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EMFAQS including 5G

We assembled this FAQs after we realised that we were having to repeatedly explain the same things to people about human exposure to RF, and particularly 5G. They represent, in no particular order, answers to common questions and responses to misunderstandings. They are occasionally updated as we feel the need. If you want to discuss them further or want to know more, please do contact us using the tab at the top of the page

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. 

In addition to the practical experience of what it feels like, a number of elegant experiments on human volunteers have shown that above a few MHZ there appear to be no electrical stimulation effects, and we also have good theoretical reasons arising from what we know about the electrical behaviour of cells and membranes to not expect it

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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.

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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

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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.

More on that  here (new window). Back to top

5 What about the Precautionary Principle?

We have a page on that too here. (New window). Back to top

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

Yes they did. We have a page on what that means here(opens in new window).

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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 (opens in a new window). Back to top

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 telecommunications 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.
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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 (opens in new link).
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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.

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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."

(opens in new window)

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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 (new window). For phones, for example, this means that they are all "SAR tested"   Those product standards reference official European/UK exposure limits (new window).

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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.

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

We have a whole page on that here. (New window).

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15 Is 5G millimetre waves?

Mostly not, (see FAQ14 above) though there may be some use of frequencies above 20 GHz in data applications. Mostly 5G uses low GHz frequencies similar to 2G and 3G and WiFi, and there is some at TV frequencies. 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.   

We may see an increase in mm wave data applications, but that's not a requirement of 5G, and certainly not its main use, 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.

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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 15, 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. It's like the difference between tap water and a water cannon. Yes you could use tap water as a weapon, but you would have to put it in a bottle and throw it at somebody.

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

MIMO (multiple in, multiple out) is a technology used in many WiFi routers. It means the ability of 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 and at some point in the future 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. And, the better the beam shaping the less power is needed to talk to/from a device.

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

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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 lossy 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

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19 Is 5G "untested" ?

No.  As we discussed in question 12, 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.

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20 Is 5G killing birds?

No. This is biophysically impossible. Not only is 5G almost all like 3G and 2G (FAQ15), 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. There was no 5G transmission at the location on the day claimed. (Opens in new window)

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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. The absorption of radiofrequency fields by insects is essentially zero because of their small size. This is why a fly can emerge unharmed from a microwave oven.

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22 Does 5G suck the oxygen out of your body /interact with vaccines /"graphene oxide" etc?

There is a whole raft of nonsense on the internet associating 5G with COVID or vaccines. We have tried here to address some of the more common ones.

The first one to arise was probably the claim that 5G was actually responsible for the symptoms of COVID by "sucking the oxygen out of your body". This was predicated on the idea that 5G is mm wave and that there is a resonance in the absorption spectrum of oxygen at 60 GHz. As we have discussed, 5G mostly isn't mm wave and what is can be found at much lower frequencies than 60 GHz. In addition the oxygen resonance is just, effectively, the "colour" of the atmosphere. Absorption, transmission and reflection are what we see by. Claiming that an absorption at 60 GHz can affect oxygen uptake makes as much sense as claiming that red light also affects oxygen uptake because haemoglobin is red.

It's also worth observing that the penetration depth of mm waves into the body is far less than skin deep, so it's hard to visualise how any interaction with blood cells or air in the lungs could occur.

There are many other reasons to dismiss this silly idea, but these alone are enough to kill it dead.

The other common conspiracy theory is that 5G somehow "activates" or communicates with the COVID vaccine via either injected nano antennas or the "metallic adjutants" in the vaccine. Setting aside once again the fact that most 5G isn't mm wave, even if it were:

  • Any antenna has to have dimensions comparable to wavelength, meaning injected antennas would be too big to be injectable or to pass down blood vessels
  • Vaccine adjutants are metallic compounds, not metallic particles. This confusion is akin to believing that table salt contains metallic sodium and gaseous chlorine. Metal nanoparticles are very reactive, and even if injected would rapidly and exothermically oxidise
  • Since the penetration depth of mm waves is less than skin depth, no injected antenna could use those frequencies to communicate with the outside world
  • A small passive antenna with no power source could not communicate with a distant base station

"Graphene oxide" is the latest buzzphrase from the 5G conspiracy crowd. Graphene oxide is a genuine thing; it refers to the use of graphene membranes or particles that have reactive oxygen-containing groups such as carboxyls or hyroxyls attached to the graphene surface. They have been proposed as a new adjuvant for vaccines amongst a number of other possible applications. There is exactly no reason to think these materials could interact with a 5G signal, and the same considerations of size vs wavelength and penetration depth of signal apply as for the claims about "metallic nanoparticles"

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23 Were US embassy staff in Havana made ill by a microwave weapon?

No. This news story is a rather dismal outcome of asking a bunch of people who know nothing about RF to report on the matter. Their report seems to have been based on the premise that since we can't think of anything else that might have caused it, it must have been microwaves. There is exactly no more evidence to support their conclusions than that.

To elicit biological (and not even health) responses, the microwave power density would have to have been so high that the curtains would have caught fire and every metallic surface in the room been sparking. And to achieve such a power density inside a building would have needed a huge directed energy weapon, which might have been conspicuous...

Finally, nobody reported any elevated levels of RF in or around the building. That's very much the clincher. This whole claim is just confected nonsense.

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24 Lots of countries have banned 5G, haven't they?

No. No country has banned 5G. It's a claim frequently made but never verified. The most usual claim is that it is Switzerland, but this is not so. (Opens in a new window) A number of municipalities have voted to oppose 5G, but this is essentially meaningless in most cases. Some municipalities have introduced "precautionary" limits for phone systems but since public exposures from phone systems are far below limits anyway, this is of essentially no consequence.

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25 Have trees been cut down or cut back to facilitate 5G?

This is one often claimed by anti 5G activists, but there is not one actual independently confirmed example of it. The only source for it seems to be the websites of the activists themselves. We checked with The Woodland Trust in UK, and their response was that they also had not seen or heard of an actual example beyond occasional root damage caused when fibre backhop was run in trenches, a common potential problem with any urban streetworks.

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26 Have people made measurements showing that 5G base stations exceed limits?"

It depends what one means by "people" and "showing". Certainly there are YouTube clips of anti 5G activists holding meters in front of masts and showing "high levels", but that doesn't mean they are valid. One can buy on the internet cheap "meters" that make a noise or flash an LED or move a needle when held near a base station. Not only are they entirely uncalibrated, it is a truism that any measurement of RF made with a meter held in ones hand has to be wrong. This is because the presence of the human body, and particularly the hand, distorts the measurement sufficiently to make it meaningless. The exposure levels at locations of public access near base stations are very, very low - tiny fractions of limits - and measuring them in any meaningful way requires remote read-out probes and sensitive frequency-selective analysers, and the experience and expertise to use them.

When we look at reliable measurements made by competent, trained people using appropriate, calibrated equipment, we glean that exposure levels are effectively insignificant. (Opens in a new window)

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27 Does lead or lead paint shield against 5G?"

One might have hoped that this would never need to be answered, but...

Firstly, lead is used to shield against ionising radiation because of its high density and high atomic number. Both are entirely irrelevant to RF shielding, where the important parameters are electrical. For 5G frequencies, any metal would do it. Lead is no more effective than aluminium or copper or steel and is expensive, soft and, of course, toxic, so it would be a pretty poor choice.

Lead paint is not a radio shield. It contains lead compounds, not metallic lead, and is not conductive. It will have no significant effect on 5G or any other radio signal.

RF shielding paints do exist, and they contain metallic particles of high conductivity such as silver, copper or nickel.

  • 1 What are the known effects of exposure to EMF?
  • 2 People claim other effects, at lower levels don't they?
  • 3 What does the science say?
  • 4 But couldn't the science change?
  • 5 What about the Precautionary Principle?
  • 6 Didn't IARC say that mobile phone signals were "possibly carcinogenic"?
  • 7 Didn't the US National Toxicology Program find cancer in rats exposed to phone signals?
  • 8 Is it true that all the studies that find no effects are from the telecommunications industry?
  • 9 Are all the independent expert groups such as ICNIRP and WHO controlled by industry?
  • 10 Has the insurance industry refused to cover anyone against disease or injury caused by phone technologies?
  • 11 Are some people more sensitive to EMF?
  • 12 How do we know that phones and other equipment are safe?
  • 13 Are exposure limits and product test standards fully-protective of children?
  • 14 What are the implications of 5G for human exposure?
  • 15 Is 5G millimetre waves?
  • 16 Is 5G a weapon or "military technology"?
  • 17 What's MIMO and "beamshaping", and is it dangerous?
  • 18 Can sweat glands in the skin act as antennas for 5G?
  • 19 Is 5G "untested" ?
  • 20 Is 5G killing birds?
  • 21 Is 5G killing bees?
  • 22 Does 5G suck the oxygen out of your body /interact with vaccines/ "graphene oxide" etc?
  • 23 Were US embassy staff in Havana made ill by a microwave weapon?
  • 24 Lots of countries have banned 5G, haven't they?
  • 25 Have trees been cut down or cut back to facilitate 5G?
  • 26 Have people made measurements showing that 5G base stations exceed limits?
  • 27 Does lead or lead paint shield against 5G?

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