Health | 5G: what are the health risks?

Is 5G dangerous for health? The question is rising, and so are concerns, as this new mobile phone technology is deployed.

Update on what science says.

– What is 5G?

A major upheaval in the telecommunications industry, this technology will offer a much higher speed than the current 4G, with faster access to content and the possibility of circulating billions of data without congestion.

5G will allow all kinds of electronic equipment to be connected to each other, which will make futuristic applications possible: autonomous cars, automated factories, remote surgery, “intelligent” robots …

To increase the volume of data, 5G will use a higher frequency band than current mobile telephony: starting at 3.5 gigahertz (GHz) first and then, ultimately, above 26 GHz.

But the higher the frequency, the shorter the range of the waves. This is why the deployment of 5G will require an increase in the number of antennas, a prospect that worries some NGOs.

– Radiofrequencies and health: what does science say?

Cell phones but also television, radio or wi-fi: the sources of exposure to radiofrequencies are numerous, which causes “fears”, as the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes.

“Despite extensive research, there is no indication for the moment that exposure to low-intensity electromagnetic fields is dangerous for human health,” said WHO.

This lack of proven short-term effect applies “to the various sources of exposure, mobile phones being among the most present in number and intensity”, Olivier Merckel, an expert from the security agency, told AFP. sanitary Anses, before the start last January of the expertise it is conducting on 5G.

However, some studies suggest “a possible increase in the risk of brain tumor, in the long term, for intensive users of mobile phones”, recalls ANSES, which published in 2013 an assessment of the risks associated with radiofrequencies.

This is why the Circ, the WHO agency specializing in cancer, in 2011 classified radiofrequencies as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”, recommending hands-free kits for cellphones.

Moreover, in a 2016 report, ANSES estimated that waves from cellphones, tablets or connected toys could have effects on children’s cognitive functions – memory, attention, coordination -. She recommended limiting their exposure.

– Biological or health effects?

“The main biological effect of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields is thermal in nature”, ie the increase in temperature of exposed areas, according to the WHO.

This is the principle of microwave ovens, and this is why power thresholds are imposed on laptops.

Furthermore, “studies have shown the existence of biological effects on certain very specific parameters, such as sleep or blood pressure,” according to Mr. Merckel.

But, and this point is important, biological effect does not necessarily mean health effect, that is to say danger to health. A distinction difficult to grasp for the general public.

Biological effects are a sign that the organism adapts to variations in its environment. For example, physical exertion causes the body’s temperature to rise, which is a normal physiological response that can be reversed.

The whole question is whether the accumulation of biological effects exceeds the adaptive capacity of our body, which can then have consequences on health.

– Questions specific to 5G?

This is the subject of the expert appraisal that ANSES is currently carrying out and the results of which are expected in the first quarter of 2021.

In its roadmap, the agency noted “a significant lack, even an absence of data relating to biological and health effects” in the frequency bands concerned.

Its experts will work separately on the two types of frequencies used by 5G, because they do not raise the same questions.

The frequency bands through which we start to deploy 5G, around 3.5 GHz, “are close to those currently used for 4G or wi-fi”, according to Mr. Merckel.

This therefore does not radically change the questions that science is asking, even if, according to ANSES, “the specificity of 5G signals (modulation, power) could influence exposure levels”.

On the other hand, the situation is different for the frequencies which will be used then, from 26 GHz (this is what is called “5G millimeter”).

“From 10 GHz, the electromagnetic energy hardly penetrates any more in the body but is concentrated at the level of the skin: this poses different questions in terms of potential effects on health“, according to Mr. Merckel.

“Research data on the highest frequencies, between 20 and 60 GHz, are still scarce,” ANSES stressed in its roadmap.

In 2012, she assessed the risks of body scanners used at airports, which also work with millimeter waves. Conclusion: “this type of scanner would not present any health risk”.

But if the waves are of the same type, the use is different: with 5G, the public’s exposure will be much wider.

– A society going too fast?

Beyond the issue of airwaves, NGOs opposed to 5G fear that it will push us into a world out of control: a society where everything will go too fast and where people will always be more connected, their eyes more than ever. glued to the screens.

This question, that of the societal impact of these technologies, is also on the ANSES program, in another study which will take at least two years.

It will not specifically address 5G and will not address the issue of radiation, but will deal with the effects of digital exposure on health in the broad sense: well-being, mental health, obesity, etc.

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