For both reporters and scientists, frank and candid discussions of telecommunications science has become a third rail – – touch it and you perish. Last month J.C. Dvorak highlighted important gaps in understanding of new technology, in an opinion piece, “The Problem with 5G.” 5G is the highly touted system that will connect the internet of things allowing your coffee pot, refrigerator, and garage door to talk to your cell phone. Dvorak revealed that 5G is still on the drawing boards but will employ both the current wireless frequencies of 3G and 4G and add in higher millimeter wave frequencies which can uniquely penetrate the eyes and skin. Moreover, these frequencies have the distinction of having been field tested as a military weapon for crowd control. Soon after his report appeared both Dvorak and his article were summarily removed and replaced with “What is 5G“ –an article boasting of growing markets for 2019.
Stunned by his experience, Dvorak warned readers “to be a little more than cautious when believing anything. As his suppressed article had also indicated, “many systems calling themselves 5G are currently 4G using 5G as a marketing tool” whereas “true 5G …needs all these mini-towers all over the place” which “leaves plenty more time for the public to get a clue and be freaked out.”
In Washington DC—that is precisely what is happening. After the City released draft small cell guidelines that would allow up to 18 new cell antenna poles on a single block throughout the nation’s capital, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions and historic preservation groups from Georgetown to Anacostia raised their serious concerns about health and environmental impacts as well as property values with resolutions, comments and testimony at the public hearing in Washington DC.
Although the science on wireless radiation has become far more clear linking exposures to cancer, memory problems and damage to the nervous and reproductive systems, policymakers feign little interest. Levels that will be commonly be found in the environment near cell antennas can disrupt insect and bird orientation and compromise basic processes of beehives, trees, and plants. If it’s not good for the birds and bees then why assume it’s OK for us?
Federal cell tower radiation limits are 22 years old and exempt these so-called “small” cell installations from environmental reviews despite the fact that 5G will exponentially increase radiation levels and exceed several country’s allowable radiation limits.
In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission approved Spectrum Frontiers, making the U.S. the first country in the world that will expose its citizens to this new untested technology. The White House held a 5G Summit last month on how to roll out 5G “even faster” completely omitting any consideration of health just as was the case with the last administration.
Local and state opposition to 5G is making headlines coast to coast. In California, Petaluma, Mill Valley, and Monterey are moving to enact protective ordinances with large mandatory setbacks. After the Palm Beach Mayor said the 5G small cells would be an “aesthetic disaster” that town and other upscale coastal communities got entirely carved out of state legislation that would have usurped local authority. Montgomery County, Maryland, is facing strong opposition to zoning proposals that would strip the ability of homeowners to stop a company from placing a cellular antenna in their front yard.
Citizens have been uniformly misinformed that elected officials cannot consider health effects from 5G deployment due to an unconstitutional interpretation of the 1996 Telecom Act which is an over-reach of the statute.
Last year the National Toxicology program found “clear evidence” of cancer in rodents exposed to 3G wireless radiation—that developed the same cancers as those that are elevated in humans that have used phones relatively heavily. Millimeter frequencies of 5G have also been reported to accelerate bacterial growth, and interfere with antibiotics. Israeli scientists note that 5G’s frequencies are highly absorbed in thousands of human sweat ducts that serve as helical antennas that send and receive microwave signals. Is this what you want on your lamppost?
Lessons in public health have historically been learned at great expense. We continue to recover from the devastation of tobacco-related cancers and deaths some half a century after scientists first identified this major health risk. I have joined the hundreds of expert scientists calling for a halt to 5G deployment. When we build bridges, buildings or networks, we employ safety factors. The headlong rush to 5G ignores a substantial body of science. Firing reporters does not change the facts but is a modern variation of shoot the messenger. When it comes to networks, just as with bridges, it’s far better to construct it correctly now rather than be forced to repair avoidable damages later.
Devra Davis, Ph.D., MPH, is a fellow at the American College of Epidemiology and a visiting professor of medicine at Hebrew University Hadassah Medical Center & Ondokuz Mayis Univ. Medical School. Davis is also an associate editor for Frontiers in Radiation and Health and the president of Environmental Health Trust.