— As wireless companies prepare to launch the next
generation of service, there are new questions about the
possible health risks from radiation emitted by
cellphones and the transmitters that carry the signals.
about the potential harmful effects of radiofrequency
radiation have dogged mobile technology since the first
brick-sized cellphones hit the market in the 1980s.
and federal officials have largely dismissed those
fears, saying that the radiation exposure is minimal and
that the devices are safe. Incidences of and deaths from
brain cancer have shown little change in recent years
despite the explosion in cellphone usage, they note.
the launch of super-fast 5G technology over the next
several years will dramatically increase the number of
transmitters sending signals to cellphones and a host of
new internet-enabled devices, including smart appliances
and autonomous vehicles. And the move to the new
technology comes after unsettling findings from a
long-awaited federal government study of the cancer risk
from cellphone use.
Toxicology Program researchers released preliminary data
in May that showed small increases in tumors in male
rats exposed to cellphone radiation.
rats were exposed to nine hours of radiation daily, in
10-minutes-on, 10-minutes-off intervals, over their
whole bodies for two years. The researchers found
increased incidences of rare brain and heart tumors
starting at about the federally allowable level of
cellphone radiation for brain exposure, with greater
incidences at about two and four times those levels.
the results to humans gets complicated, and there were
some puzzling findings as well. Why, for instance, did
only male rats show increased tumor rates, and not
females? Final results from the peer-reviewed study won’t
be released until at least the end of 2017.
study, which the American Cancer Society said marked
"a paradigm shift in our understanding of radiation
and cancer risk," reignited debate about the
potential harmful effects of cellphones on human health.
concerns are amplified by the explosive growth in the
number of cellphone subscribers over the last three
decades and the increasing amount of time people are
using mobile devices amid the popularity of social
networks and streaming video.
some experts and wireless-safety advocates are calling
for more research as the nation prepares to take the
leap into a 5G world that promises to offer more and
faster services. And they are reiterating advice —
echoed by federal officials — about steps that
concerned consumers can easily take to reduce their
exposure to radiofrequency radiation, such as using a
headset to keep the phone away from their heads.
don’t think it’s clear that there are health risks,
but it’s also not clear that there are no health
risks," said Leeka Kheifets, an epidemiology
professor at UCLA’s Fielding School of Public Health
who has studied the health effects of cellphone use.
National Toxicology Program study "was just an
indicator that more and better research is needed,"
month, the U.S. became the first nation to allocate a
large swath of airwaves for 5G. Those services could be
available to consumers by 2020, offering transmission
speeds at least 10 times faster than today’s 4G.
Federal Communications Commission voted unanimously to
allow wireless providers access to high-frequency
airwaves that have had limited uses because they can’t
carry data very far.
advances have made it possible to expand consumer
wireless services into those airwaves. But to use the
spectrum, wireless companies will have to install
thousands of small base stations — some just the size
of smoke detectors — on utility poles and buildings to
pass the signals along.
industry will spend about $56 billion to develop, test
and deploy 5G services in the U.S. through 2025,
according to IGR, a wireless market-strategy consulting
were about 308,000 wireless antennas on cell towers and
buildings at the end of last year, double the number in
2002, according to CTIA, a leading wireless trade group.
unclear how many smaller base stations would be needed
for 5G service. But it’s widely believed that there
would need to be exponentially more because of the
limited distance the signals can travel. One researcher
estimated a station would be needed for every 12 homes
in a dense urban area.
prospect of more transmitters emitting radiofrequency
radiation — though at much lower levels than those
coming from cell towers — has alarmed people concerned
about the effects on humans.
move to 5G presents additional concerns because there
will be more energy in signals traveling over the
high-frequency spectrum and the smaller transmitters
will be closer to where people live and work.
is a big concern with the previous technology and it’s
just being made worse with 5G," said Kevin Mottus,
outreach director for the California Brain Tumor
Association, who attended the FCC meeting and
unsuccessfully attempted to ask officials about the
are microwave transmitters, and the closer you are to
them, the more problems," he said.
Jaworski, executive director of the Center for Safer
Wireless, a nonprofit organization that educates the
public about the potential hazards of wireless
radiation, said 5G signals will be harder for people to
now, you don’t have to live next to a cell tower. If
you’re concerned about it, you can move away,"
she said. "But once they have these cell antennas
everywhere, you won’t be able to do that."
FCC shares responsibility for the safety of cellphones
with the Food and Drug Administration and sets maximum
allowable levels for safe exposure to radiofrequency
radiation — known as the specific absorption rate —
that devices sold in the U.S. must not exceed. The FCC
also regulates the exposures from base stations
transmitting wireless signals.
2013, the FCC opened a formal inquiry into whether it
needed to reassess its exposure limits. That proceeding
remains open, the agency said.
evidence always informs FCC rules on this matter,"
said spokesman Neil Grace. "We will continue to
follow all recommendations from federal health and
safety experts including whether the FCC should modify
its current policies and RF exposure limits."
FDA said it "believes that the weight of scientific
evidence does not show an association between exposure
to radiofrequency from cellphones and adverse health
outcomes." But that agency said more research is
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2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer,
which is part of the World Health Organization,
classified cellphone radiation as "possibly
carcinogenic to humans." There are 288 other
"agents" with that classification, including
many chemicals as well as talc-based body powder and
traditional Asian pickled vegetables.
organization said research at the time was limited, and
it did not classify the radiofrequency radiation as
cancer-causing or probably cancer-causing.
said that the health of Americans is its
"paramount" concern and that the industry
follows the guidance of government experts.
FCC has determined that all wireless phones legally sold
in the United States are ‘safe,’" the
organization said in a written statement.
FCC is "developing guidance" for the industry
on compliance with radiation safety standards of phones
and other equipment that would use 5G airwaves, CTIA
wireless organization said "the larger scientific
community" would consider the National Toxicology
Program findings in the context of other studies.
$25 million study was requested by the FDA in 1999 and
was conducted using second-generation cellphone
preliminary findings were released because "we felt
like this was concerning enough because there was maybe
some type of linkage" between cellphone radiation
and cancer, said Michael Wyde, the project leader for
the National Toxicology Program’s radiofrequency
said it was up to regulators to take the study’s
findings and determine if safety standards needed to be
adjusted. "We’re mostly the first step in the
risk-identification process," he said.
M. Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and
Community Health at the University of California at
Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said there needs
to be more federal funding to study the possible
year, he helped organize a letter to the United Nations
by more than 200 scientists worldwide who have studied
the effects of exposure to cellphone radiation and other
electromagnetic fields. The scientists want U.N.
officials to take more steps to protect humans,
particularly children and pregnant women.
of the few 5G studies is starting in New Zealand.
Researchers from Massey University will use modeling to
determine the possible health effects of "many,
many transmitters transmitting together," said Syed
Faraz Hasan, who heads that university’s
telecommunications research group.
believe if we show that it is bad, we have room to tweak
the technology, and if we show it is not bad, then users
will be happy it is safe," Hasan said.
the UCLA professor, said it’s not "realistic or
warranted" to slow down or halt 5G deployment to
wait for more research, as some wireless safety
advocates have demanded.
certainly, as you are deploying new stuff, one should be
measuring changes in exposure and looking at human
health (effects) at the least," she said.