'Very low' risk of unknown health hazards from exposure to 5G wireless networks

June 24, 2020

June 24, 2020 -Health Physics, official journal of the Health Physics Society. The journal is published in the Lippincott portfolio by Wolters Kluwer.

"While we acknowledge gaps in the scientific literature, particularly for exposures at millimeter-wave frequencies, [we judge] the likelihood of yet unknown health hazards at exposure levels within current limits to be very low, if they exist at all," according to the statement by the Committee on Man and Radiation (COMAR) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). As outlined by its Chair, Richard A. Tell, COMAR is an organization composed of physicians, biologists, epidemiologists, engineers and physical scientists who are experts on health and safety issues related to electromagnetic fields who work voluntarily and collaboratively on a consensus basis.

5G Networks Unlikely to Cause Exposure Above Current Safety Limits

The consensus statement seeks to counter the rise in alarming messages regarding mysterious health effects of 5G technology. "This misinformation together with activist websites expressing even more ominous consequences of 5G - ranging from cancer induction to being responsible for the current coronavirus pandemic - has created substantial and unnecessary public anxiety," comments Jerrold T. Bushberg of the University of California Davis School of Medicine and Vice-Chair of COMAR.

Fifth-generation wireless systems are expanding worldwide to meet the rapidly increasing demand for wireless connectivity. The new technology can transmit much greater amounts of data at much higher speeds, compared to previous 2G to 4G systems. That's in part because 5G uses the greater bandwidth available at higher frequencies, including the so-called millimeter-wave (MMW) band. Expansion of 5G "will produce a more ubiquitous presence of MMW in the environment," according to the report.

Because MMW do not penetrate foliage and building materials as well as lower-frequency signals, many lower-power "small cell" transmitters will be needed to provide effective indoor coverage. Some 5G systems will have "beamforming" antennas that transmit signals to individual users as they move around, which means that nonusers will have less exposure.

Tissue heating is the main potential harmful effect of exposure to RF fields. Most countries, including the United States, have adopted exposure limits similar to those recommended by the recent standards (2019) published by IEEE International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety (
The COMAR statement provides perspectives to address concerns about possible health effects of 5G exposure:
  • In contrast to lower-frequency fields, MMW do not penetrate beyond the outer layer of the skin - and thus does not produce heating of deeper tissues.
  • The introduction of 5G is unlikely to change overall levels of RF exposure. As is currently the case, most exposure will be mainly due to "uplink" from one's own cell phone or other devices - not from transmission from base stations.
  • In nearly all publicly accessible locations, RF exposures from cellular base stations, including 5G stations will remain small - a fraction of current IEEE or ICNIRP exposure limits.
"[S]o long as exposures remain below established guidelines, the research results to date do not support a determination that adverse health effects are associated with RF exposures, including those from 5G systems," concludes the COMAR statement. The Committee acknowledges limitations of the current evidence on possible health and safety effects of 5G exposure and identifies key areas for further research, including high-quality studies of the biological effects of MMW.

About Health Physics

Health Physics, first published in 1958, provides the latest research to a wide variety of radiation safety professionals including health physicists, nuclear chemists, medical physicists, and radiation safety officers with interests in nuclear and radiation science. The Journal allows professionals in these and other disciplines in science and engineering to stay on the cutting edge of scientific and technological advances in the field of radiation safety. The Journal publishes original papers, technical notes, articles on advances in practical applications, editorials, and correspondence. Journal articles report on the latest findings in theoretical, practical, and applied disciplines of epidemiology and radiation effects, radiation biology and radiation science, and radiation ecology, to name just a few.

About the Health Physics Society

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