The new 5G network and human health

In the beginning of December 2021, the people in the village of Riltsi started a petition against the intention to invest in building a 5G antenna on the territory. The main reason for the locals’ dissatisfaction was that the planned facility is in close proximity to the houses. According to Krum Krumov, the mayor of Riltsi, the antenna poses a risk to the residential buildings in the area in case it falls or breaks down.

This is not the only concern that locals have regarding the planned project. Apart from the proximity of the facility, they are also concerned about the alleged health risks posed by the “radiation” of the antenna.

“I have discussed the issue with many people and they are not 100% against it, but they are worried about the radiation and do not want the antenna to be so close to them”, Krum Krumov told Factcheck.bg.

The petition against the construction of the facility has collected more than 230 signatures and has already been submitted to the municipality of Blagoevgrad. The case is similar to two other instances from 2020, when the municipalities of Balchik and Mezdra imposed moratoriums on the deployment and development of a 5G network in their territories due to concerns that the technology is dangerous to human health.

According to the mayor of Riltsi, the locals in the village do not insist on a complete ban on 5G antennas. Most of them believe that such a facility should be installed at least 300 meters away from residential buildings. Not enough distance, according to Krumov and other residents, presents a risk.

Concerns about the impact of this new technology on human health have existed in the public sphere since the first news about the construction of the fifth generation network in Bulgaria and around the world. According to a survey conducted by Trend Agency, prepared for the 24 Chasa newspaper in June 2020, 35% of Bulgarians share the opinion that the fifth generation network is a health hazard. In comparison, only 12% do not think that the new technology is dangerous.

Globally, some people who are skeptical about 5G networks express their views by destroying 5G antennas. According to data by the EURACTIV information portal, in just six months in 2020, more than 140 attacks on base station antennas for mobile communication were carried out in the European Union.

Popular conspiracy theories about 5G networks were quickly updated with the speculation that they contribute to the spread of coronavirus. A Facebook post on December 17, 2021, for example, presents an article entitled “Evidence of the link between coronavirus disease and exposure to radio frequency radiation from wireless communications including 5G.” The post has been shared more than 140 times, and the material appears in more than 160 Facebook groups in different countries with a total of 1.4 million followers (according to the social media monitoring tool CrowdTangle).

There is no scientific evidence of a link between the 5G network and the spread of the virus, or of any harmful effects on human health.

The article quoted in the Facebook post points out that the weakness of its “evidence” is the fact that the “adverse effects” of the exposure in question have not yet been universally accepted by the scientific community, and that there is no experimental data on “exposure” of the human body to 5G. In addition, the material states that the fifth generation network is a technology with a frequency range of 600 MHz to “nearly 100 GHz”, which is not true. Currently, the maximum frequencies of the 5G network do not exceed 28 GHz.

According to Assoc. Prof. Dr. Grigor Mihailov from the Department of Telecommunications at the Higher School of Telecommunications and Posts, the spread of such misinformation is the root cause of people’s fears related to the new 5G technology.

“The main thing is the mass spread of false and incompetent news – the stories of pigeons dying, the spread of COVID-19, etc. 5G is a new technology that is not scary or dangerous to human health in any way compared to previous mobile technologies. Why are people skeptical? Maybe because of all the misinformation and the insufficient awareness on the subject”, said Assoc. Prof. Mihailov.

5G technology is just a new generation of the familiar mobile cellular network,

which builds on its predecessors 2G, 3G and 4G. With this, the 5G network provides faster data exchange and provides a number of benefits for the development and modernization of key areas such as transport, energetics, research, e-health, e-government, smart cities and more. The National Strategic Document “Digital Transformation of Bulgaria for the period 2020-2030”, adopted by the Council of Ministers on 21.07.2020, states:

“The full economic and social benefits of the digital transformation will be achieved if the deployment and use of networks with huge capacity is ensured. That’s why 5G and optical networks will be among the most important building blocks of our digital economy and society over the next decade.”

Source: Pixabay

At the same time, in our country and worldwide, a lot of attention is paid to the potential damage that electromagnetic radiation may cause to all living organisms and plants, introducing mandatory requirements and standards.

The current restrictions of the European Commission allow the construction of a 5G network of three frequency bands: 700 MHz, assigned to mobile operators for wireless use with a wide territorial range; 3.6 GHz for higher data exchange capacity, and the highest frequency band of 26 GHz, which is provided for large cities and is four times lower than the frequency of 100 GHz set in the mentioned article.

The frequencies with which the fifth generation network operates have long been well-known in various fields of human activity. Television transmitters, Wi-Fi routers, airport scanners and some new car radars work in this range.

“The radio frequency bands used in 5G technology are still used for wireless communications by other technologies. For example, one of the bands designated for 5G use is used for the broadcast of terrestrial television and provides coverage to 98% of the country’s population”, explained the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC) for Factcheck.bg.

Can 5G affect our health?

A reference to the spectrum of electromagnetic waves shows that the frequencies in question (from 700 MHz to 26 GHz) fall into the non-ionizing sector, which also involves radio frequencies, microwaves and satellite networks. Non-ionizing radiation does not have the capacity to affect the human body the same way that the frequencies of the ionizing sector such as ultraviolet, X-ray and gamma rays do. It is ionizing radiation that has the ability to break chemical bonds, create ions and damage DNA. However, their frequencies are thousands of times higher than those of the non-ionizing radiation spectrum, which do not have the energy needed to produce a comparable biological effect.

Similarly, it is clear that 5G technology cannot spread coronavirus infection. From a physical point of view, it is impossible for the virus to be transmitted by electromagnetic waves. Electromagnetic waves are fluctuations in the electric and magnetic fields, while the spread of the coronavirus occurs mainly by airborne droplets – two processes of a completely different nature.

Non-ionizing radiation, which includes 5G technology, can only cause a heating effect. The potential risks this may have on humans and other living organisms are strictly regulated at national and international level.

In regard to whether there is enough scientific research to state with certainty that the 5G network does not harm human health, Assoc. Prof. Mihailov from VUTP answered:

“In recent years, a number of major projects have been developed on the subject – not only in Europe but also worldwide. For example, I have looked into the documents and the research of the METIS project and its two phases – METIS-I and METIS-II, which is entirely dedicated to 5G. The largest companies in the world that develop such network infrastructure, the largest universities, etc. participate there. There is a huge amount of research and simulations done – real and digital – on the impact of 5G on human health. Yes, the technology works at a higher frequency, which is more dangerous. However, there are specific regulations that work to prevent this potential impact. It is unthinkable to state that these regulations are not being complied with in Europe.”

Compliance with standards is monitored by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) worldwide and by the European Union’s Scientific Committee on Health and Environmental Risks (SCHER) in the EU. These regulators control the radiation and heating in the non-ionizing electromagnetic spectrum. The permissible norms are set out in the guidelines of the ICNIRP, adopted in 1998 and updated in 2020 – to correspond to the way the latest technologies are used. Following the recommendations of the world scientific community, the EU defines as safe those levels of radiation that are at least 50 times lower than the levels at which effects on human health are possible.

Source: Pixabay

Compared to their predecessors 2G, 3G and 4G, the fifth generation networks use much smaller cells with limited power, which implies lower levels of radiation. The multi-beam antennas of 5G technology transmit a signal only at the “request” of the user, unlike 4G base stations, which provide continuous broadcasting coverage. This allows the 5G network to achieve a higher connection speed while producing less electromagnetic emissions. In this sense, 5G technology has even less effect on the life and health of all living organisms.

What are the regulations of the 5G network in Bulgaria

According to the Communications Regulation Commission (CRC), the Bulgarian legislation on the maximum permissible levels of electromagnetic fields in populated areas is drastically stricter than the international one – between 45 and 100 times stricter in the different frequency ranges. On the territory of the country, these levels of radiation are measured and regulated in accordance with the provisions of Order №9 of 1991 of the Ministry of Health. It defines the norms and requirements for the protection of the population from the harmful effects from electromagnetic fields (EMF) in the frequency range from 30 kHz to 30 GHz, which includes all current frequencies of the 5G network.

The Commission monitors the status of the spectrum provided to mobile enterprises on a daily basis, including the ones that use 5G technologies, through a National Monitoring System. In addition, CRC is developing a register of transceiver stations on terrestrial networks that allow the provision of electronic communications services. The register is expected to be publicly available on the CRC website.

Regarding the concerns of locals in Riltsi, CRC clarified that there are no specific legal requirements to regulate the minimum distance between a 5G antenna and a nearby building. There are no such regulations for previous generations of mobile cellular networks as well – 2G, 3G and 4G.

Source: Pixabay

The investment design of the 5G antennas and the building permit are carried out in accordance with the procedure established in the respective municipality and in the Spatial Development Act. Before putting each base station into operation, a calculation of the hygienic protection zones is made in compliance with the safety requirements in Order №9. The Ministry of Transport and Communications clarifies for Factcheck.bg that after the construction and commissioning of the base station, additional measurements are performed in real conditions.

Despite the technological changes over the past three decades, the rules governing broadcasting telecommunications equipment have not changed. In their current form, they remain applicable to the new 5G network.

“If all these recommendations are followed in the construction of the network and the base station itself – even if it is in close proximity to a residential building – there will be no problem”, said Assoc. Prof. Mihailov.

“Currently, the 5G network operates at 3.5 GHz. By today’s standards, home network devices (routers) operate at 5 GHz – this is even a higher frequency, but at the same time routers are a part of our home and do not have any harmful effects. They have a certain radiant power that must be regulated in order to be safe. Microwave ovens, which have been present in almost every home for years, operate at an even higher frequency.”

Read more about the false statements related to the danger of using microwave ovens in this article on Factcheck.bg.

Note: The consultant of Factcheck.bg on the topic is Assoc. Prof. Dr. Grigor Mihailov from the Department of Telecommunications at the Higher School of Telecommunications and Post.

This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union. The responsibility for the content lies entirely with Factcheck.bg.

Публикацията е създадена с подкрепата на Европейския съюз. Отговорността за съдържанието е изцяло на Factcheck.bg.

Katerina Vasileva
Katerina Vasileva
Katerina Vasileva is a student in political science at Sofia University "St. Kliment Ohridski". Her path in journalism started at the age of 18, when she became an author at sCOOL Media. Afterwards she joined the team of the positive media Uspelite.bg, where she developed her interest in solution based journalism. Katerina is mainly engaged in social and political topics, education and media literacy, ecology, art and women's rights. She is the creator of Polifemme Podcast which tells the stories of significant women in the world of politics. In 2021 she was awarded the "Young Author" prize from the journalistic competition Web Report for her article "Sexual Education: the Cure against the Pandemic of Domestic Violence".

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