Cell Phones, Radiofrequency Radiation, and Powerline Fields
This broad category covers several types of nonionizing radiation, including general questions about health effects of microwaves and radiowaves, and questions about possible health effects of technologies that use this energy: radar, satellites, cell phones, and cellular networks such as 5G are all included here. Also included are general questions about health effects of power line or extremely low frequency (ELF) fields, and questions about possible health effects of technologies that use this energy: power lines, household appliances, medical devices that use pulsed magnetic fields.
5G and Coronavirus: No Link
5G is not a particular physical entity, but a set of specifications for how cell phones communicate. 5G systems transmit radiofrequency (RF) signals, as do all previous "Gs"—such as 2G-GSM, 3G-CDMA, 4G-LTE—but use a different method of processing signals. All RF transmitting systems are subject to limits on human exposure to RF energy, in the United States, those of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).
5G technology is still developing, but present 5G systems operate in several frequency ranges, from present-day cellular bands to higher frequencies close to or within the millimeter wave band. Millimeter waves are used in a great many applications, including in airport security systems and in collision avoidance radar systems in automobiles.
RF energy is nonionizing—the energy of the photons that carry it is too low to break chemical bonds (in contrast to ionizing energy such as x rays). The term "radiation" is often used with respect to cell phone signals, in the technical sense of energy that is transmitted, or radiated, through space, like light from a flashlight. The term has no implications regarding possible health effects.
The safety of cellular telephone transmissions has been evaluated by health agencies many times over the years, and they have reviewed several hundred studies. These agencies have not identified any hazards from RF exposure at levels below internationally accepted safety limits. See, for example, this recent statement by the US Food and Drug Administration:
"While many of the specifics of 5G remain ill-defined, it is known that 5G cell phones will use frequencies covered by the current FCC exposure guidelines (300 kHz-100 GHz), and the conclusions reached based on the current body of scientific evidence covers these frequencies. The FDA will continue to monitor scientific information as it becomes available regarding the potential impacts of 5G."
There is no scientific basis to suspect that 5G technology is related in any way to coronavirus or to damage to the immune system. For example, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency recently issued a statement that concluded:"There is no established evidence that low level radio wave exposure from 5G and other wireless telecommunications can affect the immune system or cause any other long term or short term health effects."
Health agencies are continuing to follow scientific developments in the field of biological effects of radiofrequency energy, but so far have not expressed concern about possible health effects of RF signals at ordinary environmental levels.
FAQs Developed by the HPS
The following FAQs have been developed by our topic editors for this category:
|Cellular Phone and Base Station|
|Microwave Oven Q & A|
|Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation: Satellite Dish, Radar, Power Line, and Miscellaneous|
|Smartphone RF Exposure|
Relevant HPS Web Pages
The following HPS Web pages also address this category:
Questions Answered by HPS Experts
The following health physics questions have been answered by an expert and approved by our editors for inclusion in our "Ask the Experts" feature. Click on the question to see the answer.
Other Useful Websites
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