Science

5G is on its way: should we be worried?

Whereas most scientists and researchers agree that 5G technology does not pose a significant health risk, more quality research is needed before conclusive safety clearance.

5G mobile networks have been switched on in some UK cities. 5G allows users to download data at much faster speeds and will bring us closer to the Internet of Things. The next generation of mobile internet connection is expected to bring augmented reality and mobile virtual reality into our everyday lives, as it will enable us to design ‘smart cities’.

Experts say that 5G is crucial in the success of self-driving vehicles as it will allow them to wirelessly communicate with each other in real time, considering live traffic and map data.

Although 5G is expected to revolutionise our lives, safety concerns have been raised. A group of scientists and doctors from around the world have made the so-called ‘5GAppeal’ calling for “a moratorium on the roll-out of 5G for telecommunication until potential hazards for human health and the environment have been fully investigated”, further claiming that “exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields has been proven to be harmful to humans and the environment.”

Because 5G technology is poorly transmitted over short distances, antennas will be installed every 100 to 200 metres in urban areas, massively increasing expo-sure to wireless radiation. Exposure to electromagnetic radiation, they argue, increases the risk of genetic damages, neurological disorders, and cancer. A massive study by the National Toxicology Program Carcinogenesis Studies of Cell Phone Radiofrequency Radiation has found a statistically significant increase in the number of incidents of heart and brain cancer in animals exposed to electromagnetic fields for a long period of time.

‘5G Appeal’ signatories cite reports by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the World Health Organization’s cancer agency, which say that exposure to radiofrequency radiation of 30KHz to 300 GHz is ‘possibly carcinogenic’ to humans. They also claim that there has been an increase in certain types of neck and head tumours which might be caused by cellphone radiation. Proponents of 5G technology, on the other hand, claim that the number of cancer cases has remained steady over the years.

Despite concerns about 5G technology’s impact on human and animals’ health and the environment, there are reasons to believe that 5G is safe and does not pose any health risks.

IARC’s classification of mobile phone use as “possibly carcinogenic” is one of the lowest danger levels that the IARC ascribes to a risk factor. IARC defines ‘possibly carcinogenic’ to be indicated by“ limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” Coffee, aloe vera, and pickled vegetables also fall within the same category.

But could there be any danger from radiation that mobile phones emit? Possibly not. Mobile phones emit and receive radio and microwave radiation in the range of 800MHz to 2600 MHz, which belongs in the low-energy end of the electromagnetic spectrum. 5G technology will just be using a newer part of the spectrum, from 22GHz to 86GHz, which is still way short of X-rays and Gamma rays, the ionising part of the spectrum. Ionising radiation is capable of breaking molecular bonds, knocking off electrons from atoms, and damaging DNA cells. As radiofrequency radiation is on the non-ionising part of the spectrum, “it lacks sufficient energy to break apart DNA and cause cellular damage”, says David Robert Grimes, a former researcher at the University of Oxford.

Dr Steve Novella, an assistant professor of neurology at Yale University, has expressed certainty that non-ionising radiation cannot cause DNA or tissue damage as “there’s no known mechanism for most forms of non-ionizing radiation to even have a biological effect.”

However, while 5G uses the non-ionising part of the electromagnetic spectrum, some experts suggest that cell phone radiation could be damaging the body via other biological mechanisms, such as oxidative stress in cells.

Nevertheless, according to the American Cancer Association, most studies on cell phone use and tumour development have not found a link, however some of these studies have been criticised for their limitations.

As with 4G technology which was introduced 10 years ago and had also stirred up debate about its safety, it is too soon to tell.

Whereas most scientists and researchers agree that 5G technology does not pose a significant health risk, more quality research is needed before conclusive safety clearance.

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