June Editorial: How safe are 5G signals?

I know, I know, it's another 5G editorial. Yes, we at Evaluation Engineering have covered developments in 5G extensively, given that the fifth generation of wireless connectivity is rightfully all the rage, and will be for at least the next several years. But there’s an aspect of 5G that we haven’t really touched on since its inception: How safe is it? As in, how safe to us humans are the ultra-fast, ultra-high frequency signals that 5G will rely upon?

Signal WebsiteWe all know that higher exposure to radiation increases the risk for various cancers and other ailments. We’re currently being exposed to radiation, both from natural sources like the sun, soil, outer space, and food, along with human-made radiation caused by our TVs, cellphones, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth devices. I’m sure many of us have seen the news reports linking cellphone radiation to cancer.

So, with 5G promising to ramp up signal strength and speed, along with multiplying the amount of signals constantly being passed through our bodies, should we concerned for our health?

In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified radio frequency electromagnetic radiation—the kind that comes from cellphones—as possibly carcinogenic to humans. Several proponents saying 5G is a health risk point to that classification as a key pillar in their arguments. But the chair of the group of experts that made that classification recently told CNBC that it was based on several human epidemiological studies that pointed to a link between cellphone radiation and cancer, while laboratory evidence and very limited animal evidence didn’t provide much of a link between the two. That’s why the classification was only “possible,” adding that the science still isn’t there yet to make a complete determination either way.

With today’s media cycles and people’s short attention spans, laypersons tend to hear the word “possibly” when it comes to health risks and assume the worst, just as searching for flu symptoms on WebMD.com can quickly lead one to think a common cold symptom means something dire.

Today, the most well-known health governing agencies and associations that study this topic—including WHO, the Centers for Disease Control, the Federal Communications Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, and the National Cancer Institute—all agree that there is no direct evidence that cellphone radiation is causing adverse health effects.

Mike Hockett, Evaluation Engineering Editor-in-ChiefMike Hockett, Evaluation Engineering Editor-in-ChiefI’m not an oncologist or a health expert, but what is known is that exposure to enough of any electromagnetic frequency affects the human body by heating it. That’s how microwave ovens work, and why there are limits as to how powerful cellphone radiation can be. But don’t worry, 5G won’t cook us.

Jerrold Bushberg, clinical professor of radiology and radiation oncology at UC Davis, told CNBC that for 5G, “the amount of RF energy being transmitted is very, very low and would need to be thousands of times greater to even be felt by the body as a heat source, much less cause any harm to the body.”

What about mutation? Another known fact is that enough radiation can make changes to the atoms in the cells in the human body, which can lead to cancer. It’s the reason radiation therapy can be used to treat cancer by damaging the atoms in cancer cells. But Bushberg calmed that concern as well, explaining that, unlike with deadly ionizing radiation, the human body easily normalizes any additional heat from RF energy.

In terms of radiation, 3G and 4G frequencies hover in the 1 to 2 GHz range, while 5G will ramp up as high as 70 GHz. Still, non-ionizing radiation doesn’t change to ionizing radiation until that frequency level gets to about 2.4 million GHz.

Even with all this information, no industry expert can say without a doubt that 5G is 100% safe to the human body. But, there just isn’t enough evidence to say that 5G is even 0.1% unsafe. As with everything how technology may impact life, more research is needed.

What do you think? Are 5G signals completely safe? Or is there reason for worry? Feel free to let me know your thoughts by shooting me an email at mhockett@evaluationengineering.com

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