Few of the general public I speak to have any awareness of the possible health harms of radio-frequency radiation such as 5G or Wi-Fi. Could this be because Government and mainstream media have colluded to ignore these risks? In fact, the Court of Appeal has recently given permission for a judicial review challenging the Government for “failure to give adequate information to the public about the risks of 5G and to explain the absence of a process for investigation of any adverse health effects”. This hearing, led by Michael Mansfield QC will take place on February 6th and 7th in London.
Politicians, however, are undeterred in continuing with the proliferation of electronic communication, now in the form of 5G. The Government states that it has a “clear ambition for the U.K. to be a global leader in the next generation of mobile technology, 5G”, and that there is “enormous potential to boost productivity and grow the economy” through it. It’s worth noting that almost all independent commentators on 5G suggest that the motives for its launch are entirely economic, not humanitarian. Certainly I don’t know anyone who is enthusiastic about smart cities, smart motorways, driverless cars or the intensification of electronic communications in healthcare settings, for example.
Regarding the health risks of 5G, the Government states, “there should be no consequences for public health”. Does that reassure you? What evidence is being relied upon? Isn’t there just a hint of unfounded optimism in that statement? Given my own health issues discussed here, I am highly sceptical, but, aware of my own lack of medical and scientific knowledge, I have enlisted the help of Professor John W. Frank, retired Chair of Public Health Research and Policy at Edinburgh University and an experienced epidemiologist/physician. I will summarise his 2021 peer-reviewed article entitled, “Electromagnetic fields, 5G and health: what about the precautionary principle?” Professor Frank has kindly reviewed and checked the scientific accuracy of my work.
Before outlining Professor Frank’s article, I would like to clarify some terms. Radio-frequency radiation (RFR) refers to communication signals from Wi-Fi routers, mobile phones, cordless phones, suburban towers, masts and panels on buildings (including hospitals), bluetooth devices, smart meters, Fitbits, smart watches, baby monitors, game consoles, smart diapers (nappies) and more. RFR may also be referred to as electromagnetic fields (EMFs) or non-ionising radiation. In clarification of the frequencies used for 5G, a Government Guide explains that most 5G technology uses already existing frequencies, but the higher frequencies of 26GHz and 40 GHz (millimetre wave) are likely to be allocated soon for commercial use. I note that 60 GHz is already in use for 5G testbeds such as the one in Liverpool.
I now come to the essence of Professor Frank’s article. He explains that as well as higher frequencies, “5G will also make use of very new — and thus relatively unevaluated, in terms of safety — supportive technology (including pulsing, beaming, phased arrays and multiple-input and mulitple-output (MIMO)) to enable a higher data transmission capacity”. Because the new higher frequencies do not penetrate objects, signal boosters or ‘small cell’ antennae will be required on every second or third lamppost, thus creating a dense transmission network, which is likely to mean a substantial increase to overall population exposure.
Current controversy as to the health impact of radio-frequency radiation (RFR) is evidenced by reviews by public health agencies and others with widely differing results and recommendations. On the one hand, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified RFR as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, while others such as the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) have set very high (lax) safety exposure guidelines, which are based on the results of behavioural studies involving the exposure of five monkeys and eight rats to RFR over a period of one hour. Behaviour disruption was linked to increase in body temperature. This is controversial because studies have found that there may be health impacts without any heating of tissue and because the studies did not take account of continuous exposure or possible chronic or long-term effects.
Independent radiation and health scientists have expressed concern about the rollout of 5G because of the likely huge increase in exposure to a wide range of frequencies and because there is hardly any evidence on the safety of 5G-specific RFR emissions, while there is, to quote Professor Frank, a “growing body of research suggesting harms from other current RFR exposures, which have been studied for much longer”. Further references can be found in Professor Frank’s article.
Several international groups such as the EMF Scientist Appeal and the 5G Appeal have asked governments for a moratorium on 5G until more research has been done and for better safety exposure guidelines. Certain countries have taken some precautions such as banning Wi-Fi in pre-schools and some areas have banned 5G antennae. The USA, U.K. and some parts of Europe have followed the ICNIRP guidelines but other countries have adopted guidelines which are 10-fold or 100-fold lower (stricter).
Professor Frank then identifies four areas of “scientific uncertainty and concern”. The first is the lack of a clear definition of 5G internationally as regards frequencies to be used. Equally confusing is the “complex set of special signal modulations, pulses, polarisation, phased arrays and novel equipment designs — for example, ‘massive MIMO antennas’ — which represent the cutting edge technologies that accompany 5G system installation. He states that it is “highly likely that each of these many forms of transmission causes somewhat different biological effects — making sound, comprehensive and up-to-date research on those effects virtually impossible”. These difficulties are compounded because many of these technologies are protected by patent, so that researchers cannot know their precise technical nature.
The second area that worried Professor Frank concerns the preponderance of laboratory studies showing the negative biological effects of RFR, in which, however, there are many knowledge gaps. As regards recent innovative technology around 5G, studies with the same combination of radio frequencies, modulation and pulse patterns have not been replicated (replication being the “hallmark of reliable research”). Despite that, biological effects are remarkably similar irrespective of the combination used, according to a high quality review. Another review states that “some of the new RFR technologies are so new that biological scientists have not been able to keep up — that is, no studies yet exist of these new technologies’ biological effects”. One Israeli study throws serious doubt on the theory that 5G is less dangerous than its predecessors supposedly because it only penetrates the outside layer of skin.
Importantly however, the reviews reveal “a growing body of evidence that RFR exposures produce effects spanning reproductive, oncological (cancer-related), neuropsychiatric, skin, eye and immunological body systems. In addition, there are many fundamental effects at the subcellular level, in terms of oxidation, DNA alteration, gene expression and bacterial antibiotic resistance”. These are unrelated to heating effects. Professor Frank then discusses the widely cited National Toxicology Program studies using rats, which link RFR exposure to cancer, but he finds too many methodological weaknesses to allow a clear interpretation of the results. His conclusion is that laboratory studies “cannot replace high-quality human epidemiological studies” i.e., studies of the precise relationship between exposure and disease in large numbers of persons at different levels of exposure.
The third area concerns epidemiological studies. In 2019, an international expert team led by Canada’s most senior cancer epidemiologist Professor Tony Miller (Miller et al.) summarised the “human epidemiological evidence linking human breast and brain tumours, male reproductive outcomes and child neurodevelopmental conditions to RFR exposures” and found “compelling evidence of carcinogenesis, especially in the brain and acoustic nerve, as well as the breast, from strong RFR exposures to previous generations of mobile phone transmissions”.
However these results do not apply to novel 5G systems, as this type of epidemiological study designed to prove causation requires “decades of follow-up to detect delayed health effects, such as most cancers.”
In his review, Miller called for an update on the IARC classification of RFR as “possibly carcinogenic” and predicted that it would at least be changed to “probable” on the basis of the latest evidence. I note that the IARC review will now not take place until 2024 at the earliest. 5G will not be risk assessed by IARC until 2025.
The fourth area of concern is the unscientific basis for present health protection guidelines as well as conflicts of interest on scientific advisory panels, such as ICNIRP. The Swedish epidemiologist Hardell suggests that ICNIRP’s narrow focus on the heating of tissues being the only measure of harm is due to its pro-industry bias. This focus has remained unchanged for 25 years in the face of widespread criticism by other scientists. An important article from October 2022 has highlighted the 14 false assumptions made by ICNIRP in creating its guidelines. The article and a slide summary can be found here.
Professor Frank also highlights Hardell’s evidence of the number of cross-appointments held by six members of the WHO IARC Monograph Group across five major international advisory panels on the health effects of non-ionising radiation as well as their strong personal links to the telecommunications industry. These observations are confirmed by an article written last year about the self-referencing authorships behind the ICNIRP 2020 guidelines. In addition, a 90-page document written by two MEPs has confirmed all these concerns about ICNIRP.
In conclusion, as a result of his review of the evidence, Professor Frank “is convinced that RFR may well have serious human health effects” and that “there is also increasing scientific evidence for RFR effects of ecological concern in other species both plant and animal”, though reviewing this would be outside the scope of his expertise. He states that “several nations’ regulatory apparatus for telecommunications innovations such as the 5G rollout is not fit for purpose” and seems to have been captured by vested interests.
Professor Frank states that, as regards 5G, “there is a sound basis for invoking ‘the precautionary principle’” due to “significant doubt about the safety of this new and potentially widespread human exposure” and that there should be “a moratorium on that exposure, pending adequate scientific investigation of its suspected adverse health effects”.
This article was written in collaboration with Professor John W. Frank, retired Chair of Public Health Research and Policy at Edinburgh University.