Worried about 5G and Cancer? Here’s Why Wireless Networks Pose No Health Risk

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2019/12/06/worried-about-5g-and-cancer-heres-why-wireless-networks-pose-no-health-risk/

Despite widely spread misinformation, decades of studies demonstrate that wireless data networks—including newer 5G cellular networks—pose no elevated risk for cancer or other illnesses.

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I remember when the first UFO Airport base station was just out I got a chance to talk to the lead engineer who worked on it. This was at Apple Netherlands HQ in the town of Bunnik. HQ has since moved to Amsterdam BTW. He told me that he experienced a very noticeable effect of getting dry eyes and having to blink more than usual. This was in very close proximity to the active device. It seemed the signal helped ablate the tear film on his eye balls. There was no other biological effect that he could find.

(That’s partly because power line magnetic fields max out at about 2.5 microteslas when you’re directly underneath, whereas the earth’s magnetic field, to which we’re all exposed all the time, varies from 25 to 65 microteslas, 10 to 26 times higher.)

I don’t think you can compare those two. The Earth’s magnetic field is stationary and is just that, a plain magnetic field. The fields around HT power lines are alternating at 50 or 60 Hz and therefore radiate an EM signal.

Come to think of it, people having trouble with power lines may very well be on to something. Langoliers tend to have a penchant for power lines as is well documented in this report. Then again, they are known to eventually eat everything, so their preference for power lines may not rise above the signal noise in the end.

He was enamored with it, he forgot to blink.

Nope. He observed the effect clearly during the entire project, comparing it with his time away from his workbench.
He did not see cause to initiate follow-up though, he also didn’t compare with colleagues as far as he recounted. To him it was just an interesting side-effect, so it remained just that. That is not reason for dismissing it out of hand of course. That would require looking into it by means of a separate research project.

5G “information” litters the Internet: propaganda from telecoms, concerns of scientists, physicians, and parents, crazy stuff from paranoid people, and fake and distorted news from RU to stir up the controversy. So thanks Glenn, for addressing the topic.

You refer a couple times to the New York Times articles about 5G - my beef with the Times - they have a multi-million dollar 5G joint venture with Verizon and print pro-5G “science” articles, rarely (if ever) mentioning their conflict of interest.

So forget the studies for a moment. I’m worried about 5G in my neighborhood. The FCC safety standards have not been updated in decades, meaning they are based on old studies of old technology. Still, the FCC dictates that communities accept 5G installations under existing “right of ways” with little or no say in where new towers may be placed and with no liability on the part of the telecoms for even potential harm. And proposed deployment density of 5G towers (new, or added to existing infrastructure) in a so-called “smart city”, would mean a 5G box on a pole for every 5 or 10 homes on a block.

5G is a boondoggle for telecoms. (I don’t believe it is needed, but nevermind that.) It’s an opportunity to sell lots of new hardware, cut the cable companies out of the business, and obtain access to massive amounts of new user data (think “smart homes”). Oh, and remember, 5G isn’t replacing existing infrastructure any time soon, it is going to supplement existing cellular and WiFi architectures. Old towers, new towers, you get both.

Back to science and safety. There’s a lot of resistance and caution about possible harm (cancer or other) from 5G deployment, especially in Europe and California. Why, when there really aren’t very many studies? Because there aren’t enough studies! I agree with a more conservative analysis, such as the one expressed in this article from Vox (below). Which essentially says, there is not enough evidence one way or the other, so go slow.

“A comprehensive guide to the messy, frustrating science of cellphones and health”

I certainly hope everyone would agree that more research is always welcome, but I’m curious where in the Vox article you’re seeing the underlying details about how 5G is sufficiently different from other EMFs to cause particular concern? The frequencies are higher (with shorter wavelengths) and the power levels are lower, both of which should reduce penetration compared to current networking gear.

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Increased density is the “solution” for reduced penetration. The saturation of persistent signal (plus different frequencies, etc.) is different - there is no history, and hence there are no studies, of “prolonged or long term exposure” to these EMFs. Dr. Moskowitz, referenced in the Vox article, writes about that here:

Definitive proof of cancer seems to be unlikely, but what about the possible “other biological effects?” Acoustic neuromas, reduced sperm motility? Keep the “5G small cells” away from my house please.

Electromagnetic radiation is radiation. The amount broadcast by humans for TV, radio, cell phones, etc pales in comparison to the amount one gets from a tooth X-ray but they are all the same thing. Certainly there is going to be less trouble with less radiation. We also know there is no minimum dose that will not cause trouble.

The other thing about 5G which is mostly about switching from copper to fiber is copper wire coming into the home carries the voice or data as well as 48VDC of electrical power. The Boston Globe: ‘Aug 31, 2014 - When there’s a power outage, a phone connected to a copper wire line will still work, while the technically superior fiber optic lines will work only as long as a battery back-up does …’ another way to put this is ‘Fiber to the home service works differently than traditional copper pair telephone service. With traditional telephone service very small amounts of electrical current are carried over a copper circuit to power the telephone in your home. Since the new signal is entirely optical and can carry no appreciable power, the electronics attached to your home must be locally powered.’ I have an old rotary dial phone which is my ultimate backup phone. It gets it power from the copper wire coming in from the pole on the street.

Just because it needs to be pointed out first there is no question cable companies have a very bad service record and an aggressive approach. This is also becoming more evident among telephone companies. ‘The Verizon documents obtained by the “Inquirer” apparently confirm what customers have been saying for years about Verizon technicians’ reluctance to fix copper lines. “Once at the customer’s home, the Verizon technician tells the customer that the only solution is to switch to fiber, which includes the installation of a FiOS box,” the Inquirer reported. “If a flagged copper customer needing repairs ultimately declines fiber upgrade, the Verizon document commands: ‘Do not fix trouble’ with the copper line.” (The newspaper quoted from the documents but did not publish them in full.)’

All that being said fiber is a better medium for the transmission of data and it emits less radiation than copper. Supporting existing copper networks becomes very very difficult as speeds increase. Some smart young engineer at Digital Equipment Company (DEC waspart if the triumvirate that introduced ethernet along with Intel and Xerox) thought they could use existing telephone wiring in buildings. The program had two flaws. First the telephone companies didn’t use existing wiring although they knew there was unused wiring that had been installed and abandoned. They didn’t know where it went because they didn’t document it they just pulled new wiring as needed. In addition the quality of existing wiring was problematic. As wires were made they often spliced them together by wrapping two wires together to make the pieces longer or repair breaks then added insulation put it on a reel and sold it. These splices had no impact on voice but they could give ethernet fits. Also there was often little bits of corrosion in connections, remember some existing wiring was decades old in the 1970s, and these also gave digital signals fits.

That’s a rather broad description. And I also don’t think it’s correct to claim “there is no minimum dose that will not cause trouble” because I have yet to see literature that would attempt to prove that statement (there have been experiments that try to dis-prove it though). While the mentioned sources of radiation are indeed all part of the electromagnetic spectrum and they are all governed by the same laws of physics (Maxwell), the way these types of radiation act on the human body can be most different. Some of it is ionizing, some of it isn’t. Non-ionizing radiation cannot be lumped into one basket, just as we distinguish between the effects of a hard gamma emitter and a dentist x-ray even though both are considered ionizing. While I personally am not worried about 5G per se, as a physicist I don’t see how anybody benefits from broad generalizations. When you tell people not to worry, because “it’s all the same and harmless”, that usually gets everybody worried.

So the questions might be: What are the differences between 5G and LTE in terms of spectrum, power, etc.? Have those differences been scientifically studied in terms of their effect on the human body? Are those studies extensive and the results conclusive? Have they been reproduced (to quote one of my faculty colleagues, “one study is no study”). Those I believe are the kinds of questions and the cautious but diligent attitude that advances the public debate over these issues.

There’s a lot of broad information that’s known and applicable. It’s still all non-ionizing radiation. Thermal effects are the main predicted concern, and my article is about how those concerns haven’t played out. (Because the radiation isn’t ionizing, it can’t cause the sort of direct cellular damage that X-rays, gamma rays, etc., can cause. The only way for the EMF to produce an effect on a subject is through heating.)

Computerized models that use real-world data to predict effects are developed. Signal strength can be calculated, as can be absorption, and this can also be tested with material and rodents—rodent tests haven’t yet been performed, but we know the limits of those in any case. (One thing I didn’t discuss is that rodents have been a particularly bad way to predict risk except in dosing chemicals across most fields of study, but they’re still used because nothing is considered better…)

The key fact is that because the wavelength is shorter and because base stations will be more densely deployed by necessity, the overall signal strength at any given point will be less, potentially far less, than comparable 2G, 3G, and 4G networks—possibly even less than the average Wi-Fi signal in a home.

dwstclair: But they are all the same thing.

Simon: That’s a rather broad description.

But it is true. If not explain the difference.

Simon: And I also don’t think it’s correct to claim “there is no minimum dose that will not cause trouble” because I have yet to see literature that would attempt to prove that statement (there have been experiments that try to disprove it though). While the mentioned sources of radiation are indeed all part of the electromagnetic spectrum and they are all governed by the same laws of physics (Maxwell), the way these types of radiation act on the human body can be most different. Some of it is ionizing, some of it isn’t. Non-ionizing radiation cannot be lumped into one basket,

Whoa big fella. The fact you have no data to disprove my contention is not a rational argument disproving my contention.

Part of your argument is based on the false assumption there is no ionizing radiation emitted by microwave sources.

The likelihood that any particular particle or wave with break a bond is based on the strength of the particle or wave and the strength of the bond. It would seem that those strengths are not really that predictable or that the strength of all the particles or waves from some source are all the same. There is no reason to assume the iPhone signal to a cell tower does not contain a wide range of particle and waves. Clearly most will be around the intended frequency but the possibility of an X-ray now and then still remains. If you study Wien’s displacement law which states that the blackbody radiation curve for different temperatures peaks at a wavelength inversely proportional to the temperature. Everything which is not at absolute zero emits radiation of all strengths. It is a cold day in hell when things a couple degrees above absolute aero put out a cosmic ray but it does happen. Which means your stove and refrigerator will occasionally produce ionizing radiation.

I am guessing your area of physics does not deal with radiation. I worked for Baird-Atomic in the 1960s. We were building stuff for nuclear medicine. Our top of the line produced an image of a roughly 10" square area and contained 128 pixels. Another item was a neutron activator that was installed at Boston City Hospital. An engineer from the company that made the activator walked past me in the hall talking to an engineer from our company (we made the lead room, power supplies, and controls) and he said, “We have a lot of dying people in the hall and I think we are getting the technician too.” All the physicists working on those projects not only wore dosimeters at work they logged the radiation doses received by their families for X-rays as well as reviewing and sometimes resetting the doses set by the dentist. One said, “All the dentist knows is don’t point it directly at the patient’s brain and use about x ms.” They went on to say that dentists didn’t seem to know that the enamel on people’s teeth would bounce the beam into the brain if the wrong up angle were set fo the beam." I wore a dosimeter for four years while working on RADAR equipment that produced a 32 Megawatt pulse. I taught a course in Systems Safety Analysis at Picatinny Arsenal to the folks that designed the Army’s nuclear weapons. Their approach to radiation like mine is much more conservative than yours. I think it boils down to a difference in risk management approaches. Most people, like you, decided to take a risk or not based on the ‘likelihood of the event’. If it is more than a level they are comfortable with they take the risk. There are a few others like me who decide to take a risk-based on their ‘magnitude of regret’. I know the risk is tiny but I don’t rest my arm on the window sill of my car because I would have a high magnitude of regret should I get sideswiped and have it ripped off.

Simon: just as we distinguish between the effects of a hard gamma emitter and a dentist x-ray even though both are considered ionizing. While I personally am not worried about 5G per se, as a physicist I don’t see how anybody benefits from broad generalizations. When you tell people not to worry, because “it’s all the same and harmless”, that usually gets everybody worried.

Simon: So the questions might be: What are the differences between 5G and LTE in terms of spectrum, power, etc.? Have those differences been scientifically studied in terms of their effect on the human body? Are those studies extensive and the results conclusive? Have they been reproduced (to quote one of my faculty colleagues, “one study is no study”). Those I believe are the kinds of questions and the cautious but diligent attitude that advances the public debate over these issues.

I think I have answered that question.

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Moderator’s note here: I have edited the last few posts to remove or change the bits that could be construed as attacks—I will not allow this to devolve. I don’t believe anyone meant ill, but I am utterly sick of people arguing with each other, rather than discussing a topic. If you disagree with something, try asking a question to learn why the information disagrees with what you believe to be true.

I also edited the post above to use Discourse’s quoting and make it easier to read. If you’re writing in the Web interface, just select the bit you want to reply to and click the Quote button, or just put an angle bracket > in front of quoted bits. If you’re writing in email, don’t quote because it won’t work well.

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The Vox article referenced above is a very good summary.

Another article worth looking at is from Scientific American:
We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe
https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/we-have-no-reason-to-believe-5g-is-safe/

Unfortunately, no matter how much we complain about the poor science being cited to justify 5G’s safety, the industry is behind it, and won’t be stopped. Yet another case of capitalism out of control.

It’s a blog entry that the publication doesn’t vouch for (see disclaimer) by a long-time EMF truther with invalid scientific citations.

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This is not accurate. The NYT joint venture is a journalism project, not an investment in the development, marketing or sales of 5G products or services. It’s all about content. 5G will have about as big an impact on the gathering and delivery of news as moveable type, printing presses, mail delivery services, radio, television, and the internet etc. has had.

The first iPhones were 2G, and the impact they had on they had on podcasts and news delivery were groundbreaking. 3G started to get video clips just about off the ground. 4G made streaming content viable. One of the reasons the NYT has been able to survive when so many other newspapers have folded or consolidated is because they always jumped on new ways of digital media:

To quote the article:

“We believe 5G’s speed and lack of latency could spark a revolution in digital journalism in two key areas: how we gather the news and how we deliver it. In the short term, having access to 5G will help The Times enhance our ability to capture and produce rich media in breaking news situations. Over time, as our readers start to use 5G devices, we will be able to further optimize the way our journalism is delivered and experienced.”

Having worked in magazine and news publishing for more decades than I care to admit I’m old, I have also seen the evolution of internet speed continues to revolutionize the way journalists gather and organize information. In addition to sending info to the newsrooms, live streaming and off loading video will become easier. It will even make traffic, weather and transit reporting better.

But, but, it is so comfy with an Apple Express under my pillow!

I essentially agree with the main conclusion of the article: There is no empirical evidence that cell phone radiation causes cancer. However, the part that talks about “p-hacking” had a slew of egregious errors. There are plenty of problematic research designs and the media feasts of the occasional sensational exposure of research mal-practice. But the critique as stated in this piece is superficial and in places not well informed: there is nothing “sacred” about p. > .05 neither will pre-stating hypotheses (a.k.a. prospective design) save us from the occasional erroneous conclusions. Every (!!) honest research design is a compromise between risk of overlooking a real effect and mistakingly making an assertion of an effect where in fact there is none. In the “trade” known as type I vs Type II error. I appreciate that the details of research design alternatives and the risks of different statistical analyses would make a boring article. However, if the matter is too complex for the kind of article --or if you do not fully understand what you talking about-- it is wiser to omit than to add to the confusion the public already been subjected to a great deal of misinformation on how research works. Love this publication, but please be a little more careful in what you write. Adam (with 35+ years of experience in the kinds of studies you are talking about)

The “concerns” over WiFi (and now 5G) are just a less dangerous version of antivaxers or a slightly more annoying version of audiophiles, built on a lot of misunderstanding and a total lack of any actual evidence. The amount of electromagnetic radiation produced by these systems is tiny, and has been studied and there;’s never been the slightest evidence of anything at all. Confirmation bias, even unconscious, is compelling, but it is not science. You can still spend $1000 on speaker cord that performs identically to w couple of coat hangers for your home audiophile setup though.

Let’s change the terms here, ok. Water is dangerous. Water causes flooding, erosion, and all sorts of problems, just like a strong microwave oven leaking microwaves could cause serious health and safety issues. Now, a gallon of water is a lot less dangerous than a 1,000 year flood, sort of like the electricity in your house which is pretty safe, but yes, you could kill someone in a gallon of water. Now, with 5G we’re talking about something on the scale of between a single drop of water and maybe a teaspoon.

Yes, Analogiens aren’t the best, but still WiFi and WiFi type radiation is a lot less dangerous than a light rain storm.

And the article on Scientific American is not a Scientific American article, as Glenn rightly pointed out.

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While I agree that the CURRENT microwave cellular system poses no health risks, it is by no means clear that just because the microwave frequencies are fine that 5G will be as well. The whole point is that 5G uses frequencies that are absorbed by the body (unlike microwave frequencies that pass right through). So to say that just be microwave frequencies are fine, 5G will be too is akin to saying that if the cellular industry wanted to use x-ray frequencies everything would be fine as well. You need to look at the frequencies used and the POWER needed to permeate walls and human bodies and then only after studying these new frequencies and power levels could one (maybe) say they are safe. I’m not yet convinced that 5G frequencies at the power levels needed to permeate walls and bodies are safe. I would VERY happy if they are. But I don’t think that’s conclusive yet (and certainly not just because the very different microwave are safe)

Thank you. This physicist loves to see the popular press (yes, you) speak in sensible language about an issue resolved long ago. And, your discussion and explanation of conspiracy hoaxes deserves an award.

Well done!

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Excellent article Glenn, thank you.

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