5G questions and answers

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Health

What research has been done on the health effects of 5G?

5G is just another application of radio technology. There is nothing unique to 5G that would make it interact differently with the body than other radiofrequency fields (radio signals). For this reason all the previous research on radiofrequency (RF) fields and health also tells us about the effects and safe levels of 5G. You can read about this at Research into non-ionising radiation.

Will 5G produce much higher exposures to RF fields than other mobile phone technologies?

Measurements on 5G sites show that exposures are similar to or lower than those from existing cellular technologies.

Have some countries banned 5G because of health concerns?

The Ministry does not know of any countries that have banned 5G because of health concerns. While it has been claimed that Switzerland, Japan and the city of Brussels have banned 5G, Switzerland already has 5G sites operating (it will cover 90% of the country by the end of 2019), Japan also has 5G and Brussels has an agreement with operators to deploy it. This agreement includes relaxation of Brussels’ current strict exposure limits. The European Union 5G Observatory maintains reliable, up-to-date information on the deployment of 5G in the European Union and many other places.

There is a lot of contradictory information about 5G and health on the internet. How do I know what to trust?

When looking at information on the internet or any other source, it is important to distinguish between advocacy and considered, impartial assessment of research. An impartial assessment starts with no preconceived conclusions, considers all the relevant research, assesses it for its strengths and weaknesses and draws conclusions based on that assessment. Advocacy, on the other hand, presents selected information to support a particular viewpoint and does not attempt to weigh up the merits of competing viewpoints.

In assessing the views presented in a report or website, think about the following questions.

  • What expertise do the authors have? Does it cover the range needed to fully assess the relevant literature (for example, biology, epidemiology, engineering/physics, statistics) or is it limited in scope or carried out by an individual?
  • What is the stated purpose of the report/website? Is it to make a balanced assessment, or support a particular viewpoint?
  • Did the authors complete a systematic search for their research literature, or do they only refer to literature supporting a particular point of view?
  • How was the quality of the research literature assessed?
  • Does it present information in an impartial way or does it use emotional appeal and anecdotes?

The requirements for a fair assessment are similar to the obligations of an expert witness in court. The overriding duty is impartiality and not to act as an advocate for one position or another. They must identify not only the data that supports their opinions, but also material that might detract from them.

The review of animal cancer studies published by the Health Council of the Netherlands in 2014 provides a good, succinct example of an impartial assessment.

Is it true that a 5G trial in the Netherlands caused the deaths of hundreds of birds?

No. About 350 birds were found dead in a park in The Hague in October 2018, but this was unrelated to 5G. The only 5G testing in the area occurred four months previously and only lasted one day.

The technology

5G will use higher frequencies than existing mobile phone technologies. Does this mean that they are more dangerous?

You can think of the frequency of a radio transmitter as where you would tune a receiver to pick up the signal. Initially 5G will use frequencies similar to those already used by 4G. After a couple of years, higher frequencies, similar to those used for point-to-point radio communication links, will be introduced. (Sometimes these are called ‘millimetre waves’.)

The way the body interacts with radio waves changes slowly as the frequency increases – at millimetre wave frequencies, very little of the energy in the wave travels deeper than the skin. These variations are well understood and are reflected in the New Zealand Exposure Standard, which sets out rules to prevent harmful effects at all frequencies.

Do millimetre waves carry more energy than the frequencies used at the moment?

The energy carried by a radio wave depends on the power of the transmitter that produces it, not on the frequency of the radio wave. All other things being equal, millimetre waves will carry the same amount of energy as the radio waves currently used for 3G and 4G.

Will the use of millimetre waves require many more cellsites?

Millimetre waves best suit areas with a high density of people, such as sports stadiums, central city areas and inside large buildings. Because walls and glass easily block them, a higher number of small, low-power sites may be needed in these areas. In suburban areas, 5G sites operating at lower frequencies with spacings similar to existing sites would be more suitable.

Is it true that 5G is used in weapons?

No. Some websites claim that 5G is also used in ‘directed energy weapons’ that target individuals with very high intensity, focussed radio beams. 5G signals use much, much lower intensities and very different frequencies than those used by directed energy weapons. The New Zealand Exposure Standard prevents any public use of radio technology that causes harm.

Exposure limits

Who sets exposure limits in New Zealand?

The Ministry of Health recommends limits for exposures to RF fields. They base their recommendations on careful reviews of the research carried out by independent health and scientific bodies.

What are the exposure limits in New Zealand?

Currently the Ministry of Health recommends the limits set in the New Zealand Standard NZS 2772.1:1999 Radiofrequency Fields Part 1: Maximum exposure levels – 3 kHz to 300 GHz. These limits follow recommendations made in 1998 by an international scientific body recognised by the World Health Organisation for its independence and expertise in this area. Many other countries have adopted similar limits. Under the Resource Management Act, mobile phone network operators must comply with the limits in the Standard.

The limits in the New Zealand Standard were set over twenty years ago. Aren’t they outdated?

The New Zealand limits are based on international recommendations which are reviewed periodically (most recently in 2017) to check they are still fit for purpose. The fact that the limits remain unchanged after such a long time should be reassuring, as it means that more recent research has not turned up any unexpected findings.

The international recommendations are currently under review but the Ministry expects no major changes.

Will exposure limits be relaxed in order to accommodate 5G?

The Ministry of Health recommends exposure limits based only on health research, not the needs of mobile phone network operators or other people who operate radio transmitters. Recommendations would only be relaxed if the research shows this will not cause health effects.

Exposures

Who monitors exposures from cellsites?

The Resource Management Act requires mobile phone network operators to obtain independent exposure measurements of cellsites if they predict exposures will exceed one quarter of the public limit in the New Zealand Standard. The network operator must submit the results to the local authority within three months of the site starting up.

In addition, network operators commission random independent monitoring of sites around the country. The results are available at Independent cellsite monitoring.

What are the exposures from existing cellsites?

Exposures vary depending on the numbers of calls and data traffic passing through a site. Normally they are highest during the day and early evening and lower at night. During the day, the highest exposures at most sites are more than one hundred times below the public limit in the New Zealand Standard. At all sites, the maximum possible exposure is well below the public limit.

What are the exposures from 5G cellsites?

Results available to date show that exposures from 5G transmitters are very similar to those from 3G and 4G transmitters.

Work in New Zealand

Who monitors the research in New Zealand?

The Ministry of Health convenes a technical advisory committee (the Interagency Committee on the Health Effects of Non-ionising Fields) to monitor and review research on the health effects of electromagnetic fields. The Committee reports to the Director-General of Health but also periodically prepares a report for the Ministers of Health, Environment and Business, Innovation and Employment to provide them with background information and a current summary of key research findings. They prepared the most recent report in 2018 and updated it with further information on 5G in 2019.

The Committee meets every six months. At its meetings in 2019, it concluded that there was no new research that would lead it to propose changes to current recommendations.

The Ministry of Health also participates in a World Health Organization project on electromagnetic fields.

Where can I find out about research?

The Ministry of Health has links to many of the research reviews that guide its policies in this area. Go to Research into non-ionising radiation.

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