5G and EMF

5G and EMR 

All radio transitters create electromagnetic radiation. It is the electromagnetic energy that carries information from the transmitter in one location to a receiver in another location. As the transmitter antenna is transmitting in all or many directions, only a small fraction of the energy ends up at the receiver antenna. Most of the electromagnetic energy just attenuates in the environment and add to the electromagnetic background noise.

There has been some concern about the general health and safety as well as the environmental impact of the electromagnetic exposure caused by mobile, cellular and wireless technologies such as 2G, 3G, 4G, 5G, WiFi etc.

As I am working from time to time near antenna towers and have friends and colleagues who have the antenna towers as their daily work site, I have spent some time to maintain an overview on the regulations within this area.

The main regulation for EMR exposure limits are found at ICNIRP https://www.icnirp.org/en/frequencies/high-frequency/index.html while the more practical guidelines on implementation of the regulations are found at ITU https://www.itu.int/net/ITU-T/lists/standards.aspx?Group=5&Domain=40 .


Main findings

  • While the ICNIRP Guidelines include several reservations, these reservations are not referred in the ITU guidelines.
  • It is important to understand that adverse human health effects has to be proven in order to impact ICNIRP recommendations. It is not so that EMR exposure below thresholds has to be proven safe in order to be accepted. Any threshold must be supported by scientific evidence of adverse human health effect. So in principle, if there were no EMR exposure research at all, the conclusion according to ICNIRP logic would be that EMR exposure should be considered entirely safe.
  • ICNIRP make several reservations that there is no, limited and insufficient research supporting the recommendations.
  • While massive mimo is more energy effective and reduce the average EMR exposure, it is also correct that peak exposure will increase significantly due to massive mimo.
  • Current exposure levels are generally well below current ICNIRP thresholds. It is rare to find levels beyond a few percent of the threshold. Papers from ITU and the industry indicating that thresholds lower than the current ICNIRP thresholds will significantly increase the cost of deploying 5G indicate that the actual exposure levels in many places will approach the current ICNIRP thresholds due to the deployment of 5G and accordingly increase significantly from the actual current exposure levels.
  • ICNIRP guidelines does not specify thresholds for instantaneous spacial peak exposure. Such thresholds are specified in certain national guidelines such as ARPANSA (Australia). As peak exposure as well as exposure variability is expected to increase with massive MIMO and 5G, peak exposure thresholds may be more significant for massive MIMO and 5G.
  • ICNIRP guidelines does not consider adverse health effect on animals who cannot easily be protected by access restrictions. Animals can approach the antennas and be exposed to power levels far exceeding ICNIRP thresholds.

ICNIRP References


Below are quotes from the document with my comments.

“ The guidelines described here are for the protection of humans exposed to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (EMFs)” The guidelines does only cover humans, and accordingly not environment, birds, insects etc.

“ Although these guidelines are based on the best science currently available, it is recognized that there may be limitations to this knowledge which could impact on the exposure restrictions.” It is admitted that there may be limitation to the knowledge which the conclusions and recommendations and guidelines are based upon.

“Radiofrequency EMF may also interfere with electrical equipment, which can affect health indirectly by causing equipment to malfunction. This is referred to as electromagnetic compatibility, and is outside the scope of these guidelines (for further information, see ISO14117 and IEC 60601-1-2).” The guidelines do not cover safety for people using medical implants.

“Due to the limited literature available ICNIRP has adopted a conservative temperature rise value as the operational adverse health effect threshold (the 1 °C rise of ACGIH, 2017).” ICNIRP admits that the literature supporting a conclusion is limited.

However, given the limited measurement data available, ICNIRP has adopted a conservative position and uses 4 W kg-1, averaged over 30 minutes, as the radiofrequency EMF exposure level corresponding to a body core temperature rise of 1 °C. As a comparison, a human adult generates a total of approximately 1 W kg-1 at rest (Weyand et al., 2009), nearly 2 W kg-1 standing, and 12 W kg-1 running (Teunissen et al., 2007).” ICNIRP admits that the data supporting a conclusion is limited.

ICNIRP is not aware of research that has assessed the effect of 6 – 300 GHz EMF on body core temperature, nor of research that has demonstrated that it is harmful. However, as a conservative measure, ICNIRP uses the 4 W kg-1 corresponding to the operational adverse health effect threshold for frequencies up to 6 GHz, for the >6 – 300 GHz range as well.” ICNIRP admits that the threshold is set without support in any research.

In addition to body core temperature, excessive localised heating can cause pain and thermal damage. There is an extensive literature showing that skin contact with temperatures below 42 °C for extended periods will not cause pain or damage cells (e.g. Defrin et al., 2006). As described in Appendix B, this is consistent with the limited data available for radiofrequency EMF heating of the skin (e.g. Walters et al., 2000 reported a pain threshold of 43 °C using 94 GHz exposure), but fewer data are available for heat sources that penetrate beyond the protective epidermis and to the heat-sensitive epidermis/dermis interface.” ICNIRP admits that data supporting the conclusions are limited and few.



Below are quotes from the document with my comments.

Research on the health effects of radiofrequency EMF has tended to concentrate on a few areas of particular interest and concern, whereas information on a number of other systems of the body is inadequate to contribute to the guidelines. Specifically, there is insufficient information about the effects of radiofrequency EMF on the skeletal, muscular, respiratory, digestive, and excretory systems. Therefore, these systems are not considered further.” ICNIRP admits that there is inadequate and insufficient information about the [EMR] effects on certain human systems.

It is important to note that ICNIRP bases its guidelines on substantiated1 adverse health effects. This makes the difference between a biological and an adverse health effect an important distinction, where only adverse health effects require limits for the protection of humans.” “Studies analyzing frequency components of the EEG have reliably shown that the 8–13 Hz alpha band in waking EEG and the 10–14 Hz ‘sleep spindle’ frequency range in sleep EEG, are affected by radiofrequency EMF exposure with SARs <2 W kg-1, but there is no evidence that these relate to adverse health effects.” ICNIRP guidelines does only consider “adverse health effects”. So when EMF exposure below threshold is found to affect human EEG, this is ignored as there is no identified relation between changed EEG and health effects. Generally, even if exposure is proven to affect biological functions, it will not affect the thresholds unless there is a proven relation between the affected biological function and a recognized adverse health effect.

These are serious adverse health effects that need to be avoided, however there is not sufficient research using lower exposures to evaluate the threshold for health effects in rodents. It is also difficult to relate these animal findings to humans, as humans are more-efficient thermoregulators than rodents, and thus their thermoregulatory systems can deal effectively with higher exposure levels than rodents.” ICNIRP admits that the research is insufficient.

Few epidemiological studies on cardiovascular, autonomic nervous system, or thermoregulation outcomes are available. Those that are have not demonstrated a link between radiofrequency EMF exposure and measures of cardiovascular health.” ICNIRP admits that the studies supporting the conclusions are few.

“There have been inconsistent reports of transient changes in immune function and haematology following radiofrequency EMF exposures. These have primarily been from in vitro studies, although some in vivo animal studies have also been conducted. There is currently no evidence that such reported effects, if real, are relevant to human health.

The few human studies have not indicated any evidence that radiofrequency EMF affects health in humans via the immune system or haematology.” ICNIRP admits that the studies supporting the conclusions are inconsistent and few.

There is very little human experimental research addressing possible effects of radiofrequency EMF exposure on reproduction and development.” ICNIRP admits that the research supporting the conclusion that there is no adverse health effect is very limited.

The lack of a dose-response relationship, as well as the use of an untested mouse model for liver and lung tumors whose relevance to humans is uncertain (Nesslany et al., 2015), makes interpretation of these results and their applicability to human health difficult, and therefore there is a need for further research to better understand these results.” Even when ICNIRP say that there is need for further research to better understand these results, they conclude that “no effects of radiofrequency EMF on cancer have been substantiated.”

ITU References

The impact of RF-EMF exposure limits stricter than the ICNIRP or IEEE guidelines on 4G and 5G mobile network deployment. ITU-T K-series Recommendations – Supplement 14

Below are quotes from the document with my comments.

“The results of the simulation indicate that where RF-EMF limits are stricter than ICNIRP or IEEE guidelines, the network capacity buildout (both 4G and 5G) might be severely constrained and might prevent addressing of the growing data traffic demand and the launching of new services on existing mobile networks.“ The consequence of this statement is that higher actual exposure levels may be expected due to 5G.


“Additional radio frequencies, e.g., 60 MHz (FDD – 2x30 MHz) in the 700 MHz spectrum band, 100 MHz in the 2300 MHz band and 400 MHz in the 3.4-3.8 GHz spectrum range have or will become available for 4G and 5G mobile communications in the near future” Additional spectrum is being assigned for 5G, and when this spectrum is being deployed on base stations sites where the existing frequency spectrum is already approaching the exposure thresholds, the consequence of the additional spectrum will be that the exposure thresholds in some cases will be exceeded.

– Applying beamforming, i.e., further narrowing an antenna beam, would easily exceed the current EMF exposure limits;.” Beamforming is part of massive MIMO which is used for 5G. Beamforming will focus the total power of the base station in specific directions, and the consequence is increased peak power density.

“Investigation shows that in the next three years up to 63% of mobile data traffic demands will not be served in countries, regions and even specific cities where RF-EMF limits are significantly stricter than the ICNIRP or IEEE guidelines.” Increasing mobile data traffic will require increased actual EMR exposure.