Do cell phones give us brain cancer? The question seems so 1990s, and the devices have barreled forward regardless of the answer. Wireless technology has spread beyond the mobile telephone, into all manner of devices that dominate many lives; it has evolved into 3G, and 4G, with a new iteration on the way. 5G is the next phase in the evolution, and the U.S. is charging headlong into a 5G world, but it seems that the new kid on the block operates in a different and perhaps more dangerous way than its ancestors.
Various media outlets have started to renew the debate surrounding the potentially harmful effects of exposure to excessive electromagnetic radiation, with The Guardian recently posing the question: “We dismiss claims about mobiles being bad for our health – but is that because studies showing a link to cancer have been cast into doubt by the industry?” Whatever the answer, we’d better brace ourselves, because according to some, things are about to get a lot worse.
Operating based on millimeter radiation, rather than the “traditional” microwave radiation of 3G and 4G, 5G could pose a threat to public health, according to some medical experts. But public safety is not a priority for federal and state regulators, who are going ahead with the technology without waiting around for health and safety investigations.
Is 5G Safe?
Current Wi-Fi and cell phone signals operate via the radio wave spectrum at a frequency which may or may not affect the human body. According to the World Health Organization, radio frequency electromagnetic fields are “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” 5G, the fifth generation in wireless technology, will instead use millimeter waves (MMW). While techies are saying that millimeter waves will be able to transmit high data traffic at an incredibly fast rate – yes, you will be able to download movies in mere minutes – and dismissing health concerns, some public health experts have expressed worries over the effects 5G will have on humans and other species.
“The deployment of 5G, or fifth generation cellular technology, constitutes a massive experiment on the health of all species,” Dr. Joel M. Moskowitz, Director at the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, told the Daily Mail Online. “5G will use high-band frequencies, or millimeter waves, that may affect the eyes, the testes, the skin, the peripheral nervous system, and sweat glands … Millimeter waves can also make some pathogens resistant to antibiotics,” he added.
Millimeter wave technology has already been weaponized, with the military developing the Active Denial System, a crowd-dispersing heat ray that uses MMW technology to inflict radiation burns on targets by heating water in the upper layers of skin. One wonders if this technology is more likely to see action in a wartime scenario or turned over to the police for use on U.S. streets against native citizens – but that is another matter. The MMWs in 5G operate at a lower frequency than in the Active Denial System, thus meeting the only FDA safety requirement for electromagnetic fields – it does not reach thermal levels, i.e., no heat is created. But according to advocacy group Physicians for Safe Technology, there are unstudied risks:
“Although 5G only penetrates the outer layers of skin, elements in the skin [and water/sweat] can act as a mini antennas [sic] radiating the RF frequencies deeper into the body and signaling the nervous, endocrine and immune system with broad adverse effects. There has been no pre market testing of 5G. It is assumed safe if it does not burn the skin … In addition, 5G technology has a disturbing data gap with regards to research on human or environmental safety, that is even admitted by industry. No studies done, no harm seen.”
Over 200 doctors and scientists signed a letter addressed to the European Union parliament, requesting a hold on the rollout of 5G until further studies could be done on the potential health effects.
Another feature of MMWs is that they do not travel well, unlike radio waves. 5G technology cannot travel long distances, or easily through material objects. Instead of relying on a relatively “few” large transmitter towers scattered across the country, small 5G transmitters will be placed virtually everywhere to keep the signal going. They will be attached to existing posts and street lamps on every street, school, shopping mall, and other areas a signal is desired by telecom companies – creating a heavy blanket of MMW signals of which it will be virtually impossible to opt-out. Currently, you can choose not to have Wi-Fi in your home, install “smart” meters, or carry a phone in direct contact with your skin; such a choice will not be available under 5G.
Telecom giants Verizon and AT&T are currently performing tests in a variety of locales across the country, with further rollouts expected soon and the first 5G smartphones predicted to come to market in 2019.
Big Government’s Race to 5G
Some local administrations have moved against the 5G rollout: The city council of Mill Valley in California instituted an emergency ordinance to block 5G infrastructure in its residential areas, while Cleveland and other Ohio cities have taken out a lawsuit against their state Senate Bill 331, which reduced local government autonomy in several areas, including control over installation of wireless technology infrastructure. Michigan has been holding hearings with testimony over 5G concerns, but with AT&T investing billions in the state, lawmakers are unlikely to resist.
…nothing, not even public health, is more important than the billions of dollars telecoms corporations stand to make from 5G.
Despite concerns at the local level, state and federal government are pushing forward. The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Technology recently held a hearing titled “The Race to 5G.” One only needs to hear committee chairman John Thune (R-SD) complaining about technical issues at the beginning of the hearing, claiming, “This won’t happen when 5G gets here, just so you know,” to figure out the federal stance. According to Thune, the hearing was convened to decide “what we can do to bring 5G more quickly and more effectively here to South Dakota.”
Tom Wheeler, head of the FCC under the Obama administration and former telecom lobbyist, told the National Press Club:
“I’m confident that the actions will lead to a cornucopia of unanticipated innovative uses and will generate tens of billions of dollars in economic activity. And that’s damn important, because it means that U.S. companies will be the first out of the gate. That is why 5g is a national priority, and stay out of the way of technological development. Unlike some countries, we do not believe we should spend the next couple of years studying what 5G should be or how it should operate.”
In other words, nothing, not even public health, is more important than the billions of dollars telecoms corporations stand to make from 5G. Trump’s FCC took that message and ran with it. In March, they removed further oversight over environmental impacts of the rollout of the 5G network. “US leadership in 5G technology is a national imperative for economic growth and competitiveness,” the agency’s current chairman Ajit Pai recently said at a White House summit.
Will the 5G network be a public health crisis or a fantastic opportunity for Americans to make money? The government and telecom companies are pinning all their hopes on the latter option, without pausing to consider the first, and whatever the answer, the so-called peoples’ representatives will not be giving individuals a choice – every American will join the 5G network, whether they like it or not.