Most current cell phone carriers offer fourth-generation (4G or 4G LTE) wireless cellular service, which represents the latest iteration in the “exponential evolution” that began with analog first-generation (1G) service in the early 1980s.5 Each subsequent decade has ushered in a new generation of mobile networks, with 2G going digital in the early 1990s, 3G emerging in the early 2000s and implementation of 4G/4G LTE unfolding in the early part of the current decade.
With the advent of the dramatically faster 4G service—the first generation designed primarily for data rather than voice—mobile phone users have been able to stream video and music to their heart’s content.6 Yet, with perpetually data-hungry consumers flocking to newer applications such as virtual reality and videoconferencing, it appears that even 4G is being stretched to its limits.
As the telecommunications industry anticipates “billions of users, billions of devices and billions of connections,”7 it is avidly preparing for the next generation of cellular service, called 5G, which is likely to be ready for rollout well before 2020.8
Far more than a simple technological upgrade, 5G represents a significant and risky turning point with major implications for health, privacy, property values and local control.9 To fully understand what 5G portends, it is helpful to grasp a few basics about the electromagnetic spectrum. Electromagnetic frequencies (EMFs) are expressed in terms of units called hertz (cycles per second), abbreviated as Hz, where the higher the frequency, the smaller the wavelength. The spectrum begins with direct current and extremely low-frequency (larger wavelength) radio waves, and continues with microwave radiation, infrared and ultraviolet light, X-rays and gamma rays. Household appliances are at the extremely low-frequency end of the spectrum, generating EMFs in the range of three to three hundred Hz. Microwave radiation—emitted by all current wireless devices—ranges from three hundred megahertz (MHz) to three hundred gigahertz (GHz). (A MHz equals one million Hz and a GHz equals one billion Hz.)
Unlike prior generations of cellular service, 5G will transmit using not just low-band frequencies but also a form of extremely high frequency microwave radiation called millimeter waves (approximately thirty to three hundred GHz). Millimeter waves offer a “glut” of previously untapped spectrum that the telecom industry is eager to exploit, for at least two reasons.10 First, the “good” spectrum is “just about used up,” according to the communications technology editor at Electronic Design, resulting in “spectrum shortages and conflicts.”11 The tech editor observes that “spectrum is like prime real estate”; millimeter waves can “take the pressure off the lower frequencies” and “provide that precious coveted spectrum needed for expansion.”11 A Samsung-funded wireless expert rhapsodizes, “The beauty of millimeter waves is there’s so much spectrum.”10 Second, millimeter wave technology promises “blazingly” and “insanely” fast data capacity.12,13 Even in advance of its widespread rollout, techies are celebrating 5G’s potential to usher in light speed connectivity14 that is “orders of magnitude” beyond 4G.15
WHETHER WE WANT IT OR NOT
5G’s cheerleaders are particularly delighted with one unique feature of millimeter wave technology, which is that the antennas needed to transmit and receive signals can be very small. At the same time, millimeter waves have one key limitation, dictated by the laws of physics: higher frequencies have much shorter transmission ranges.11
The industry has a proposed technological fix for this problem. In telecom parlance, the industry plans to achieve the desired level of performance through “good receiver sensitivity,” “high transmit power” and “high-gain antenna arrays [that] boost the effective radiated power” and significantly increase range.11 Stated more simply, 5G will “pepper” cities—and eventually countries—with powerful small cell antennas.15 This will involve pervasive neighborhood-wide and city-wide placement of 5G small cell antennas and “distributed antenna systems” (DAS) on utility or light poles and other public infrastructure—beaming intense microwave radiation within feet of bedroom windows, schools, day care centers, nursing homes, offices and more. The antenna arrays could include “dozens or even hundreds of antenna elements.”16
To enable the widespread deployment of small cell antennas, mobile carriers have been wooing states and the federal government to pass enabling legislation, frequently without any public input. Representatives often receive substantial financial Sup>port from the telecom industry and thus have been only too happy to oblige their patrons by fast-tracking bills through the legislative process. The previous administration’s chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Tom Wheeler—once a major wireless industry lobbyist—revealed himself to be fully on board with the 5G juggernaut when the FCC raced to approve 5G technology in 2016. Wheeler bragged, “You ain’t seen nothing yet” and breezily noted that 5G “will open up hugely disruptive new value propositions for the users of networks.”17 Harvard University ethicists have described the FCC as a “captured agency dominated by the industries it presumably regulates.”18
The vast majority of the legislative bills promoting 5G infrastructure (already passed or about to pass in eighteen U.S. states) will strip authority from local governments—and citizens—over public rights-of-way.19 In other words, municipalities and residents will be unable to say no when utilities mount 5G antennas on lampposts and utility poles in their yards, businesses and schools.
In response, numerous communities around the U.S. are organizing to halt preemption and maintain local control. In Ohio, for example, Governor Kasich signed a bill in December 2016 that removed cities’ authority “to regulate and control placement of ‘micro-wireless facilities’” [small cell antennas] and required them to “make city-owned poles and other structures in the right-of-way available to private wireless companies at a nominal cost.”20 Fans of the bill were pleased that it “eliminated the problems associated with discretionary local zoning review,”21 but Ohio’s municipalities strongly disagreed. Over eighty municipalities, including the city of Cleveland, filed lawsuits to challenge the bill, citing concerns about “local government rights, constitution authority and control of city property.”22
The unfurling of 5G technology is taking place in the context of the broader wireless takeover. For example, wireless networking (WiFi) went from a “niche technology” at the beginning of the new millennium23 to consumers’ preferred method of accessing the Internet, with WiFi in seven out of ten U.S. broadband households as of early 2017.24 According to market researchers, WiFi households are wireless junkies, averaging “more than 30 percent more computing devices than non-WiFi households.”24
CANCER AND OTHER HEALTH EFFECTS
The rapid proliferation of all these sources of electromagnetic radiation—cell towers, cell phones, cordless phones, WiFi, smart meters and so on—is exacting a high price on our health. There are now thousands of scientific studies documenting myriad adverse bioeffects of microwave radiation, in particular. These biological effects include cancer, DNA damage, cardiovascular problems, increased stress hormones, sleeping disorders, depression, headaches, irritability and impaired fertility.25
Studies assessing cancer and wireless radiation are particularly disturbing. The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classified the microwave radiation from all wireless devices as a possible human carcinogen in 2011. In 2016, the U.S. National Toxicology Program released results of the world’s largest, gold-standard study on wireless health risks (conducted on rats, which are the preferred animal model for studies of carcinogenicity in humans), finding cancer in 5.5 percent of the exposed group and no cancer in the control group.26
Other recent studies highlight strong evidence of a relationship between brain cancers and long-term cell phone use; increased incidence of at least ten other cancers concurrent with the promulgation of wireless technologies, including invasive breast cancers in young women carrying cell phones against their breast; and tumor promotion in response to very low levels of exposure to wireless radiation.25
5G technology will likely turn this serious health risk into a public health crisis. Ubiquitous deployment of small cell antennas will unleash unnatural and round-the-clock millimeter microwave radiation that is far more potent than anything previously experienced from the electromagnetic spectrum. In fact, the U.S. military uses millimeter waves—which travel only a short distance—as a non-lethal weapon for crowd control because the waves affect the surface of the body and cause a burning sensation of the skin at higher levels of power. The lower-powered but chronic exposure that most of us will experience outside of our homes, schools and businesses is expected to cause very serious health effects, including higher rates of skin cancer, cataracts, cardiac irregularities and fetal abnormalities.27 Moreover, millimeter wave radiation has effects on microbes and may prompt increased antibiotic resistance.16
Studies already show a substantially increased prevalence of neurobehavioral symptoms and cancer in populations living less than five hundred meters from current mobile phone base stations.28,29,30 What will happen when clusters of powerful small cell antennas are sited within feet of everyone, everywhere? Retired U.S. government physicist Dr. Ronald Powell cautioned in a letter to the FCC that 5G would “irradiate everyone, including the most vulnerable to harm from radiofrequency radiation: pregnant women, unborn children, young children, teenagers, men of reproductive age, the elderly, the disabled, and the chronically ill.”27 5G’s proponents apparently are heedless of Dr. Powell’s objections as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics’ warnings to limit children’s exposure to wireless radiation, warnings that numerous other countries—but not the U.S.—have taken seriously.31,32 The upshot is that many Americans will no longer be safe in their own homes, particularly in the urban areas where 5G technology will be rolled out first.
INTERNET OF THINGS
Tech writers like to attribute the impetus for 5G to consumers’ “really high expectations for wireless services” and their desire for “a high level of reliability, low levels of latency [lag time] and constant connectivity—anytime, anywhere.”7 Although consumers certainly do appear to be captivated by speed and shiny gadgets, less credulous observers suggest that 5G’s true beneficiaries actually will be the telecom giants and electric utility companies, rather than consumers.
John P. Thomas of Health Impact News explains that 5G technology “is part of a long-term plan to integrate telecom activities with electrical service providers. …The 5G network will be the nerves and sense organs of a massive organism that has a central brain somewhere, which controls all forms of information exchange and electric utilization/production.”33 Referring to what is now called the Internet of Things (IoT), Thomas adds that with the help of 5G technology, “[smart] appliances and smart meters will constantly communicate with one another all day long and all night long—they will never stop transmitting microwave radiation.” Even worse (from the consumer’s standpoint), “the fusion of 5G with the electrical grid will require everyone to buy new appliances that are smart meter enabled or have our existing appliances retrofitted with microwave transmitters.” In short, 5G will enable “a whole new cellular architecture”10 and an “inescapable” technological blanket.9
Given what we already know about wireless risks,34 it is not surprising that EMF-savvy scientists are urging extreme caution with regard to 5G and its novel use of millimeter waves. Public health expert Dr. Joel Moskowitz of U.C. Berkeley describes 5G wireless infrastructure as a “massive experiment” and warns of the research indicating that “skin nerve endings are a likely target of [millimeter waves] and the possible starting point of numerous [adverse] biological effects.”16
It is both astonishing—and unconscionable—that the FCC has given the telecom industry the green light for 5G without seriously evaluating the long-term effects of millimeter wave radiation on human or animal health. Consumers would do well to return to hard-wired technologies whenever possible, including corded landlines and wired Internet connections (which are faster, more secure and safer anyway). Other steps that citizens can take to protect themselves and their loved ones include checking the status of 5G legislation in their state (the Environmental Health Trust provides a comprehensive summary)19 and contacting legislators to express concern (see sample letter below); following recommendations35 for using cell phones more safely; using wireless devices as little as possible—and always limiting children’s exposure; powering off all wireless devices at night to allow the body to recover; and asking themselves whether the putative benefits of 5G are worth trading away health and privacy.
ECOSYSTEM EFFECTS OF 5G
Pervasive 5G antennas will have costly impacts on agriculture and the environment. International scientists have expressed alarm about the documented effects of microwave radiation on bees, other pollinators and plants.36 Because of their size, bees will be especially vulnerable to millimeter wave radiation. Radiofrequency fields in the MHz range also “disrupt insect and bird orientation.”36 As for plants, agri-environmental researchers state that “plants form the building blocks of all ecosystems and disruption to their pollination and subsequent reproduction is likely to result in similar declines in plant species diversity and knock-on effects to the animals and birds that rely on them.”37
SAMPLE LETTER TO LEGISLATORS
Please oppose 5G legislation. Fifth-generation mobile systems, known as 5G facilities, would place clusters of small cell antennas within feet of single-family homes and on multifamily homes, schools, day care centers, recreation centers and more. Research shows that 5G millimeter wave radiation will make people sick, especially unborn children, young children, pregnant women and individuals with chronic illness. The adverse health effects caused by 5G facilities are likely to include cancer, infertility, headaches, insomnia and more.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as a Group 2B carcinogen based on an increased risk for glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use. Dr. Olle Johansson, neuroscientist at the Karolinska Institute (which awards the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine), has stated that the proof of harm from radiofrequency electromagnetic fields “is overwhelming” and that “children can never be allowed to be victims of…a WHO-classified possible carcinogen.” Dr. Ronald Powell, a Harvard-trained physicist who worked at the National Science Foundation and the National Institute of Standards and Technology, shares similar concerns about the potential for widespread harm from radiofrequency radiation.
I know that the telecommunications industry provides significant financial Sup>port to many legislators, but our representatives should be paying attention first and foremost to the health of babies and children and the strong warnings about 5G being issued by international experts.