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Is 5G a Health and Safety Hazard?

Posted by EHS Insight Staff on November 8, 2019 at 10:18 AM

The future has arrived, and the future is mobile. With 5G mobile technology spreading across the globe, experts and government agencies disagree about whether or not radiofrequency waves have a negative impact on our health and safety. 

The answer would change whether or not 5G is safe for extended use. Here’s what you need to know about the 5G debate.

What Is 5G?

5G is the fifth generation of mobile networks.

Most mobile users rely on 3G or 4G LTE (Long Term Evolution) networks, which were introduced in 2001 and 2009, respectively.

When 5G arrives (it’s still in the rollout stage), it will utilize a higher-frequency band of the wireless spectrum, the millimeter wave. This is a spectrum band between 30 gigahertz and 300 gigahertz.

3G ushered in the smartphone era, while 4G gave us the high-speed connections that make it possible to stream video. Mobile operators expect 5G mobile download speeds to be in the gigabits-per-second range, which is about 50 times faster than current 4G speeds.

5G also has the capacity to accommodate tens of billions of connected devices and sensors, a boon in the era of the Internet of Things (IoT).

Is 5G Bad for Us?

That said, because 5G relies on higher-frequency bandwidth, it reaches right across the radiofrequency spectrum.

This is where questions about 5G and our health come into play. If you recall high school science, you might remember talking about radiation safety. Radiation is the sending out of energy from any source. We’re exposed to radiation all the time, from sunlight to our own body heat – and, yes, our smartphones and cell bandwidth.

What Is Electromagnetic Radiation?

This brings us to the subject of electromagnetic radiation.

Electromagnetic radiation is a type of self-sustaining radiation with electrical and magnetic elements. It’s transmitted at the speed of light through oscillating electrical and magnetic fields.

Electric fields exist anywhere we have power lines or outlets, even if there is no active electricity running through the line. Magnetic fields, however, only exist when electricity flows. So, every time you activate electrical flow, you’re generating electromagnetic fields.

Power lines operate at the lower end of the spectrum at 50 to 60 gigahertz. This means that they generate low-frequency waves and the radiation generated from them is known as non-ionizing.

Non-ionizing radiation does not have the power to remove electrons from atoms and molecules. This means that, unlike ionizing radiation, it cannot damage DNA inside cells, which is how ionizing radiation typically causes cancer. However, non-ionizing radiation can heat tissues. The biggest concerns for non-ionizing radiation are for those who are applied to intense, direct amounts of non-ionizing radiation.

Where 5G Fits

For the general public, the vast majority of exposure to radiofrequency radiation comes from mobile devices, cell phone base stations, medical equipment, and TV antennas. 5G is still non-ionizing radiation, and the radiation produced by smartphones isn’t much higher in and of itself.

The problem comes from a simple fact of 5G: millimeter wave signals don’t travel as far. This means that 5G networks will require many more small antennas closer together to carry signals.

Will this be enough of a boost to cause real health problems? For now, at least, experts and officials cannot seem to agree.

Topics: Technology, Consumer Safety

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