5G technology is in the early stages of deployment in the United States and around the world. Here in the US, where 5G is being used at very high wavelengths (mmWave), the technology isn’t very good. Early service areas are very small and the range is terrible. Verizon has already admitted that its 5G network service is unlikely to deliver any significant benefits for rural users. There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of 5G, even though the wireless industry is committed to painting the opposite picture.
But one thing 5G doesn’t do. It does not cause cancer. Scientific American is the latest to weigh in on this issue, following its own publication of an op/ed in which a public health and safety regulator called for further investigation of the potential health hazards of 5G. As Scientific American explains at length, the entire EM spectrum can be divided into two types: Ionizing and non-ionizing radiation.
Put simply, ionizing radiation kills you. Non-ionizing radiation doesn’t. There is a reason why we do not stand cancer patients in front of a 5G cell phone for 30 minutes, then declare them cured. It’s because 5G mmWave signals struggle to penetrate solid objects. Frankly, 5G range is lousy even in the open air. The reason we don’t stand cancer patients in front of an unshielded operational nuclear reactor for 30 seconds and declare them cured is that they would die of radiation poisoning. The difference between those two timeframes and outcomes is, at heart, the reason why 5G phones are completely safe to carry in your pocket while unshielded nuclear reactors are not.
Every frequency range that we use for cellular communication is in the non-ionizing part of the EM spectrum. This includes the 28GHz and 39GHz frequencies considered for mmWave 5G. Some of the other frequency bands for 5G are identical to bands we’ve already used for various wireless communication systems (spectrum assignments vary by country, so I can’t provide a universal breakdown, but there’s overlap with other, previous standards and spectrum allocations).
The studies that have come out that claim to find relationships between cellular exposure and lifespan or tumor rates in animals have all been badly compromised by poor quality controls. Proponents of these studies and the scareism around 5G often deliberately neglect to mention that the studies are effectively worthless. In one major example, a 2018 paper by the National Toxicology Program claimed to find evidence that rats exposed to high-RF fields used in 5G developed cancer. The problem is, the rats exposed to the high-RF field also lived longer than the rodents in the control group. Does this mean that high RF signals actually cause long life spans in rats? It does not. But a study with data showing that high RF fields cause long life in rats is a study with an obvious methodological problem. The 2018 report and others like it have been exhaustively deconstructed and criticized by publications like ScienceBasedMedicine and Ars Technica.
As Scientific American notes, the number of people using mobile phones has risen from essentially zero to basically the entire planet over the past 30+ years, yet no well-conducted study has found evidence of any health risks associated with mobile devices, beyond those caused by absentmindedly walking into a bus. This is less a joke that it might seem; cell phones are associated with the increase in pedestrian deaths in recent years. Long-term studies of radar workers don’t show an increased incidence of cancer, and radar workers absorb far more energy than anyone with a typical cell phone.
In 2019, I view 5G as a beautiful example of a worthless technology. Companies want you to care about 5G so they can sell you stuff. Realistically, I doubt 5G will be a practical benefit before 2022 or later, and it may never be a practical benefit to large sections of the United States. That’s reason enough to ignore the entire industry, at least for now. But there’s currently no known reason to avoid 5G based on medical data.
Studies to measure the impact of cell phone usage on the human body have been going on for decades in 13 countries. The reason you periodically hear about badly designed studies showing harm is not because any credible evidence of harm has been unearthed. In every case, the studies that claim to have found strong evidence of harm have failed to hold up under further analysis.
Do I believe we should continue to study these questions? I absolutely do. But I also believe in clearly communicating the findings from the methodologically rigorous studies that continue to show no links between cancer and cellular communications. 5G may drain your wallet and your battery. There is currently no credible evidence supporting a link between 5G and cancer.
Top image credit: Ryan Whitwam
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