Wireless Communication Technology and Health: From 1G to 5G and beyond

What we know. What we do not know. What we should know.

Dariusz Leszczynski, PhD, DSc

Retired; Adjunct Professor, University of Helsinki, Finland; Chief Editor, Radiation and Health of the Frontiers in Public Health, Lausanne, Switzerland

In early 70’s and 80’s, the first generation (1G) of mobile phones and cell tower networks were deployed without prior testing for human health safety. It was assumed that the emitted low power is harmless. However, decades later, in 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified radiation emitted by cell phones and cell towers, by then already 3rd and 4th generation (3G and 4G), as a possible human carcinogen (category 2B).

Since the 2011 classification, a number of research studies was published that not only strengthened the evidence for the 2B classification but provided data suggesting that the IARC classification could be upgraded to the level of a probable human carcinogen (category 2A).

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Besides the epidemiology and animal studies that form the core of the IARC classification, there is a sizable number of studies indicating that the radiation emitted by mobile phones acts via thermal and non-thermal mechanisms. The biological mechanism activated by the mobile phone radiation exposure is the classic cellular stress response. Activation of the stress response, the first line of cellular defense, leads to activation of a diverse variety of cellular signaling pathways, leading to changes in gene and protein expression and activity. All these changes aim to protect cells from the effects of exposure to radiation emitted by mobile phones. If and when the cellular defenses fail, pathological processes may begin.

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Currently, the new generation of wireless communication, the 5G, is being rapidly deployed. The 5G will introduce new radiation, the millimeter-waves, that was also not tested for human health hazard. Studies on biological and health effects of the millimeter-waves are scarce.

In spite of the experiences with the 1G – 4G, the new 5G is being deployed without health testing because of the same discredited assumption that low power emitted by the 5G will not cause harm. It is déjà vu all over again as shows the experience with the deployment of 1G – 4G.

In summary, it is known that 1G – 4G emitted radiation affects development of human brain cancer and development of cancer in animals, through thermal and non-thermal mechanisms triggered by the activation of cellular stress response. For the currently deployed 5G, the biological and health effects of the millimeter-waves are largely unknown because of the lack of appropriate scientific studies.

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In conclusion, the to-date gathered information on biological and health effects of 1G – 5G mobile communication devices suggests that there are sufficient grounds for implementation of the Precautionary Principle, as specified by the European Union. While deployment of new technologies needs to continue, it is necessary to determine whether everything and everywhere needs to be wireless. Especially, the use of optic fiber technology should be considered, whenever possible and feasible, as a reliable replacement for the wireless technology.

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Between a Rock and a Hard Place – Dariusz Leszczynski