What does 5G mean for our health?

5g mobile phone tower illustration 5G fears are rising. (Image: Sandhya Raghavan)

Recently in India, former actress Juhi Chawla tried to be at the helm of the country’s anti 5G movement, trying to educate the masses about its potential health hazards. Expectations were already set quite low, considering Chawla isn’t exactly the activist-actor; yet there was a sense of surprise when she failed at the task.

Her civil suit seeking to stop the rollout of 5G was called “defective and vexatious” by the Delhi High Court. The veteran actress was also slapped with a Rs 20 lakh penalty for “wasting the court’s time and resources.”

Her fault? The court has accused Chawla of presenting a half-baked case and milking the 5G case for “publicity.” She is also being dragged on social media as we read. If you have a strong case of schadenfreude, here’s a link you can use. 

While Chawla may be martyred at the 5G altar, it was not in vain. It got us to think about the potential health hazards of electromagnetic radiation.

What is 5G?

5G stands for fifth-generation or the latest in wireless phone technology. It was used for the first time in 2019.

5G will ensure faster mobile broadband speeds by using a higher frequency of 3.5 GHz. It’s a key factor for the Internet of Things where machines will communicate with other machines.

While it’s new to mobile phone technology, 5G has been used for a long time in other devices like point-to-point radio links and body scanners for security checks.

How does 5G affect health?

So far, the biological effects of 5G are not sufficiently investigated, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any fears.

The biggest concerns are cancer and the weakening of the immune system, especially in the age of Covid. These worries stem from the knowledge that all radiofrequency radiation (including 2G, 4G and 5G) could be “carcinogenic”, according to WHO.

5G employs millimetre waves, which has been shown to increase skin temperature, alter gene expression, promote cellular proliferation, leading to oxidative stress, cause damage to the eyes and impact the nervous and muscular system. In short, there’s some bad news.

How washing dishes became my greatest joy instead of my biggest pain

But according to World Health Organization (WHO) so far there has been no adverse health effects linked to mobile phone use. It says that research, which points towards health-related issues from the same, has been performed across the radio spectrum and not 5G alone.

WHO points out that the increase in frequency will ensure that the energy doesn’t penetrate all the way into the human body to its vital organs. The absorption stays at the surface level of the body — in the tissues of the skin and eyes.

“Provided that the overall exposure remains below international guidelines, no consequences for public health are anticipated,” it states.

WHO says that only a few studies have been carried out at the frequencies to be used by 5G. So there’s no conclusive proof.

Many believe since 5G is non-ionising, it won’t cause cellular damage to the DNA. But not everyone is on board.

In July 2019, a group of 248 scientists from 42 nations appealed to the United Nations to reconsider the effects of 4G and 5G on humans, animals and plants.

Martin Blank on electromagnetic fields and radiation:

They challenged WHO’s “conflicting” stance on electromagnetic frequency risk. While on one hand WHO classifies radiofrequency radiation as a “possible carcinogen,” the scientists blamed WHO for downplaying the effects of 5G.

Getting dads to stay indoors during the pandemic: An exercise in futility

They alleged that WHO favours guidelines by the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection, a German NGO with a chequered history promoting harmful guidelines.

It also noted that no nation has established an EMF exposure guideline that aims to protect animal and plant lives.

Nature quotes Swinburne researchers, headed by Professor  Andrew Wood, who says that the major challenge is the low power levels used in mobile and wireless telecoms.

At low levels, the most it can do is cause temperature changes in the tissues. “Picking up unambiguous biological changes is therefore very difficult,” says Professor Wood.

To sum things up, it’s too early to downplay or drum up hysteria about 5G. Right now, we should focus our concern on what cause can an uninformed celebrity bungle next.