Brussels halted 5G rollout in 2019 to study its radiation emissions, not because any negative health effects had been demonstrated

CLAIM
“Brussels is halting their 5G plans due to the negative health effects”; “Evidence ... overwhelmingly suggest[s] that, yes, 5G does pose a major threat.”
DETAILS
Factually inaccurate: An article falsely suggests that 5G rollout in Brussels, Belgium, was halted in 2019 due to its negative health effects. The rollout was in fact halted by city government officials to give time to study the levels of radiation emitted by the antennas.
Unsupported: The article claims that there is an “overwhelming” quantity of scientific data proving that 5G is dangerous. However, data are scant and results are inconsistent between studies. Scientific experts deem such claims unproven and state that harmful radiation exposure from 5G is unlikely if used within national and international safety guidelines.
KEY TAKE AWAY
5G technology uses non-ionizing radiation similar to current wireless technologies like 4G or Wi-Fi. In 2019, Brussels halted the deployment of 5G antennas in the city in order to have time to study whether the technology conforms to its radiation emissions standards. Scientific research investigating the potential risks of such radiation to human health has not provided convincing evidence of negative health effects. Though more research is needed, current data indicate that the use of 5G is safe when radiation levels are kept within established limits.

FULL CLAIM: “Brussels is halting their 5G plans due to the negative health effects”; “Evidence ... overwhelmingly suggest[s] that, yes, 5G does pose a major threat.”

REVIEW


An article published in 2019 which went viral in June 2020 claims that the city of Brussels, Belgium, had stopped the rollout of 5G technology “due to [its] negative health effects”. The article further claims that published data “overwhelmingly” suggest that 5G “poses a major threat” to “all biological life”. Similar claims have been propagated by other outlets, altogether receiving more than 500,000 interactions on Facebook. The alleged health hazards of 5G-compatible electromagnetic fields (EMF) is a recurring theme across social media. After reviewing the article, scientists found that these claims are inaccurate and unsupported.

Firstly, the article reports a 2019 interview by the Belgian newspaper L’Echo with Céline Fremault, Brussels’ former minister for the environment. During the interview, Fremault announced that the 5G rollout in Brussels would be halted. Contrary to what the article leads readers to believe, this interruption was due to technical issues rather than health hazards. The installation of 5G antennae would require raising the city’s emission standards, which are lower than those in other regions of Belgium. As Fremault explained on Twitter, she first wanted to confirm that the new models of 5G antennas would be able to stay within the updated city’s limits on radiation emissions: “no raising of standards until I have the guarantee that these antennas comply with them”, Fremault said. She clarified that “5G is recommended” and promised that “Brussels will be ready to welcome 5G in 2020”. Therefore, it is inaccurate to state that 5G rollout in Brussels was halted due to any observed “negative health effects”. As of June 2020, 5G rollout is still stalled owing to political turmoil in Belgium.

Secondly, the article states that there is a large body of scientific evidence “overwhelmingly” demonstrating the negative health effects of 5G-related EMFs.

Wireless communication using 5G technology employs EMFs of different frequency bands. The first frequency bands to be deployed will be similar to what cell phones and Wi-Fi already use (hundreds of MHz up to a few GHz). Later on, high frequency EMFs in the dozens of GHz range, the so-called millimeter waves, will be used. To work efficiently, 5G will require new antennas with technological innovations such as MIMO and beamforming to increase the amount of data that can be transmitted simultaneously.

A lot of research has examined whether EMFs used in wireless communication is dangerous to human health. Health Feedback reached out to experts in relevant fields to assess this claim. They unanimously concluded that it is at best unsupported, if not inaccurate. Frank de Vocht, an epidemiologist and public health researcher at the University of Bristol Medical School in the U.K., described 5G as “highly unlikely to increase health risks”.

Isabelle Lagroye, who researches bioelectromagnetism at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France and is a member of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP), agrees: “There is thus no scientific basis for stating that 5G is a threat for health, as long as exposure is kept well below the existing exposure limits”.

These assessments are shared by Rodney Croft, a professor of health psychology at the University of Wollongong in Australia and chair of the ICNIRP: ”We know that at the exposure levels permitted within the ICNIRP 2020 guidelines, exposure to the radiofrequency fields does not cause harm.”

Many experimental and epidemiological studies have focused on the risk of cancer (mostly brain cancer) due to cell phone-related EMF exposure. Health Feedback previously examined that subject in an Insight article and concluded that compelling evidence supporting a relationship between cell phone-related EMF exposure and cancer is lacking.

In a 2019 article published in the CW Journal, de Vocht reviewed several such epidemiological studies. Some, but not all, reported increased tumor occurrence among the heaviest phone users. However, de Vocht highlights that the interpretation and comparison of these studies are marred by discrepancies that “remain difficult to explain other than by an over-estimation of true risks in some case-control studies or even by an absence of any association.”

Lagroye likewise pointed out that “The prophecy of an explosion of cancers, particularly of the head, due to radio frequency fields, is not confirmed by epidemiological studies 30 years after the appearance of the technology[1].“

Other potential non-thermal effects of EMF have also been investigated, including its impacts on fertility, fetal and childhood development, and environmental sensitivities (called IEI-EMF). According to de Vocht there is no strong, reproducible evidence supporting the claims that EMF pose such threats.

Many of the aforementioned studies focused on frequency bands common to the current 5G technology and older tech such as 4G and Wi-Fi. Millimeter waves, which constitute the upper range of frequencies that will be used for 5G, will only be employed late in the rollout process. These high frequency EMFs are not fundamentally different from lower frequency EMFs and the main biological effect is a heating of tissues.

In fact, potential harm from millimetric waves is even more unlikely, given that the depth of penetration of EMF in the body is inversely proportional to the frequency[2]. millimetric waves are thus absorbed only to skin depth and cannot reach the inner organs. Concerns about the high frequencies of millimetric waves are undermined by the fact that visible light is an even higher frequency electromagnetic wave (in the teraHertz range) but does not trigger hazard warnings.The guidelines from the ICNIRP, updated in 2020, set the millimetric waves exposure threshold to a level of radiation below that which would cause heating of biological tissues. In addition, user exposure does not come close to the threshold. According to Lagroye: “In France and in the U.K., measurements were made on pilot 5G antennas and maximal exposure of less than 1% of the exposure limits was found.“

In a 2019 review paper on the health effects of 5G, Simkó and Mattsson compared the results of 94 scientific studies which tested the effects of EMF in the 6GHz – 100Hz range on cells, animals, or humans[3]. They reported no correlation between the amount of radiation received by the test subjects and their biological outcomes. Hazardous phenomena or compounds are usually characterized by a dose-response—the higher the exposure, the worse the biological outcome. The absence of an observed dose-response relationship in terms of EMF exposure suggests that 5G-related EMFs are unlikely to impact human health.

While there is less data on the biological effects of millimetric waves, Lagroye states that available research “does not suggest deleterious effects”. Furthermore, in one study, rats exposed to millimetric waves at a level high above the recommended threshold did not show any modifications to their gene expression profile compared to control rats[4]. Simkó and Mattsson similarly pointed out the lack of compelling evidence of deleterious effects from millimetric waves[3].

Proponents of the idea that 5G-related EMF exposure poses a danger to human health usually rely on a few recurring arguments. One argument is based on two rat studies, one from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration[5] and one from the Ramazzini Institute[6]. The studies report that male rats were more prone to developing brain tumors under certain conditions of exposure to cell phone-emitted EMFs. As Health Feedback explained in a previous review, these studies are inconsistent with each other and therefore prevent scientists from drawing meaningful conclusions.

Another common argument is the fact that the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified non-ionizing EMF in the 30kHz – 300GHz range (thus covering the frequency bands used in 5G) as “possibly carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2B)[6]. The Group 2B classification means that the IARC currently takes into account the existence of data suggesting a greater tumor occurrence in the presence of non-ionizing radiation. However, some of the IARC committee members who conducted the scientific review and made the Group 2B determination considered the data to be “inadequate”[7]. To put this categorization into perspective, Group 2B also includes products such as aloe vera or occupational activities such as printing.

Finally, articles claiming that 5G poses a threat to human health often cite the publications from Martin Pall, a retired professor of biochemistry who has no particular expertise in 5G technology and whose published work has been widely criticized as biased. Pall’s work on 5G is largely dismissed by the scientific community@.

In summary, this article provides an inaccurate account of the reasons that the 5G rollout was halted in Brussels. It alleges that it was due to known health hazards, when in fact the official account from the government ministry was that more time was needed to ensure that the new antennas meet the city’s emissions guidelines. The claim also inaccurately states that there is an overwhelming amount of data demonstrating the health hazards of 5G. Experts and institutions alike have called for more epidemiological research, in part owing to the inconsistent findings among studies. However, scientific experts agree that there is currently no evidence demonstrating a credible threat to human health by 5G.

SCIENTISTS’ FEEDBACK


Frank de Vocht, Reader, University of Bristol:
The quote, “the results of independent evidence is overwhelmingly suggesting that 5G does pose a major threat”, is clearly nonsense. For a starter, it directly contradicts the activists’ own claim that 5G is untested and should therefore not be rolled out.

On a more scientific basis. The frequencies used for 5G consist of (1) the same frequencies used for 3G and 4G, but with much lower power outlet density (i.e., lower exposure to people), so if anything it would reduce the health risk if there was one, and (2) higher frequency millimeter waves which do not penetrate the human body beyond a couple of millimeters. For the latter, much less data is available (contradicting the quote above), but what data there is and what we know about the properties of such radiation more generally suggest it is highly unlikely to increase health risks. Possible, but not probable, exceptions to this are skin and eye cancer, which the millimeter waves do “hit”. It would be good to monitor trends.

Rodney Croft, Professor, University of Wollongong Australia:
I could not identify any realistic attempt in the narrative to provide a balanced appraisal of whether exposure to the electromagnetic fields emanating from 5G devices is harmful. Indeed, to claim that anyone who doesn’t agree with the narrator is insane, is quite concerning. I have addressed some of the claims made in the narrative below. And as it may not have come out very clearly in the responses below, I’d just like to say clearly that there is no evidence that exposure to the electromagnetic fields from 5G is harmful, and there is substantial research showing that the fields are safe.

1) The narrative refers to the views of Céline Fremault, [former] Minister of the Government of the Brussels-Capital Region responsible for housing, quality of life, environment, and energy. The attributed views do not correspond with scientific consensus and suggest a lack of understanding of the science associated with 5G and health. For example, she suggests that to allow 5G in Brussels, would require that the people of Brussels are treated as guinea pigs—this would presumably be based on the view that we don’t know if 5G is harmful. However, the physical agent (radiofrequency electromagnetic fields) underlying 5G functionality has already been studied in great depth—it is only the name “5G” that is new here. We know that at the exposure levels permitted within the ICNIRP 2020 guidelines, exposure to the radiofrequency fields (RF) does not cause harm. This science includes consideration of the frequency and power of RF that is used in 5G devices.

2) The narrator claims that many government agencies have only considered thermal effects. This is not true. For example, the ICNIRP 2020 guidelines explicitly consider all adverse health effects regardless of mechanism (including non-thermal), but as the lowest exposure level capable of causing harm does so via heating, and as restricting exposure below the lowest level that can cause harm will protect against “all” adverse health effects, the restrictions have been set based on the thermal effects. As the ICNIRP guidelines are the most widely enforced guidelines around the world, it follows that the enforcing government agencies have taken both thermal and non-thermal effects into account.

3) The [article’s author] claims that people are prioritizing money over health. As per the comments above, this is clearly not true, as there are no adverse health effects caused by 5G to be traded against money (see ICNIRP 2020; WHO EMF Project).

4) There are multiple conspiracy theories claimed (in terms of industry and in terms of an unspecified surveillance consortium referred to as the “reedy soulless corporate algorithms”). No evidence has been provided for this, I have never heard anyone provide such evidence, and from everything that I’ve seen it would seem patently false.

5) The narrator claims that there is overwhelming evidence that 5G poses a major threat to health. This is not true, and no evidence is provided in support of the claim.

6) Dr. Pall’s opinions are referred to as evidence that 5G is harmful. I have read a number of documents from Dr. Pall and have not found anything in those documents to support his view that 5G is harmful.

7) Given the length at which the conspiracy theory claim is expanded on in this narrative, it may be useful to point out that the vast, vast majority of people researching and performing research evaluation in this area do not receive compensation of any kind. Most are merely academics paid by their universities or government workers. Indeed there is very little industry health research in this area due to the desire for research independence.

Isabelle Lagroye, Associate Professor, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS):
5G will use, in the first stage, 3.5 GHz signals, a frequency very similar to those of the current mobile communications (0.9 to 2.45 GHz). In the next stages, higher carrier frequencies will be used, i.e. 26 and 60 GHz, in the range of the so-called millimeter waves (30-300 GHz).

The action mechanism for the interaction between the waves in those ranges and living matter is fundamentally the same, i.e., tissue heating due to the absorption of the wave power in tissues. However, for millimetric waves, the absorption is superficial so that the energy is absorbed within the skin.
Within the range of 10 MHz to 300 GHz, international bodies (ICNIRP, IEEE) set exposure limits to avoid deleterious tissue heating; for instance, ICNIRP set 0.08 W/Kg as the limit for the public and whole-body exposure.

As 5G is only at its early stage of development, simulations, as well as some measurements, were recently made available to predict human exposure. For instance, in France and the U.K., measurements were made on pilot 5G antennas and maximal exposure of less than 1% of the exposure limits was found.

Although there is much less research data available for millimetric waves, what is available does not suggest deleterious effects unless the exposure is thermal—this is what current exposure limits are preventing[8,9]. The first in vivo study at 94 GHz didn’t show a negative outcome of the exposure[4].

We have experienced the same catastrophism with the radiofrequency fields emitted by mobile phones. The prophecy of an explosion of cancers, particularly of the head, due to radio frequency fields, is not confirmed by epidemiological studies 30 years after the appearance of the technology[1].

There is thus no scientific basis for stating that 5G is a threat for health, as long as exposure is kept well below the existing exposure limits, as suggested by the first measurements.

This is the opinion of WHO and national agencies around the world (U.K., Finland, Sweden, Spain, the Netherlands). In these reports, as well as in a very recent scientific review[2], more research and an epidemiological survey are usually recommended as a precautionary principle approach.

NOTES

@: Regarding Pall’s publication on electromagnetic fields, Rodney Croft says: ”I have read a number of documents from Dr Pall and have not found anything in those documents to support his view that 5G is harmful”. Mats-Olof Mattsson, a professor at the Strömstad Academy who studied non-ionizing radiations added: “Pall has never done any research in the area of biological or health-related effects of non-ionizing radiation. His “ideas” are not considered serious by the relevant scientific community”.

Commenting on an article by Pall reviewing a selection of studies on radiation and claiming that the Wi-Fi technology is perilous, Alberto Najera, a professor at the University of Castilla-La Mancha who studies the possible health effects of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, said that: “The author of this work provides a series of evidences to demonstrate the threat that Wi-Fi networks pose to human health. For this purpose, it carries out a review of articles without a detailed methodology, inclusion or exclusion criteria, neither temporary, search keywords, etc., which results in the inclusion of a biased and interested series of inadequate articles to prove his thesis.”

In addition, Kenneth Foster, professor of bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, and John Moulder, professor emeritus of radiation oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, wrote that the author “appears to accept experimental findings without critical review for statistical and methodological quality.”

READ MORE

Several French newspapers came to the similar conclusion that 5G rollout was not halted in Brussels due to health concerns, see here, here and here.

Health Feedback previously reviewed the inaccurate and incorrect claims that COVID-19 is due to 5G instead of a virus, that 5G is correlated with the spread of the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, and that 5G alters the structure of hemoglobin.

REFERENCES

   

Published on: 11 Jun 2020 | Editor:

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