post article was based almost entirely on a report from the technology conglomerate Cisco, which indicated that the United States will only remain ahead of China and other nations in implementing 5G technology through “deregulation and policies favorable to the industry.” The only factors “complicating the picture,” according to Cisco and the Washington Post, were “ongoing concerns about the security of networking equipment from companies such as China’s Huawei.” That article made no mention whatsoever of health or environmental risks associated with the corporate race for 5G supremacy.
Cindy L. Russell, “5 G Wireless Telecommunications Expansion: Public Health and Environmental Implications,” Environmental Research, Vol. 165 (August 2018), 484–95, published online April 11, 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29655646.
Jody McCutcheon, “Frightening Frequencies: The Dangers of 5G,” Eluxe Magazine, May 2018, https://eluxemagazine.com/magazine/dangers-of-5g.
Jason Plautz, “Grassroots Coalition Asks FCC to Slow 5G Expansion over Health Concerns,” Smart Cities Dive, September 24, 2018, https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/grassroots-coalition-asks-fcc-to-slow-5g-expansion-over-health-concerns/532992.
Joel M. Moskowitz, “Scientists and Doctors Demand Moratorium on 5G,” Electromagnetic Radiation Safety, April 26, 2018, https://www.saferemr.com/2017/09/5G-moratorium12.html.
Conan Milner, “Resistance to 5G: Roadblock to a High Tech Future or Warning of a Serious Health Risk?” Epoch Times, November 9, 2018, updated November 12, 2018, https://www.theepochtimes.com/resistance-to-5g-roadblock-to-a-high-tech-future-or-warning-of-a-serious-health-risk_2705116.html.
Nicole Karlis, “Why Public Health Experts are Worried about 5G, the Next Generation of Cell Network,” Salon, December 4, 2018, https://www.salon.com/2018/12/03/why-public-health-experts-are-worried-about-5g-the-next-generation-of-cell-network.
Martin L. Pall, “Wi-Fi is an Important Threat to Human Health,” Environmental Research, Vol. 164 (July 2018), 405–416, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935118300355.
Student Researcher: Jamie Wells (San Francisco State University)
Faculty Evaluator: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)