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Does 5G have implications for health and safety?

Mobile and wireless telecommunications are central to modern life, providing the connectivity needed for us to access information on the go; connect with friends and keep up to date with news and events.

Over recent years, as there has been a huge expansion in the use of wireless communications, the number of base stations and masts built to keep up with demand has caused some concerns.

The rapid growth however has been managed safely – the mobile technology industry continues to conform to international health standards which are based upon research carried out over the last 50 years.

5G frequencies

The International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) set out guidelines on radiofrequencies including frequencies used by existing mobile systems and those intended for 5G:

“As 5G technologies can utilise higher EMF frequencies (>24 GHz) in addition to those currently used (<4 GHz), power from those higher frequencies will be primarily absorbed more superficially than that from previous mobile telecommunications technologies. However, although the proportion of power that is absorbed superficially (as opposed to deeper in the body) is larger for the higher frequencies, the ICNIRP (2020) restrictions have been set to ensure that the resultant peak spatial power will remain far lower than that required to adversely affect health. Accordingly, 5G exposures will not cause any harm providing that they adhere to the ICNIRP (2020) guidelines.”

Cancer Research UK list mobile phones and mobile networks as a ‘cancer myth’ since the radio frequency electromagnetic radiation that mobile phones and phone masts transmit and receive is non-ionising. This non-ionising radiation does not have enough energy to damage DNA and therefore cannot directly cause cancer.

Environmental impact

The rollout of 5G will create a need for more physical infrastructure however this mostly means more fibre-optic cable in the ground, which will not be noticed by the public, and a higher density of small cells (via structures already placed eg. streetlights, bus stops, billboards).

Existing 4G sites will be repurposed and upgraded to deliver 5G services and while it is unlikely that large numbers of new urban macro sites will be needed, their height may need to be increased to get over objects such as buildings, trees, and high land.

5G digital connectivity is expected to protect and maintain the environment once deployed through reducing emissions and identifying environmental problems early.

Summary

The Scottish Government, Public Health England and other organisations have concluded that there is no evidence that 5G will have any long-lasting negative effects on the environment nor on adults or children’s health.

The Scottish Government Statement

Public Health England Statement

To find out more about 5G, read our Knowledge Bank article about what it is, and what its benefits are.

Article published September 2021