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Mainstream, VOL 61 No 20, May 13, 2023

Wireless and 5G—Concerns for Health, Environment and Children | Bharat Dogra

Saturday 13 May 2023, by Bharat Dogra


There have been several examples of introduction of new products and technologies leading to serious health and safety risks and hazards. This is something that people and authorities of various countries must keep in mind at the time of the spread of 5G telecommunications technology. This is associated with very powerful business interests and hence the need for caution is all the greater. The most important reason for caution is that children are most vulnerable to these risks.

There have been warnings from hundreds of scientists and many studies regarding these concerns. Several of these warnings from the period 2015-23 are quoted here. We may start with a more recent study which updates and summarizes what numerous studies have been telling us in recent times. This is in the form of a very detailed research paper published in the February 2023 issue (Volume 53, Issue 2) of the journal ‘Current Problems in Pediatric and Adolescent Health Care’. This paper is written by Dr. Devra Davis, Dr. Linda Birnbaum et al and titled ‘Wireless technology, non-ionizing electromagnetic fields and children—identifying and reducing health risks.’

This paper provides a very comprehensive review of the health risks of wireless technologies and related gadgets of everyday use particularly in the context of children before coming more specifically to the subject of 5G technology. This paper tells us—“Standards for evaluating radiation from numerous wireless devices were first set in 1996 to avoid heating tissues and remained unchanged since then in the US and many other nations. A wide range of evidence indicates that there are numerous non-thermal effects from wireless radiation on reproduction, development and chronic illness.” More specifically, this paper informs us, “Numerous studies find that non-thermal levels of RFR ( radiofrequency radiation) can cause major adverse effects such as induction of reactive oxygen species (ROS), DNA damage, cardiomyopathy, carcinogenicity, sperm damage, memory damage and neurological effects.” What is more, “greater detrimental impacts take place when exposures occur during critical phases of growth and development, including pregnancy.” Further this research paper tells, “Several thousands of apps have been been developed for infants and toddlers to use on phones, watches and tablets with no research on their long-term physical or psychological impacts.” This has happened despite “reports of serious behavioral disorders, including problems with self-control, socialization, language acquisition and the like” having been associated with device addiction, and internet gaming disorder being on the rise.

Coming specifically to the advent of 5G technology, this study notes,“ Since the inception of the mobile telephone age (1983) 40 years back, there have been five generations of technology advances culminating in the last 5th Generation (5G) mobile network. Each generation has led to consequent increase in exposure to EMR (electromagnetic radiation). One of the trumpeted claims is that the latest 5G network will in fact be greener ad reduce exposure levels. However, in discussing the energy implications of 5G rollouts, Lopez-Perez et al noted in a recent survey that a 5G network may consume over 140% more energy than its equivalent 4G networks.

Additionally there is no corroborated evidence that 5G networks will reduce exposures. There are a number of studies that the opposite will be true. Some industry experts report that ambient environmental exposures from near antenna installations from 5G and the densification of new wireless infrastructure can exceed those of current 3 and 4G networls up to 46 times. 5G networks have multiple beam forming antennas ,located about every 100m. The public health ad environment impacts of 5G remain untested…Some estimates put the number of additional 5G base stations required for coverage in an urban environment to a hundred-fold increase compared to an equivalent 4G network. More base stations translate to more radiation.”

Keeping in view this updated review of the research on this issue and the special vulnerability of children, let us take a quick look at some of the earlier appeals on this issue. It is interesting that this issue has been considered to be so important by hundreds of scientists that they have been coming together to form special groups to issue warnings. In an appeal to the European Union, more than 180 scientists and doctors from 36 countries (EU 5G Appeal-the number of signatories went on increasing subsequently) have warned about the danger of 5G, which will lead to a massive increase in involuntary exposure to electromagnetic radiation. These scientists have urged the EU to follow Resolution 1815 of the Council of Europe, asking for an independent task force to reassess the health effects. This appeal has stated,

“We, the undersigned scientists, recommend a moratorium on the roll-out of the fifth generation, 5G, for telecommunication until potential hazards for human health and the environment have been fully investigated by scientists independent from industry. 5G will substantially increase exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) on top of the 2G, 3G, 4G, WiFi etc. for telecommunications already in place. RF-EMF has been proven to be harmful for humans and the environment.”

One of the initiators of this appeal is Prof. Dr. L. Hardell, Professor of Oncology at Orebro University in Sweden. He has stated: “The media praise in particular all the possibilities that this technology promises to offer, such as the self-propelled car and Internet of Things (IoT). The consequences for the health of humans, plants and animals are not discussed at all. Politicians, governments and the media are responsible for unbalanced information. Ordinary people are not informed of conflicting opinions about this technological development. Health effects from radiofrequency radiation are a non-issue in the media…”

In fact several scientists had started protesting against 5G at a very early stage of the technology. Another Appeal by concerned senior persons including senior scientists (International Appeal –IA Appeal —Stop 5G on Earth and in Space) has documented early warnings, “Even before 5G was proposed, dozens of petitions and appeals by international scientists, including the Freiburger Appeal signed by over 3,000 physicians, called for a halt to the expansion of wireless technology and a moratorium on new base stations.”

In 2015, 215 scientists from 41 countries communicated their alarm to the United Nations (UN) and World Health Organization (WHO). They stated that “numerous recent scientific publications have shown that EMF [electromagnetic fields] affects living organisms at levels well below most international and national guidelines”. More than 10,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies demonstrate harm to human health from RF radiation effects include:

Alteration of heart rhythm, Altered gene expression, Altered metabolism, Altered stem cell development, Cancers, Cardiovascular disease, Cognitive impairment, DNA damage, Impacts on general well-being, Increased free radicals, Learning and memory deficits, Impaired sperm function and quality, Miscarriage, Neurological damage, Obesity and diabetes and Oxidative stress.

Effects in children include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and asthma.

Damage is certainly not confined to human beings, as there is abundant evidence of harm to diverse plant- and wildlife and laboratory animals, including ants, Birds, Forests, Frogs, Fruit flies, Honey bees, Insects, Mammals, Mice, Plants Rats, Trees.

References of research papers which pointed towards these various health problems and harm to various health forms have been provided in the original appeal documents.

The IA Appeal has recommended, “’Immediate measures must be taken to protect humanity and the environment, in accordance with ethical imperatives and international agreements” keeping in view the fact that 5G will result in a massive increase in inescapable, involuntary exposure to wireless radiation

Further this appeal points out that In order to transmit the enormous amounts of data required for the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G technology, when fully deployed, will use millimetre waves, which are poorly transmitted through solid material. This will require every carrier to install base stations every 100 metres in every urban area in the world. Unlike previous generations of wireless technology, in which a single antenna broadcasts over a wide area, 5G base stations and 5G devices will have multiple antennas arranged in “phased arrays” that work together to emit focused, steerable, laser-like beams that track each other.

The IA appeal states that each 5G phone will contain dozens of tiny antennas, all working together to track and aim a narrowly focused beam at the nearest cell tower. The US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted rules permitting the effective power of those beams to be as much as 20 watts, ten times more powerful than the levels permitted for current phones. Each 5G base station, the appeal states, will contain hundreds or thousands of antennas aiming multiple laser-like beams simultaneously at all cell phones and user devices in its service area. This technology is called “multiple input multiple output” or MIMO. FCC rules permit the effective radiated power of a 5G base station’s beams to be as much as 30,000 watts per 100 MHz of spectrum, or equivalently 300,000 watts per GHz of spectrum, tens to hundreds of times more powerful than the levels permitted for current base stations.

In addition the IA appeal draws attention to high hazards of space based 5G. The appeal documents says that at least five companies are proposing to provide 5G from space from a combined 20,000 satellites in low- and medium-Earth orbit that will blanket the Earth with powerful, focused, steerable beams. Each satellite will emit millimetre waves with an effective radiated power of up to 5 million watts from thousands of antennas arranged in a phased array. Although the energy reaching the ground from satellites will be less than that from ground-based antennas, it will irradiate areas of the Earth not reached by other transmitters and will be additional to ground-based 5G transmissions from billions of IoT objects. Even more importantly, the satellites will be located in the Earth’s magnetosphere, which exerts a significant influence over the electrical properties of the atmosphere. As the IA appeal emphasizes,”the alteration of the Earth’s electromagnetic environment may be an even greater threat to life than the radiation from ground-based antennas.”

Questioning the entire decision-taking process this document states, “Stakeholders thus far in the development of 5G have been industry and governments, while renowned international EMF scientists who have documented biological effects on human beings, animals, insects and plants, and alarming effects on health and the environment in thousands of peer-reviewed studies have been excluded. The reason for the current inadequate safety guidelines is that conflicts of interest of standard-setting bodies due to their relationships with telecommunications or electric companies undermine the impartiality that should govern the regulation of Public Exposure Standards for non-ionizing radiation”.

The IA appeal regrets that “in their haste to implement 5G and to encourage the unconstrained use of outer space, the European Union, United States and national governments worldwide are taking steps to ensure a “barrier-free” regulatory environment. They are prohibiting local authorities from enforcing environmental laws, and “in the interest of speedy and cost-effective deployment”, removing “unnecessary burdens… such as local planning procedures [and] the variety of specific limits on electromagnetic field (EMF) emissions and of the methods required to aggregate them”.

This appeal expresses serious concern that governments are also enacting laws to make wireless facilities a permitted use in all public rights-of-way. To date, most wireless facilities have been located on private property at some distance from homes and businesses. “In order for them to be spaced less than 100 metres apart as required by 5G, however, they will now be located on the sidewalk directly in front of homes and businesses and close above the heads of pedestrians, including mothers with babies.”

Finally the IA Appeal has made the following recommendations to The United Nations, WHO and all governments—


a) To take immediate measures to halt the deployment of 5G on Earth and in space in order to protect all humankind, especially the unborn, infants, children, adolescents and pregnant women, as well as the environment;

(b) To follow the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and Council of Europe Resolution 1815 by informing citizens, including teachers and physicians, about the health risks (to adults and children) from RF radiation, and why they should and how they can avoid wireless communication and base stations, particularly in or near day-care centers, schools, hospitals, homes and workplaces;

(c) To favor and implement wired telecommunications instead of wireless;

(d) To prohibit the wireless/telecommunications industry through its lobbying organizations from persuading officials to make decisions permitting further expansion of RF radiation, including ground- and space-based 5G;

(e) To appoint immediately—without industry influence—international groups of independent, truly impartial EMF and health scientists with no conflicts of interest, for the purpose of establishing new international safety standards for RF radiation that are not based only on power levels, that consider cumulative exposure, and that protect against all health and environmental effects, not just thermal effects and not just effects on humans;

(f) To appoint immediately—without industry influence—international groups of scientists with expertise in EMFs, health, biology and atmospheric physics, for the purpose of developing a comprehensive regulatory framework that will ensure that the uses of outer space are safe for humans and the environment, taking into account RF radiation, rocket exhaust gases, black soot, and space debris and their impacts on ozone, global warming, the atmosphere and the preservation of life on Earth. Not only ground-based but also space-based technology must be sustainable for adults and children, animals and plants.

A peer-reviewed study by the Environmental Working Group (USA) has made an important addition to the growing number of warnings by experts regarding the high possibility of risks from radiofrequency radiation emitted by wireless devices including cell-phones and tablets. This study, published in Environmental Health journal, has made an important plea for revising the highly outdated health standards for wireless radiation which were set up by the Federal Communication Commission (FCC), USA, about 25 years back in 1996.

This was a time when these devices were being used to a much lesser extent, particularly by children. Hence separate standards were not even set up for children. However since then the use of these devices has increased very rapidly, even by small children. Also sporadic research has revealed the risks to be particularly very high for children. Hence there is a pressing need for revising the health standards and in fact this should have been done a long time back.

In fact the Environmental Working Group (EWG) guidelines recommend that the exposure limits for children should be 200 to 400 times lower than the whole body specific absorption rate (SAR) limit set by the FFC in 1996. For adults this should be 20 to 40 times lower than the limit set by the FCC set up 25 years back. The EWG study says that the exposure limit should be set at whole body specific absorption rate of 0.2 to 0.4 milliwatts per kilogram while for adults this should be set at 2 to 4 mW/kg.

Earlier studies like those of the National Toxicology Program (USA) had also drawn attention to serious health risks of 2G and 3G wireless radiation, as observed in laboratory animals. The findings of Ramazzini Institute( Italy) have also been significant in drawing attention to these serious hazards.

In 2021 another organization of prominent international experts issued an important statement on serious and adverse health impacts of Non-ionizing Radiation (NIR). This statement was issued by Physicians’ Health Initiative for Radiation and Environment (PHIRE). PHIRE is an independent association of medical doctors and associated specialists assembled for the purposes of improving education regarding health effects of non-ionizing radiation.

This statement says— Medical experts and practitioners from around the world have united once again to make clear their concerns regarding the health effects of escalating non-ionizing radiation (NIR) exposures. NIR is electromagnetic energy ranging from Extremely Low Frequency (ELF) waves right the way up to Ultraviolet (UV). In particular, they are concerned about radiofrequency (RF) emissions from existing mobile phone networks, Wi-Fi, and the rollout of 5G.

Further this statement adds—Whilst such emissions were historically presumed to be biologically inert, and are still purported to be safe by many to this day, there is now highly credible evidence to the contrary. The main risks associated with exposure to such (wireless) non-ionizing radiation in the peer-reviewed scientific literature include: increased cancer risk, cellular stress, increase in harmful free radicals, genetic damage, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on general well-being in humans.

Summarizing regarding the mounting evidence on high health impacts of NIR this statement asserts - Mounting human epidemiological evidence of increased cancer has now been corroborated by ‘clear evidence’ of carcinogenesis from animal studies. These include the two largest investigations ever undertaken globally, from the widely respected National Toxicology Program (USA), and Ramazzini Institute (Italy). What is more, law courts are now validating such links: with compensation for health damages from mobile phone radiation being won in a growing number of cases internationally. Some legal teams are so certain of negative health effects that civil suits for Wi-Fi and other wireless injury are now being brought on a ‘no win no fee’ basis, and insurance underwriters consider related risks to be ‘high’.

This statement draws attention to the fact that hundreds of peer-reviewed scientific studies have demonstrated adverse biological effects occurring in response to a range of NIR exposures below current safety guidelines; however, emissions continue to escalate. Medical evidence of harm has now reached the critical mass necessary to inspire the medical community to step out of their usual roles, stand up and speak out regarding their concerns.

The document has been signed by medical groups representing over 3,500 medical doctors so far, including experienced clinicians and widely published and respected scientists who are experts in this field. It declares current safety levels to be inadequate and highlights some of the disease processes linked with NIR exposure in peer-reviewed publications; it points out the vulnerabilities of children and other hypersensitive groups, whose symptoms may include sleep problems, impaired concentration, headaches, and mood disturbance.

Professor Anthony B. Miller, MD. Professor Emeritus, Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto (UofT) has said, “This statement has been supported by several senior medical experts .This is an important statement that should be read by all concerned with public health. Those responsible for exposing children to non-ionizing radiation, especially in schools, should take immediate action to reduce exposure to non-ionizing radiation of the children entrusted to their charge. There is sufficient evidence to now classify radiofrequency radiation as a human carcinogen. Action must be taken now to reduce human exposure to non-ionizing radiation to as low as can be achievable, including a moratorium on the introduction of 5G.”

The recent statements by EWG and PHIRE as well as the opinion of several independent experts and scientists provide convincing evidence of the seriousness of these hazards and urgent action should be taken to reduce these hazards, above all for children.

Most concern is understandably about children due to their significantly higher vulnerability. The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated, “Children are not little adults and are disproportionately impacted by all environmental exposures, including cell phone radiation.” At the same time, concerns about health impacts on adult people are also very much there. The latest such study which confirms this is a Swedish one, published on April 10 2023 in the Annals of Clinical and Medical Care Reports which documents, on top of two other studies by the same scientists with substantially similar results, how a 52 year old exposed to new 5G cell tower radiation developed a range of health problems (headaches, pain in many body parts, dizziness, loss of immediate memory) which went away substantially after moving to a different place.

Can precautions taken by individuals help? The paper by Davis and others quoted above says “consistent with advice in pediatric radiology, an approach that recommends that microwave radiation exposures be ‘As Low As Reasonably Achieved (ALARA)’. This appears to be reasonable, except how effective this alone will be in the middle of many-sided increased exposure.
The paper by Davis gives a chart on ‘what emits wireless’ and here are mentioned, from daily routine life— cell phones, wireless ‘smart’ TV, wireless speaker, cell towers, ‘smart’ tech, wireless headphones, cordless phone and its base station, wi-fi router, laptop, tablet, wireless mouse and much else (although the extent of exposure may be quite different in the case of different gadgets). Given such wide uses, it is important that there are policy level changes towards more caution and revision of entirely outdated and inadequate safety standards which have been followed in most countries. Till this happens, precautions at individual level can also be partially useful.

(Author: Bharat Dogra is Honorary Convener, Campaign to Save Earth Now. His recent books include Planet in Peril, Protecting Earth for Children, A Day in 2071 and Man over Machine.)

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