Is 5G really a health hazard?
Video clips appeared about 10 years ago during the 3G mobile communications era that appeared to show that mobile phones placed in a circle around a few grains of maize generated enough heat and energy to create popcorn.
That generated a lot of debate and fear that the technology was harmful. Those videos were fakes and part of a viral advertising campaign for a French Bluetooth company. But the memory of exploding popcorn remained and not everybody learned the truth.
The fact is that wireless signals do generate microwave energy but at a level that science and legislation insist is harmless. That has not prevented similar concerns about the new 5G mobile signals.
What is 5G?
5G was developed to carry more bandwidth – a fatter pipe if you like. It promises faster data transmission and response times, meaning better video streaming and gaming on mobile devices. It rivals the speed of fibre optic cable connections but with no landline required.
That fast response time of about 1 millisecond opens up new possibilities in a whole range of applications. For example, vehicle to vehicle communications (V2V) such that your car will know when another vehicle travelling ahead has suddenly braked. Read more about 5G here.
What makes 5G signals different from 4G and 3G?
5G uses a much higher radio frequency than previous technologies, called mmWave (millimetre wave). It operates at 24GHz and over.
All mobile networks, as well as wireless devices such as Wi-Fi, TV and radio transmitters, transmit radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields. Because it’s a low-energy type of radiation, there have naturally been concerns about possible health effects of exposure to certain RF frequencies.
Is 5G safe?
All wireless transmission uses radio waves, which are electromagnetic fields called radiofrequency (RF). That includes conventional radio and TV as well as modern WiFi and mobile devices.
It’s a low-energy type of radiation. Health concerns are not new and have been investigated. Respected authorities such as the NHS and Cancer Research UK have not raised concerns before now. The BBC Reality Check Team summarised current thinking recently and found no reported warning signs. This seems to be the consensus at present.
Who is raising questions about 5G as a health hazard?
A rash of snake oil salesmen have appeared, selling supposed protective devices such as wrist bracelets. No doubt there are enough gullible people who will believe that such an object can possibly shield the body from radio waves.
However, there are respected doctors and scientists who remain unconvinced that 5G should be given the green light. One concern in particular is that 5G is short range so it needs far, far more antennae and masts and much closer to you than previously. Fears mainly surround proximity of people to transmitters.
One such independent body is Radiation Research whose aim is to publish factual information about electro-magnetic radiation and its impact on health. They produced a 5-minute video that is worth a look.
Here in the UK we also have Physicians’ Health Initiative for Radiation and Environment (PHIRE) who produced a 5G Fact Sheet to express their concerns.
To sum up
No genuine credible concerns have been raised about potential health risks of 5G as yet. However, the jury is out to a certain extent because the technology has not been widely rolled out and the radio frequencies that it uses have not been fully unleashed.
In-depth studies into the effects of 3G and 4G radio waves appeared to throw up no red flags. That in itself is not totally reassuring about the new frequencies when you consider that even higher frequencies do indeed cause damage such as X-rays, gamma rays and the sun’s UV light.
On balance, we can be reassured that sceptics will monitor it closely. The key thing will be to separate scare stories from balanced scientific analysis.
BBC Reality Check Team (July 2019). Does 5G pose health risks? Retrieved from https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-48616174
Cancer Research UK (Oct 2018). Do mobile phones cause cancer? Retrieved from https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/cancer-controversies/mobile-phones-wifi-and-power-lines
Christensen, B. (March 2017). Making Popcorn With Cell Phones. Hoax Slayer. Retrieved from https://www.hoax-slayer.net/making-popcorn-with-cell-phones/
Mundy, J. (2019). 5G.co.uk. How Safe is 5G? Retrieved from https://5g.co.uk/guides/how-safe-is-5g/
NHS (May 2016). Study finds no link between mobile phones and brain cancer. Retrieved from https://www.nhs.uk/news/cancer/study-finds-no-link-between-mobile-phones-and-brain-cancer/
Physicians’ Health Initiative for Radiation and Environment (PHIRE). 5G 5 Facts. Retrieved from http://phiremedical.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/5G-5-facts.pdf
Radiation Research https://www.radiationresearch.org/
RF Page (Feb 2018). Applications of 5G technology. Retrieved from https://www.rfpage.com/applications-5g-technology/
The Telegraph (June 2008). Mobile phone popcorn ‘hoax’ hits YouTube. Retrieved from https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/howaboutthat/2100340/Mobile-phone-popcorn-hoax-hits-YouTube.html