5G Cell Phone Radio Frequencies and Health: Are There Valid Safety Concerns?

As cell phones and communication technology evolves, faster and more powerful systems are needed to expand and improve the technologies. At their core, cell phones use radio frequency waves transmitted through the air for data transmission and communication. 

Cell Phone Tower

The latest technology that has started to roll out for cell phones is 5G. Technologically, 5G is a major advance, allowing much faster speeds and a more interconnected world. However, since the technology requires higher frequencies that don’t penetrate walls and other structures as well as previous lower frequencies, cell towers will need to be placed every 100-300 meters (Russell 2018). This will significantly increase our exposure to 5G radio frequencies. It’s also worth noting that 5G doesn’t replace the previous technologies. Exposure to the old frequencies would still remain in combination with the newer 5G frequencies. 

Are There Valid Health Concerns from Exposure to Radio Frequency Fields?

It’s a difficult question to answer due to the complexity of exposure. First, cell phone frequencies aren’t single pure frequencies. The carrier wave is the main frequency, but the data is “modulated” on top of that frequency which introduces many additional frequencies that are combined in the 5G signal. This modulation can create its own health effects separate from the carrier frequency (Huber 2005, Foster 2004). 

The simple answer is that there has not been any exposure studies looking at the effects of real world 5G radio frequency signals on humans or other organisms. Although, extrapolating from previous research that has been done on exposure to radio frequency signals raises questions and concerns. A group of more than 230 scientists from over 40 countries submitted an appeal to the European Union to halt the implementation of 5G until independent safety studies and an independent review is completed of potential harmful effects of radio frequencies from 5G technology (5gappeal 2019). 

Potential Harms Already Correlated with Current Radio Frequency Use

Potential harms that have been shown with current levels of radio frequency exposure include: cancer, reproductive effects, neurological effects and metabolic effects, among others. The latest large scale analysis of cell phone use and cancer showed a 1.324 times increased risk of intracranial cancers on the same side of the head with cell phone use (Bortkiewicz 2017). Back in 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer declared radio frequencies a potential human carcinogen based on the available research (IARC 2011).

Potential Reproductive Harms

A review looking at effects of cell phone radiation on the male reproductive system included 27 studies, 21 of which showed harms. Sperm were found to be less motile, there was increased free radical exposure and increased DNA damage from radio frequency exposure (Houston 2016). 

Metabolic and Neurological Effects on Children

In children, radio frequency exposure, blood sugar levels and diabetes risk have been explored. Children with higher levels of exposure had increased blood sugar and increased risk of type 2 diabetes with higher exposure (Meo 2015). 

Exposure to higher levels of radio frequency fields also correlates with behavioral problems in children. One study showed 1.5 times greater behavioral problems in children aged 7, especially if they were exposed in utero and childhood (Divan 2012). Another large study looked at mother’s cell phone use during pregnancy and found a significant increase in behavioral problems from exposure as well, although they acknowledge potential confounding (Birks 2017). 

Funding Bias

Funding bias appears to play a large part in the research on radio frequency safety. A study looking at bias in health research on radio frequency exposure showed that industry funded studies showed harm an amazing 0.11 times less than non-industry funded studies (Huss 2007). This is a huge and concerning discrepancy. 

But None of These Studies were on 5G

None of the studies outlined above looked at 5G frequencies. These outcomes are from our current radio frequency cell phone technologies. 5G harms have to be extrapolated from cell culture or animal experiments with the higher frequencies associated with 5G technology. This preliminary data still raises concerns for potential health effects with 5G. Altered gene expression, increased cell growth, immune stimulation and changes in cell membrane function have been documented at 5G frequencies (Ciaula 2018).

Conclusion

Harm from radio frequency exposure is controversial. You can find high profile news stories from major news sources claiming it’s just a conspiracy theory with no proof (Wired 2019) or that it’s all based on misinformation (NY Times 2019). There’s even some strange evidence that Russia has intervened in American social media, pushing fears about 5G exposure and health risks (NY times 2019). You can easily find exaggerated claims or sensationalistic stories on YouTube or other social media touting unreferenced negative health effects. However, I would argue after exploring the literature cited above there appear to be valid concerns about harm from radio frequency exposure and additional research to verify safety is not unwarranted. 

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