EDITOR’S NOTE – This article, courtesy of Gap Wireless, gives insights into the questions pertaining to cancer, RF safety and 5G from the viewpoints of experts in Canada.
As technology evolves, potential benefits always pair with apprehension, and 5G is no exception — the concerns around 5G center around the biological and environmental effects of electromagnetic radiation. Because some 5G networks operate at a higher frequency, the fear is that exposure to 5G will cause cellular damage and increase the risk of cancer.
While some high range frequencies, like X-rays, can pose a health risk, 5G does not fall into that category, and the reason why is relatively straightforward: Human skin. According to a study by Cornell University, human skin blocks high frequencies, like sunlight. Because 5G falls even lower on the electromagnetic spectrum than UV, the supposition is that it is unlikely to penetrate human skin. What does that mean? Generally speaking, experts agree that 5G does not pose a threat to human health or the environment.
To gain a clearer picture of the health and safety implications of 5G networks, we reached out to a panel of experts. Comprised of researchers, analysts and advisors, our respondents provided us with in-depth and insightful information on the potential impacts of 5G on human health and the environment.
Our 5G Health & Safety panel include: Jonathan MacKenzie, policy and research analyst for CWTA; Tim Singer, director general, environmental and radiation health sciences for Health Canada; Marc Bouvrette, president of Gap Wireless; Erika Zeroual, communications advisor and media relations for Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED); Stuart Nicol, director product development at APREL; and Ernest Cid, CEO of Wavecontrol.
1. Is it dangerous to live near a 5G cell tower?
The threats posed by electromagnetic waves are related to how close we are to the source, the density and the exposure time,” said Bouvrette.
“The typical safety perimeter for a standard cell site is on the order of 9.8 feet-16.4 feet, whereas the typical height of a cell tower is 164+ feet,” he continued. “So, for example, if we are 164 meters away from a transmitter that has been identified by Safety Code 6 regulations to have a safety perimeter of 16.4 feet…ten times further away than the minimum recommendable distance.
“Given the antennas are placed at the top of cell towers at distances that are multiples of the safety perimeter, living near a cell site does not pose a specific threat due to electromagnetic radiation,” Bouvrette concluded.
Mackenzie added, “All wireless devices must meet ISED’s requirements and be certified before being sold in Canada. Antenna installations must also meet ISED’s requirements at all times as a condition of a carrier’s license.
“Canada’s mobile network operators consistently monitor their networks, and ISED audits wireless devices and antenna installations to ensure compliance with safety standards,” Mackenzie continued. “Research by Health Canada and international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), has produced no substantiated evidence of harmful effects from RF technologies used within existing safety standards.”
“There is consequently no basis for finding that living or working next to cell towers, or other mobile wireless network equipment would pose a health hazard to the Canadian public,” Mackenzie concluded.
2. Are there specific health concerns about 5G vs. 4G
“Contrary to misunderstandings about 5G technology and, in some cases, deliberate misinformation, there are no established health risks from the radiofrequency waves used in 5G networks in accordance with applicable safety standards,” said Mackenzie.
“The primary difference between any of the technologies over time is mostly related to the modulation or signal type, which should not have any effect on health,” said Bouvrette. “While there have not been any conclusive studies on the long term effects of electromagnetic waves used in mobile communications networks on the human body, we do know from other types of radiation such as ultra-violet and X-rays (which are more than 1 million times to 100 million times the frequency of current mobile communications and above the visible light range), that the amount of power, density of power and total exposure time will contribute to the lasting effects of electromagnetic radiation.”
Cid added, “Electromagnetic waves of higher frequencies carry more energy than lower frequency fields. [While] 5G uses higher frequencies than earlier generations, allowing more devices to connect and at faster speeds, 5G radio waves are still non-ionizing, like precedent 2G, 3G and 4G technologies, which means they do not have enough energy to break bonds between molecules.
“At this moment, neither ISED nor any other international body related to RF safety, like the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) or WHO, has raised specific health concerns about 5G, other than not exceeding the currently established limits,” he concluded.
3. Is 5G an issue for the environment?
“5G works with higher frequencies to be able to provide higher communications speeds,” said Cid. “Higher frequencies mean less coverage, so the 5G network will consist of more antennas that are closer to us. However, they will be smaller and will need less power to operate. It shouldn’t be an issue for the environment if they are correctly deployed.”
Zeroual added, “While 5G does operate on both the lower and higher frequency spectrum, all 5G devices will still be required to comply with current RF safety requirements. Because safety limits are already set well below the threshold for potential adverse health effects, widescale implementation of 5G will not significantly increase RF exposure to the general public.”
4. Is it safer to use a cellphone or a hands-free device near the ear?
“Both devices will transmit and receive electromagnetic signals, so the evaluation of risk from one versus the other is related once again to power, power density and time of exposure,” Bouvrette said. “In both cases, the total power that can be transmitted is well below the prescribed rates by ISED and Safety Code 6. Like with transmitter sites, a safety perimeter could be calculated for these devices, and we would find that the perimeter would be less than 1 millimeter around the antenna, which means the perimeter is internal to the actual device.
“We have demonstrated that power and power density is not a concern, and this is true for any amount of exposure time,” Bouvrette adds. “Looking at the way we use each of these devices if one was concerned with accumulated exposure time and considering the hands-free devices often remain attached to our ears even when not in use. That means total radiation absorption could be higher with the use of hands-free devices.
“It is important to point out, however, that while not in use but still powered on, mobile phones (like all hands-free devices) will continue to transmit and receive. Nevertheless, they do so at much lower levels and for short periods of time, essentially “checking in” to ensure communications are available and ready to open a full channel if required,” he concluded.
5. What specific safety measures should be adopted around 5G?
“Basically, [safety measures should be] the same as with previous generations,” said Cid. “[that means ensuring] that all antenna systems meet Canadian limits (Safety Code 6) , which are consistent with limits used in other parts of the world (USA, European Union (EU), Australia, etc.)”
Ernest elaborated, “There are three basic means of assessing human exposure: using portable EMF meters, monitoring EMF exposure 24/7 with fixed units, and wearing RF personal monitors. Portable EMF meters are used for the certification of transmitters or working places. Fixed monitoring instruments, on the other hand, are used at specific sensitive areas, while RF personal monitors are mainly worn by workers that have to be near transmitters, like tower climbers or RF engineers. IEEE Std. C95.7 points out that a good RF safety program ‘must include RF safety awareness training for all tower workers and use of RF personal monitors.’ The same applies to other workers that may find themselves near transmitters, for example, electrical service contractor workers.”
Bouvrette added, “Safety Code 6 should continue to be respected along with recommendations from ISED and Health Canada. Special considerations should be given to antenna transmission techniques such as Massive-MIMO or beamforming to ensure we understand the dynamic adjustments in power density and power steering.”
“Although we will see an increase in power density for 5G sites, the incremental size of the safety perimeters will likely no more than double. Therefore, we must remember that power density decreases at a rate of the square of the increase in power, meaning a doubling in safety perimeter radius would represent a quadrupling in power density, which is not the case in current beamforming solutions.
“This means that the biggest impact around 5G will be related to cell site technicians and other workers that may come in close contact with cell site transmitters. That includes rooftop sites where other workers (like roofers, window washers, or HVAC installers) may need to come in relative proximity with transmitters,” he continued.
“All technologies in use today and prior to 5G for mobile communications operate under 3 GHz. Some 5G will also be deployed in the spectrum above 3 GHz, and many studies have been made on health effects at these frequencies. The new spectrum being made available for 5G services rises to 28 GHz and 39 GHz, more than ten times the frequency of current technologies, but still millions of times smaller than the penetrating Ultraviolet, X-Ray or Gamma Rays we know to have effects at higher power densities and exposure times. However, it is important to understand that power dissipates at much higher rates as frequency increases compared to a lower frequency, physical forces, which will contribute to lowering the power density being transmitted by these high-frequency transmitters,” he concluded.
Mackenzie said, “Health Canada does not call for taking specific steps to avoid RF from wireless networks, as exposure levels in Canada are far below the safety limits set by the federal government. In the United States, the FCC has determined that current RF exposure limits are sufficient to ensure the safety of 5G networks. Canada’s science-based safety standards are consistent with those of the United States, as well as other jurisdictions, including the European Union, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand.
“Although the public is already protected by ISED’s and Health Canada’s existing RF exposure regulations, individual Canadians may choose to limit their personal exposure to RF energy from mobile wireless equipment – including 5G devices and antennas. They can do this by shortening the length of phone calls, substituting calls with text messages, or using accessories such as headsets, speakerphones, or earpieces to increase the distance between a user and the device,” he concluded.
6. What is SAR or Specific Absorption Rates, and how are they measured?
“The emergence of 5G has led to a need for changes in the methodologies in how manufacturers will certify their radios for safety, specifically human exposure or Specific Absorption Rate (SAR),” began Nichol. “As it currently stands in Canada, there won’t be any real change to the dynamics of how we will see 5G for frequencies above 3 GHz in the next 12 months, considering the previous spectrum auction only sold off the 600 MHz band with the next slice being 3500 MHz.
“Traditional SAR measurement techniques that use E-Field probes which demodulate the complex radio frequency signal have concerns where higher bandwidths and complex modulation schemes may not be properly addressed when measuring for exposure following the current experimental SAR methodology,” said Nichol. “Studies conducted by APREL where 200/400/800 MHz bandwidths using two/four/eight carriers have revealed significant issues in regard to how much exposure has been measured when applying existing standards (2) IEC tasked the committee JWG12 with the job of creating methodologies for the assessment of 5G technologies operating in the mmWave frequency range.
“The working group had to investigate appropriate methods for the assessment of exposure-based in science and applicable to an experimental process,” he continued. “Consideration of antenna types (MIMO, Phase Array), modulation schemes, and bandwidth all had to be investigated, and appropriate methods for assessment understood and described.”
“The result of this research was the publication of a technical report IEC-TR63170 (3), which will be the basis for experimental assessment in regard to human exposure for mm-wave technologies,” he adds.
“By employing a system that can be utilized as a design tool that can also perform compliance measurements, the effectiveness of the development process can be improved significantly,” Nichol concluded.
7. Which Government body is responsible for ensuring the public is not exposed to unsafe exposures of Radio Frequencies? What is Safety Code 6?
“Health Canada administers the Radiation Emitting Devices Act, which governs the sale, lease, and importation of radiation-emitting devices in Canada,” explains Tim Singer, Director General, Environmental and Radiation Health Sciences for Health Canada.
The Department’s mandate regarding human exposure to radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy from wireless devices includes carrying out research into possible health effects, monitoring the scientific literature related to such effects on an ongoing basis, and developing RF exposure guidelines, commonly referred to as Safety Code 6.
“Safety Code 6 sets recommended limits for safe human exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) in federally regulated industries and workplaces and covers all frequencies (and combinations thereof) in the range from 3 kHz to 300 GHz,” says Singer. “This range covers both the frequencies used by existing communications devices (including those using 4G technology) and those that may be used by devices employing 5G technology (i.e., above 6 GHz.”
“Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 takes into account recent scientific data from studies carried out worldwide,” he continues. “When developing the exposure limits in Safety Code 6, departmental scientists consider all peer-reviewed scientific studies and employ a weight-of-evidence approach when evaluating possible health risks from exposure to RF energy. Safety Code 6 limits are among the most stringent science-based limits in the world.”
“Compliance with Health Canada’s Safety Code 6 is an ongoing obligation, regardless of the technology used,” adds Zeroual.
“The radiofrequency exposure limits set by Safety Code 6 cover the frequency ranges that will be used by 5G devices and antenna installations, which are set far below the threshold (at least 50-fold safety margin) for all known established adverse health effects. These limits protect all age groups, including children, on a continuous basis (24 hours a day, seven days a week),” Zeroual elaborates.
“This means that if anyone, including a small child, were exposed to radiofrequency energy from multiple sources within the Safety Code 6 limits for 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, their exposure would still be well below the threshold for adverse health effects,” says Zeroual. “Similar to current wireless devices and associated infrastructure, 5G devices and antenna installations must meet radiofrequency exposure requirements before they can be sold or operated in Canada.
“ISED maintains a market surveillance program and routinely audits antenna installations and devices to verify compliance with SC6,” she said. “As the responsibility for developing Safety Code 6 lies with Health Canada, questions regarding its development should be directed to that Department.”
8. Does 5G cause cancer?
“To date, thousands of scientific studies have been carried out globally to evaluate the safety of RF energy,” said Singer.
For over 20 years, Health Canada has conducted its own research on the biological effects of RF energy. As Singer explains, this research has increased scientific knowledge regarding the intensity of RF energy in the environment. It has also helped to establish the human exposure threshold where potentially adverse health effects can occur.
“This important information, along with all other Canadian and international peer-reviewed scientific studies, forms the basis for establishing safety standards for RF energy that protect the health of Canadians,” says Singer.
“It is Health Canada’s position that the health of Canadians is protected from RF energy when the human exposure limits recommended by Safety Code 6 are respected,” said Singer. “This applies to devices using 4G and 5G technologies. Safety Code 6 has always established and maintained a human exposure limit that is far below the threshold for potential adverse health effects. Health Canada continues to monitor scientific research.
“If new scientific evidence were to demonstrate that exposure to RF energy below levels found in Safety Code 6 from wireless technologies is a concern, Health Canada would take appropriate action to help protect the health and safety of Canadians,” he added.
Nine years ago, in 2011, a cadre of international scientists working as part of the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), assessed the cancer risk of RF-EMF exposure. They concluded that although there is a risk of developing some cancers – like glioma (cancer of the central nervous system) and acoustic neuroma – they felt evidence of a connection between exposure to RF-EMF and cancer was “not conclusive.” (4)
“The language used by researchers can seem vague,” said Bouvrette, “but their caution is indicative of the broader cancer research community, where cause-and-effect is scrutinized and continually tested.
“Perhaps it makes more sense to look to organizations that operate under a less stringent mandate, like the WHO,” Bouvrette continued. “According to WHO, there are no adverse health effects from long-term, low-level exposure to radiofrequency or power frequency fields, like RF-EMF.” (5)
“In the United States, WHO’s conclusions are substantiated,” said Bouvrette. “The FCC recently stated that harmful biological effects associated with low levels of RF radiation exposure were “ambiguous and unproven. (6)
“Generally speaking, many international studies on the health effects of RF energy have been conducted over the last several decades and the conclusion reached is that the impact of RF exposure depends on frequency range and duration. Higher ranges could result in tissue heating, while prolonged exposure to lower frequency ranges can produce nerve stimulation and a tingling sensation, Bouvrett concluded.” (7)
In the United States, the FDA is responsible for the collection and analysis of scientific information that may relate to the safety of cellphones and other electronic products. An April 24th, 2019, letter from the FDA to the FCC addressed to Julius Knapp, chief of the Office of Engineering and Technology, publicly stated that, as part of its ongoing monitoring activities, the FDA had reviewed the results and conclusions of the recently published rodent study from the National Toxicology Program (NTP)(8).
The review was conducted in the context of all available scientific information, including epidemiological studies. The letter also states that they concluded that no changes to the current standards are warranted at this time. As we have stated publicly, NTP’s experimental findings should not be applied to human cell phone usage. The available scientific evidence to date does not support adverse health effects in humans due to exposures at or under the current limits, and that the FDA is committed to protecting public health and continues its review of the many sources of scientific literature on this topic. (9)
In other words, while studies continue to assess the impact of exposure to RF, at this time, 5G falls well within the safety parameters for human exposure. It is also worth noting that while 5G transmitters will require the creation of a large number of new base stations with a large number of transmitters, each transmitter will operate on lower power levels than 4G technology, resulting in a net reduction of RF exposure.
(1) Health Canada, (June 2015). Limits of Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Energy in the Frequency Range from 3 kHz to 300 GHz. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/publications/health-risks-safety/limits-human-exposure-radiofrequency-electromagnetic-energy-range-3-300.html
(2) IEC 62209-2:2010. Human exposure to radio frequency fields from hand-held and body-mounted wireless communication devices – Human models, instrumentation, and procedures – Part 2: Procedure to determine the specific absorption rate (SAR) for wireless communication devices used in close proximity to the human body (frequency range of 30 MHz to 6 GHz)
(3) IEC TR 63170:2018. Measurement procedure for the evaluation of power density related to human exposure to radio frequency fields from wireless communication devices operating between 6 GHz and 100 GHz
(4) Carcinogenicity of radiofrequency electromagnetic, The Lancet, Vol. 12, Issue 7, P624-626, July 01, 2011 (https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanonc/article/PIIS1470-2045(11)70147-4/fulltext)
(5) World Health Organization, (August, 2016), What are electromagnetic fields?, Retrieved from https://www.who.int/peh-emf/about/WhatisEMF/en/index1.html
(6) RF Safety FAQ, FCC, (Nov 2015), RF Safety FAQ, Retrieved from https://www.fcc.gov/engineering-technology/electromagnetic-compatibility-division/radio-frequency-safety/faq/rf-safety#Q5
(7) Industry Canada, (February 2019), Radiofrequency Energy and Safety, Retrieved from https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/smt-gst.nsf/eng/sf11467.html
(8) Shuren, Jeffrey. “Re: FDA to the FCC on Radiofrequency Exposure”, Received by Knapp, Julius, April 24, 2019, Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/media/135022/download
(9) National Toxicology Program, (November 2018), Cell Phone Radio Frequency Radiation, Retrieved from https://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/whatwestudy/topics/cellphones/index.html