Across the country, telecom companies are rolling out the next generation of wireless technology, placing small but powerful wireless transmitters on utility poles in neighborhoods from Maine to California.
Many consumers seem eager for the faster connectivity speeds promised by telecoms, but others are concerned about an issue that is beginning to get a lot of attention: the mounting evidence that constant exposure to radiofrequency microwave radiation is adversely impacting our health.
For many years, researchers and cell phone manufacturers have known that holding a cell phone against your head for long periods of time can lead to the development of cancer, and a recent $25 million dollar study by the National Toxicology Program of the National Institutes of Health added to the extensive scientific literature demonstrating that exposure to radiofrequency microwave radiation can disrupt biological systems, damage DNA, impair neurological and cognitive function and cause oxidative stress that can lead to the development of cancer.
That’s why, buried deep in the legal section of every cell phone, manufacturers instruct users not to allow the device to come into direct contact with their bodies. This warning gives manufacturers some degree of legal protection from lawsuits, while not scaring off consumers.
But what about distant antennas? Another peer-reviewed study released this spring from the world-renowned Ramazzini Institute in Italy demonstrated that exposure to microwave radiation from distant cell towers resulted in the same kinds of biological changes as exposure to radiation from cell phones.
While cell phone users have the option to use a head set, speakerphone, or even not to use a cell phone at all, no such choice exists for people who find themselves living in close proximity to a 5G wireless antenna. The antenna will be emitting powerful radiofrequency microwave radiation 24/7, all day every day, week after week, year after year, whether the nearby residents use the service or not. There is no way to escape the involuntary exposure.
So what’s different about 5G? 5G will use the current network of 3G and 4G wireless frequencies, and add another layer on top, using millimeter and submillimeter waves. While these new waves can transfer data faster, they don’t travel as far, so the rollout of 5G will require a vast network of millions of new antennas located close to homes and apartments in urban, suburban and rural neighborhoods all across America.
Wireless communications use tremendous amounts of energy. According to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), wireless infrastructure consumes at least ten times as much energy as wired technologies. Thus, this dense network of 5G antennas will require a significant new source of energy, just as many Americans are trying to move away from fossil fuels and embrace renewable, sustainable energy to reduce our carbon footprint.
Another concern is our uncertain climate and frequency of severe weather events, and the potential impact of severe storms on telephone poles and lampposts heavily laden with hundreds of pounds of electronic equipment. Contrary to the claims of industry, the equipment necessary to make 5G function does not fit into a pizza box. Most installations include about 6 cubic feet of equipment on the pole itself, and up to 24 cubic feet (the size of a large refrigerator) nearby on the ground.
But even with these problems, local officials have little control over where these new 5G antennas are placed. The 1996 Telecommunications Act prohibits any municipality from basing a decision about the placement of a wireless antenna on the basis of “environmental” concerns, which the courts have interpreted to mean “health” concerns. In addition, the legislation recently passed in 20 states pre-empts local communities from much of the control they formerly had over the placement of antennas.
Siting decisions can still be based on other factors such as aesthetics, safety and demonstrated need. Recently some municipalities have used declining property values as a justification for denying permits for antennas in strictly residential areas.
So what are the benefits of 5G? It’s not required in residential areas for national security or public safety. It is not needed to improve cell phone service, and is not likely to close either the digital divide or the rural divide. What it will do is facilitate the Internet of Things (“IOT”) and driverless cars, and allow wireless companies to compete with cable companies to offer Internet access.
Ironically, a better system already exists. Fiber optic connections are faster, more reliable, and less prone to hacking than wireless connections, and already exist in many parts of the country. In fact, 5G systems actually rely on fiber optic to carry the signal all the way to the antenna itself, before it is sprayed into the homes and apartment of consumers.
The debate over the deployment of 5G in villages, towns and cities across the country is growing rapidly in communities across the country as residents question these new towers and learn about the science. How Americans will decide between freedom from involuntary exposure and the convenience of instant technology is anyone’s guess. Those who wish to learn more about the 5G issue can visit www.TelecomPowerGrab.org.
Doug Wood is Executive Director of Americans for Responsible Technology.