Is 5G technology safe? The debate intensifies

May 02, 2019 11:30 PM

NEW YORK (WHEC) -- The major cell phone companies promise 5G networks will bring faster internet speeds, better reception and the ability to connect more devices simultaneously but as they ramp up for the rollout, many are wondering whether the technology is safe.

What makes 5G different? 2G brought the ability to text message, 3G laid the groundwork for smartphones and 4G allowed video streaming. 5G is expected to download data 20 times faster and could pave the way for self-driving vehicles but a big question many have is whether the radio frequency waves it takes to do all of that are dangerous to your body and overall health.  

"There are good parts of 5G, I guess, but it has effects, side effects, so I think people should research it really," says Judi Flanders of Penfield.

Flanders currently lives within a mile of a cell phone tower and has long been concerned about how much radiation she's being exposed to but recently that concern grew when she learned Verizon is in talks with the town to upgrade its network to 5G.  

Currently, 3G and 4G service come from regular cell phone towers like the one near Flanders home but 5G works differently. Smaller base stations or antennas are installed all over the community and then networked together with the tower.  

Wireless companies expect to install about 300,000 antennas nationwide which is about equal to the number of cell towers built in the U.S. over the last 30 years. That's why carriers are knocking on the doors of our local leaders.

"We've been approached by a couple of different groups to at least start the conversation," says Penfield Town Supervisor Tony LaFountian.  

LaFountain says he's heard from residents that are worried about whether 5G radiation can cause cancer.

"You get information from the carriers to say it's safe, these are all of our studies and then of course there's an equal amount of information on the other side to say there are health concerns and health risks associated with this," he says.

Dr. David Carpenter is the director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany.

"It's too new for there to be any studies of human health and this is a big issue. Why are we rolling out this new form of electromagnetic radiation without any attention to the question of whether it's safe or not…with regard to 3G and 4G, we have absolutely definitive evidence that excessive use of cell phones, held to your ear, increases the rate of brain cancer," he tells News10NBC. 

But that's excessive, long-term use with the phone to your head. What about proximity to towers and antennas? Most public health experts seem to agree that 5G will increase the levels of RF radiation in the vicinity of the antennas.

"It means that you're not going to be able to walk down the sidewalk without being continuously irradiated," Dr. Carpenter says.  

But the wireless companies installing 5G say the radiation will be low and well within the federal government's allowable standards.

Verizon is interested in upgrading its network here in the Rochester area, so News10NBC reached out to them to ask about this issues.

In a statement, spokesman David Weissmann says, "All equipment used for 5G must comply with federal safety standards. Those standards have wide safety margins and are designed to protect everyone, including children. Everyday exposure to the radio frequency energy from 5G small cells will be well within those safety limits, and is comparable to exposure from products such as baby monitors, Wi-Fi routers, and Bluetooth devices."

The FDA and the FCC say based on the current information available, they believe the safety limits are acceptable for protecting public health. Some governments in other parts of the world disagree though. In Brussels, Belgium, the expansion to 5G has been halted until more research is done. Dr. Carpenter says he'd like the U.S. to slow down the process too.

"There are a lot of factors that go into that [determining what causes cancer] and you can never say that one person's cancer was because of this particular exposure. What we can say with great confidence is that any exposure to radio frequency radiation is going to increase your risk of developing cancer," he says.

So, what happens if you're not comfortable with 5G and don't want an antenna near your house?

You don't have many options to fight it.

The FCC has restricted the ability of cities and towns to regulate 5G infrastructure. Under new rules, local governments have tight deadlines to approve or reject installation of cellular equipment. The rules also limit how much municipalities can charge wireless carriers who to put hardware in public rights of way. The FCC also prohibits cities and towns from rejected an application solely for health concerns.  

For more information on cell phone/tower radiation click below: 

American Cancer Society

National Cancer Institute


Jennifer Lewke

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