5 G wireless telecommunications expansion: Public health and environmental implications

Cindy L. Russell, 5 G wireless telecommunications expansion: Public health and environmental implications,
Environmental Research, Volume 165, 2018, Pages 484-495, ISSN 0013-9351,


The popularity, widespread use and increasing dependency on wireless technologies has spawned a telecommunications industrial revolution with increasing public exposure to broader and higher frequencies of the electromagnetic spectrum to transmit data through a variety of devices and infrastructure. On the horizon, a new generation of even shorter high frequency 5G wavelengths is being proposed to power the Internet of Things (IoT). The IoT promises us convenient and easy lifestyles with a massive 5G interconnected telecommunications network, however, the expansion of broadband with shorter wavelength radiofrequency radiation highlights the concern that health and safety issues remain unknown. Controversy continues with regards to harm from current 2G, 3G and 4G wireless technologies. 5G technologies are far less studied for human or environmental effects.

It is argued that the addition of this added high frequency 5G radiation to an already complex mix of lower frequencies, will contribute to a negative public health outcome both from both physical and mental health perspectives.

Radiofrequency radiation (RF) is increasingly being recognized as a new form of environmental pollution. Like other common toxic exposures, the effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation (RF EMR) will be problematic if not impossible to sort out epidemiologically as there no longer remains an unexposed control group. This is especially important considering these effects are likely magnified by synergistic toxic exposures and other common health risk behaviors. Effects can also be non-linear. Because this is the first generation to have cradle-to-grave lifespan exposure to this level of man-made microwave (RF EMR) radiofrequencies, it will be years or decades before the true health consequences are known. Precaution in the roll out of this new technology is strongly indicated.

This article will review relevant electromagnetic frequencies, exposure standards and current scientific literature on the health implications of 2G, 3G, 4G exposure, including some of the available literature on 5G frequencies. The question of what constitutes a public health issue will be raised, as well as the need for a precautionary approach in advancing new wireless technologies.

Although 5G technology may have many unimagined uses and benefits, it is also increasingly clear that significant negative consequences to human health and ecosystems could occur if it is widely adopted. Current radiofrequency radiation wavelengths we are exposed to appear to act as a toxin to biological systems. A moratorium on the deployment of 5G is warranted, along with development of independent health and environmental advisory boards that include independent scientists who research biological effects and exposure levels of radiofrequency radiation. Sound regulatory policy regarding current and future telecommunications initiative will require more careful assessment of risks to human health, environmental health, public safety, privacy, security and social consequences. Public health regulations need to be updated to match appropriate independent science with the adoption of biologically based exposure standards prior to further deployment of 4G or 5G technology.
Considering the current science, lack of relevant exposure standards based on known biological effects and data gaps in research, we need to reduce our exposure to RF EMR where ever technically feasible. Laws or policies which restrict the full integrity of science and the scientific community with regards to health and environmental effects of wireless technologies or other toxic exposures should be changed to enable unbiased, objective and precautionary science to drive necessary public policies and regulation. Climate change, fracking, toxic emissions and microwave radiation from wireless devices all have something in common with smoking. There is much denial and confusion about health and environmental risks, along with industry insistence for absolute proof before regulatory action occurs (Frentzel-Beyme, 1994; Michaels 2008). There are many lessons we have not learned with the introduction of novel substances, which later became precarious environmental pollutants by not heeding warning signs from scientists (Gee, 2009). The threats of these common pollutants continue to weigh heavily on the health and well being of our nation. We now accept them as the price of progress. If we do not take precautions but wait for unquestioned proof of harm will it be too late at that point for some or all of us?

3.3.2. Electrosensitivity

An increasing number of people are reporting a variety of symptoms with exposure to wireless devices and infrastructure, including headaches, insomnia, dizziness, nausea, lack of concentration, heart palpitations and depression. These are now recognized as signs of electrosensitivity or electromagnetic hypersensitivity. A personal communication and case history was recently described by Dr. Scott Eberle, a hospice physician who, after an inciting event, became electrosensitive, and discovered his continuing physical symptoms were due to wireless radiation from his computer and cell phone. (Eberle, 2014, Eberle, 2017). Reports of electrosensitivity with these non-specific but sometimes debilitating symptoms have incidences from 1.5% of the population in Sweden to 13.3% of the population in Taiwan (Hedendahl et al., 2015).

The United States Access Board recognizes “that multiple chemical sensitivities and electromagnetic sensitivities may be considered disabilities under the ADA if they so severely impair the neurological, respiratory or other functions of an individual that it substantially limits one or more of the individual’s major life activities.” (ADA, 2014).

It is notable that these same symptoms were described in military personnel working near radar communications systems. A 1981 NASA report, “Electromagnetic Field Interactions: Observed Effects and Theories”, described microwave sickness with a host of symptoms recorded, including headaches, eyestrain, fatigue, dizziness, disturbed sleep at night, sleepiness in daytime, moodiness, irritability, unsociability, hypochondriac reactions, feelings of fear, nervous tension, mental depression, memory impairment, pulling sensation in the scalp and brow, loss of hair, pain in muscles and heart region, breathing difficulties, and increased perspiration of extremities (NASA, 1981).


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