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Is 5G Technology Dangerous? – Pros and Cons of 5G Network
5G is a shorthand term that stands for the fifth generation of wireless cellular networks.
What is 5G?
The first four generations each brought a new level of connectivity, with 3G and 4G focused on improving mobile data. 5G seeks to continue this trend and expand its use for mobile broadband access. 5G will work alongside 4G, eventually replacing it entirely.
5G will usher in new tech advancement opportunities and innovation. Developing technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to grow with 5G. The upcoming upgrade from 4G to 5G concerns pretty much anyone using a cellular connection. So, it’s wise to understand the cybersecurity 5G networking offers — and where it might be lacking.
How does 5G work?
To make the explanation simple, 5G transmits tons of data over shorter distances than 4G LTE. This helps speed and consistency of connection signals and the network itself — even when in motion. The network is also able to support more devices due to the use of new signal spectrums. On top of all of this, energy-efficient tech allows less power to be used.
While 4G LTE is powerful, we are quickly outgrowing this network as we push it to its limits. Current LTE networks are becoming overloaded in major cities, with regular slowdowns occurring at busier times. The rise of internet-connected “smart” gadgets will mean that we need a faster, higher-capacity system to support the billions of devices already in existence. With these and other perks, mobile data becomes cheaper, less power-hungry, and quicker to connect way more devices than we can today.
What are some of the possibilities with 5G?
Better internet experiences are a direct result of this network. Beyond this, the fifth generation of mobile broadband will bring many benefits, most of which can be defined by the following:
Upgrading to a massive Internet of Things (IoT) will further tech-based growth for both industry and consumers. While many IoT devices are already in use, they are limited by the current internet framework. 5G means battery-powered devices can stay active and connected with fewer tune-ups, permitting new completely wireless uses in remote, inconvenient, or hard-to-reach areas. Everything from smart thermostats and speakers, to sensors in industrial cargo and city power grids, will have its role to play.
Smart cities and Industry 4.0 aim to give us more efficient, safer, productive work & lives. 5G-supported IoT is key to providing cities better infrastructure monitoring. It will also be used for smart automation in factories — dynamically shifting work processes.
What is the Difference Between 4G and 5G?
There are a few notable differences that allow 5G to do things 4G LTE cannot.
Compared to 4G LTE, 5G brings the following benefits:
- 5G is faster than 4G with more bits-per-second able to travel the network. With the new upload and download speeds, you could be downloading movies in seconds versus minutes.
- 5G is more responsive than 4G with lower latency, which refers to the time taken for device-to-network communications. Since devices can “talk” to the network faster, you’ll get data more quickly.
- 5G uses less power than 4G since it can rapidly switch to low-energy use when cellular radios are not in use. This extends the device battery life to let devices stay unplugged for longer.
- 5G gives secure, fast service more reliably than 4G due to better use of bandwidth and more connection points. With less stress on the network, data costs can fall lower than 4G networks.
- 5G can carry more devices than 4G as it expands the available radio waves. Congestion issues that lead to slow service will be reduced once 5G steps in.
5G is a massive step forward for cellular. Similar to the legendary switch from wired dialup to high-speed broadband, we will rethink what mobile data can do.
That said, there is one major downside keeping 4G from being entirely replaced right now:
5G is hard to install and deploy. More transmitters are needed to cover the same area as current 4G networks. Providers are still working on placement for some of these “cells.” Some regions have physical challenges like protected historical sites or rough geography.
Slow rollout might seem negative for the future of 5G. However, the prolonged upgrade might end up giving providers time to address another big concern: security.
5G Security Concerns
5G cybersecurity needs some significant improvements to avoid growing risks of hacking. Some of the security worries result from the network itself, while others involve the devices connecting to 5G. But both aspects put consumers, governments, and businesses at risk.
When it comes to 5g and cybersecurity, here are a few of the main concerns:
Decentralized security. Pre-5G networks had less hardware traffic points-of-contact, which made it easier to do security checks and upkeep. 5G’s dynamic software-based systems have far more traffic routing points. To be completely secure, all of these need to be monitored. Since this might prove difficult, any unsecured areas might compromise other parts of the network.
More bandwidth will strain current security monitoring. While existing networks are limited in speed and capacity, this has helped providers monitor security in real-time. So, the benefits of an expanded 5G network might hurt cybersecurity. The added speed and volume will challenge security teams to create new methods for stopping threats.
Many IoT devices are manufactured with a lack of security. Not all manufacturers are prioritizing cybersecurity, as seen with many low-end smart devices. 5G means more utility and potential for IoT. As more devices are encouraged to connect, billions of devices with varied security means billions of possible breach points. Smart TVs, door locks, refrigerators, speakers, and even minor devices like a thermometer for a fish tank can be a network weakness. A lack of security standards for IoT devices means network breaches and hacking might run rampant.
Lack of encryption early in the connection process reveals device info that can be used for device specific IoT targeted attacks. This information helps hackers know what devices are connected to the network. Details such as operating system and device type (smartphone, vehicle modem, etc.) can help hackers plan their attacks with more precision.
Cybersecurity vulnerabilities can take form in a wide variety of attacks. Some of the known cyberthreats include:
- Botnet attacks control a network of connected devices to puppeteer a massive cyberattack.
- Distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) overload a network or website to take it offline.
- Man-in-the-Middle (MiTM) attacks quietly intercept and change communications between two parties.
- Location tracking and call interception can be done if someone knows even a small amount about broadcast paging protocols.
The Future of 5G and Cybersecurity
To stave off widespread weaknesses in national mobile networks, technology developers will have to be extra attentive to 5G security.
5G security foundations are needed in networks first. Network providers will begin focusing on software protections to cover the unique risks of 5G. They will need to collaborate with cybersecurity firms to develop encryption solutions, network monitoring, and more.
Manufacturers need an incentive to up their security efforts. 5G security is only as strong as its weakest links. But the costs of developing and implementing secure tech do not motivate all manufacturers to focus on cybersecurity. This is especially true in low-end products like kids’ smartwatches and cheap smart baby monitors. If manufacturers receive benefits that offset their bottom-line losses, they may be more likely to boost their consumer protections.
Consumer education on IoT cybersecurity is necessary. The wide variation in security quality means product labeling standards will be needed. Because users have no way to easily know how safe IoT devices are, smart tech manufacturers might start to be held accountable with a label system. The FCC grades other forms of radio transmission, so the growing market of IoT devices may soon be included. Also, users need to be taught the importance of securing all internet devices with software updates.
Efforts to improve security are happening alongside the initial rollout of 5G. But because we need real-world results to refine the protections, work will continue long after 5G is deployed.
How You Should Prepare for 5G
5G is a bit further away than the buzz may have you believe, but you’ll still need to be prepared. Even though rollout will take a long time to be truly significant, some areas have seen upgrades start to pop up. Be sure to take security and privacy into your own hands as much as possible:
Install an anti-virus solution on all your devices. Products like Kaspersky Total Security will help prevent your devices from becoming infected.
Use a VPN to stop strangers from accessing your data without permission and spying on your online activity.
Practice strong password security. Always use passwords when available and make them incredibly strong. Long strings of random characters are considered the best passwords possible. Make sure you include uppercase, lowercase, symbols, and number as well.
Update the default backend passwords on all your IoT devices. Follow your device’s instructions on updating the “admin/password” style credentials of your gadgets. To find this information, consult with your manufacturer’s tech manuals or contact them directly.
Keep all your IoT devices updated with security patches. This includes your mobile phone, computers, all smart home devices, and even your car’s infotainment system. Remember, any device that connects to the internet, Bluetooth, or other data radio should have all the latest updates (apps, firmware, OS, etc.)
Real 5G issues overshadowed by Covid-19 conspiracy theories
Unsubstantiated claims that connect the new mobile technology to the spread of the Coronavirus pandemic have led people to destroy 5G masts in several countries. Such actions overshadow concerns about health effects of the technology that are real and legitimate.
About the investigation
The 5G mass experiment
Are you happy with 4G mobile? You may be, but governments and industry are already looking at the next level – 5G – and the infrastructure for ‘smart homes’ and the ‘internet of things’. According to EU plans, Europe will be hyper-connected by 2025. And why the rush? READ MORE”5G: BIG PROMISES, UNKNOWN RISKS”
It was Twitter that created an entirely different virus. On January 19, as Covid-19 was spreading in China, a Twitter post speculated that there was a link between the effects of the 5G network and the disease. ‘Wuhan now has over 5000 #5G base stations and will have 50,000 by 2021 – is it a 5G disease or effect?‘
Even a precursory investigation would show this to be a big logical leap. Take Portugal, for example, where there is no single 5G antenna in operation. Even the auction that was to grant operators licenses to launch this new technology was postponed in March. Portugal has Covid-19, but will not have 5G anytime soon.
5G towers set on fire
The claim that there is a link between 5G and the pandemic, nevertheless went viral in Facebook groups, messages on WhatsApp, and in YouTube videos, in parallel with Coronavirus spreading across the globe.
The theory is that Covid-19 has either been caused by the frequencies used for the new mobile technology, or that the signals harm people’s immune systems so that they are easy targets for the virus.
Online fear and anger spilled into the offline world, first in the UK. Since the beginning of the Coronavirus lockdown, there have been around 90 arson and sabotage attacks on mobile masts in the country, according to Sky News. Telecom engineers out working at infrastructure have been assaulted, spat on, and forced to flee angry people. Towers have been vandalized in Ireland, in Cyprus, and in the Netherlands.
“No such evidence”
Two scientists who have spent many years sounding the alarm about potential health risks from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, dismiss the notion that there is a scientific basis for a 5G-Coronavirus connection.
“There is no evidence that there is a relationship between 5G and the spread of Coronavirus. It is inappropriate to raise these rumors,” says Fiorella Belpoggi, Research Director at the Ramazzini Institute in Italy.
Dariusz Leszczynski, a molecular biologist and editor of of ‘Frontiers in Radiation and Health’ specialty of the Frontiers in Public Health, explains that: “Some activists claim that it is known that RF-EMF exposures, including radiation emitted from 4G and 5G, cause decline in the immune response. That is incorrect. Several studies on RF-EMF exposures and immune response have been published, but there is no proof whatsoever that there is an effect. Claims by activists that the deployment of 5G weakens immunity and helps Covid-19 to spread and infect people is absolutely wrong. There is no such evidence”.
RF-EMF: Abbrevation for “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields”. Emission of electromagnetic radiation from radiofrequency waves.
Common EMF sources are power and transmission lines, internal building wiring system, electrical panels, transformers, motors and appliances.
Common RF sources are radio and tv transmissions, mobile towers and antennas, mobile phones, wireless computer networks (WLAN) and radar equipment.
Blurring important questions
Dariusz Leszczynski is concerned that undocumented claims that Coronavirus is caused by 5G – or that there is no virus at all, and that people are simply getting sick from 5G itself – will silence legitimate questions of health effects from mobile radiation.
The new questions on 5G add to real scientific disagreement concerning health effects of RF-EMF by former generations of mobile technology. This disagreement is barely acknowledged. The situation has opened up widespread public uncertainty that cannot be mended simply by official assurances that there is nothing to worry about. In our age of social media, vacuums are easily filled with conspiracy theories. They tend to go viral – as fast as Covid-19.
About this report
Unsubstantiated claims that Covid-19 somehow is spread by 5G have gone viral in social media. However, other issues concerning mobile technology and public health have divided the scientific community for years. In 2019, Investigate Europe interviewed a large number of scientists specializing in the effects of radio-frequency electromagnetic fields (RF-EMF) in mobile technology. We also interviewed all relevant international bodies. Our aim was to map the scientific disputes in the field. The following, including quotes, is based on reporting that took place in late 2018 and early 2019, unless obvious or otherwise stated.
While it is easy to dismantle a 5G-Covid-19 connection, it is more difficult to answer another question: Is radiation from 5G technology completely safe?
The 5G revolution
Investigate Europe’s 2019 research on the roll-out of 5G and the landscape of science on health issues connected to RF-EMF found one disturbing fact: There is an astonishing lack of scientific studies on how new frequencies that will be used for 5G, will affect health.
“We simply don’t know. We only have a few studies, it is nothing. The only response of the industry is that 5G is low-power and therefore no problem”, says Dariusz Leszczynski.
5G is an upgrade of the previous generations of 2, 3 and 4G. But it is also much more than that. The powerful technology is going to be the base for what the telecom industry calls a “revolution.” It will allow the so-called internet of things, where everything is online and connected. 5G is needed to sustain driverless cars, remote surgery, as well as smart cities and homes, including ultra-fast access to films and music
To achieve all this, the 5G network will also use the millimeter waves part of the frequency spectrum. These are low-power, short-range waves, unable to break through walls or other obstacles, such as trees. They can be directed individually, but they have to be relayed from a base station via small antennas to avoid obstacles and reach their destination. These stations will be small, the size of fire alarm boxes.
This will compel data companies to place tens of thousands of these small base stations on street furniture, lampposts, and on the exterior and interior of buildings. Currently, the 4G network uses fewer antennas, more powerful, further away from our daily lives, thanks to its longer transmission range.
It is from the coming high number of antennas that some of the new fear of harmful effects of mobile radiation arises.
Previous ‘Generations’: 2G, 3G, 4G
Most of the research on radiation from mobile technology and health has been done on 2G and 3G technologies. As the world is about to enter the 5G era, scientists can look at thousands of studies and calculations on health effects of radiation from 2G and 3G. But there is strong disagreement on how to interpret the results – and the implications for the 5G network, which is new, and for which there is a particular lack of studies.
Most European governments rely on scientific committees that hold on to one basic premise: the only documented health risk from mobile radiation is the heating of body tissues. Radiation safety limits are made to prevent this from happening. As long as these limits are respected, there is no risk to health, according these committees.
For most users of 3G and 4G technology, it is easy to stay on the right side of these limits: They are only reached or exceeded if you are directly in front of a base station and less than 10 meters away.
Five billion mobile users worldwide might seem as proof that this works well. A significant number of scientists, however, do not sign to that conclusion.
Studies find risks
Historically, science on RF-EMF has been associated with the telecommunications industry and the military sector. Engineers used to dominate the field. Today, physicists, biologists and epidemiologists with other entry points and perspectives have joined the discussions.
Some of these scientists argue that people can be harmed by being exposed to mobile radiation far below the limits, especially over the course of many years of use.
The Oceania Radiofrequency Scientific Advisory Organization, an Australian entity, examined 2,266 studies and found “significant biological effects or health effects” in 68% of them. Another, the Bioinitiative Group, referred to up to 1,800 studies when it concluded that many of these effects are likely to cause health damage if people are exposed to radiation for a long time. This is because radiation interferes with the body’s normal processes, preventing them from repairing damaged DNA and creating an imbalance in the immune system, these scientists say.
According to the report prepared by the Bioinitiative Group, the list of possible damages is frightening: Poor sperm quality, autism, alzheimer’s, brain cancer and childhood leukemia.
Most European governments do not listen to these scientists. They act on advice prepared by ICNIRP, the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection. ICNIRP dismisses research concluding there are negative health effects from mobile radiation. “There are a lot of publications that are of insufficient quality. These are not taken into account in our review,” said Eric van Rongen, then chair of ICNIRP, while ICNIRP was updating their 1998 guidelines.
One report is dismissed by ICNIRP despite being the most costly and official ever: The 2018 conclusions by the National Toxicology Program, part of the US Department of Health. Their scientists had done a ten-year study of rodents at a cost of 30 million USD before concluding with “clear evidence” a link between mobile phone radiation and cancer. The earlier mentioned Ramazzini Institute in Italy recorded parallel findings in a related project.
New safety limits
In March 2020, ICNIRP updated the guidelines that most European governments rely on. The new guidelines take into account the coming exposure to the higher frequencies that will be used for 5G. The basic premise of the guidelines remains as before: To prevent the heating of tissues.
There is minimal research done on how exposure to these higher frequencies might affect public health. Some scientists warn that there is a danger that they could heat up the body’s tissues. One of them is Dariusz Leszczynski, who used to work at the Finnish radiation protection agency, where he came to conclusions they did not share: He found mobile phone radiation impacted cells even when below the safety limits. This is important because cells are where stress is activated.
In contrast to 2, 3 and 4G radiation, 5G radiation does not penetrate the human body. So-called millimeter waves that will partly be used with 5G, don’t go deeper than the skin.
“This is being used as assurance: It’s only the skin, it doesn’t go into the brain, everything is fine,” says Leszczynski.
“But it is not so fine. The skin is our largest organ and our largest immune-response organ; it is full of cells that regulate our immune response. If we mess up the immune response in our skin, we mess up the immune response of our bodies altogether”.
So is 5G radiation exposure on skin dangerous?
“We simply don’t know”, says Leszczynski. He is adamant that more studies must be done. “This is a cliche, but this is the problem: we lack research on very basic things. It sounds so simple, but it is expensive. And those who are influential, like industry, don’t want it,” Leszczynski claimed.
ICNIRP’s van Rongen agreed that more science is needed. “ There are still a number of uncertainties. For instance, the long term effects of mobile phone use on brain tumors are insufficient to draw conclusions. Most of the ongoing research now focuses on long term effects. That is the information we need. For the time being we have to deal with the info we have. But we definitely need more,” said van Rongen.
Meanwhile, the message from ICNIRP is that there are no risks. The updated radiation limits guidelines ‘provide improved protection for higher frequency 5G and beyond.’
‘Parts of the community are concerned about the safety of 5G,’ Eric van Rongen noted in the press release. ‘We hope the updated guidelines will help put people at ease.’
Tools for politicians
Where science is not complete, European governments have a special tool at hand: The precautionary principle. When you have a potentially serious and irreversible hazard to many people, but inconclusive evidence, precaution can be justified.
“It wasn’t designed for scientists, it was designed for policymakers,” said David Gee, former “Senior Adviser, Science, Policy and Emerging” issues at the EEA, European Environmental Agency. But policymakers tend to get too caught up in the science, rather than focusing on their job, which is to decide what action to take or not to take, he said.
Another reason not to take precautions is that limits may restrain a profitable business. “Policymakers often want to wait for “beyond all reasonable doubt” strength of evidence. But by definition, that comes too late. Once the evidence of harm is given, the harm is done,” Gee says.
The precautionary principle is part of the EU Treaty, and there are dozens of cases where it has been successfully used. The EU’s ban on antibiotics in animal feed is one such case. “Pfizer took the EU Commission to court on this ban, arguing insufficient evidence,” Gee explains. “The Commission won. The court essentially said that this is what the precautionary principle was designed for.”
ICNIRP’s safety limits take into account the needs of the telecommunications industry, according to Dariusz Leszczynski: “Eastern countries had a tradition with military research which ended up with lower safety limits. ICNIRP has more industry-driven safety limits, meaning limits that are applicable to the industry. Their aim is to set safety limits that don’t kill people, while technology works – so something in between.”
Eric van Rongen agreed that the uncertainty could be a reason to apply precautionary measures. That is not ICNIRP’s task, but ICNIRP’s limits are set with a large degree of conservatism, so precaution is already applied, he said.
“National authorities could consider those uncertainties large enough, and the possible effects serious enough, to take further precautionary measures. These do not necessarily have to mean lowering exposure limits,” according to van Rongen.
The Swiss example
Switzerland practises precaution. It has its own radiation limits that are much lower than those of most European countries. The Swiss environmental agency, BAFU, has warned of unknown public health risks related to “electrosmog” due to the large increase in electromagnetic fields created from mobile technology. A task force that examined the issue last year, was unable to agree on any common recommendation. The Swiss parliament has twice refused to relax the radiation exposure limits.
Two researchers at the Swiss institute IT’IS claimed in 2018 that radiation above 10 GHz can cause tissue damage by heating the skin to ‘tens of degrees.’
One of these researchers, Esra Neufeld, told Investigate Europe: “Some categorically deny that there are anything other than the thermal effects. […] Others say the non-thermal effects are extremely underestimated. The literature is still contradictory. The bad thing about 5G is that there are practically no biological experiments that show how this radiation actually affects the skin.”
“The use of millimetre waves – frequencies above 10 GHz – is not currently approved in Switzerland,” according to Ivo Minger, a BAFU spokesperson. He responded to a question from Investigate Europe about the IT’IS study in February 2020. Thus, IT’IS’ finding has had no impact on the Swiss governments plans for a 5G roll-out, he noted.
But since 5G partly depends on these frequencies, this has delayed the 5G roll-out. As of February 2020, three out of 26 cantons and municipalities had imposed a moratorium on 5G technology. “In cities and conglomerations, only approximately 2% of the existing installations can be expanded with the capacities needed for 5G,” according to Minger.
In April, the Swiss government declared it would keep current safety standards for 5G ‘to protect the population from non-ionizing radiation,’ according to Reuters.
Advantages and disadvantages of 5G technology
To think that the future is still far away is to forget that tomorrow is already the future, and we will be living it as soon as we open our eyes at dawn.
In this path of technological advances, we went from having a truly pocket device that was used to make and receive calls from (almost) anywhere (1G), to being able to make up for that need by choosing to send a text message instead of calling (2G) while still having that possibility in the same device.
Then came the need to be able to access the internet wherever we were, and that was also possible through our cell phones (3G). And this trend continued until today where our infinite need for information is reflected in what we now know as every day, the daily surfing the net through our smartphones (4G).
The story does not end there, this need continues and grows, giving way to the development of the next level in our consumption of information and our way of being connected and interconnected with each other and with the things around us, the 5G technology.
All the great technological changes in history did not remain stagnant or reserved in their respective areas of knowledge, but transcended and disrupted all aspects of life, profoundly transforming everyday social life.
The promise of 5G, advantages and disadvantages
For some time now it has been said that in the next few years the 5G network will change our lives. However, in the course of that time, it has also sparked events that have led to the development of a whole series of discussions around its many benefits, but also its disadvantages.
Advantages of 5G technology
- Higher Download Speed. The 5G network will have the capacity to increase download speeds by up to 20 times (from 200 Mbps (4G) to 10 Gbps (5G)) and decreasing latency (response time between devices). These speeds will maximize the browsing experience by facilitating processes that, although possible today, still present difficulties.
- Hyperconnectivity. The 5G network promises the possibility of having a hyper-interconnected environment to reach the point of having the much desired “smart cities”. The correct performance of these new dynamics will depend on the bandwidth of 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT).
- Process optimization. It is also expected to revolutionize areas such as medicine (remote operations, for example), and traffic management and autonomous vehicles, as well as its implementation in the construction sector to optimize resources and reduce risks.
Disadvantages of 5G technology
- Immediate Obsolescence. The transition to the 5G network will require devices that can support it; current 4G devices do not have this capability and will become immediately obsolete.
- Technological exclusion. The implementation of the 5G network also implies a lack of immediate accessibility for average pockets, combined with a delay in its implementation due to a lack of means for its use.
- Insufficient Infrastructure. For the 5G network to function properly will require a whole ambitious investment in infrastructure to increase bandwidth and expand coverage, and this is not cheap. This situation will necessarily lead to delays in its implementation due to the high costs that governments will have to cover for 5G to function properly
- Risks in security and proper data handling. All of this requires optimal data management, and this is where the most conflictive part of the advantages versus disadvantages lies. And the fact is that, in the management of all this information, both from companies and individuals and even governments, not only issues such as Big Data techniques are involved in its study.
Each country is currently discussing the legal and ethical standards for the handling and use of this data, so that privacy is not affected by all this interconnectivity.
5G is a reality that in a short time will touch our lives like previous technologies, and it would be better to look at it now to take advantage of its benefits and avoid its risks.
Is 5G technology bad for our health?
As 5G wireless technology is slowly making its way across the globe, many government agencies and organizations advise that there is no reason to be alarmed about the effects of radiofrequency waves on our health. But some experts strongly disagree.
The term 5G refers to the fifth generation of mobile technology. With promises of faster browsing, streaming, and download speeds, as well as better connectivity, 5G may seem like a natural evolution for our increasingly tech-reliant society.
But beyond allowing us to stream the latest movies, 5G has been designed to increase capacity and reduce latency, which is the time that it takes for devices to communicate with each other.
For integrated applications, such as robotics, self-driving cars, and medical devices, these changes will play a big part in how quickly we adopt technology into our everyday lives.
The mainstay of 5G technology will be the use of higher-frequency bandwidths, right across the radiofrequency spectrum.
In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission has auctioned off the first bandwidth — 28 gigahertz (GHz) — that will form the 5G network, with higher bandwidth auctions scheduled for later this year.
But what does 5G have to do with our health?
In this Spotlight, we look at what electromagnetic radiation is, how it can impact our health, the controversy surrounding radiofrequency networks, and what this means for the advent of 5G technology.
An electromagnetic field (EMF) is a field of energy that results from electromagnetic radiation, a form of energy that occurs as a result of the flow of electricity.
Electric fieldsTrusted Source exist wherever there are power lines or outlets, whether the electricity is switched on or not. Magnetic fields are created only when electric currents flow. Together, these produce EMFs.
Electromagnetic radiation exists as a spectrum of different wavelengths and frequencies, which are measured in hertz (Hz). This term denotes the number of cycles per second.
Power lines operate between 50 and 60 Hz, which is at the lower end of the spectrum. These low-frequency waves, together with radio waves, microwaves, infrared radiation, visible light, and some of the ultraviolet spectrum — which take us into the megahertz (MHz), GHz, and terahertz spectra — make up what is known as nonionizing radiation.
Above this lie the petahertz and exahertz spectra, which include X-rays and gamma rays. These are types of ionizing radiation, which mean that they carry sufficient energy to break apart molecules and cause significant damage to the human body.
Radiofrequency EMFs (RF-EMFs) include all wavelengths from 30 kilohertz to 300 GHz.
For the general public, exposure to RF-EMFs is mostly from handheld devices, such as cell phones and tablets, as well as from cell phone base stations, medical applications, and TV antennas.
The most well-established biological effect of RF-EMFs is heatingTrusted Source. High doses of RF-EMFs can lead to a rise in the temperature of the exposed tissues, leading to burns and other damage.
But mobile devices emit RF-EMFs at low levels. Whether this is a cause for concern is a matter of ongoing debate, reignited by the arrival of 5G.
In 2011, 30 international scientists, who are part of the working group of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), met to assess the risk of developing cancer as a result of exposure to RF-EMFs.
The working group published a summary of their findings in The Lancet OncologyTrusted Source.
The scientists looked at one cohort study and five case-control studies in humans, each of which was designed to investigate whether there is a link between cell phone use and glioma, a cancer of the central nervous system.
The team concluded that, based on studies of the highest quality, “A causal interpretation between mobile phone RF-EMF exposure and glioma is possible.” Smaller studies supported a similar conclusion for acoustic neuroma, but the evidence was not convincing for other types of cancer.
The team also looked at over 40 studies that had used rats and mice.
In view of the limited evidence in humans and experimental animals, the working group classified RF-EMFs as “possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).” “This evaluation was supported by a large majority of working group members,” they write in the paper.
For comparison, Group 2B also contains aloe vera whole leaf extract, gasoline engine exhaust fumes, and pickled vegetables, as well as drugs like progesterone-only contraceptives, oxazepam, and sulfasalazine.
Despite the classification of RF-EMFs as possibly carcinogenic to humans, other organizations have not come to the same conclusion.
The IARC is part of the World Health Organization (WHO). Yet, the WHOTrusted Source is undertaking a separate “health risk assessment of [RF-EMFs], to be published as a monograph in the Environmental Health Criteria series.”
The International EMF ProjectTrusted Source, established in 1996, is in charge of this assessment.
According to the International EMF Project brochureTrusted Source:
“The project is overseen by an advisory committee consisting of representatives of eight international organizations, eight independent scientific institutions, and more than 50 national governments, providing a global perspective. The scientific work is conducted in collaboration with the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). All activities are coordinated and facilitated by the WHO Secretariat.”
The results of the project have not been published yet.
At present, the WHO stateTrusted Source that “To date, no adverse health effects from low level, long term exposure to radiofrequency or power frequency fields have been confirmed, but scientists are actively continuing to research this area.”
In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission state that “At relatively low levels of exposure to RF radiation — i.e., levels lower than those that would produce significant heating — the evidence for production of harmful biological effects is ambiguous and unproven.”
Dr. Lennart Hardell, from the department of oncology at Örebro University, in Sweden, is an outspoken critic of the WHO’s decision not to adopt the IARC’s classification of RF-EMFs as possibly carcinogenic.
In a 2017 article in the International Journal of OncologyTrusted Source, he explains that several members of the EMF project’s core group are also affiliated with the ICNIRP, an organization he describes as “an industry-loyal NGO.”
“Being a member of ICNIRP is a conflict of interest in the scientific evaluation of health hazards from RF radiation through ties to military and industry,” Dr. Hadrell writes. “This is particularly true, since the ICNIRP guidelines are of huge importance to the influential telecommunications, military, and power industries.”
The BioInitiative report, issued by 29 medical and scientific experts — of which Dr. Hardell is one — states that “Bioeffects are clearly established and occur at very low levels of exposure to [EMFs] and radiofrequency radiation.”
The report, part of which was updated earlier this year, highlights links to DNA damage, oxidative stress, neurotoxicity, carcinogenicity, sperm morphology, and fetal, newborn, and early life development. They also propose a link between RF-EMF exposure and a higher risk of developing autism spectrum disorder.
The group urges governments and health agencies to establish new safety limits to protect the public.
Writing in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, Dr. Agostino Di Ciaula from the division of internal medicine at the Hospital of Bisceglie, in Italy, reviewed the latest studies on the effect of RF-EMFs in humans, animals, and microbes.
In his article, he writes, “Evidences about the biological properties of RF-EMF are progressively accumulating and, although they are in some case still preliminary or controversial, clearly point to the existence of multilevel interactions between high-frequency EMF and biological systems and to the possibility of oncologic and non-oncologic (mainly reproductive, metabolic, neurologic, microbiologic) effects.”
“Biological effects have also been recorded at exposure levels below the regulatory limits, leading to growing doubts about the real safety of the currently employed ICNIRP standards,” he continues.
“Further experimental and epidemiologic studies are urgently needed in order to better and fully explore the health effects caused in humans by the exposure to generic or specific […] RF-EMF frequencies in different age groups and with increasing exposure density.”
Dr. Agostino Di Ciaula
The ICNIRP have published their take on two of the most recent studies that have investigated whether RF-EMFs can cause cancer in rats and mice.
A National Toxicology ProgramTrusted Source study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services looked at high exposure levels at 900 MHz. The team foundTrusted Source “clear evidence of tumors in the hearts of male rats,” “some evidence of tumors in the brains of male rats,” and “some evidence of tumors in the adrenal glands of male rats.”
The second study, published in the journal Environmental Research by a group of researchers from the Cesare Maltoni Cancer Research Center, at the Ramazzini Institute, in Bologna, Italy, found an increase in tumors in the heart in rats exposed to an RF-EMF equivalent of a 1.8-GHz base station.
“Overall, based on the considerations outlined below, ICNIRP concludes that these studies do not provide a reliable basis for revising the existing radiofrequency exposure guidelines,” the ICNIRP write.
The arrival of the 5G network promises to improve connectivity. What that means, in reality, is wider coverage and more bandwidth to allow our multitude of data to travel from A to B.
To build out networks at the higher end of the RF-EMF spectrum, new base stations, or small cells, will appear around the globe.
The reason behind this is that high-frequency radio waves have a shorter range than lower-frequency waves. Small cells that will allow data to travel relatively short distances will form a key part of the 5G network, particularly in areas of dense network usage.
But while our lives may be transformed by faster browsing, integrated e-health applications, driverless cars, and real-life connectivity across the “internet of things,” will this make a significant impact on the amounts of RF-EMFs that we are exposed to?
The short answer is, no one really knows, yet. Writing in Frontiers in Public Health earlier this month, a group of international scientists, including Dr. Hardell, comment on the potential risks of 5G technology.
“Higher frequency (shorter wavelength) radiation associated with 5G does not penetrate the body as deeply as frequencies from older technologies, although its effects may be systemic,” they explain.
“The range and magnitude of potential impacts of 5G technologies are under-researched, although important biological outcomes have been reported with millimeter-wavelength exposure. These include oxidative stress and altered gene expression, effects on skin, and systemic effects, such as on immune function,” the authors continue.
The teams makes several recommendations, which include more rigorous testing and collecting data to identify links between RF-EMF exposure and health outcomes, sharing health risk information with users, and limiting exposure in under-16s. The last point on their list states the following:
“Cell towers should be distanced from homes, daycare centers, schools, and places frequented by pregnant women, men who wish to father healthy children, and the young.”
There is certainly evidence that ties RF-EMF exposure to a small increase in the risk of developing certain cancers and other adverse health outcomes.
But the jury is still out on how serious a threat RF-EMFs in general — and 5G bandwidths in particular — pose to our health.
For those of us who live in densely populated areas, there is no escape from the myriad radio waves zipping through the air all around us.
To reduce our exposure to RF-EMFs, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)Trusted Source suggest cutting down how much time we spend on our cell phones, as well as using speaker mode or a hands-free kit to create more distance between our devices and our heads.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend limiting the time that kids and teenagers spend on mobile devices.
Long-term studies that investigate the effects of exposure to digital networks are ongoing. One of these is the COSMOS study, which started in 2007 with the aim of following at least 290,000 people across six European countries for 20–30 years to assess their cell phone usage and health outcomes.
Only time will tell what the results of this and other studies show.
What to know about radiation sickness
Radiation is used in medicine, to generate electricity, to make food last longer, to sterilize equipment, for carbon dating of archeological finds, and many other reasons.
Ionizing radiation happens when the atomic nucleus of an unstable atom decays and starts releasing ionizing particles.
When these particles come into contact with organic material, such as human tissue, they will damage them if levels are high enough, in a short period of time. This can lead to burns, problems with the blood, gastrointestinal system, cardiovascular and central nervous system, cancer, and sometimes death.
Radiation is normally managed safely, but its use also entails a risk.
If an accident happens, for example, the earthquake in Fukushima, Japan, in 2011, or the explosion at Chernobyl, Ukraine in 1986, radiation can become dangerous.
Here are some key points about radiation sickness. More detail is in the main article.
- Radiation is all around us and it is used safely in many applications.
- Nuclear accidents, the work environment, and some medical treatment can all be sources of radiation poisoning.
- Depending on the dose, the effects of radiation can be mild or life-threatening.
- There is no cure, but barriers can prevent exposure and some medications may remove some radiation from the body.
- Anyone who believes they have been exposed to radiation should seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Radiation poisoning happens when a radioactive substance gives off particles that get into a person’s body and cause harm. Different radioactive substances have different characteristics. They can harm and help people in different ways, and some are more dangerous than others.
Normally, radiation occurs in a safe environment. Whether or not it becomes dangerous depends on:
- how it is used
- how strong it is
- how often a person is exposed
- what type of exposure occurs
- how long exposure lasts
A dose of radiation from a single x-ray is not normally harmful. Nevertheless, the parts of the body that are not being x-rayed will be shielded with a lead apron to prevent unnecessary exposure.
The technician, meanwhile, will leave the room when taking the image. While one small dose is not dangerous, repeated small doses could be.
A sudden, short, low dose of radiation is unlikely to cause a problem, but extended, intense, or repeated doses can be. When radiation damages cells, it is irreversible. The more often a person is exposed, the greater their risk of health problems.
How much radiation is dangerous?
- Below 30 rads: Mild symptoms will occur in the blood
- From 30 to 200 rads: The person may become ill.
- From 200 to 1,000 rads: The person may become seriously ill.
- Over 1,000 rads: This will be fatal.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), radiation sickness, or acute radiation syndrome (ARS) is diagnosed when:
- A person receives over 70 rads from a source outside their body
- The dose affects the whole body, or most of it, and is able to penetrate to the internal organs
- The dose is received in a short time, usually within minutes
A person who experiences an atomic explosion will receive two doses of radiation, one during the explosion, and another from fallout, when radioactive particles float down after the explosion.
Radiation sickness can be acute, happening soon after exposure, or chronic, where symptoms appear over time or after some time, possibly years later.
The signs and symptoms of acute radiation poisoning are:
Symptoms depend on the dose, and whether it is a single dose or repeated.
A dose of as low as 30 rads can lead to:
- loss of white blood cells
- nausea and vomiting
A dose of 300 rads dose may result in:
- temporary hair loss
- damage to nerve cells
- damage to the cells that line the digestive tract
Stages of radiation sickness
Symptoms of severe radiation poisoning will normally go through four stages.
Prodomal stage: Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, lasting from a few minutes to several days
Latent stage: Symptoms seem to disappear, and the person appears to recover
Overt stage: Depending on the type of exposure, this can involve problems with the cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, hematopoietic, and central nervous system (CNS)
Recovery or death: There may be a slow recovery, or the poisoning will be fatal.
Different doses, different effects
The risk of illness depends on the dose. Very low doses of radiation are all around us all the time, and they do not have any effect. It also depends on the area of the body that is exposed.
If the whole body is exposed to, say, 1,000 rads within a short time, this could be fatal. However, far higher doses can be applied to a small area of the body with less risk.
After a mild dose, the person may experience symptoms for just a few hours or days. However, a repeated or even a single, relatively low dose that produces few or no visible symptoms around the time of exposure may cause problems later on.
A person who is exposed to 3,000 rads will experience nausea and vomiting, and they may experience confusion and a loss of consciousness within a few hours. Tremors and convulsions will occur 5 to 6 hours after exposure. Within 3 days, there will be coma and death.
People who experience repeated doses, or who appear to recover, may have long-term effects.
- a loss of white blood cells, making it harder for the body to fight infection
- reduction in platelets, increasing the risk of internal or external bleeding
- fertility problems, including loss of menstruation and reduced libido
- changes in kidney function, which can lead to anemia, high blood pressure, and other problems within a few months
There may also be skin redness, cataracts, and heart problems.
Localized exposure may lead to changes in the skin, loss of hair, and possibly skin cancer.
Exposure to certain parts of the body is more dangerous than others, for example, the intestines.
The effects of radiation are cumulative. Damage to cells is irreversible.
Exposure to radiation can result from workplace exposure or an industrial accident, radiation therapy, or even deliberate poisoning, as in the case of the former Russian spy, Alexander Litvinenko, who was murdered in London by polonium 210 placed in his tea. However, this is extremely rare.
Most people are exposed to an average of around 0.62 rads, or 620 Gray each year.
Half of this comes from radon in the air, from the Earth, and from cosmic rays. The other half comes from medical, commercial, and industrial sources. Spread over a year, this is not significant in terms of health.
Levels of radiation from an x-ray are not high, but they occur at one moment.
- A chest x-ray gives the equivalent of 10 days’ exposure to radiation
- Mammogram gives the equivalent of 7 weeks’ normal exposure
- PET or CT used as part of nuclear medicine exposes a person to the equivalent of 8 years of radiation
- A CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis gives the equivalent of 3 years’ normal exposure
Nuclear medicine is used to target the thyroid in people with a thyroid disorder. Other types of medical treatment include radiation therapy for cancer.
Living at a higher altitude, for example, in the plateau of New Mexico and Colorado, increase exposure, as does traveling in an airplane. Radon gas in homes also contributes.
Food, too, contains small amounts of radiation. The food and water we drink is responsible for exposure to around 0.03 rads in a year.
The many activities that can expose people to sources of radiation include:
- watching television
- flying in an airplane
- passing through a security scanner
- using a microwave or cell phone
Smokers have a higher exposure than non-smokers, as tobacco contains a substance that can decay to become polonium 210.
Astronauts have the highest exposure of anyone. They may be exposed to 25 rads in one Space Shuttle mission.
Damage by radiation is irreversible. Once the cells are damaged, they do not repair themselves. Until now, there is no way for medicine to do this, so it is important for someone who has been exposed to seek medical help as soon as possible.
Possible treatments include:
- Removing all clothing,
- Rinsing with water and soap.
- Use of potassium iodide (KI) to block thyroid uptake if a person inhales or swallows too much radioiodine
- Prussian blue, given in capsules, can trap cesium and thallium in the intestines and prevent them from being absorbed. This allows them to move through the digestive system and leave he body in bowel movements.
- Filgrastim, or Neupogen, stimulates the growth of white blood cells. This can help if radiation has affected the bone marrow.
Depending on exposure, radiation can affect the whole body. For cardiovascular, intestinal, and other problems, treatment will target the symptoms.
Tips for reducing unnecessary exposure to radiation include:
- keeping out of the sun around midday and using a sunscreen or wearing clothes that cover the skin
- making sure any CT scans and x-rays are necessary, especially for children
- letting the doctor know if you are or may be pregnant before having an x-ray, PET, or CT scan
It is not possible or necessary to avoid all exposure to radiation, and the risk posed to health by most sources is extremely small.
5G mobile networks and health—a state-of-the-science review of the research into low-level RF fields above 6 GHz
The increased use of radiofrequency (RF) fields above 6 GHz, particularly for the 5 G mobile phone network, has given rise to public concern about any possible adverse effects to human health. Public exposure to RF fields from 5 G and other sources is below the human exposure limits specified by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). This state-of-the science review examined the research into the biological and health effects of RF fields above 6 GHz at exposure levels below the ICNIRP occupational limits. The review included 107 experimental studies that investigated various bioeffects including genotoxicity, cell proliferation, gene expression, cell signalling, membrane function and other effects. Reported bioeffects were generally not independently replicated and the majority of the studies employed low quality methods of exposure assessment and control. Effects due to heating from high RF energy deposition cannot be excluded from many of the results. The review also included 31 epidemiological studies that investigated exposure to radar, which uses RF fields above 6 GHz similar to 5 G. The epidemiological studies showed little evidence of health effects including cancer at different sites, effects on reproduction and other diseases. This review showed no confirmed evidence that low-level RF fields above 6 GHz such as those used by the 5 G network are hazardous to human health. Future experimental studies should improve the experimental design with particular attention to dosimetry and temperature control. Future epidemiological studies should continue to monitor long-term health effects in the population related to wireless telecommunications.
There are continually emerging technologies that use radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic fields particularly in telecommunications. Most telecommunication sources currently operate at frequencies below 6 GHz, including radio and TV broadcasting and wireless sources such as local area networks and mobile telephony. With the increasing demand for higher data rates, better quality of service and lower latency to users, future wireless telecommunication sources are planned to operate at frequencies above 6 GHz and into the ‘millimetre wave’ range (30–300 GHz) . Frequencies above 6 GHz have been in use for many years in various applications such as radar, microwave links, airport security screening and in medicine for therapeutic applications. However, the planned use of millimetre waves by future wireless telecommunications, particularly the 5th generation (5 G) of mobile networks, has given rise to public concern about any possible adverse effects to human health.
The interaction mechanisms of RF fields with the human body have been extensively described and tissue heating is the main effect for RF fields above 100 kHz (e.g. HPA; SCENHIR) [2, 3]. RF fields become less penetrating into body tissue with increasing frequency and for frequencies above 6 GHz the depth of penetration is relatively short with surface heating being the predominant effect .
International exposure guidelines for RF fields have been developed on the basis of current scientific knowledge to ensure that RF exposure is not harmful to human health [5, 6]. The guidelines developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) in particular form the basis for regulations in the majority of countries worldwide . In the frequency range above 6 GHz and up to 300 GHz the ICNIRP guidelines prevent excessive heating at the surface of the skin and in the eye.
Although not as extensively studied as RF fields at lower frequencies, a number of studies have investigated the effects of RF fields at frequencies above 6 GHz. Previous reviews have reported studies investigating frequencies above 6 GHz that show effects although many of the reported effects occurred at levels greater than the ICNIRP guidelines [1, 8]. Given the public concern over the planned roll-out of 5 G using millimetre waves, it is important to determine whether there are any related adverse health consequences at levels encountered in the environment. The aim of this paper is to present a state-of-the-science review of the bioeffects research into RF fields above 6 GHz at low levels of exposure (exposure below the occupational limits of the ICNIRP guidelines). A meta-analysis of in vitro and in vivo studies, providing quantitative effect estimates for each study, is presented separately in a companion paper .
The state-of-the-science review included a comprehensive search of all available literature and examined the extent, range and nature of evidence into the bioeffects of RF fields above 6 GHz, at levels below the ICNIRP occupational limits. The review consisted of biomedical studies on low-level RF electromagnetic fields from 6 GHz to 300 GHz published at any starting date up to December 2019. Studies were initially found by searching the databases PubMed, EMF-Portal, Google Scholar, Embase and Web of Science using the search terms “millimeter wave”, “millimetre wave”, “gigahertz”, “GHz” and “radar”. We further searched major reviews published by health authorities on RF and health [2, 3, 10, 11]. Finally, we searched the reference list of all the studies included. Studies were only included if the full paper was available in English.
Although over 300 studies were considered, this review was limited to experimental studies (in vitro, in vivo, human) where the stated RF exposure level was at or below the occupational whole-body limits specified by the ICNIRP (2020) guidelines: power density (PD) reference level of 50 W/m2 or specific absorption rate (SAR) basic restriction of 0.4 W/kg. Since the PD occupational limits for local exposure are more relevant to in vitro studies, and since these limits are higher, we have included those studies with PD up to 100–200 W/m2, depending on frequency. The review included studies below the ICNIRP general public limits that are lower than the occupational limits.
The review also included epidemiological studies (cohort, case-control, cross-sectional) investigating exposure to radar but excluded studies where the stated radar frequencies were below 6 GHz. Epidemiological studies on radar were included as they represent occupational exposure below the ICNIRP guidelines. Case reports or case series were excluded. Studies investigating therapeutical outcomes were also excluded unless they reported specific bio-effects.
The state-of-the-science review appraised the quality of the included studies, but unlike a systematic review it did not exclude any studies based on quality. The review also identified gaps in knowledge for future investigation and research. The reporting of results in this paper is narrative with tabular accompaniment showing study characteristics. In this paper, the acronym “MMWs” (or millimetre waves) is used to denote RF fields above 6 GHz.
The review included 107 experimental studies (91 in vitro, 15 in vivo, and 1 human) that investigated various bioeffects, including genotoxicity, cell proliferation, gene expression, cell signalling, membrane function and other effects. The exposure characteristics and biological system investigated in experimental studies for the various bioeffects are shown in Tables 1–6. The results of the meta-analysis of the in vitro and in vivo studies are presented separately in Wood et al. .
Table 2 Experimental studies investigating low-level RF fields above 6 GHz and cell proliferation.
Studies have examined the effects of exposing whole human or mouse blood samples or lymphocytes and leucocytes to low-level MMWs to determine possible genotoxicity. Some of the genotoxicity studies have looked at the possible effects of MMWs on chromosome aberrations [12,13,14]. At exposure levels below the ICNIRP limits, the results have been inconsistent, with either a statistically significant increase  or no significant increase [12, 13] in chromosome aberrations.
MMWs do not penetrate past the skin therefore epithelial and skin cells have been a common model of examination for possible genotoxic effects. DNA damage in a number of epithelial and skin cell types and at varied exposure parameters both below and above the ICNIRP limits have been examined using comet assays [15,16,17,18,19]. Despite the varied exposure models and methods used, no statistically significant evidence of DNA damage was identified in these studies. Evidence of genotoxic damage was further assessed in skin cells by the occurrence of micro-nucleation. De Amicis et al.  and Franchini et al.  reported a statistically significant increase in micro-nucleation, however, Hintzsche et al.  and Koyama et al. [16, 17] did not find an effect. Two of the studies also examined telomere length and found no statistically significant difference between exposed and unexposed cells [15, 19]. Last, a Ukrainian research group examined different skin cell types in three studies and reported an increase in chromosome condensation in the nucleus [20,21,22]; these results have not been independently verified. Overall, there was no confirmed evidence of MMWs causing genotoxic damage in epithelial and skin cells.
Three studies from an Indian research group have examined indicators of DNA damage and reactive oxygen species (ROS) production in rats exposed in vivo to MMWs. The studies reported DNA strand breaks based on evidence from comet assays [23, 24] and changes in enzymes that control the build-up of ROS . Kumar et al. also reported an increase in ROS production . All the studies from this research group had low animal numbers (six animals exposed) and their results have not been independently replicated. An in vitro study that investigated ROS production in yeast cultures reported an increase in free radicals exposed to high-level but not low-level MMWs .
Other studies have looked at the effect of low-level MMWs on DNA in a range of different ways. Two studies reported that MMWs induce colicin synthesis and prophage induction in bacterial cells, both of which are suggested as indicative of DNA damage [27, 28]. Another study suggested that DNA exposed to MMWs undergoes polymerase chain reaction synthesis differently than unexposed DNA , although no statistical analysis was presented. Hintzsche et al. reported statistically significant occurrence of spindle disturbance in hybrid cells exposed to MMWs . Zeni et al. found no evidence of DNA damage or alteration of cell cycle kinetics in blood cells exposed to MMWs . Last, two studies from a Russian research group examined the protective effects of MMWs where mouse blood leukocytes were pre-exposed to low-level MMWs and then to X-rays [32, 33]. The studies reported that there was statistically significant less DNA damage in the leucocytes that were pre-exposed to MMWs than those exposed to X-rays alone. Overall, these studies had no independent replication.
A number of studies have examined the effects of low-level MMWs on cell proliferation and they have used a variety of cellular models and methods of investigation. Studies have exposed bacterial cells to low-level MMWs alone or in conjunction with other agents. Two early studies reported changes in the growth rate of E. coli cultures exposed to low-level MMWs; however, both of these studies were preliminary in nature without appropriate dosimetry or statistical analysis [34, 35]. Two studies exposed E. coli cultures and one study exposed yeast cell cultures to MMWs alone, and before and after UVC exposure [36,37,38]. All three studies reported that MMWs alone had no significant effect on bacterial cell proliferation or survival. Rojavin et al., however, did report that when E. coli bacteria were exposed to MMWs after UVC sterilisation treatment, there was an increase in their survival rate . The authors suggested this could be due to the MMW activation of bacterial DNA repair mechanisms. Other studies by an Armenian research group reported a reduction in E. coli cell growth when exposed to MMWs [39,40,41,42,43,44,45]. These studies reported that when E.coli cultures were exposed to MMWs in the presence of antibiotics, there was a greater reduction in the bacterial growth rate and an increase in the time between bacterial cell division compared with antibiotics exposure alone. Two of these studies investigated if these effects could be due to a reduction in the activity of the E. coli ATPase when exposed to MMWs. The studies reported exposure to MMWs in combination with particular antibiotics changed the concentration of H+ and K+ ions in the E.coli cells, which the authors linked to changes in ATPase activity [43, 44]. Overall, the results from studies on cell proliferation of bacterial cells have been inconsistent with different research groups reporting conflicting results.
Studies have also examined how exposure to low-level MMWs could affect cell proliferation in yeast. Two early studies by a German research group reported changes in yeast cell growth [46, 47]. However, another two independent studies did not report any changes in the growth rate of exposed yeast [48, 49]. Furia et al.  noted that the Grundler and Keilmann studies [46, 47] had a number of methodical issues, which may have skewed their results, such as poor exposure control and analysis of results. Another study exposed yeast to MMWs before and after UVC exposure and reported that MMWs did not change the rates of cell survival .
Studies have also examined the possible effect of low-level MMWs on tumour cells with some studies reporting a possible anti-proliferative effect. Chidichimo et al. reported a reduction in the growth of a variety of tumour cells exposed to MMWs; however, the results of the study did not support this conclusion . An Italian research group published a number of studies investigating proliferation effects on human melanoma cell lines with conflicting results. Two of the studies reported reduced growth rate [51, 52] and a third study showed no change in proliferation or in the cell cycle . Beneduci et al. also reported changes in the morphology of MMW exposed cells; however, the authors did not present quantitative data for these reported changes [51, 52]. In another study by the same Italian group, Beneduci et al. reported that exposure to low-level MMWs had a greater than 40% reduction in the number of viable erythromyeloid leukaemia cells compared with controls; however, there was no significant change in the number of dead cells . More recently, Yaekashiwa et al. reported no statistically significant effect in proliferation or cellular activity in glioblastoma cells exposed to low-level MMWs .
Some studies have investigated whether low-level MMWs can influence gene expression. Le Queument et al. examined a multitude of genes using microarray analyses and reported transient expression changes in five of them. However, the authors concluded that these results were extremely minor, especially when compared with studies using microarrays to study known pollutants . Studies by a French research group have examined the effect of MMWs on stress sensitive genes, stress sensitive gene promotors and chaperone proteins in human glial cell lines. In two studies, glial cells were exposed to low-level MMWs and there was no observed modification in the expression of stress sensitive gene promotors when compared with sham exposed cells [59,60,61]. Further, glial cells were examined for the expression of the chaperone protein clusterin (CLU) and heat shock protein HSP70. These proteins are activated in times of cellular stress to maintain protein functions and help with the repair process . There was no observed modification in gene expression of the chaperone proteins. Other studies have examined the endoplasmic reticulum of glial cells exposed to MMWs [62, 63]. The endoplasmic reticulum is the site of synthesis and folding of secreted proteins and has been shown to be sensitive to environmental insults . The authors reported that there was no elevation in mRNA expression levels of endoplasmic reticulum specific chaperone proteins. Studies of stress sensitive genes in glial cells have consistently shown no modification due to low-level MMW exposure [59,60,61,62,63].
Belyaev and co-authors have studied a possible resonance effect of low-level MMWs primarily on Escherichia Coli (E. coli) cells and cultures. The Belyaev research group reported that the resonance effect of MMWs can change the conformation state of chromosomal DNA complexes [64,65,66,67,68,69,70,71,72,73,74]; however, most of these experiments were not temperature controlled. This resonance effect was not supported by earlier experiments on a number of different cell types conducted by Gandhi et al. and Bush et al. [75, 76].
The results of Belyaev and co-workers have primarily been based on evidence from the anomalous viscosity time dependence (AVTD) method . The research group argued that changes in the AVTD curve can indicate changes to the DNA conformation state and DNA-protein bonds. Belyaev and co-workers have reported in a number of studies that differences in the AVTD curve were dependent on several parameter including MMW characteristics (frequency, exposure level, and polarisation), cellular concentration and cell growth rate [69, 71,72,73,74]. In some of the Belyaev studies E. coli were pre-exposed to X-rays, which was reported to change the AVTD curve; however, if the cells were then exposed to MMWs there was no longer a change in the AVTD curve [64,65,66,67]. The authors suggested that exposure to MMWs increased the rate of recovery in bacterial cells previously exposed to ionising radiation. The Belyaev group also used rat thymocytes in another study and they concluded that the results closely paralleled those found in E. coli cells . The studies on the DNA conformation state change relied heavily on the AVTD method that has only been used by the Balyaev group and has not been independently validated .
Cell signalling and electrical activity
Studies examining effects of low-level MMWs on cell signalling have mainly involved MMW exposure to nervous system tissue of various animals. An in vivo study on rats recorded extracellular background electrical spike activity from neurons in the supraoptic nucleus of the hypothalamus after MMW exposure . The study reported that there were changes in inter-spike interval and spike activity in the cells of exposed animals when compared with controls. There was also a mixture of significant shifts in neuron population proportions and spike frequency. The effect on the regularity of neuron spike activity was greater at higher frequencies. An in vitro study on rat cortical tissue slices reported that neuron firing rates decreased in half of the samples exposed to low-level MMWs . The width of the signals was also decreased but all effects were short lived. The observed changes were not consistent between the two studies, but this could be a consequence of different brain regions being studied.
In vitro experiments by a Japanese research group conducted on crayfish exposed the dissected optical components and brain to MMWs [81, 82]. Munemori and Ikeda reported that there was no significant change in the inter-spike intervals or amplitude of spontaneous discharges . However, there was a change in the distribution of inter-spike intervals where the initial standard deviation decreased and then restored in a short time to a rhythm comparable to the control. A follow-up study on the same tissues and a wide range of exposure levels (many above the ICNIRP limits) reported similar results with the distribution of spike intervals decreasing with increasing exposure level . These results on action potentials in crayfish tissue have not been independently investigated.
Mixed results were reported in experiments conducted by a US research group on sciatic frog nerve preparations. These studies applied electrical stimulation to the nerve and examined the effect of MMWs on the compound action potentials (CAPs) conductivity through the neurological tissue fibre. Pakhomov et al. found a reduction in CAP latency accompanied by an amplitude increase for MMWs above the ICNIRP limits but not for low-level MMWs . However, in two follow-up studies, Pakhomov et al. reported that the attenuation in amplitude of test CAPs caused by high-rate stimulus was significantly reduced to the same magnitude at various MMW exposure levels [84, 85]. In all of these studies, the observed effect on the CAPs was temporal and reversible, but there were implications of a frequency specific resonance interaction with the nervous tissue. These results on action potentials in frog sciatic nerves have not been investigated by others.
Other common experimental systems involved low-level MMW exposure to isolated ganglia of leeches. Pikov and Siegel reported that there was a decrease in the firing rate in one of the tested neurons and, through the measurement of input resistance in an inserted electrode, there was a transient dose-dependent change in membrane permeability . However, Romanenko et al. found that low-level MMWs did not cause suppression of neuron firing rate . Further experiments by Romanenko et al. reported that MMWs at the ICNIRP public exposure limit and above reported similar action potential firing rate suppression . Significant differences were reported between MMW effects and effects due to an equivalent rise in temperature caused by heating the bathing solution by conventional means.
Studies examining membrane interactions with low-level MMWs have all been conducted at frequencies above 40 GHz in in vitro experiments. A number of studies investigated membrane phase transitions involving exposure to a range of phospholipid vesicles prepared to mimic biological cell membranes. One group of studies by an Italian research group reported effects on membrane hydration dynamics and phase transition [89,90,91]. Observations included transition delays from the gel to liquid phase or vice versa when compared with sham exposures maintained at the same temperature; the effect was reversed after exposure. These reported changes remain unconfirmed by independent groups.
A number of studies investigated membrane permeability. One study focussed on Ca2+ activated K+ channels on the membrane surface of cultured kidney cells of African Green Marmosets . The study reported modifications to the Hill coefficient and apparent affinity of the Ca2+ by the K+ channels. Another study reported that the effectiveness of a chemical to supress membrane permeability in the gap junction was transiently reduced when the cells were exposed to MMWs [93, 94]. Two studies by one research group reported increases in the movement of molecules into skin cells during MMW exposure and suggested this indicates increased cell membrane permeability [21, 91]. Permeability changes based on membrane pressure differences were also investigated in relation to phospholipid organisation . Although there was no evidence of effects on phospholipid organisation on exposed model membranes, the authors reported a measurable difference in membrane pressure at low exposure levels. Another study reported neuron shrinkage and dehydration of brain tissues . The study reported this was due to influences of low-level MMWs on the cellular bathing medium and intracellular water. Further, the authors suggested this influence of MMWs may have led to formation of unknown messengers, which are able to modulate brain cell hydration. A study using an artificial axon system consisting of a network of cells containing aqueous phospholipid vesicles reported permeability changes with exposure to MMWs by measuring K+ efflux . In this case, the authors emphasised limitations in applying this model to processes within a living organism. The varied effects of low-level MMWs on membrane permeability lack replication.
Other studies have examined the shape or size of vesicles to determine possible effects on membrane permeability. Ramundo-Orlando et al., reported effects on the shape of giant unilamellar vesicles (GUVs), specifically elongation, attributed to permeability changes . However, another study reported that only smaller diameter vesicles demonstrated a statistically significant change when exposed to MMWs . A study by Cosentino et al. examined the effect of MMWs on the size distributions of both large unilamellar vesicles (LUVs) and GUVs in in vitro preparations . It was reported that size distribution was only affected when the vesicles were under osmotic stress, resulting in a statistically significant reduction in their size. In this case, the effect was attributed to dehydration as a result of membrane permeability changes. There is, generally, lack of replication on physical changes to phospholipid vesicles due to low-level MMWs.
Studies on E. coli and E. hirae cultures have reported resonance effects on membrane proteins and phospholipid constituents or within the media suspension [39,40,41,42]. These studies observed cell proliferation effects such as changes to cell growth rate, viability and lag phase duration. These effects were reported to be more pronounced at specific MMW frequencies. The authors suggested this could be due to a resonance effect on the cell membrane or the suspension medium. Torgomyan et al. and Hovnanyan et al. reported similar changes to proliferation that they attributed to changes in membrane permeability from MMW exposure [43, 45]. These experiments were all conducted by an Armenian research group and have not been replicated by others.
A number of studies have reported on the experimental results of other effects. Reproductive effects were examined in three studies on mice, rats and human spermatozoa. An in vivo study on mice exposed to low-level MMWs reported that spermatogonial cells had significantly more metaphase translocation disturbances than controls and an increased number of cells with unpaired chromosomes . Another in vivo study on rats reported increased morphological abnormalities to spermatozoa following exposure, however, there was no statistical analysis presented . Conversely, an in vitro study on human spermatozoa reported that there was an increase in motility after a short time of exposure to MMWs with no changes in membrane integrity and no generation of apoptosis . All three of these studies looked at different effects on spermatozoa making it difficult to make an overall conclusion. A further two studies exposed rats to MMWs and examined their sperm for indicators of ROS production. One study reported both increases and decreases in enzymes that control the build-up of ROS . The other study reported a decrease in the activity of histone kinase and an increase in ROS . Both studies had low animal numbers (six animals exposed) and these results have not been independently replicated.
Immune function was also examined in a limited number of studies focussing on the effects of low-level MMWs on antigens and antibody systems. Three studies by a Russian research group that exposed neutrophils to MMWs reported frequency dependant changes in ROS production [106,107,108]. Another study reported a statistically significant decrease in antigen binding to antibodies when exposed to MMWs ; the study also reported that exposure decreased the stability of previously formed antigen–antibody complexes.
The effect on fatty acid composition in mice exposed to MMWs has been examined by a Russian research group using a number of experimental methods [110,111,112]. One study that exposed mice afflicted with an inflammatory condition to low-level MMWs reported no change in the fatty acid concentrations in the blood plasma. However, there was a significant increase in the omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid content of the thymus . Another study exposed tumour-bearing mice and reported that monounsaturated fatty acids decreased and polyunsaturated fatty acids increased in both the thymus and tumour tissue. These changes resulted in fatty acid composition of the thymus tissue more closely resembling that of the healthy control animals . The authors also examined the effect of exposure to X-rays of healthy mice, which was reported to reduce the total weight of the thymus. However, when the thymus was exposed to MMWs before or after exposure to X-rays, the fatty acid content was restored and was no longer significantly different from controls . Overall, the authors reported a potential protective effect of MMWs on the recovery of fatty acids, however, all the results came from the same research group with a lack of replication from others.
Physiological effects were examined by a study conducted on mice exposed to WWMs to assess the safety of police radar . The authors reported no statistically significant changes in the physiological parameters tested, which included body mass and temperature, peripheral blood and the mass and cellular composition, and number of cells in several important organs. Another study exposing human volunteers to low-level MMWs specifically examined cardiovascular function of exposed and sham exposed groups by electrocardiogram (ECG) and atrioventricular conduction velocity derivation . This study reported that there were no significant differences in the physiological indicators assessed in test subjects.
Other individual studies have looked at various other effects. An early study reported differences in the attenuation of MMWs at specific frequencies in healthy and tumour cells . Another early study reported no effect in the morphology of BHK-21/C13 cell cultures when exposed to low-level MMWs; the study did report morphological changes at higher levels, which were related to heating . One study examined whether low-level MMWs induced cancer promotion in leukaemia and Lewis tumour cell grafted mice. The study reported no statistically significant growth promotion in either of the grafted cancer cell types . Another study looked at the activity of gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase enzyme in rats after treatment with hydrocortisone and exposure to MMWs . The study reported no effects at exposures below the ICNIRP limit, however, at levels above authors reported a range of effects. Another study exposed saline liquid solutions to continuous low and high level MMWs and reported temperature oscillations within the liquid medium but lacked a statistical analysis . Another study reported that low-level MMWs decrease the mobility of the protozoa S. ambiguum offspring . None of the reported effects in all of these other studies have been investigated elsewhere.
There are no epidemiological studies that have directly investigated 5 G and potential health effects. There are however epidemiological studies that have looked at occupational exposure to radar, which could potentially include the frequency range from 6 to 300 GHz. Epidemiological studies on radar were included as they represent occupational exposure below the ICNIRP guidelines. The review included 31 epidemiological studies (8 cohort, 13 case-control, 9 cross-sectional and 1 meta-analysis) that investigated exposure to radar and various health outcomes including cancer at different sites, effects on reproduction and other diseases. The risk estimates as well as limitations of the epidemiological studies are shown in Table 7.
Three large cohort studies investigated mortality in military personnel with potential exposure to MMWs from radar. Studies reporting on over 40-year follow-up of US navy veterans of the Korean War found that radar exposure had little effect on all-cause or cancer mortality with the second study reporting risk estimates below unity [121, 122]. Similarly, in a 40-year follow-up of Belgian military radar operators, there was no statistically significant increase in all-cause mortality [123, 124]; the study did, however, find a small increase in cancer mortality. More recently in a 25-year follow-up of military personnel who served in the French Navy, there was no increase in all-cause or cancer mortality for personnel exposed to radar . The main limitation in the cohort studies was the lack of individual levels of RF exposure with most studies based on job-title. Comparisons were made between occupations with presumed high exposure to RF fields and other occupations with presumed lower exposure. This type of non-differential misclassification in dichotomous exposure assessment is associated mostly with an effect measure biased towards a null effect if there is a true effect of RF fields. If there is no true effect of RF fields, non-differential exposure misclassification will not bias the effect estimate (which will be close to the null value, but may vary because of random error). The military personnel in these studies were compared with the general population and this ‘healthy worker effect’ presents possible bias since military personnel are on average in better health than the general population; the healthy worker effect tends to underestimate the risk. The cohort studies also lacked information on possible confounding factors including other occupational exposures such as chemicals and lifestyle factors such as smoking.
Several epidemiological studies have specifically investigated radar exposure and testicular cancer. In a case-control study where most of the subjects were selected from military hospitals in Washington DC, USA, Hayes et al. found no increased risk between exposure to radar and testicular cancer ; exposure to radar was self-reported and thus subject to misclassification. In this study, the misclassification was likely non-differential, biasing the result towards the null. Davis and Mostofi reported a cluster of testicular cancer within a small cohort of 340 police officers in Washington State (USA) where the cases routinely used handheld traffic radar guns ; however, exposure was not assessed for the full cohort, which may have overestimated the risk. In a population-based case-control study conducted in Sweden, Hardell et al. did not find a statistically significant association between radar work and testicular cancer; however, the result was based on only five radar workers questioning the validity of this result . In a larger population-based case control study in Germany, Baumgardt-Elms et al. also reported no association between working near radar units (both self-reported and expert assessed) and testicular cancer ; a limitation of this study was the low participation of identified controls (57%), however, there was no difference compared with the characteristics of the cases so selection bias was unlikely. In the cohort study of US navy veterans previously mentioned exposure to radar was not associated with testicular cancer ; the limitations of this cohort study mentioned earlier may have underestimated the risk. Finally, in a hospital-based case-control study in France, radar workers were also not associated with risk of testicular cancer ; a limitation was the low participation of controls (37%) with a difference in education level between participating and non-participating controls, which may have underestimated this result.
A limited number of studies have investigated radar exposure and brain cancer. In a nested case-control study within a cohort of male US Air Force personnel, Grayson reported a small association between brain cancer and RF exposure, which included radar ; no potential confounders were included in the analysis, which may have overestimated the result. However, in a case-control study of personnel in the Brazilian Navy, Santana et al. reported no association between naval occupations likely to be exposed to radar and brain cancer ; the small number of cases and lack of diagnosis confirmation may have biased the results towards the null. All of the cohort studies on military personnel previously mentioned also examined brain cancer mortality and found no association with exposure to radar [122, 124, 125].
A limited number of studies have investigated radar exposure and ocular cancer. Holly et al. in a population-based case-control study in the US reported an association between self-reported exposure to radar or microwaves and uveal melanoma ; the study investigated many different exposures and the result is prone to multiple testing. In another case-control study, which used both hospital and population controls, Stang et al. did not find an association between self-reported exposure to radar and uveal melanoma ; a high non-response in the population controls (52%) and exposure misclassification may have underestimated this result. The cohort studies of the Belgian military and French navy also found no association between exposure to radar and ocular cancer [124, 125].
A few other studies have examined the potential association between radar and other cancers. In a hospital-based case-control study in Italy, La Vecchia investigated 14 occupational agents and risk of bladder cancer and found no association with radar, although no risk estimate was reported ; non-differential self-reporting of exposure may have underestimated this finding if there is a true effect. Finkelstein found an increased risk for melanoma in a large cohort of Ontario police officers exposed to traffic radar and followed for 31 years ; there was significant loss to follow up which may have biased this result in either direction. Finkelstein found no statistically significant associations with other types of cancer and the study reported a statistically significant risk estimate just below unity for all cancers, which is reflective of the healthy worker effect . In a large population-based case-control study in France, Fabbro-Peray et al. investigated a large number of occupational and environmental risk factors in relation to non-Hodgkin lymphoma and found no association with radar operators based on job-title; however, the result was based on a small number of radar operators . The cohort studies on military personnel did not find statistically significant associations between exposure to radar and other cancers [122, 124, 125].
Variani et al. conducted a recent systematic review and meta-analysis investigating occupational exposure to radar and cancer risk . The meta-analysis included three cohort studies [122, 124, 125] and three case-control studies [129,130,131] for a total sample size of 53,000 subjects. The meta-analysis reported a decrease in cancer risk for workers exposed to radar but noted the small number of studies included with significant heterogeneity between the studies.
Apart from cancer, a number of epidemiological studies have investigated radar exposure and reproductive outcomes. Two early studies on military personnel in the US  and Denmark  reported differences in semen parameters between personnel using radar and personnel on other duty assignments; these studies included only volunteers with potential fertility concerns and are prone to bias. A further volunteer study on US military personnel did not find a difference in semen parameters in a similar comparison ; in general these type of cross-sectional investigations on volunteers provide limited evidence on possible risk. In a case-control study of personnel in the French military, Velez de la Calle et al. reported no association between exposure to radar and male infertility ; non-differential self-reporting of exposure may have underestimated this finding if there is a true effect. In two separate cross-sectional studies of personnel in the Norwegian navy, Baste et al. and Møllerløkken et al. reported an association between exposure to radar and male infertility, but there has been no follow up cohort or case control studies to confirm these results [143, 144].
Again considering reproduction, a number of studies investigated pregnancy and offspring outcomes. In a population-based case-control study conducted in the US and Canada, De Roos et al. found no statistically significant association between parental occupational exposure to radar and neuroblastoma in offspring; however, the result was based on a small number of cases and controls exposed to radar . In another cross-sectional study of the Norwegian navy, Mageroy et al. reported a higher risk of congenital anomalies in the offspring of personnel who were exposed to radar; the study found positive associations with a large number of other chemical and physical exposures, but the study involved multiple comparisons so is prone to over-interpretation . Finally, a number of pregnancy outcomes were investigated in a cohort study of Norwegian navy personnel enlisted between 1950 and 2004 . The study reported an increase in perinatal mortality for parental service aboard fast patrol boats during a short period (3 months); exposure to radar was one of many possible exposures when serving on fast patrol boats and the result is prone to multiple testing. No associations were found between long-term exposure and any pregnancy outcomes.
There is limited research investigating exposure to radar and other diseases. In a large case-control study of US military veterans investigating a range of risk factors and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Beard et al. did not find a statistically significant association with radar ; the study reported a likely under-ascertainment of non-exposed cases, which may have biased the result away from the null. The cohort studies on military personnel did not find statistically significant associations between exposure to radar and other diseases [122, 124, 125].
A number of observational studies have investigated outcomes measured on volunteers in the laboratory. They are categorised as epidemiological studies because exposure to radar was not based on provocation. These studies investigated genotoxicity , oxidative stress , cognitive effects  and endocrine function ; the studies generally reported positive associations with radar. These volunteer studies did not sample from a defined population and are prone to bias 
The experimental studies investigating exposure to MMWs at levels below the ICNIRP occupational limits have looked at a variety of biological effects. Genotoxicity was mainly examined by using comet assays of exposed cells. This approach has consistently found no evidence of DNA damage in skin cells in well-designed studies. However, animal studies conducted by one research group reported DNA strand breaks and changes in enzymes that control the build-up of ROS, noting that these studies had low animal numbers (six animals exposed); these results have not been independently replicated. Studies have also investigated other indications of genotoxicity including chromosome aberrations, micro-nucleation and spindle disturbances. The methods used to investigate these indicators have generally been rigorous; however, the studies have reported contradictory results. Two studies by a Russian research group have also reported indicators of DNA damage in bacteria, however, these results have not been verified by other investigators.
The studies of the effect of MMWs on cell proliferation primarily focused on bacteria, yeast cells and tumour cells. Studies of bacteria were mainly from an Armenian research group that reported a reduction in the bacterial growth rate of exposed E. coli cells at different MMW frequencies; however, the studies suffered from inadequate dosimetry and temperature control and heating due to high RF energy deposition may have contributed to the results. Other authors have reported no effect of MMWs on E. coli cell growth rate. The results on cell proliferation of yeast exposed to MMWs were also contradictory. An Italian research group that has conducted the majority of the studies on tumour cells reported either a reduction or no change in the proliferation of exposed cells; however, these studies also suffered from inadequate dosimetry and temperature control.
The studies on gene expression mainly examined two different indicators, expression of stress sensitive genes and chaperone proteins and the occurrence of a resonance effect in cells to explain DNA conformation state changes. Most studies reported no effect of low-level MMWs on the expression of stress sensitive genes or chaperone proteins using a range of experimental methods to confirm these results; noting that these studies did not use blinding so experimental bias cannot be excluded from the results. A number of studies from a Russian research group reported a resonance effect of MMWs, which they propose can change the conformation state of chromosomal DNA complexes. Their results relied heavily on the AVTD method for testing changes in the DNA conformation state, however, the biological relevance of results obtained through the AVTD method has not been independently validated.
Studies on cell signalling and electrical activity reported a range of different outcomes including increases or decreases in signal amplitude and changes in signal rhythm, with no consistent effect noting the lack of blinding in most of the studies. Further, temperature contributions could not be eliminated from the studies and in some cases thermal interactions by conventional heating were studied and found to differ from the MMW effects. The results from some studies were based on small sample sizes, some being confined to a single specimen, or by observed effects only occurring in a small number of the samples tested. Overall, the reported electrical activity effects could not be dismissed as being within normal variability. This is indicated by studies reporting the restoration of normal function within a short time during ongoing exposure. In this case there is no implication of an expected negative health outcome.
Studies on membrane effects examined changes in membrane properties and permeability. Some studies observed changes in transitions from liquid to gel phase or vice versa and the authors implied that MMWs influenced cell hydration, however the statistical methods used in these studies were not described so it is difficult to examine the validity of these results. Other studies observing membrane properties in artificial cell suspensions and dissected tissue reported changes in vesicle shape, reduced cell volume and morphological changes although most of these studies suffered from various methodological problems including poor temperature control and no blinding. Experiments on bacteria and yeast were conducted by the same research group reporting changes in membrane permeability, which was attributed to cell proliferation effects, however, the studies suffered from inadequate dosimetry and temperature control. Overall, although there were a variety of membrane bioeffects reported, these have not been independently replicated.
The limited number of studies on a number of other effects from exposure to MMWs below the ICNIRP limits generally reported little to no consistent effects. The single in vivo study on cancer promotion did not find an effect although the study did not include sham controls. Effects on reproduction were contradictory that may have been influenced by opposing objectives of examining adverse health effects or infertility treatment. Further, the only study on human sperm found no effects of low-level MMWs. The studies on reproduction suffered from inadequate dosimetry and temperature control, and since sperm is sensitive to temperature, the effect of heating due to high RF energy deposition may have contributed to the studies showing an effect. A number of studies from two research groups reported effects on ROS production in relation to reproduction and immune function; the in vivo studies had low animal numbers (six animals per exposure) and the in vitro studies generally had inadequate dosimetry and temperature control. Studies on fatty acid composition and physiological indicators did not generally show any effects; poor temperature control was also a problem in the majority of these studies. A number of other studies investigating various other biological effects reported mixed results.
Although a range of bioeffects have been reported in many of the experimental studies, the results were generally not independently reproduced. Approximately half of the studies were from just five laboratories and several studies represented a collaboration between one or more laboratories. The exposure characteristics varied considerably among the different studies with studies showing the highest effect size clustered around a PD of approximately 1 W/m2. The meta-analysis of the experimental studies in our companion paper  showed that there was no dose-response relationship between the exposure (either PD or SAR) and the effect size. In fact, studies with a higher exposure tended to show a lower effect size, which is counterfactual. Most of the studies showing a large effect size were conducted in the frequency range around 40–55 GHz, representing investigations into the use of MMWs for therapeutic purposes, rather than deleterious health consequences. Future experimental research would benefit from investigating bioeffects at the specific frequency range of the next stage of the 5 G network roll-out in the range 26–28 GHz. Mobile communications beyond the 5 G network plan to use frequencies higher than 30 GHz so research across the MMW band is relevant.
An investigation into the methods of the experimental studies showed that the majority of studies were lacking in a number of quality criteria including proper attention to dosimetry, incorporating positive controls, using blind evaluation or accurately measuring or controlling the temperature of the biological system being tested. Our meta-analysis showed that the bulk of the studies had a quality score lower than 2 out of a possible 5, with only one study achieving a maximum quality score of 5 . The meta-analysis further showed that studies with a low quality score were more likely to show a greater effect. Future research should pay careful attention to the experimental design to reduce possible sources of artefact.
The experimental studies included in this review reported PDs below the ICNIRP exposure limits. Many of the authors suggested that the resulting biological effects may be related to non-thermal mechanisms. However, as is shown in our meta-analysis, data from these studies should be treated with caution because the estimated SAR values in many of the studies were much higher than the ICNIRP SAR limits . SAR values much higher than the ICNIRP guidelines are certainly capable of producing significant temperature rise and are far beyond the levels expected for 5 G telecommunication devices . Future research into the low-level effects of MMWs should pay particular attention to appropriate temperature control in order to avoid possible heating effects.
Although a systematic review of experimental studies was not conducted, this paper presents a critical appraisal of study design and quality of all available studies into the bioeffects of low level MMWs. The conclusions from the review of experimental studies are supported by a meta-analysis in our companion paper . Given the low-quality methods of the majority of the experimental studies we infer that a systematic review of different bioeffects is not possible at present. Our review includes recommendations for future experimental research. A search of the available literature showed a further 44 non-English papers that were not included in our review. Although the non-English papers may have some important results it is noted that the majority are from research groups that have published English papers that are included in our review.
The epidemiological studies on MMW exposure from radar that has a similar frequency range to that of 5 G and exposure levels below the ICNIRP occupational limits in most situations, provided little evidence of an association with any adverse health effects. Only a small number of studies reported positive associations with various methodological issues such as risk of bias, confounding and multiple testing questioning the result. The three large cohort studies of military personnel exposed to radar in particular did not generally show an association with cancer or other diseases. A key concern across all the epidemiological studies was the quality of exposure assessment. Various challenges such as variability in complex occupational environments that also include other co-exposures, retrospective estimation of exposure and an appropriate exposure metric remain central in studies of this nature . Exposure in most of the epidemiological studies was self-reported or based on job-title, which may not necessarily be an adequate proxy for exposure to RF fields above 6 GHz. Some studies improved on exposure assessment by using expert assessment and job-exposure matrices, however, the possibility of exposure misclassification is not eliminated. Another limitation in many of the studies was the poor assessment of possible confounding including other occupational exposures and lifestyle factors. It should also be noted that close proximity to certain very powerful radar units could have exceeded the ICNIRP occupational limits, therefore the reported effects especially related to reproductive outcomes could potentially be related to heating.
Given that wireless communications have only recently started to use RF frequencies above 6 GHz there are no epidemiological studies investigating 5 G directly as yet. Some previous epidemiological studies have reported a possible weak association between mobile phone use (from older networks using frequencies below 6 GHz) and brain cancer . However, methodological limitations in these studies prevent conclusions of causality being drawn from the observations . Recent investigations have not shown an increase in the incidence of brain cancer in the population that can be attributed to mobile phone use [154, 155]. Future epidemiological research should continue to monitor long-term health effects in the population related to wireless telecommunications.
The review of experimental studies provided no confirmed evidence that low-level MMWs are associated with biological effects relevant to human health. Many of the studies reporting effects came from the same research groups and the results have not been independently reproduced. The majority of the studies employed low quality methods of exposure assessment and control so the possibility of experimental artefact cannot be excluded. Further, many of the effects reported may have been related to heating from high RF energy deposition so the assertion of a ‘low-level’ effect is questionable in many of the studies. Future studies into the low-level effects of MMWs should improve the experimental design with particular attention to dosimetry and temperature control. The results from epidemiological studies presented little evidence of an association between low-level MMWs and any adverse health effects. Future epidemiological research would benefit from specific investigation on the impact of 5 G and future telecommunication technologies.
5G is the newest wireless network. It provides faster mobile communication by producing higher electromagnetic frequencies.
Currently, there’s no solid evidence that 5G causes negative health effects in humans or animals. Most researchers have studied EMFs in general and found mixed results.
Though more studies are needed to understand 5G, it’s not associated with contracting SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19. 5G does not spread the new coronavirus or make you more susceptible to viral infections.
usa.kaspersky.com, “Is 5G Technology Dangerous? – Pros and Cons of 5G Network.” By Editors of Kaspersky; investigate-europe.eu. “Real 5G issues overshadowed by Covid-19 conspiracy theories.” By Ingeborg Eliassen and Paulo Pena; bbva.ch, “Advantages and disadvantages of 5G technology.” By Edgar Mondragon Tenorio; medicalnewstoday.com, “Is 5G technology bad for our health?” By Yella Hewings-Martin, PhD; nature.com, “5G mobile networks and health—a state-of-the-science review of the research into low-level RF fields above 6 GHz.” By Ken Karipidis, Rohan Mate, David Urban, Rick Tinker & Andrew Wood;
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