Is 5G Safe?

Just like when microwave ovens and 4G services were introduced, the rollout of 5G services has sparked concerns about safety. Should you be concerned? Here are some things to keep in mind.

Just like when microwave ovens and 4G services were introduced, the rollout of 5G services has sparked concerns about safety. If you perform a web search, you will find many viewpoints on the topic. Some people are saying it’s harmless, while others are warning that it will cause cancer and other health issues. A common argument among the latter group is that 5G is dangerous because it travels over higher frequency radio waves. Another argument concerns what has been said in a certain report by the World Health Organization.

So, is 5G safe? To better answer this question for yourself, you need to be familiar with some basic science.

Electromagnetic Radiation 101

There is electromagnetic radiation everywhere around us. This radiation travels in waves and varies in the amount energy (aka strength) it has. The shorter the wavelength, the more energy it has — and the more dangerous it is. Some radiation is so strong that it can damage people’s cells and DNA, which increases the risk of developing cancer. This is referred to as ionizing radiation.

Radiation that does not damage cells or DNA is called non-ionizing radiation. However, even non-ionizing radiation has some health risks. Exposure to intense, direct amounts of it can result in tissue damage due to the heat generated.

Electromagnetic radiation causes electromagnetic fields (EMFs). These fields are broken down into two categories based on their frequency (i.e., number of waves per second):

  • Higher-frequency EMFs (e.g., x-rays, gamma rays)
  • Low- to mid-frequency EMFs (e.g., radio waves, microwaves, visible light)

EMFs in the ionizing radiation part of the electromagnetic spectrum — known as ionizing EMFs — include x-rays and gamma rays. The rest of the EMFs are referred to as non-ionizing EMFs. They include radio waves, microwaves, and visible light.

Where 5G Fits in and What It Means

As previously mentioned, a common argument among 5G opponents is that 5G is dangerous because it travels over higher frequency radio waves and therefore will increase the chances of getting cancer. The first part of this statement is true. The frequency of high-band 5G typically ranges from 24 to 40 gigahertz (GHz), which is a big step up from 4G LTE’s frequency of around 2.5 gHz.

However, the frequency of high-band 5G is far below the frequency of the various ionizing EMFs, which starts around 30 petahertz (PHz) — in other words, around 30 million gHz. Since a 5G radio wave is not an ionizing EMF, exposure to it won’t damage your cells or DNA, or increase your chance of developing cancer.

Plus, while exposure to intense, direct amounts of non-ionizing radiation can result in tissue damage, regulatory agencies around the world know about this issue and regulate it. For example, the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) sets limits on how much humans can be exposed to radiofrequency emissions from cellphones, transmitters, and facilities.

2B or Not 2B

Another reason why some people believe that 5G is unsafe stems from a classification in a report by the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). This agency conducts and coordinates research into the causes of cancer. After it researches whether a specific item causes cancer, it places it into one of the following cancer-risk categories:

  • Group 1: The agent is carcinogenic to humans.
  • Group 2A: The agent is probably carcinogenic to humans.
  • Group 2B: The agent is possibly carcinogenic to humans.
  • Group 3: The agent is not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans.
  • Group 4: The agent is probably not carcinogenic to humans.

IARC classified radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation as 2B. This might sound alarming, but a rating of 2B basically means that there’s not enough evidence to either say it is or is not carcinogenic. Other items such as aloe vera extract, carpentry, gasoline, and even pickled vegetables are also classified as 2B by IARC.

The 2B classification also alludes to the need for more research, which is a good thing. Just because there is no undeniable proof either way right now does not mean that can’t change. Humans are always discovering new things and gaining a better understanding of the existing world around them.

The Answer

Two common reasons for claiming that 5G is unsafe — 5G’s higher frequencies and IARC’s 2B classification — turn out to be non-issues, which helps alleviate some of the fear surrounding 5G. These non-issues — combined with the fact that scientific consensus currently says we have nothing to worry about — means you do not have to forgo getting a new 5G phone if you want one. But it is always a good idea to keep an open mind in case any new developments arise in the future.

5G Netzwerk flickr photo by Christoph Scholz shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license


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