The 5G gamble

The coming fifth generation of wireless communication technology, 5G for short, promises to make everything better. Except your health.

5G is designed to make wireless service faster and more connected, while also being cheaper and using less energy. It’s possible, because 5G uses shorter wavelengths that can send data as much as 1,000 times faster than today’s 4G standard.

As there are broader market pressures now, demanding a data-dense environment, 5G will be necessary for a world in which every building, appliance, retailer, and customer will be linked together through the Internet. Every car will be exchanging data with every other vehicle in its neighborhood, not to mention the computers that will control traffic flow.

Also, unlike 4G signals, 5G waves are directional. 4G waves broadcast every message in all directions, wasting energy and potentially causing interference with other nearby signals. The faster 5G waves are “aimable”, broadcasting in one direction. As a result, many more 5G antennas can be mounted on the same pole than 4G technology allows.

To grasp these minor miracles, we’ll need 5G-enabled devices. They won’t be on the mass market until about 2020, but telecom companies are already busy preparing for that day.

Verizon has partnered with Cradlepoint, a wireless equipment company, launching a demonstration program called “Pathway to 5G for Business”. Verizon is also offering 5G pilot tests in Houston, Sacramento, Los Angeles, and Indianapolis. AT&T has already tested its 5G network in Waco and Austin, Texas, and has expanded to other locales, targeting 400 markets initially. T-Mobile and Sprint aren’t far behind.

But these shorter waves don’t travel as far. So, to make a fully enabled 5G world, transmitters have to mounted, well, everywhere.

5G providers talk about mounting their transmitters on streetlight poles and traffic lights. One study estimates that in urban neighborhoods, every 12 houses will need a separate antenna to handle the load.


And that’s where the health concerns begin. People have been bathed in radio waves for more than a century. But most of us have never lived a few yards away from a radio station or a cell tower. Now virtually all of us will.

That constitutes a giant experiment in public health – and we’re the lab rats.

This experiment comes at a time when the idea that wireless telecom’s electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) can cause chronic ailments is becoming less and less controversial.

In 2006, a letter from public health researchers Gerd Oberfeld and Orjan Hallberg to the journal Electromagnetic Biology and Medicine first warned that an increasing number of people claim illnesses rooted in sensitivity to EMFs. The researchers forecast that half the population of developed countries could see their health impacted by the waves.

In 2014, Dominique Belpomme, a clinical oncologist at Paris Descartes University, found data proving that sensitivity to EMFs, “…can be objectively characterized and routinely diagnosed by commercially available simple tests,” and that EMFs cause inflammation, oxidative stress, autoimmune conditions, and poor sleep, conditions that afflict an increasing number of us.

Magda Havas, a biologist at Ontario’s Trent University, estimates that 3 percent of the population has severe reactions to EMFs and another 35 percent are compromised by them: sleeping poorly, feeling depressed, unable to concentrate, and being anxious. More extreme symptoms can include heart trouble, dizziness, nausea, and difficulties with movement.

This range of symptoms may expand with 5G blanketing the planet.

5G’s short, weak waves are absorbed into the skin, instead of deeper in the body. Sweat ducts in the skin have been shown to act as little antennas, conducting signals deeper inside the body, possibly disrupting the nervous and endocrine systems. In some studies, exposure to EMFs has caused skin irritation, leading some to worry that constant exposure to 5G could lead to skin diseases, including cancers.

It gets worse:

A 1994 study found that exposure to 5G-like microwaves promoted cataracts in rats.

In 2016, Armenian researchers found that a 5G microwave environment retarded the growth of single-cell organisms and also could increase resistance to antibiotics in some bacteria.

The US National Institutes of Health’s National Toxicology Program revealed that rats exposed to EMFs for nine hours a day over two years developed unusual brain and heart tumors and sustained damage to their DNA. In a 5G world, such exposure might become typical for us, with 5G routers and other devices dotting our homes, neighborhoods and workplaces.

Several investigations have found that steady exposure to EMFs harms birds and disrupts their nesting behavior, disorients bees, and damages plant and tree growth, including sparking a stress response in wheat, altering its biochemistry.


Those concerns, among others, have led the International Society of Doctors for the Environment, with affiliated organizations in more than 25 countries, to call for suspending 5G’s spread until its health effects are better understood.

Also, more than 200 EMF scientists in 41 countries have signed onto the International EMF Scientist Appeal, which highlights myriad studies indicating health dangers associated with low levels of wireless radiation. The scientists want 5G’s progress halted until these studies can be confirmed or proven wrong.

Public discomfort about 5G’s effects on human health and the natural world has led the state of Hawaii to threaten to hold companies installing 5G systems liable for any resulting health damage. California’s legislature has freed individual towns to write their own 5G rules, and at least three have stopped 5G’s expansion inside their borders until the towns review research and pass more permanent ordinances.

But 5G is the foundation of an emerging trillion-dollar economy for connection and communication. It will continue to roll on, even while science, with its slow and relentless rigor, amasses data about its effects on us, on our food, and on our world.

Meanwhile, 5G is a global gamble, with human health as the stakes. TJ


With governments reluctant and industry unwilling to slow the pace of 5G expansion, it will be up to individuals to be guardians against the waves’ potential hazards. What you can do:

Buy wireless radiation detectors, similar to little Geiger counters, to find and avoid spots where 5G waves are concentrated.

Use radiation protection coatings and blankets, such as a Radiation Glove, on your wireless devices.

Don’t let your electric utility install a smart meter on your house, and tell it, in writing, that if it does, you will hold it responsible for any resulting health damage to you and your family.

Decide whether 5G is something you really need. If it’s not, don’t buy 5G devices. Let Apple and other manufacturers know your decision.

Demand that your local and state governments enact legislation protecting the public from potentially harmful 5G hazards.

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