The economic cost of making sure that 5G technology poses no health and environmental risks should not be an excuse for any shortcuts in introducing the new technology, a number of scientists warned during an online event co-hosted by EU lawmakers on Monday (7 December).
The webinar ‘The impact of 5G technology on health and the environment’ was organised by the Panel on the Future of Science and Technology at the European Parliament (STOA) and co-hosted by MEPs Ivo Hristov (S&D, Bulgaria) and Michèle Rivasi (Greens/France).
According to Hristov, supporters of the fifth-generation network insist that there is no risk, and argue that the delay in the introduction of the new technology will only bring losses. On the other extreme, detractors of 5G malign the technology and promote global conspiracy theories.
“Caricaturing citizens’ concerns raises anger, and in some countries, we have witnessed violence. The scientific approach is the only right way to move forward”, Hristov argued.
However, the scientists who took part in the debate voiced reservations in assessing the long-term impact of fifth-generation networks on human health and insisted that research should continue, but with a clear methodology.
Dr Rodney Croft, director of the Australian Center for Electromagnetic Research and Impacts on the Human Body (biofeedback) and a member of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection, argued that the current research is based mostly on hypotheses.
He said that although research was ongoing, experts were not on the same page regarding the scientific methods used.
In his words, 5G technology uses the fastest electromagnetic waves for which current research was ill-equipped, and conditions are lacking for long-term studies that would allow sound scientific conclusions. But he added that there was no data either about 5G being harmful to human health.
The European Commission had hoped that 5G networks would be launched across all EU countries by the end of 2020, but has recently admitted the whole process has suffered delays owing to postponements in spectrum frequency auctions that have occurred as a result of the coronavirus crisis.
No evidence of harm
Elizabeth Cardis of the Institute of Global Health in Barcelona said there was still no evidence that higher levels of microwave radiation were linked with a particular type of morbidity.
“Guidelines at the scientific and political level are not enough. 5G is in its infancy and we do not have information about the impact of higher frequencies on tissues, “she commented.
Fiorella Bellpoggi of the Ramazzini Institute in Bologna, Italy, assessed that the carcinogenic effect and danger of 5G to the reproductive health would be similar to that of 4G. She is a specialist in pathologies in humans and animals, and has for decades been assessing the risk of using certain chemical products.
Bellpoggi stressed that the impact of mobile phones on health should not be underestimated. Scientific experiments have shown that people who use mobile devices more often are more at risk for brain tumours and ear cancer.
“There is great uncertainty as to what magnetic field limits will be safe for human health. So far, it is difficult to calculate”, said Bellpoggi.
‘The greatest experiment’
One thing is sure: testing the impact of 5G networks will be the greatest experiment on humans in human history, said Bellpoggi. According to her, the new technology must first be tested on animals before monitoring its impact on humans. She strongly recommended that companies produce safer phones that minimise the risk of exposure.
European Commission expert Franz Carscher said the EU executive recommends a broad public debate on the issue, which should involve all stakeholders, especially opponents of the 5G network.
He emphasised there was no conclusive evidence that the 5G network was harmful.
In addition, he said, all devices that have hit the European market so far meet all health and technical requirements and recommendations. However, Carscher noted that “we must be careful before taking such a big step”, urging member states to follow the Commission’s recommendations.
“The European Commission is aware that people are worried about their health. That is why technologies need to be improved, as well as scientific research needs to be increased, “he added.
Although they bring benefits for human activity, many modern technologies have a negative impact on the environment. In this context, the impact of 5G on nature is also being studied.
Arno Thielens of the University of Gent in Belgium said it was difficult to determine the impact of the new range of radio frequencies, while Gerard Ledoig of the University of Clermont in France warned the frequencies of the new network will negatively affect insect pollination and harm bee populations.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]