5G: Are there biological impacts?
As you may already know, the telecom companies of the world are in the process of deploying a new technology for wireless communication, called 5th generation, or 5G, using an equal and higher band in the electromagnetic (EM) frequency spectrum than previous technologies (Wu et al. 2015, 3GPP). This technology is promised to revolutionize our technological landscape with self-driving cars, artificial intelligence, satellite internet and more.
What you might not be aware of is that world-leading scientists in the field of radiation and medicine are writing letters of concern about this new technology (e.g. D. Carpenter, O. Johansson, P. Héroux, Hardell and Nyberg). One noteworthy example is the Deputy Chairman of the Scientific Council on Radiobiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences and President of the Russian National Committee of Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (RNCNIRP), Prof. Yuri Grigorievich Grigoriev:
“For 50 years I have been working on evaluating the hazards of the biological action of ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. I am very concerned with the increasing electrosmog from wireless communication and its impact on mankind, especially on children.”
In the leading medical journal, The Lancet, a call to assess the global electromagnetic pollution was recently published where the authors present evidence that WiFi and cell-phone frequencies surround us with intensities more than one million times greater than levels before 1980, and 10¹⁸ times greater than natural background levels (Figure 1, Bandara and Carpenter, 2018).
What is causing world-leading experts in this topic all over the world to issue these warnings, in spite of the governments telling us this is safe technology?
Humans are intimately linked to the electromagnetic spectrum both biologically and technologically. For example, visible light is in the nanometer range of the EM spectrum. Perhaps the most familiar source of natural radiation is our sun which is radiating from a large spectrum of wavelengths, mostly in the nanometer and micrometer range. Some radiation is so strong that it can separate electrons from their accompanying molecules creating free electrons and positively charged ions in a process called ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation events occur mostly with high frequency waves, and correspondingly lower wavelengths typically lower than 10 nanometers, e.g. gamma rays and X-rays.
One key difference between man-made and natural radiation is that in man-made radiation, the waves of radiation usually propagate in the same linear plane, due to the wire-confined electrons producing the radiation by oscillating perpendicular to the direction the wave travels. This means that there exists a 2-dimensional plane in which you could fit most of the electric wave oscillations, and another such plane where you could fit the magnetic wave oscillations. This type of wave is called linearly polarized. One key property of a polarized wave is that it can constructively interfere with nearby waves, amplifying a perceived signal and making it possible to construct coherent signals interpretable by our technological applications.
Unfortunately, because polarized waveforms are much less common in nature, humans have not had an opportunity to adapt to such waves. Natural EM sources, like the sun, produce waves where each wave-packet usually comes in a plane independent of other wave-packets. Together, these packets make up the perceived natural radiation, and is called unpolarized light or radiation. Due to their inability to constructively interfere with each other, unpolarized waveforms are much easier for the body to cope with; and this is why the body can easily absorb very high intensity radiation from the sun (~8–24 mW/cm²), while it may produce adverse biological effects from a cell phone (~0.2mW/cm²)(Panagopoulos 2015).
Wireless communication also uses wavelengths and frequencies quite different from the sun’s radiation frequencies to communicate; wavelengths ranging from thousands of kilometers down to millimeters, unlike the sun which operates mostly in the 100-nanometer range. We use the micrometer wavelengths to heat our foods, and we also use similar wavelengths to do crowd control using the Active Denial System, both of which exploit the fact that water is heated when exposed to these waves. This thermal effect happens when the electromagnetic waves interact with water molecules to stimulate movement directly related to our concept of heat (Pollack 2013). But are there other effects than thermal at play here? Not if you ask the commission that writes the guidelines for this, the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). These guidelines are followed by regulation agencies all over the world, e.g. the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). ICNIRP wrote one report in 2010, and a revised report in 2020, stating that thermal effects are the only effects of relevance. But if you dig deeper you’ll find that both reports were written with omissions and conflict of interest. A review on these conflicts of interest is outside the scope of this essay, but can be found in B. Koeppel (2020), Hardell (2017) and Starkey (2016).
Are there biological effects not specific to 5G?
As we know from cell biology, all cells in our body depend on the movement of charged particles in and out of the cell to maintain homeostasis, and since electromagnetic fields act on charged particles it would be natural to expect a plethora of biological responses other than thermal. In fact, even tiny electromagnetic fields activate a cellular stress response by producing a number of different stress proteins responding to DNA damage. Electromagnetic waves also affect cellular processes like ion transport, mitochondrial electron transport and other mechanisms. Indeed, DNA itself can be modeled as a small antenna, and so it would not be surprising that an electromagnetic wave can stimulate complex responses science has only begun to observe.
For example, it has been known for many decades that electromagnetic pulses can both perforate cell membranes (Coster 1965, Kinosita and Tsong 1977a, b, Chong and Reese 1990) and merge cells together (Zimmermann 2005). The perforation of cells, or electroporation, has applications in for example the field of drug delivery, diagnosis and treatment (Kim and Lee 2017), a field which has grown into a fruitful field of research (e.g. Nimpf and Keays 2017, Ashbaugh et al. 2021, Albini et al. 2019). The phenomena of electroporation lends explanatory power to the observation that the blood-brain barrier, which is supposed to protect against blood-borne toxins, fails to protect the brain when exposed to electromagnetic fields, discovered initially by Frey 1975 at levels comparable to what a cell phone emits during a conversation. Although controversial at the time, Frey’s findings were later confirmed by other research groups (see Frey 1998 for a discussion; Tang et al. 2015). Interestingly, a higher intensity of radiation does not necessarily correspond to a higher leakage, suggesting a non-linear dose-response relationship (Persson et al. 1997).
The merging of cells, or electrofusion, is related to a similar effect seen in the merging of red blood cells when exposed to EM radiation through e.g. cell phone use. Havas (2013) compared the red blood cells of a person before and after exposure to EM radiation using a microscope and found that the cells collapse together in a so-called rouleaux formation, where multiple cells stick together (Figure 2). This collapsing of cells reduce the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood and can result in the formation of blood clots (Wagner et al. 2013). One possibility of why the red blood cells collapse like this is that their electrostatic charge potential is reduced, thus rendering their normal separation impossible.
Another peculiar property of electromagnetic radiation is its potential to affect the insulin production in the body, which has direct consequences on blood sugar levels and poses a risk for diabetes. Jolley et al. (1983) found a significant decrease in insulin release in rabbits exposed to 5ms-pulsed 4 kHz electromagnetic radiation compared with controls. Later, Sakurai and Satake (2004) similarly found a 30% attenuation in the insulin production in the same breed of rabbits when exposed to extremely low frequency magnetic fields at 60Hz. In more recent times, Topesakal et al. (2017), found that electromagnetic exposure at 2.45 GHz damaged the pancreas of rats and caused a reduction in their insulin production and corresponding hyperglycemia (abnormally high levels of blood sugar levels). These last findings were corroborated by Massoumi et al. (2018). Finally, Meo and Rubeaan (2013) found that the insulin molecule itself is changed by EM radiation so that it no longer is recognized by the processes in need of it, which is related to insulin resistance (see also Li and Dai (2005)). Taken together, these animal studies show that electromagnetic radiation adversely affects insulin production at a number of different frequencies. A heightened risk for diabetes is also seen in human epidemiological studies (Havas 2008, 2009). As most cellular processes are governed by the movement of charge around the cell these results are not surprising, as discussed in detail by Yakymenko et al. (2016).
There is also substantial research on male fertility and electromagnetic radiation exposure. In a review article, Kesari et al. (2018) identify 14 in vivo studies that show adverse effects on sperm quality, motility, and volume. Some studies showing effects in vitro were also reported but these experiments often involve biological incubators which are subject to unpredictable background radiation which can render the observations inaccurate (Portelli 2013). One noteworthy epidemiological study found that males who use cell phones more than 4 hours per day had approximately 50% lower sperm count, motility and viability compared with people who had no use of the cell phone (Agarwal et al. 2008).
In another relevant study, Pandey et al. (2016) show that after exposing mice to mobile phone radiation from about one month not only reduced sperm quality but also depolarized the mitochondrial membrane, i.e. the charge potential across the membrane was disrupted. As the mitochondria is responsible for cellular metabolism and energy generation, it’s destabilization could also be a mechanism for the genesis and development of cancer as shown in the book by T. Seyfried, “Cancer as a metabolic disease” (see also Seyfriend and Chinopoulos 2021, Zorova et al. 2018). However, cancer cells also thrive in a low-oxygen environment (Hanahan and Weinberg 2011), and the reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood has already been shown above to result from EM exposure (Figure 2).
Mitochondrial dysfunction is also associated with a range of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s disease (Benassi et al. 2016), Huntington’s disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (Duffy et al. 2011, Chaturvedi and Beal, 2008). But mitochondrial dysfunction is not the only possible mechanism involved in these diseases. A recent paper published in Nature showed that long term exposure to EM radiation also caused more direct neurological degeneration in mice, manifested through demyelination of the cortical neurons (Kim et al. 2017). This type of damage to myelin sheaths is commonly associated with multiple sclerosis (Steinman 1996).
Electromagnetic radiation can also adversely affect the skin, possibly by a similar mechanism. A group of cells well-known to be involved in the body’s inflammation processes, called mast cells, will under stress produce granules of pro-inflammatory compounds, through a process called degranulation (Theoharides et al. 2012). The same type of mast cells that live on the skin have been shown to degranulate during exposure to man-made electromagnetic radiation (Tumkaya et al. 2019, Rajkovic et al. 2010, Popov et al. 2001), a process that depends on mitochondrial dynamics (Zhang et al. 2010). This inflammatory effect has also been linked to exposure to computer and cell phone use, e.g. by Kimata (2003) who found that people people with pre-existing eczema or dermatitis syndrome showed an exacerbation of symptoms when playing video games compared to healthy people. Gangi and Johansson (2000, 1997) suggest that adverse skin effects could be due to the activation of mast cells and their subsequent release of inflammatory substances such as histamine. On the other hand, ultraviolet and visible light has been known for a long time to alleviate adverse skin conditions (Kemeny et al. 2019), so clearly not all electromagnetic radiation has equal biological effects.
But even the same electromagnetic radiation affects people differently. It is known that children absorb more radiation than adults due to their different physiology (see Figure 3 below; Gandhi et al. 2012, Morgan et al. 2014, Gandhi et al. 2011, Gandhi 2015). But there are also people of all ages who are especially sensitive to electromagnetic radiation. These electrohypersensitive people often have diffuse symptoms like muscle/joint pain, nausea, skin dryness, sleep disorders, fatigue, photosensitivity, etc. In some studies, this subgroup of people has been estimated to comprise about 2–5% of the population (Johansson 2015), although in some countries the number has been estimated higher. In Taiwan, it has been estimated as high as 13% (Tseng et al. 2011). Most of these estimates are based on surveys and self-diagnosis and a clear pathogenesis has been elusive, but as suggested above, mast cells might be implicated. However, recently Piras et al. (2020) published a promising diagnostic technique by analyzing the blood plasma in electrohypersensitive people who also were diagnosed with fibromyalgia, another disease of unknown etiology (Abeles et al. 2007). When comparing with a control group, they found clear differences in the levels of metabolites that are involved in just the symptoms described above, namely muscle metabolism, stress defense and pain mechanisms. Similar objective diagnosis criteria were also found by Belpomme and Irigaray (2020), whose approach includes medical imaging tools. These results suggest that there is an objective way to diagnose electrohypersensitivity, and there is currently a scientific consensus report requesting to include electrohypersensitivity in the International Classification of Diseases of the WHO (Belpomme et al. 2021).
How does the 5G technology fit into the picture?
With 5G, the amount of data transferred wirelessly is unprecedented. Each iota of data transfer corresponds to an electromagnetic pulse or wave modulation flying from one location to another. And as the frequency of these pulses and modulations increase to accommodate for the data demand, our bodies will also be exposed to these changing signals. Details on pulsed electromagnetic waves in cell processes can be seen e.g. in Azarov et al. (2019), Hristov et al (2018) and Vernier et al (2008), all studies concerned with cellular mechanisms that maintain homeostasis of ions in the cell. Dysfunction of these mechanisms are associated with a slew of devastating conditions, e.g. Timothy syndrome, autism and developmental abnormalities, as outlined by Barrett and Sien (2007). So for a technology that promises over 20 Gb/s transfer rates (Wu, T. et al. 2015), more than 100 times more data than 4G technology, adverse biological effects would not be surprising.
Another way the 5G technology is different, is the utilization of the millimeter wave range, i.e. lower wavelengths (higher frequencies) than previous technology, although some frequencies will overlap with the existing technologies. Generally, the 5G frequencies are in the frequency range 0.4-100 GHz. Non-thermal effects in the millimeter wavelengths were shown at least as early as in 1973, as discussed by Chukova (2011), in a paper aptly titled “Doubts about Nonthermal Effects of Millimeter [MM] Radiation Have no Scientific Foundations”. In fact, a whole field spawned in the latter half of the 20th century called millimeter electromagnetobiology, with most of the work done in Eastern Europe. Unsurprisingly, a significant amount of research amassed investigating the immuno-stimulating potential of low-intensity millimeter waves, as discussed by Betskii and Levadeva (2004) and the references therein. For example, Fesenko et al. (1999) found that exposing mice to radiation ranging from 8.15–18 GHz caused a strong immune reaction, a so-called cytokine storm, during the first 5 days, which then abates below normal levels thereafter. Long term exposure effects are unknown.
Atmospheric oxygen has an absorption peak around the 60-GHz frequencies (Tretyakov et al. 2005, Makarov et al. 2011, Valdez 2001). Could it be that the binding ability of oxygen to hemoglobin in our blood is weakened after exposure to this frequency range? This could imply that the relaxation time of excited oxygen is far longer than previously thought, and so this proposition would need more study, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped the telecom industry from implementing WiGig exactly in this frequency band (WiGig wiki, IEEE 802.11ad). Other adverse effects of EM-radiation on red blood cells’ oxygen-carrying capabilities and change in morphology is discussed in detail by Rubik and Brown (2021) in their paper titled “Evidence for a connection between coronavirus disease-19 and exposure to radiofrequency radiation from wireless communications including 5G”.
Meteorologists and earth scientists are also worried that certain 5G frequencies might interfere in weather forecasts. Water vapor has an absorption peak at around 24 GHz, and if we introduce man-made EM waves in the same frequency range, signals regarding for example atmospheric humidity can be corrupted (Deeter 2007). A 2010 report made by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concluded that losing access to this frequency range would compromise 30% of all useful environmental data in microwave frequencies (Fig. 4; Witze 2019).
The evidence that wireless communication non-specific to 5G frequencies stress the planetary system has been mounting for a long time. For example, honey bees’ cognitive and motor abilities have been found to be adversely affected by low frequency EM radiation (Shepherd et al. 2020, Lupi et al 2021). Biologist D. Favre recorded the sound of bees after exposure to 2G radiation and found that they immediately went into fight-or-flight mode and shortly after abandoned the hive (clip available in the documentary Something in the Air [4m7s]). And since honey bees are responsible for approximately 80% of world pollination, a decline in this species can drastically affect our crop production (Potts et al. 2010). An comprehensive review article on the effects of electromagnetic radiation on wildlife is given by Balmori (2009).
As alluded to earlier, not all electromagnetic frequencies produce immediate pathological effects, and some frequencies have been used to activate the immune system. Geesink and Meijer (2020) put forward a fascinating theory where the frequency spectrum can be divided into unhealthy and healthy segments based on a natural geometry. Unfortunately, ~80% of the planned 5G frequencies belong to the unhealthy segments. Another study by Kostoff et al. (2020) argue that 5G technology has the potential to not only damage specific parts of the body like the eyes and kidneys, but can also contribute to adverse systemic effects as well. Hardell and Nyberg (2020) wrote a scathing warning about 5G technology to the WHO and international regulators:
“Inaction is a cost to society and is not an option anymore… we unanimously acknowledge this serious hazard to public health…that major primary prevention measures are adopted and prioritized, to face this worldwide pan-epidemic in perspective”
These warnings have been echoed by senior epidemiologists A.B. Miller and J.W. Frank.
Is anyone doing anything about this?
So as it seems 5G has the potential to be disruptive to our beloved planet and its inhabitants, is anyone sounding the alarm? The alarm is being sounded all over the world:
Groups are standing up against the roll-out of 5G. At the time of this writing, 600 cities in Italy have stopped 5G roll-out, 60 mayors and officials in France call for a moratorium on 5G, the Dutch sued their government over 5G, and multiple other actions and lawsuits are taking place internationally. An EU report has called for a moratorium on 5G (STOA 2021). There are at least three international appeals made by scientists and citizens to stop 5G (1, 2 and 3), and multiple other non-frequency specific appeals.
It is also noteworthy that The Children’s Health Defense (CHD) and Robert F Kennedy Jr. together with the Environmental Health Trust won a lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US Aug. 2021 over a disregard for scientific evidence of harm due to electromagnetic radiation. Other noteworthy events are
A letter signed by ~400 doctors to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
A petition in Italy is out to put a moratorium on 5G.
Another petition focusing on detrimental effects of 5G on the climate and its approximately 10x higher energy consumption compared to wired technology.
Alliance of Nurses for healthy environments letter to the FCC.
Physicians of Turin ask to change the law on EM radiation due to 5G.
The green party in Canada opposes 5G.
Websites are popping up to advocate for people already harmed by wireless radiation in general, like we are the evidence.org.
A number of individual scientists have engaged themselves substantially, e.g. Joel Moskowistz, PhD., Late Prof. Yuri Grigorievich Grigoriev, David Carpenter, M.D., Prof. Olle Johansson, Prof. Emeritus Martin Pall. For a more complete list see the Environmental Health Trust’s website.
One of the foremost researchers on the topic of cell biology and electromagnetism, the late Martin Blank of Columbia University, was also an avid advocate for decreasing the safe limits of EM field exposure. He wrote a book about it and participated in a global initiative of academics and scientists, called the BioInitiative, to spread awareness about the health concerns around wireless communication. This initiative has compiled more than 1000 studies showing adverse effects from EM radiation below the safety limits given by ICNIRP (e.g. BioInitiative.org). There are studies that show no significant effect, but about ~75% of these are funded by the telecom industry (Huss et al. 2007).
A number of other people have written books on the health effects of radiation (Marino 2011, Milham 2012, Firstenberg 2017, Markov et al. 2019). One of the early researchers and advocates in the field of electricity in the human biology was two-time Nobel prize nominee and orthopedic surgeon Robert Becker who wrote “The Body Electric”. Unless the public stands up in the interest of their health it is likely that the ambient level of EM radiation will increase further, to the detriment of human health, and to the economic benefit of some. In the words of Becker:
“Somehow these dangers must be brought into the open so forcefully that the entire population of the world is made aware of them. Scientists must begin to ask and seek answers […], regardless of the effect on their careers. These [electromagnetic] energies are too dangerous to be entrusted forever to politicians, military leaders, and their lapdog researchers.” (Chap 15. The Body Electric)
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Note: A lot of the referenced papers are available through google scholar, which usually has links to full-text pdfs.
Permission is given to reprint.