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An independent consultancy based in UK and operating internationally, providing advice and measurements on public and occupational exposure to electromagnetic fields and  RF radiation.

1 What are the known effects of exposure to EMF?

At low frequencies (below 100 kHz) the risk is from voltages and currents flowing in the body as a result of exposure to electric and magnetic fields. It's the same effect as electric shock  - although it's effectively impossible to be killed by EMF, it is possible in some industrial situations to feel peripheral nerve stimulation or see "lights in the eyes" as a result of current flow in the retina. These effects require very high levels of exposure indeed, well above public safety limits. 

 

Like any electrical system, the human nervous system has a limited bandwidth, and above about 100 kHz it becomes increasingly unable to be affected by EMF. At higher frequencies (above 10 MHz) the effects of exposure are thermal - you get hot if exposed to very high levels - and safety limits are set to avoid any risk of heating.

 

Between 100 kHz and 10 MHz both effects can occur, but in fact there are not that many sources of exposure in this "intermediate" frequency range (although there are a few).

 

This shift from electrical to thermal effects is why a current in your body of 5 mA at 50 Hz can kill you, but 300 mA in your arm at 50 MHz can be felt as a slight warming.

 

2 People claim other effects, at lower levels don't they?

Yes they do. You can read on the internet claims of effects ranging from from autism though Alzheimer’s disease to miscarriage and cancer. It’s important to understand the basis for these claims to understand why they are not reflected in the views of expert review groups.

 

Scientific research isn’t exact. This isn’t a failing – it’s just how it is. We know that somewhere between 20 and 30% of all biomedical research results in false positives. That’s either results which no-one can replicate, or the outcomes of co-incidence or – in some cases – a direct consequence of poor experimental design. EMF research is not immune to that; indeed because the experimental design is quite difficult in most cases, it’s arguably more prone to it than other areas. There are good data from EMF research that show that experiments with better quality control are much less likely to “find something” than those without.

 

Taking for example the studies just on radiofrequency fields (RF): there are over 25,000 of these published across many decades and covering human exposure, cell biology, animal studies, behavioural studies and many other disciplines. Since we know that maybe a quarter will be “false positives” we would expect to see several thousand studies showing an effect even if there were none. And that’s what we see. They split something like 80:20 in favour of no effect, but that 20% or so is still a lot of studies “showing harm”.

 

So it’s possible by looking only at this subset of studies to construct what looks to be a quite solid case that RF/EMF causes a range of disease, and to cite thousands of published papers supporting that. However, in order to get an unbiased picture of the situation, it's necessary to review all the science. 

 

3 What does the science say?

So much that we have a whole page on it here (opens in a new window), covering 

  • independent expert reviews
  • biophysical interaction mechanisms
  • population-level effects

4 But couldn't the science change?

That's unlikely. We have over 25,000 published papers, and more than $12bn (US) has been spent on research, across many decades. After ionising radiation, this is perhaps the most researched physical agent there is. To overturn the existing consensus and set up and new one would require at least as much new evidence, pointing (unlike the existing evidence) in the direction of harm.


The background to this is that most of the studies were funded because of public health concern. The findings of the independent expert review groups discussed in answer to question 3 above are quite convincing, the research-to-date is very comprehensive, and no public health or research funding body on the planet nowadays is prioritising EMF research. The numbers of studies still being done are comparatively tiny, and little remains unexplored.


5 What about the Precautionary Principle?

We have a page on that too, here.

 

6 Didn't IARC say that mobile phone signals were "possibly carcinogenic"?

Yes they did. We have a page on what that means here.

 

7 Didn't the US National Toxicology Program find cancer in rats exposed to phone  signals?

Possibly, but it's a rather controversial study. More on that here.

 

8 Is it true that all the studies that find no effects are from the telecommunications industry?

No. This claim is based on a slight sleight-of-hand. We know that the better the quality of a study, the less likely it is to find an effect.  In the late 1990s there were many very large and well-funded national and international research programmes into mobile phone health effects.  The oversight of these was strict; they insisted on good experimental procedures and exposure classification from the very start (for example in UK the Department of Health's MTHR research programme used the National Physical Laboratory to ensure experimental quality). As a result they, in general, tended to not find a problem. Indeed it is the results of these large programmes that in the main drive the conclusions of the expert review groups.

 

These studies were in most cases funded by health agencies or governments, but often had a contribution from  a levy on the telcommunications industry. The industry had no part in the research management and its only contribution was financial, from behind strict firewalls. Nevertheless, it is this that leads to the claim that "industry" studies are the ones that find no effects. 

 

9 Are all the independent expert groups such as ICNIRP and WHO controlled by industry?

No. They are made up of distinguished independent scientists from universities and radiation protection institutes around the world. Anyone with connections to the telecommunications industry is excluded. They also exclude antiphone campaigners, for the same reasons. Membership of these groups is on merit, qualifications and relevant experience, as well as independence. Does that make them devoid of any "interest"? Probably not, but it can be argued that nobody really is.


10 Has the insurance industry refused to cover anyone against disease or injury caused by phone technologies?

Not exactly.  It's true that insurance companies won't pay for health-based court cases and claims against telecommunications companies, but this is because those cases have never succeeded in any country except Italy (once) and unless the science changes they are not likely to succeed in the future. It's the same as your health insurance not covering you against being eaten by space aliens.


Insurance companies do cover employers against any claims arising from worker occupational overexposures to electromagnetic fields, because potential overexposures compared to limits are real (if rare) things in a handful of occupational situations.

11 Are some people more sensitive to EMF?

If we consider thermal effects, then possibly. It has been suggested that some people (pregnant women, people on certain medications) may have impaired thermoregulatory ability. This is why general public limits are set five times lower than occupational limits, which are themselves considered entirely protective. 

 

If we consider the possibility that some people are susceptible to low level EMF in a way that others aren't - (so called electromagnetic hypersensitivity, EHS) then no. The evidence on this is now quite clear and unequivocal. WHO says:

 

EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and there is no scientific basis to link EHS symptoms to EMF exposure. Further, EHS is not a medical diagnosis, nor is it clear that it represents a single medical problem.


12 How do we know that phones and other equipment are safe?

Every phone, radio or other EMF-emitting device that is put on the market in the EU (and UK) has to be "safe" with respect to EMF emissions. In practice this means that they have to be assessed against product standards. For phones, for example, this means that they are all "SAR tested"

 

Those product standards reference official European exposure limits.

 

Nowadays the test distance for phones against thye body is 5 mmor less. It used to be allowed to test and declare compliance at greater distances, typically 10-15 mm, (which doesn't mean that the phones didn't comply at closer distances, it was just the test distance). That's why the mannuals of some older phones recommend that they are kept 10-15 mm from the body in use. Tests for phones against the head have always been at zero distance.

 

13 Are exposure limits and product test standards fully-protective of children?

Yes.  The test procedures are highly conservative in that they overestimate exposure. You may read on the internet that the physical models used in phone testing are large, and this is true, but there are good data and solid theory to show that larger heads absorb more strongly than smaller heads, so the test procedures will be even more protective for children.

 

You may also read that children are "more sensitive" because they have thinner skulls. This is simply incorrect. Children have more subcutaneous fat and also skulls with higher water content, both of which attenuate phone signals more than for most adults.

 

14 What are the implications of 5G for human exposure? 

There's a lot of confusion about what 5G does and doesn't mean in terms of human exposure, ranging from the entirely ludicrous (conference papers claiming that 5G will "stimulate skin pain sensors") to the simply bewildered (5G is a new "thing", so that represents a qualitative change in human exposure to RF, right?).

Part of the problem is that 5G as known entity doesn't really exist physically yet outside a few test areas, and it is somewhat different in practice than many people think. How can that be? Well, it's a matter of what 5G is.

 

We have put a short summary of what 5G is and isn't, on a separate page.

What does all that mean for human exposure?

The big change that will come with 5G will be the proliferation of low-power sources in urban areas. With 2G we saw comparatively few high power base stations; 3 and 4G meant more - but much lower power - small cells. 5G will continue that trend, not only with phone technologies, but also data nodes and IoT hubs in the home. This is most likely going to be, in terms of human exposure, much like 3G and WiFi albeit at much lower levels and in many more places. Does that mean higher exposure? No. This is a common misconception. It's likely to be lower in reality. Why? well, consider that a device at the edge of cell needs a certain signal strength to connect. That minimum signal strength is the same whether the device is on the edge of a large cell or a small cell. Since small cells are perhaps ten metres across and large cells can be kms, and the power requirements vary as the inverse square of distance to the cell boundary, , the power in used a large cell will be thousands of times higher and so exposure levels inside the large cell will be (in general) larger than in the small cell. Consider a landscape of a thousand molehills vs a single large mountain. Which has the highest average altitude?

 

15 Is 5G millimetre waves?

Mostly not, though there may be some use of frequencies above 20 GHz in future applications. Mostly 5G uses frequencies similar to 2G and 3G (see question 13). Millimetre waves > 20 GHz are actually already used in 3G and 4G backhops, and for other applications, for example satellite internet and, increasingly, HD satellite TV services.   

 

If mm wave small cells do come to fruition then we may see an increase in mm wave applications, but that's not a requirement of 5G and it would be wrong to imagine that 5G means a qualitative change whereby people are suddenly exposed to significant levels of mm waves where they weren't before.

 

16 Is 5G a weapon or "military technology"?

No. This is a fallacy that arises from the belief that 5G is all mm wave and that mm wave is a military application.

 

As we discussed in question 13, and here, 5G is mostly rather like 3G, 2G and TV  transmissions. There is some spectrum above 20 GHz, but most of it isn't.

 

The US military does have a high power millimetre wave "area denial system", but this works by firing very, very high power beams at crowds. It's effects are due to its high power, with intensities up to a million times higher than 5G. It's the intensity that makes that system a non-lethal weapon, an intensity that 5G simply doesn't have.

 

17 What's MIMO and "beamshaping", and is it dangerous?

MIMO (multipe in, multiple out) is a technology used in many WiFi routers. It means the ability for an antenna to transmit signals in different directions at the same time. Beamshaping is a technology used in current 2G and 3G base stations where an array of small antennas act in unison to shape an overall beam. The two technologies together imply that a smart 5G base station could in theory have "steerable" beams that can follow moving devices. That doesn't, contrary to what can be read on the internet, mean that exposures are higher. A device doesn't need more signal because it is communicating via a steerable beam than it does if it is using a fixed beam.

 

It has even been claimed that this technology produces beams which penetrate deeper into the body than otherwise. This is simply nonsense.

 

18 Can sweat glands in the skin act as antennas for 5G?

No. This is speculation from an Israeli university with no theoretical or experimental background.  It's physically impossible for a number of reasons:

 

  • As we have already discussed, 5G mostly isn't mm wave and this claim is that sweat glands act as antennas for mm waves.
  • Sweat glands are entirely the wrong size.
  • Sweat glands are watery biological structures which can't act as antennas
  • The substrate in which the glands are embedded is conductive at microwave frequencies, meaning that the glands are effectively short circuited

19 Is 5G "untested" ? 

No.  As we discussed in question 11, every radio device is tested and certified against exposure limits.


There are over 25,000 published papers on radiofrequency fields underlying those limits*. Even if we focus only on mm waves (and remember that 5G mostly isn't mm wave) there are around 500 published papers on possible biological and health effects at those frequencies.


So it's entirely incorrect to say it is "untested".

 

*Biological effects of millimeter and submillimeter waves. Alekseev SI and Ziskin MC in Handbook of Biological Effects of Electromagnetic Fields (B. Greenebaum and F. Barnes, editors), 4th ed., Chapter 6, pp. 179-242, 2019, CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL.

 

20 Is 5G killing birds? 

No.  This is biophysically impossible.  Not only is 5G almost all like 3G and 2G, which don't kill birds, there is no mechanism for this to happen at low levels, and the intensities of the signal are just too small for it to be caused by effects that actually do exist.


There is a YouTube video purporting to be of birds being killed by a 5G mast in the Netherlands. This has been debunked. It has been shown that there was no 5G transmission at the location on the day claimed.


21 Is 5G killing bees? 

No. Bees are killed by pesticides, disease and lack of flowers. The evidence for bees dying from 5G is on a par with that for birds. It is a YouTube video of a claimed 5G mast in California (actually it is not 5G) with some dead bees next to it.  

 

22 Does 5G suck all the oxygen out of your body? 

Unsurprisingly, no.  This claim is based on a whole string of misunderstanding concanated together on a lunatic (and we don't use that word lightly) anti 5G YouTube video. Not science.

 

The argument goes that 5G uses a frequency of 60 GHz, oxygen resonates at 60 GHz, so 5G can pull the oxygen clean out of your body, collapse your lungs and in fact this is what COVID 19 corona virus really is. As we have discussed already, 5G doesn't use 60 GHz. Partly that's because of technology constraints, and partly it's because 60 GHz is really bad for radio propagation because, yes, oxygen gas is rather opaque at that frequency. And that is what we mean when we say "has a resonance". Every degree of opacity or colour we encounter is because of either scattering or bond/vibrational resonances. There's nothing scary about it. It's why grass is green and primroses are yellow: there are substances in them that absorb light such that what's reflected and transmitted is coloured. That's what we're talking about here. If we could see in radio waves, there would be a tint to the air because oxygen absorbs some frequencies. And water absorbs some other ones. Here's a nice graph that shows the water and oxygen absorption in the microwave band, from this source at FCC (opens as a pdf) which is worth a read if you want to know more about this subject.

 

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As you can see, oxygen and water between them make that bit of spectrum quite colourful. The only real implication for radio communications is that propagation distance drops the higher the absorption. If you want to send a signal for many miles, that's an issue. But if you actually want to reuse a small bit of spectrum several times within a small geographical area without interference, having poor propagation actually can help. That's why it's likely that we will one day see some systems using these resonant frequencies specifically for very small local cells.  But not yet.


But, that's free oxygen. Oxygen bound in haemoglobin doesn't have any such resonance; not that it would matter because mm waves can't penetrate the body anyway. And of course even if it did, and even if bound oxygen ions in haemoglobin had such a resonance, which they don't, none of this means that there is any mechanism at all for oxygen to be "sucked out" of your body.  Blood is red becuase it absorbs and scatters 

red light (660 nm wavelength) when oxygenated. That's another resonance. That doesn't mean that a red light will suck all the blood out of your body. 


So in summary:

  • 5G doesn't use 60 GHz
  • Even if it did 60 GHz couldn't penetrate the skin
  • Oxygen bound to haemoglobin in the body doesn't have a 60 GHz resonance
  • Having a resonance doesn't mean that stuff is pulled out of your body. It just makes it colourful.

This is genuinely one of the more stupid claims around 5G

You can download all the FAQs as a pdf using the link below


 

EMF FAQs including 5G.pdf
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