The controversy about the safety of the 5G network roll out on the human health is such that should not be ignored as there is need for clarification on the role of the technology as well as its effect first on the people’s health and on the environment. Different kinds of reaction have been generated from different quarters over the launch of the technology in Nigeria and the executive vice-chairman of the Nigeria Communications Commission, Umar Danbatta recently said: “A lot of falsehoods and misinformation have been peddled both on online and traditional media outlets about the health and safety implications of deploying 5G technology.” He alleged that the technology is being misrepresented; therefore, the response of the citizens towards it has not been the friendly one.
One truth is that there are fundamentals in every aspect of science and technology. Every advancement is built on those fundamentals.
As one with a science background, the electromagnetic spectrum was one topic I enjoyed studying while in high school; hence I can relate to the different terms and definitions used in the various research documents I went through. But this is with the intention to communicate in layman’s terms, so everyone can understand in everyday terms what the scientific jargons mean. That said; let us get into the discourse.
It is common knowledge that the ‘G’ behind all the figures used to describe the network means generation; and there are standards expected to be met for each generation. These standards are based on the speed, frequency, etc which is dependent on the position of the type of radiation emission employed on the electromagnetic spectrum. For ease of communication, let us define some major terms related to the focus of the discourse:
- Radiation: it is the spontaneous emission of a stream of particles or electromagnetic rays in nuclear decay. It can also be defined as energy that is radiated or transmitted in the form of rays or waves or particles.
- Frequency: this is the number of occurrences within a given time period. It is measured in Hz.
- Electromagnetic Field (EMF): These are invisible areas of energy which is measured in hertz (Hz). Longer wavelengths/lower frequency is less powerful in terms of energy, while shorter wavelengths/higher frequencies are more powerful.
- Electromagnetic Spectrum: The entire distribution of electromagnetic radiation according to frequency or wavelengths.
The table below shows some of the electromagnetic spectrum and their characteristics:
|Type of EM wave||Production||Applications||Life sciences aspect||Issues|
|Radio & TV||Accelerating charges||Communications remote controls||MRI||Requires controls for band use|
|Microwaves||Accelerating charges & thermal agitation||Communications, ovens, radar||Deep heating||Cell phone use|
|Infrared||Thermal agitations & electronic transitions||Thermal imaging, heating||Absorbed by atmosphere||Greenhouse effect|
Three rules that apply to electromagnetic waves in general are as follows:
- High-frequency electromagnetic waves are more energetic and are more able to penetrate than low-frequency waves.
- High-frequency electromagnetic waves can carry more information per unit time than low-frequency waves.
- The shorter the wavelength of any electromagnetic wave probing a material, the smaller the detail it is possible to resolve.
Note that there are exceptions to these rules of thumb.
So, what is the position of the 5G on the electromagnetic spectrum and what is the impact of that positioning on human life, the everyday affairs and the environment in general?
5G uses millimetre waves in addition to the microwaves that have been used to date in 2G, 3G and 4G technology. This implies that the 5G technology is a combination of two waves on the spectrum which means the installation will be different from the preceding generations. A study carried out by Prof Winston Tumps Ireeta (5G effects on human health) head of Physics Department, Makerere University in Kampala shows that “5G needs a much more extensive network of antennas and other transmitting devices. Due to the limited coverage range, to implement 5G, cell antennas will have to be installed very close to one another, which will result in constant exposure of the population to millimetre wave radiation.
“The use of 5G will also require new technologies to be employed, such as active antennas capable of beam-forming, massive inputs and outputs. At higher frequencies and shortened coverage ranges, the distance between base stations will be shortened and this will lead to having them more closely packed into an area so as to have complete coverage and avoid ‘not-spots’. With this, it leads to mean possible distance ranges of 20 to 150 metres with smaller coverage areas per small cell. A cell radius of 20 metres would mean about 800 base stations per square kilometre (or ‘small-area wireless access points’ (SAWAPs). This is in contrast with 3G and 4G technologies, which use large or ‘macro’ cells, offering ranges of 2 to 15 kilometres or more, and therefore covering a larger area but allowing fewer simultaneous users since they have fewer individual channels. Additionally, 5G will employ higher frequencies than the previous ‘Generation’ networks and greater bandwidth which will enable users to transfer wireless data faster,” he said.
Knowing all that is required to get this done, what is the impact? Over 500 studies have been carried out through the years and they all have some things in common which strongly suggest that the deployment of the 5G technology without proper measures put in place will be dangerous to both human and environment. Some pointers include:
- Current investigations of wireless frequencies in the millimetre and submillimeter range confirm that these waves interact directly with human skin, specifically the sweat glands. Dr. Ben-Ishai of the Department of Physics, Hebrew University, Israel recently detailed how human sweat ducts act like an array of helical antennas when exposed to these wavelengths.
- Research already indicates serious adverse effects from the wireless modalities in use today. Research studies from the Dielectric Spectroscopy Laboratory of the Department of Applied Physics, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, headed by Dr. Yuri Feldman, indicate that 5Gs millimetre and submillimeter waves will uniquely interact with human skin and lead to preferential layer absorption. The number of sweat ducts within human skin varies from two million to four million. Replicated peer research of these biological effects in laboratory research has been conducted internationally and scientists consider this mechanism of action well proven.
Scientists from over 230 countries of the world have written to the United Nations time and again, appealing for a moratorium on the deployment of the 5G technology till all necessary measures have been put in place. A section of their appeal read: ”there is strong evidence that long-term exposure to certain EMFs is a risk factor for diseases such as certain cancers, Alzheimer’s disease, and male infertility…Common EHS (electromagnetic hypersensitivity) symptoms include headaches, concentration difficulties, sleep problems, depression, lack of energy, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms.” An increasing part of the European population is affected by ill health symptoms that have for many years been linked to exposure to EMF and wireless radiation in the scientific literature. The International Scientific Declaration on EHS & multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS), Brussels 2015, declares that: “In view of our present scientific knowledge, we thereby stress all national and international bodies and institutions…to recognize EHS and MCS as true medical conditions which acting as sentinel diseases may create a major public health concern in years to come worldwide i.e. in all the countries implementing unrestricted use of electromagnetic field-based wireless technologies and marketed chemical substances… Inaction is a cost to society and is not an option anymore… we unanimously acknowledge this serious hazard to public health…that major primary prevention measures are adopted and prioritized, to face this worldwide pan-epidemic in perspective.”
However, some of the above-mentioned scientists point out that, in the particular case of 5G, the issue is not the potency, but the pulse, the frequency to which the whole population will be exposed due to the dense network of antennas and the estimated billions of simultaneous connections. As 5G employs a very high level of pulsations, the idea behind 5G is to use higher frequencies, which allows such high levels of pulsation, in order to carry very large amounts of information per second.
Therefore, even though 5G can be weak in terms of power, its constant abnormal pulse radiation can influence the population as well as the environment. Along with the mode and duration of exposures, characteristics of the 5G signal such as pulsing seem to increase the biological and health impacts of exposure, including DNA damage, which is a cause of cancer. DNA damage is also linked to reproductive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.
With all the above-stated danger looming, it will be an uninformed conclusion that the 5G is being misrepresented; hence the submission of the NCC claiming that “This misconception was even made worse because those saddled with the responsibility of informing, educating and enlightening the average Nigerian telecom consumers were also bereft of the knowledge of this new technology and hitched a ride on the bandwagon of doubters” is wrong as the information is not just from one source but many sources and they carried out their research independently. The NCC should rather join in the appeal and ensure that all necessary measures are put in place before rolling out the 5G network. As much as we love technological advancement, we cannot afford to be penny wise and pound foolish.