5G Technology Meets a Big Obstacle: Health Impacts
In neighborhoods across the country, telecom crews are busy installing new wireless antennas on telephone poles and lamp posts in anticipation of the next generation of communication technology, known as 5G. There's a lot of hype about how this new technology will change our lives, and it certainly may, but not necessarily in the way we want or expect.
First some background: 5G uses the existing 3G and 4G network and adds a new layer of radiofrequency (RF) microwave radiation to transmit large amounts of data. It's much faster and more powerful than the existing networks, but it only works over short distances. As a result, the rollout of 5G will require a vast network of millions of new antennas installed in close proximity to homes and apartments.
But is constant exposure to RF microwave radiation from wireless antennas safe?
Researchers and cell phone companies have known for years that RF microwave radiation can cause serious health problems, and a recent study by the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) confirmed that prolonged exposure to microwave radiation can cause oxidative stress that can lead to cancer.
A 2018 study of exposure to radiation from cell towers, conducted by the renowned Ramazzini Institute, in Italy, showed similar biological effects. This and the NIH study build on a large and growing body of published, peer-reviewed, independent (non industry-funded) studies showing biological harm from RF microwave radiation.
For years, the wireless industry has downplayed the potential health effects of exposure to this type of radiation, casting doubt on the research (and researchers) and promoting the false narrative that there is no credible science linking exposure with health effects. While science is slow, and it is very difficult to draw a straight line between a particular exposure and a disease, we have sufficient evidence to be extremely careful around RF microwave radiation.
That’s why many people are raising questions about the wisdom of installing these powerful 5G antennas so close to our homes.
While cell phone users have the option to use a headset, a speakerphone or a car phone, or not to use a cell phone at all if they choose, no such option exists for people who live in close proximity to a 5G wireless antenna. It will be emitting powerful microwave radiation 24/7, every day, week after week, year after year, whether the nearby residents use the service or not. There is no way to escape.
So do the benefits of 5G outweigh these risks? According to the wireless industry, 5G will facilitate the Internet of Things (IoT), improve the accuracy of driverless cars and help with national security in some unspecified way.
While some people may feel that it's critical to have their toaster talk to their refrigerator, or to have a driverless car navigate its way to their home, it's hard to argue that these things constitute a necessary public service. The fact is, 5G is not required in residential areas for national security or public safety. It is not needed to improve cell phone service, and will not close the digital or the rural divide.
However, it will put certain populations at higher risk for health problems, including unborn children and young children, those with implanted medical devices, the elderly, people with hypersensitivity to RF microwave radiation and anyone with a compromised immune system. In other words, a lot of people.
Unfortunately, there is little your local government can do to stop the rollout of 5G. This is a federal issue, and while local governments have limited flexibility on the placement of antennas, only the federal government can stop the industry-funded race to roll out 5G.
Citizen groups opposing the wireless build-out are sprouting up wherever 5G antennas are being installed, and many of them have joined together as Americans for Responsible Technology. The organization has also established a website for political action, TelecomPowerGrab.org.
Most Americans recognize freedom of choice as a fundamental value in our society. No one has the right to force American citizens to endure involuntary exposure to harmful radiation in their own homes. How this issue will be resolved over the next few years remains to be seen.
Patti and Doug Wood are the founders and directors of Grassroots Environmental Education, a nonprofit environmental health organization based in Port Washington, NY.