Why 5G isn't a health hazard

The science behind the latest mobile technology.

Person holding a mobile phone.

Vodafone is preparing to launch New Zealand’s first 5G network in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Queenstown. But with new tech comes new fears and health concerns. So what is 5G and what’s everyone worried about?

What is 5G?

Like 4G and 3G before it, the G stands for “generation” – so 5G is the 5th generation of mobile network technology. The technology itself is a faster way of transmitting data from mobile towers to your phone, car or whatever 5G device you have.

Why you should want it

The allure of 5G is speed – not so much in pure data transmission speeds (5G can reach speeds 10 times faster than 4G), but in terms of latency. If you have a button that performs a function, latency is the time between pressing the button and the function starting. You want this time to be as low as possible.

The example used most often is self-driving cars. The car needs to transmit all the road information and get decisions on that information as fast as possible – you don’t want there to be any lag in the car figuring out if it should stop or not.

As with the car, 5G is going to be incredibly useful for internet-connected devices, such as transit and utility systems, which will automate our cities and communicate faster and more reliably with our personal devices.

These devices need an uninterrupted 5G connection, which means the new networks will be everywhere. This has led some to wildly speculate on what that means for our health.

The myths

Firstly, don’t get your science information from Facebook. It’s full of scams and people desperate to prey on your fears so they can get clicks and sell stuff. I took a look through a handful of the dozens of anti-5G Facebook groups that have sprung up, and the claims are at best unsubstantiated and at worst fabricated.

5G's super-fast connectivity could facilitate advanced technologies such as autonomous vehicles.

I found ideas ranging from 5G signals interfering with the weather satellites used by NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) to 5G secretly being a weapon designed by the US military. These are easily debunked with a quick search and a read through relevant scientific journals or by going to the source.

For example, NIWA has confirmed 5G won’t affect their work because the satellites work on different frequencies.

“… we understand that the planned 5G network announced by Vodafone uses lower frequencies of 3.5 GHz and will not affect weather satellite technology in New Zealand," said NIWA’s chief scientist Environmental Information Dr Jochen Schmidt.

The most common claim is 5G will harm you. This seems to be based on a misunderstanding of electromagnetic waves and the energy levels of these signals.

The science

The science is simple, but does require explanation. I asked Dr David Krofcheck, senior lecturer at Auckland University Department of Physics, to help out.

But first, some background information. Electron volts (eV) are units of energy equal to 1.6x10-19 joules (0.00000000000000000016 joules). Electron bonds are what keep molecules together, and to break an electron bond you need more energy than is holding it together.

All good? Ok, let’s do some science!

“5G frequencies are non-ionising radiation, which means they cannot remove electrons from DNA or other chemical structures in the body. Electromagnetic waves in the frequencies used by 5G between 3.5 and 24 GHz carry 10-5 to 10-4 electron volts (eV) of energy (0.00001eV to 0.0001eV).

These energy values are at least 100,000 to 1,000,000 times less energy than that of typical electron bonds in human biology – 1 eV to 10 eV.

In contrast, the energy from visible sunlight is 10-3 eV (0.001eV) and ultraviolet light around 140 eV. Which is why you can be sunburned.”

Non-ionising radiation also doesn’t have a cumulative effect on the body, unlike ionising gamma or X-rays.

Moreover, the International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation found heating from absorbing radiation at the 5G frequencies is safe when below the existing New Zealand standards. And a report by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency stated “epidemiological studies investigating occupational and environmental exposure from RF transmitters since 2000 have not altered the conclusion that no detrimental health effects have been observed consistently in such studies.”

Or to put it bluntly, 5G is not harmful.

Member comments

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Elaine V.
11 Nov 2019
"Consistently observed"?

You quote ARPANSA...“...no detrimental health effects have been observed consistently in such studies.” Consistently being the key word here. Detrimental health effects have been observed. I don't want to play Russian Roulette with it, and if the quantity of towers that will be required are installed, that choice will be gone forever.

I hope you are right, imagine the implications for us all if not.

Jacqueline K.
14 Oct 2019
Only rely on the peer-reviewed scientific literature

Neither Facebook nor the multitude of websites with deceptively relevant sounding names are reliable sources of information. You need instead to look at the scientific literature. A recent issue on "Wireless Radiation and Health" in the peer-reviewed journal "Environmental Research" published by Elsevier might be a good starting point: https://www.sciencedirect.com/journal/environmental-research/special-issue/10LDR0FPZ4F

Rob F.
02 Sep 2019
5g disinformation

This is straight out of the teleco handbook of propaganda, what are they paying you to lie for them Hadyn? To quote from the warning released by a group of 180 scientists and Doctors from 35 countries..
`numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines”. Effects include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans. Damage goes well beyond the human race, as there is growing evidence of harmful effects to both plants and animals.`
The evidence for harmful effects on humans, plants and animals is overwhelming, to say `5G is not harmful` is dangerous disinformation.
If people want to see what the effects of even standard wireless radiation on human cells are, I highly recommend you watch `Dr Devra Davis, The truth about cellphones and wireless radiation`

Robert S.
06 Sep 2019
5G is safe

Rob, use your Earthing Bed Sheet & Cover, EMF Harmonization products, Air-tube Headset and Qlink Pendants from your EMF scientists and you will be fine. Believe me

Rob F.
07 Oct 2019
5g ignorance

As always with 5g pushers, not a single bit of evidence presented to even attempt to back up the lie that 5g is safe

Maureen D.
31 Aug 2019
5G

Hadyn,
I can understand how the excitement of 5G roll out has you blinded to any adverse effects.
But surely you agree there needs to be more research and study into its impact on living things and the environment?

Listen to Barrie Trower: A Royal Navy Microwave weapons expert who describes the dangers of RF radiation on our children. 
https://www.radiationhealthrisks.com

Read 237 EMF scientists from 41 nations urging the UN to use caution in allowing 5G roll out. And need to educate the public about health risks, particularly risks to children and feotal development and much more.
https://www.globalresearch.ca/5g-wireless-technology-is-war-against-humanity/5679372

Of course there will be as many for as against this controversial technology.
BUT NO SMOKE WITHOUT FIRE, Hadyn!

John G.
31 Aug 2019
Please read the science

Maureen and Janion, please read the science. The article spells out exactly why 5G radiation can't harm human cells. It is non-ionising and lacks the energy to break the electron bonds. You simply claim the opposite but don't offer the scientific evidence why that could be. I'm afraid belief just doesn't trump science and its doing society a disservice to claim otherwise.

Rob F.
02 Sep 2019
Cellular damage

John G, Nigel W, Trevor B- you ask for proof that EMF causes cellular damage, if only you held the author of this article to the same standards, I don`t see him presenting any peer reviewed papers supporting his myth.
Here is a brief summary of DNA damage by non-ionising radiation

https://www.rfsafe.com/scientists-end-13-year-debate-proving-non-ionizing-rf-microwave-effect-causes-cell-phone-radiation-dna-damage/

Maureen D.
31 Aug 2019
5G dangers are not a myth

5G has been shown to pose extreme dangers to Humans, animals (pets) and plants.
The radio-magnetic fields engendered by this technology has already been shown to cause harm.
At the much higher frequency and large numbers of towers to enable 5G, we are looking at neurological and genetic damage as well as more cancers, skin and general-wellbeing diseases.

There is proven scientific information available - if people would open their eyes and look. Rather than get so excited about faster broadband. Do we really need our lives to go faster and more devastatingly ruin our environment for that pleasure?

Hadyn Green should be censured for his misguided belief that 5G is safe.

Nigel W.
31 Aug 2019
Poppycock!

There simply isn't sufficient energy in any 5G transmissions to do harm. Besides we have been blasted with higher levels of microwave radiation for decades by navigation radar, speed measurement radar, point to point microwave comms links used by both broadcasting, telecoms and other large companies, the list goes on. There is absolutely no proof of any ill effects to humans by any reputable peer-reviewed studies. Please stop disseminating this unscientific nonsense.

Trevor B
31 Aug 2019
Yes it is safe

I note that Maureen D claims there is scientific evidence for danger with 5G, but not a single source quoted. When she can quote peer-reviewed evidence I might check further.

Janion L.
31 Aug 2019
Independant science says something quite different

There are some 14,000 peer reviewed published papers indicating incredible biological harm on bacteria, plants, insects and humans from 3G and 4G emf radiation and 5 G is a completely different system which will unavoidably affect all living things. May I suggest your science correspondent checks the 5G space appeal papers, or the Bio-initiative papers, these scientists can’t all be wrong. As always follow the money, who finds the science saying it si safe?

Nigel W.
31 Aug 2019
Independant science?

"Independent science" is that another name for the crowd that goe around wear tinfoil hats and make up science to suit their beliefs?

Rob F.
02 Sep 2019
what?

Nigel W - you`re kidding right?
Independant science is the term used for research that is financially independant of the industry being studied and less prone to bias, and is critical to maintaining honest and accurate data.
The term `tin foil hat` on the other hand, is used by people with no science to present to back up their claims

Elaine V.
11 Nov 2019
What I don't get is why so many people dismiss the concerns when they don't know for sure that it is safe - would you be happy for a tower to be put up outside your kids bedroom window?

Independent science means those studies not paid for by the Telcos, that have been funded to completion even though the results are not what they were wanting them to be.

Lotte B.
20 Aug 2019
Wild life

So are these levels safe for birds and bees and other wildlife?

Paul B.
21 Aug 2019
Are they safe for birds and animals?

Yes.

Consumer staff
21 Aug 2019
Re: Wild life

Hello Lotte,

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection found “there is no biophysical mechanism that could explain carcinogenicity at such low exposure levels” when studied on animals. As electron bonds in humans are the same as in animals there is no evidence to suggest 5g is harmful for wildlife.

Cheers,

Hadyn - Consumer NZ writer

Rob F.
02 Sep 2019
no

Studies with beehives have shown that a simple cellphone placed on a hive for 15 minutes twice a day caused a significant reduction in egg laying and activity, with flying bees eventually not returning to the hive.
Bees like birds have magnetite in their bodies, and utilize the earth's magnetic field to navigate. Cell tower radiation interferes with this process.
This is just with cellphone radiation, I have not heard of any substantial safety testing of 5G being done by the industry that claims it is safe.
https://www.emfnews.org/Cell-Phones-and-900-Megahertz-frequency-Diminishing-Bee-Population-Study.html