As someone who believes in using science to promote human health and prosperity, I was startled to find myself classified as a Luddite in a recent commentary authored a Frontier Centre research associate.
The one thing I can agree with in that commentary is that faster communications would provide many benefits to humankind. However, choices have to be made about how to deliver faster communications to households, offices, farms and factories. Not all choices are good ones. And you can’t do a proper cost/benefit analysis without thoroughly exploring all the costs.
The expression 5G refers to the fifth generation of wireless technology, which will carry more data, at higher speeds, than previous cellular networks. But wireless 5G is not the only game in town when it comes to delivering high-speed Internet. It faces stiff competition from fibre optic systems.
Fibre optic cables consist of extremely thin interior strands of glass or plastic that carry signals in the form of light, surrounded by multiple layers of cladding to prevent the light signals from escaping.
There’s a good chance the street your home or workplace is located on has fibre optic cable running its length, even though it may not yet be in use (this is known as dark fibre). I’ve been told that’s the case in the municipality where I live.
The problem stems from what’s called the last mile: the distance between the street’s central fibre optic cable and the customer’s Wi-Fi router or receiving devices. Until recently, this last mile (which might be only seven metres in some cases) has ordinarily been wired with coaxial cable or DSL (digital subscriber lines). Such cables transmit data reliably over shielded wires, but the transmission speed is relatively slow compared to fibre optics.
It’s the last mile that the two competing new technologies propose to speed up. This can be done either by replacing the coaxial or DSL cable running from the street to your home with additional fibre optic cable, or by beaming signals wirelessly to your devices using antennae referred to as small cells.
Wireless 5G in North America would require the installation of millions of small cellular antennae to ensure continuous coverage. That’s because the wavelengths they use have a very short range, so antennae have to be placed close together. For indoor use, small cells might need to be located as little as 10 metres apart. Outdoors, small cells have a range varying from 500 metres to 2.5 km. Some neighbourhoods might end up with small cells on almost every telephone pole.
Different companies use different frequency bands for their 5G. But none of the wireless 5G technologies have undergone any safety testing on the impact of these waves on human health. This was admitted by industry representatives at a U.S. Senate hearing on Feb. 7, 2019.
Yes, there are government guidelines for electromagnetic energy. In Canada, they’re called Safety Code 6. Critics such as Canadians for Safe Technology (C4ST) allege that the code is severely obsolete. It was created by Health Canada in the 1970s (long before the development of smartphones) to evaluate the technology at that time. It hasn’t had any major revisions in the last 30 years. Nevertheless, it constitutes the guidelines for a host of later-developed technologies including smartphones and cellphone antennae. Health Canada is apparently content to let it serve as the safety guideline for the untested 5G wireless radiation.
An international appeal signed by 398 scientists and doctors recommends a moratorium on the rollout of wireless 5G. They say new scientific evidence demonstrates that living organisms (plants and animals) are adversely affected by EMFs (existing electromagnetic frequencies emitted by 2G, 3G and 4G technologies, let alone 5G) at levels well below current national and international guidelines.
The problem would simply be exacerbated by 5G. The National Toxicology Program in the U.S. has published a study showing “a statistically significant increase in the incidence of brain and heart cancer in animals exposed to EMF below the … guidelines followed by most countries.”
The Bioinitiative Report (published in 2012 and recently updated to cover the period up to 2020) was authored by 29 people from 10 countries. Among them, they hold 10 medical degree, 21 PhDs and a few other degrees. This group doesn’t seem to fit the description of Luddites.
Among the health problems they identified from EMFs, as indicated in scientific studies, are:
- increased oxidative stress and free radical production (associated with numerous conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, heart disease, arthritis and diabetes – all of which have increased dramatically since the 1990s);
- neurological effects (changes in memory, learning or perception);
- disrupted immune function (an especially important problem in these days of COVID-19).
Dr. Martin Pall, PhD, is professor emeritus of biochemistry and basic medical sciences at Washington State University. He has studied extensively the biological effects of electromagnetic fields and summarized his findings in a letter to California legislators three years ago. His list of 14 adverse health effects includes life-threatening cardiac arrhythmias, lower sperm counts, cataract formation and sleep disruption.
It’s absurd to dismiss the health concerns about EMFs that have been brought forward by hundreds of scientists as the grumpy rumblings of Luddites who just can’t get their heads around the potential benefits of science.
Opponents of 5G have additional concerns besides human health. They point to studies showing adverse effects of EMFs on plants, insects and animals. Even the microbes in our soil and in intestines might be affected. The importance of healthy microbes to human health is only just beginning to be understood. Of particular concern is the possibility that insect pollinators such as bees and butterflies might be prevented from performing their crucial function of ensuring the world has enough to eat.
Many 5G critics are concerned about possible data leaks, especially to China, the home country of Huawei, a major manufacturer of wireless 5G technology.
According to C4ST, the competing fibre optic technology can provide even faster connectivity speeds than wireless 5G, without emitting radiation. These cables are also less vulnerable to natural disaster or attack, and more protective of privacy. It may cost more to run fibre optics across the last mile to individual homes than it would to install a street’s worth of 5G small cells, but that cost can be borne by the individual who purchases the technological upgrade.
The installation of 5G is not – unlike the installation of fibre optics – a private concern. Once the small cells start broadcasting, their radiation impacts everyone within range, whether they’re 5G customers are not. In economists’ terminology, 5G imposes negative externalities on people who just happen to live in or meander through the territory where 5G customers and their suppliers are causing radiation to be emitted.
In a densely populated city, your neighbour may want 5G while you don’t. The result may be that a small cell sits on a telephone pole six metres away from your bedroom window and bathes you in unwanted electromagnetic radiation all night.
The Frontier article placed speculative values on the anticipated benefits of wireless 5G, but dismissed as “unsupported” any claims of harm. Consequently, the cost/benefit analysis of 5G failed to take into account the following possible costs:
- health-care costs of treating individuals who might be adversely affected by wireless 5G;
- lost productivity of individuals who might be rendered unable to work due to 5G;
- the loss of crops that might ensue if insect pollinators or important soil microbes are killed or incapacitated.
There is also one certain, non-speculative cost that the author failed to take into account: the cost of protective gear many people are already acquiring to protect themselves from 5G as it expands relentlessly into Canada. Since becoming aware of the adverse impacts of earlier generations of EMFs, I purchased a device that I hope will reduce the impact of EMFs, and I’m investigating other devices to shield my windows, bed and work area in case 5G comes to my town.
New companies in this field are springing up all over the place, selling everything from metallic-lined clothing to pendants to Faraday cages for your bedroom.
The case of Rylands versus Fletcher (1868) established that a person is liable for damages if he allows something harmful to escape from his land onto neighbouring property. Here’s the most famous passage from the British House of Lords: “If a person brings, or accumulates, on his land anything which, if it should escape, may cause damage to his neighbour, he does so at his peril. If it does escape, and cause damage, he is responsible, however careful he may have been, and whatever precautions he may have taken to prevent the damage.”
It has not yet been tested whether a court would apply this rule to 5G electromagnetic waves (or even 4G) but a United Kingdom group called Action Against 5G has retained a team of lawyers to commence legal proceedings.
Like the Canadian group C4ST, the U.K. group doesn’t oppose technology. Rather, it opposes untested and suspected unsafe technology. It advocates the use of fibre optics instead of wireless 5G to achieve speedier communications.
In the U.S., the Children’s Health Defense organization headed up by lawyer Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is suing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for refusing to update its safety guidelines, which (like Canada’s) are more than 25 years old.
It would be the height of folly to close our eyes to the risks of wireless 5G when a huge percentage of our population is already suffering from chronic illnesses that have become increasingly more commonplace with every new generation of EMFs already deployed.
I hope more Canadians will wake up to the risks and join with concerned individuals around the world to prevent this untested and perhaps harmful technology from being inflicted on a non-consenting population.
Karen Selick is a senior research associate with Frontier Centre for Public Policy and a lawyer.