Can 5G technology cause cancer? There’s a lot we don’t know and it’s scary
India is ready to switch from 4G to 5G connectivity, but concerns over health risks from the technology persist. One of the biggest concerns reported in Europe is that exposure to some of the frequencies used for 5G technology could eventually lead to cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) is currently conducting a health risk assessment which is expected to be published by the end of this year. Indian telecom operators are also planning to roll out 5G technology later in 2022: it is possible that the rollout of the technology and the health risk assessment report will come around the same time.
WHO began conducting a health risk assessment of RF exposure, covering the full spectrum of RF, including 5G, in 2020. It reviews scientific evidence related to potential risks to health-related exposure to 5G as the new technology is rolled out worldwide and more public health-related data becomes available.
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Cancer, fertility risks
Globally, concerns have been raised about the negative impact of 5G technology on human health. In 2021, the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology of the European Parliamentary Research Service which studied the health impact of 5G concluded that frequencies of 450 to 6000 MHz EMF are probably carcinogenic for humans, in particular linked to gliomas. and acoustic neuromas. “These frequencies clearly affect male fertility and possibly female fertility as well. They can have adverse effects on the development of embryos, fetuses and neonates,” the panel said.
Even though the technology offers several benefits, public health experts and environmentalists have opposed the launch of the technology warning the government of its health risks.
“While 5G-specific cause and effect studies are being conducted by European agencies, a commercial launch and its spread should not be undertaken until all evidence confirms that 5G is 100% safe,” says Akash Vashishtha, an environmental lawyer.
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The WHO states that, to the date of the current research studies available, no adverse health effects have been causally linked to exposure to wireless technologies, but there are very few studies performed on the 5G.
“Tissue heating is the main mechanism of interaction between radiofrequency fields and the human body. RF exposure levels from current technologies result in a negligible increase in temperature in the human body,” the WHO states.
“As the frequency increases, there is less penetration into body tissues and the absorption of energy becomes more confined to the surface of the body (skin and eyes). As long as overall exposure remains below international recommendations, no consequences for public health are anticipated.
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So should we be worried in India?
Yes, and parliament is aware. In March 2022, the Information Technology Standing Committee (2020-21) on India’s 5G Readiness, chaired by Lok Sabha MP Shashi Tharoor, stated in its 21st Report that it believed that 5G technology was still in its infancy and that the real health dangers of radiation will only become clearer when its application becomes ubiquitous.
The Committee had recommended that the Department not only rely on WHO reports, but keep its eyes and ears open to other scientific studies and research that emerge from time to time on the health risks of 5G radiation. The Committee had also recommended that the Department collaborate with other Ministries and Institutes for India-specific long-term research to study the impact of electric and magnetic fields (EMF) from mobile towers and come up with a budget allocation adequate for this purpose.
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“There is real concern about the impact of 5G on health. So far, many studies have been conducted on the impact of radio frequencies above 6 GHz on human health. This is a frequency used by 5G networks. There are concerns about its impact on the surface of the skin, radiation penetration under the skin, possible carcinogenicity, impact on cognitive function as well as reproductive function,” says Dr Praveen Gupta, Senior Director and Head of Department of Neurology, Fortis Memorial Research Institute, Gurugram.
“However, currently available studies on the impact of radiation of 6 GHz and above on human health have yielded only inconsistent results. Thus, there are no convincing data at this stage which, despite the risks theoretical, actually predispose to a concrete risk to human health from here on in. However, such large-scale deployment of this frequency was not tested earlier and within the next decade we would be able to understand clearly the health risks of 5G deployment,” he adds.
Earlier in July, Indian telecom giants like Airtel and Reliance Jio participated in the 5G spectrum auction.
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