Image: Non-ionising and ionising radiation – courtesy National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health
By Charles F. Moreira, Editor
In Part 1 of this two-part article, we debunked the notion being spread that 5G cellular technology is exclusively Huawei’s and instead is based upon a set of technologies and standards developed by the 3G Partnership Project (3Gpp), an international cellular communications standards and industry organisation of professionals, the working groups in which Huawei and many others participate in.
We also pointed out that China companies, including Huawei, 32% of 5G patents or the lions share worldwide and that China is expected to be the world’s first to deploy commercial, stand-alone 5G sites in 2020, ahead of other countries and that Huawei’s semiconductor division, HiSilicon is expected to stiff competition to U.S.-based mobile communications chip maker Qualcomm.
Thus with Huawei being ahead in 5G development, it’s not surprising that there is so much fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) being spread about Huawei, especially in the western media, by western bloggers, on social media and by western You Tube video producers.
Here in Part 2 we look at the fears about the supposed dangers of 5G frequencies to human health, especially since in order to be able to support all the various new services and devices, including Internet-of-Things (IoT), streaming video, much faster data speeds and so forth, 5G frequencies will have to operate at very much higher frequencies than current 3G, 4G and WiFi technologies.
Since such higher frequency signals have much shorter range and very much less able to penetrate into buildings and through vegetation such as trees; for it to work, 5G will require the use of a large number of distributed micro-base stations installed on lamp posts, in buildings and so forth to provide adequate coverage and this has allowed for much concern over exposure to such signals.
A long-standing issue
However, such fears about the possible cancer or tumour causing effects of cellular radiation and WiFi signals have been of concern to laypersons and the subject of ongoing debates over the risks to public health due to cellular and WiFi signals amongst professionals, including radio engineers, for over 20 years now, or since the advent of cell phones and cellular communications in the 1980s.
So far, international bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) hold that since the microwave frequencies used in cellular communication and WiFi are non-ionising, they can cause heating in human tissue but pose no risk of causing cancer or tumours.
Ionising radiation occupies the upper end of the electromagnetic spectrum beginning from higher ultraviolet frequencies of 1,000 terahertz (THz) and higher X-ray and gamma ray frequencies.
Ionising frequencies have the energy to split electrons away from their atoms, leaving behind positively charged ions which are chemically active, which when within human tissue they can potentially damage DNA and increase risks of cancer.
This is why operators of X-ray machines work from behind heavy, lead-lined shields to protect them from frequent occupational exposure to X-rays.
On the other hand, non-ionising radiation spans from zero Hertz upwards through electrical mains frequency, radio frequencies, infra-red, visible light and lower ultraviolet frequencies below 1,000THz.
Radio frequencies range from 3KHz up to 300GHZ, with the higher end from 300MHz to 300GHz being microwaves with enough photonic energy to induce a heating effect in human tissue but not enough energy to cause ionisation.
The degree of heating induced depends on the power density of the radiation and the ICNIRP has specified an upper limit to human exposure to frequencies ranging from 10 to 300GHz to a power density of 50 Watts per square metre (W/sq m) occupational exposure and 10 W/sq m for the general public.
Malaysia’s communications regulator, the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission (MCMC) bases its guidelines on ICNIRP specifications and limits exposure to 4.5 W/sq m at 900MHz frequency, 9W/ sq m at 1800MHz frequency and 10W/ sq m at 2000MHz frequency and higher.
Higher power densities are permitted for higher frequencies since lower frequencies such as 900MHz used by GSM can more deeply penetrate deeper below the skin, whilst higher frequencies such 1.8GHz used by GSM, 2.1GHz used by 3G, 2.3GHz and 2.6GHz used by 4G LTE do not penetrate far below the skin if at all.
Based on measurements at ground level, the MCMC found that average radio-frequency emission levels recorded from telecommunication transmitters in Malaysia is 0.000093W/sq m or less than 1.0% of the MCMC’s and ICNIRP’s permitted exposure levels.
Barking up the wrong tree
Also, whilst many people are concerned about exposure to radiation levels from cell towers in their vicinity, however they tend to ignore their exposure to radiation from their cell phones which they carry on their person and hold up to their ear during conversation.
Whilst the transmitted power from cellular base station antennas range from around 80 to 160W, it is spread over a large area of ground before it, ranging from points on the ground below it to several kilometres away, so the power density on the ground often is well within permitted limits.
However, in order for a cellular handset to work in two-way communications, it must transmit a signal back at sufficient power to be received by the base station and the farther it is from the base station, phones boos their transmit power accordingly and users generally hold their phone up to their ear during conversation, thus exposing their ear, head and brain to much of its transmitted power, which albeit ranges from 125mW to 2W.
A group of concerned scientists and engineers at Brightsandz Clean Technology in India have calculated that the power density of radiation from a typical cell tower is above their safe level of 1mW per sq m at up to 50 metres from the cell tower and that whilst the power density of radiation from the cell tower continues to drop exponentially with distance, the radiation from the phone rises to match that from a cell tower at a distance of just over 100 metres from the cell tower and that the radiation from the phone equals 1mW/sq m at 150 metres from the cell tower and rises exponentially the farther the phone is from the cell tower.
However, standards bodies and regulatory authorities have also defined safe limits to the power cell phones radiate in terms of specific absorption rate (SAR) of human tissue in watts per kilogramme (W/kg), since radiation from a phone held up to a user’s ear induces heating in tissue beside it such as the ear, skull and even part of the brain.
On the other hand, the transmit power of a typical WiFi access point, which operates in the unlicensed 2.4GHz frequency band, ranges between 100 to 200 mW and covers the area within and around the home or office, so if users are worried about radiation from their WiFi router then mount it about two metres above the floor at a location far enough away from end user devices such as PCs, tablets and smartphones in their home or office.
Concerns over 5G
Whilst 5G will operate at microwave frequencies up to 300GHz which is well within the non-ionising frequency range , these frequencies are very much higher than the frequencies currently used by 3G, WiFi and 4G today and there are concerns that whilst 5G frequencies are non-ionising, however there could be un-known effects on human health.
For instance, in 2017, Dr. Paul Ben-Ishai of Department of Physics, Ariel University, Israel expressed his concerns that close to frequencies ranging from 60GHz to 300GHz, 5G signals have wavelengths in the order of millimetres which are close to the dimensions of sweat ducts in our skin and this could possibly have adverse effects on our health.
Dr. Ben-Ishai conducted an experiment on students at Hebrew University, Jerusalem where he exposed the hands of students who were relaxed to frequencies of between 75GHz and 110GHz and then made then run around the campus and become sweaty, then dried and exposed their hands to the same radiation again and measured the effect and found from the reflection coefficient that their sweat ducts acted like antennas and absorbed the radiated energy, which provided him with a means to measure the students’ stress level. He published the results in a paper in 2008 before the standards for 5G were defined.
Another researcher was commissioned by the U.S. Army to explain why their 94GHz crowd dispersal gun made people run away when they were touched by its 2GW strength beam and 2 metres wide and he found that the beam made people feel that their body was on fire due to very high absorption the beam in their sweat ducts compared to the surrounding tissue.
Dr. Ben-Ishai concluded this researcher’s finding as evidence of a physical influence such 5G frequencies would have on people.
Other researchers and Dr. Ben-Ishai conducted further tests of absorption effects on other structures within skin where various levels of presence of water existed and obtained similar results pointing to the sweat ducts.
These findings were presented to cellular industry players and Dr. Ben-Ishai is concerned that they showed no interest and did not take such findings into account when developing standards for 5G.
Possible carcinogenic effects
In August 2017, Dariusz Leszcynski, Adjunct Professor of Biochemistry at the University of Helsinki, Finland told an audience at Griffith University in Brisbane Australia that with regards the effects of cellular radiation on humans, there are effects which scientists know that they know, effects which they know that they don’t know and effects which they don’t know that they don’t know, but only those effects which scientists know that they know are used to formulate policies on human health due to cellular frequency radiation.
Leszcynski had spent 22 years studying the effects of wireless radiation and nuclear safety in Finland and had advised the WHO, ICNIRP and similar national organisations and agencies.
In 2011, he was amongst 30 scientists who participated in a working group at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which classified cellphone radiation as a possible human carcinogen.
“We do not have proof that it is a carcinogen but there is a possibility,” said Leszcynsky.
Despite tens of thousands of articles published about the effects of cellular radiation, however there have been little biomedical into the effects of cellular radiation on humans.
He had studied the 1,138 papers of research findings listed on the EFF portal as of 3 August 2017, including 262 epidemiological studies, experimental studies on humans, on animals, the results of in-vitro laboratory studies and found most of them to be useless for estimating human health risk.
On the other hand there have been too few studies which examined how radiation affects human physiology and too few which examined the effects of chronic exposure to cellular radiation over the lifetime of users. Instead, the majority of studies examined acute responses, whilst very many of the studies are of a low scientific standard.
Some of these studies were based upon surveys of cellphone users, whilst others were surveys of people who were sensitive to cellular radiation by psychologists, though Leszcynsky suspects that some of those surveyed may just believe that they are sensitive to cellular radiation rather than being actually sensitive.
Also, he lamented the lack of consensus amongst scientists who tend to belong to different camps on this issue, with one camp saying that cellular radiation is safe and the other camp says that it is not. The only exception being the 2011 IARC working group in which Leszcynsky participated, comprised of scientists who say “yes”, “no” and “maybe” on the carcinogenicity of cellular radiation.
However, Leszcynsky cited several other studies which suggest a possible link between exposure to cellular radiation and an increase in the incidence of cancer, especially brain cancer, though he does not exclude the possibility that exposure to cellular radiation does not itself lead to developing cancer but instead triggers the onset of cancer due to other causes which had been lying dormant.
Whilst the results of all these studies do not provide evidence of a definite link between cellular radiation and cancer, however Leszcynsky invoked the Precautionary Principle, where when scientific information is insufficient, inconclusive or uncertain and where there are indications that the possible effects on the environment, human, animal or plant health may be potentially dangerous and inconsistent with the chosen level of protection – i.e. “What to do when we don’t know what to do”.
“Epidemiological studies showing increased risk of developing cancer in long term avid cellular phone users were generated in populations using regular cell phones compliant with current safety standards which are insufficient to protect users”, said Leszcynsky. “Safety limits which limit levels of radiation by cell phones to safe levels but when used over a long period of time, increase possible risk of cancer”.
He believes currently available scientific evidence from epedimiological and animal studies is sufficient for cell phone radiation to be reclassified as a probably carcinogen from possible carcinogen on the IARC scale and he also called for a re-evaluation of in-vitro dosimetry due to a study in 2015 by Schmid and Kuster which shows a discrepancy between real exposure and in-vitro exposure.
On 5G, he called for more research into the health effects of 5G, especially the effect of millimetre waves on skin to ensure the safety of generations to come.
Amongst other precautionary measures, Leszcynsky called for children to be protected against 5G as a precautionary measure, for schools to exclusively use wired Internet as a precautionary measure and also called for 5G and IoT deployment until there is more relevant research done and answers to concerns over their health effects.
The above two scientists and the various others whose research studies they referred are not your run of the mill, lay social media, Internet cranks or sensationalist propagandists who spread FUD about cellular signals, including 5G.
However, where the state of the research stands today, there is no conclusive evidence which proves conclusively that exposure to cellular frequencies cause cancer or trigger its development in humans.