Researchers' take on 5G following rising health concerns

By Jessica Tyson

The fifth generation of cellular network technology, 5G, is about to be rolled out across the country from next month. Along with 10-times faster internet, it's also raising health concerns for some groups who say it could cause illnesses such as cancer.

Professor Karaitiana Taiuru says, “in one way they are correct, there is a risk, but the risk isn't with what’s being rolled out in New Zealand or around the world in the very near future.“

Vodafone New Zealand are launching 5G using radio spectrum in the 3.5GHz band, which similar to the frequencies being used for 2G, 3G and 4G. Taiuru says concerns have arisen because people are misinterpreting 5G as using the radio spectrum 5GHz.

“What the New Zealand telecoms are promoting as 5G is basically at the higher end of the 4G spectrum band…and that’s still in the safe area of what we have but a little bit higher in the band, he says.

“The 5G that people are usually talking about with the health risks uses the 24 to 47GHz 5G so that's quite different than what we currently have.”

He says the main health risk from using 24 to 47GHz comes from a technology called millimetre waves.

“Those radio waves can get inside your skin and earlier research suggest that the millimetre waves can actually alter your genes and cause cancer and multiple other health issues.”

Professor Dariusz Leszczynski from Finland is in Auckland this week to talk about the topic at a presentation. He has researched radiation for more than 20 years.

He says, claiming that 5G would not cause health risks is based on assumption, not on science because scientific research has not been done.

“We still can see that in animal studies, in human studies which are very few, they are showing up some effects. We should examine them better. We don’t have information which will cause long term exposure.”

He says using cell phones in general poses a risk.

“Four different studies indicated that some people may develop brain cancer in connection with exposures to cellphones and we are only talking about these cell phones 3G, 4G. We don’t know anything about 5G technology and millimeter waves.”

Taiuru sees economic and educational benefits for Māori.

“The faster our network speeds up the more technology we can use such things as artificial intelligence, robotics, all the current professions could change such as medicine, data. There’s quite a lot of opportunities there. I think the risks are if we don’t get on board with the technology now, we could end up being left behind and there’s a possibility of another digital divide which we saw back in 2000.”

Comment from Vodafone New Zealand

In a statement, Vodafone New Zealand said, "We are aware of health concerns around Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMFs) and 5G – and we are also aware that it can be very difficult to distinguish misinformation from credible, peer-reviewed research."

Internationally, the independent World Health Organisation (WHO) monitors EMF.  They conclude there is no evidence from the thousands of scientific studies undertaken to date that EMFs pose any risks to human health. This includes the frequencies used for 5G, 4G, 3G, televisions or Wi-Fi.  

"The EMF Guidelines are issued and regularly reviewed by the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), an independent advisory body working with the WHO, and reflect decades of research.  ICNIRP has reviewed the science published since its last exposure guidelines were produced, and concluded that 5G spectrum does not require additional protection measures."

Vodafone says there is no evidence to suggest that mobiles or base stations carry any risk to human health when operating within the international ICNIRP safety guideline limits. 

"With 2G, 3G, 4G and now 5G, New Zealanders have been asking how mobile signals are sent – and what are the technical details behind mobile connectivity. The health and safety of communities has always been – and continues to be – an absolute priority for us.  We are committed to responding transparently to concerns about mobile technologies and health, and my team will closely engage with local communities as we roll out our 5G network."

5G will roll out further in regional and major centres from next month.