November 30, 2020 (Updated December 1, 2020)
On November 24, 2020, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) published a report on 5G. The GAO recognizes that public concern regarding the health effects from exposure to radiofrequency radiation (RFR) is likely to intensify with the deployment of 5G technology.
The report acknowledges that policy makers are faced with a challenge as they need relevant information on the health effects of 5G, but long-term effects are unknown. The report recommends that "(p)olicymakers will need to identify a funding source or determine which existing funding streams to reallocate" to pay for the needed research.
The GAO interviewed government officials who dismissed the research on RFR health effects: "Officials from federal regulatory and research agencies did not indicate any cause for alarm due to these unknowns because of the research from observational studies on pre-5G technology and from experimental studies of high-band 5G technology."
How can these officials ignore the results of the government's $30 million study which proved that long-term exposure to RFR caused cancer or the Ramazzini Institute study which reproduced these results using much lower intensity RFR? How can they ignore the results of epidemiologic studies that find increased tumor risk among heavier cell phone users?
"In 2008, a committee convened by the National Research Council (part of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine) reported that further research was needed to characterize exposure to RF energy in juveniles, young children, and pregnant women and fetuses in observational studies." So why didn't our government fund the research needed to ask the critical questions re: RFR exposure that would enable our health agencies to adopt protective safety limits?
"While research on the biological effects of RF energy has been underway for decades, FDA officials do not expect changes to the current safety standards from 5G technology."
For more than two decades, FDA officials have ignored the lack of consensus in the scientific community regarding the safety of RFR. The majority of scientists who study RFR effects now believe that current RFR national and international safety standards are inadequate to protect our health. More than 240 scientists from 44 countries who have published over 2,000 papers in professional journals on electromagnetic fields (EMF) and biology or health have signed the International EMF Scientist Appeal which calls for stronger safety standards and health warnings.
The GAO report also failed to mention the 5G Appeal signed by more than 400 scientists and doctors who have demanded a moratorium on the deployment of 5G.
Fifth-generation (5G) wireless networks promise to provide significantly greater speeds and higher capacity to accommodate more devices. In addition, 5G networks are expected to be more flexible, reliable, and secure than existing cellular networks. The figure compares 4G and 5G performance goals along three of several performance measures.
Note: Megabits per second (Mbps) is a measure of the rate at which data is transmitted, milliseconds (ms) is a measure of time equal to one thousandth of a second, and square kilometer (km²) is a measure of area.
As with previous generations of mobile wireless technology, the full performance of 5G will be achieved gradually as networks evolve over the next decade. Deployment of 5G network technologies in the U.S. began in late 2018, and these initial 5G networks focus on enhancing mobile broadband. These deployments are dependent on the existing 4G core network and, in many areas, produced only modest performance improvements. To reach the full potential of 5G, new technologies will need to be developed. International bodies that have been involved in defining 5G network specifications will need to develop additional 5G specifications and companies will need to develop, test, and deploy these technologies. GAO identified the following challenges that can hinder the performance or usage of 5G technologies in the U.S.
GAO developed six policy options in response to these challenges, including the status quo. They are presented with associated opportunities and considerations in the following table. The policy options are directed toward the challenges detailed in this report: spectrum sharing, cybersecurity, privacy, and concern over possible health effects of 5G technology.
Policy options to address challenges to the performance or usage of U.S. 5G wireless networks
Spectrum-sharing technologies (report p. 47)
Coordinated cybersecurity monitoring (report p. 48)
Cybersecurity requirements (report p. 49)
Privacy practices (report p. 50)
High-band research (report p. 51)
|Status quo (report p. 52)|
GAO was asked to assess the technologies associated with 5G and their implications. This report discusses (1) how the performance goals and expected uses are to be realized in U.S. 5G wireless networks, (2) the challenges that could affect the performance or usage of 5G wireless networks in the U.S., and (3) policy options to address these challenges.
To address these objectives, GAO interviewed government officials, industry representatives, and researchers about the performance and usage of 5G wireless networks. This included officials from seven federal agencies; the four largest U.S. wireless carriers; an industry trade organization; two standards bodies; two policy organizations; nine other companies; four university research programs; the World Health Organization; the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements; and the chairman of the Defense Science Board's 5G task force. GAO reviewed technical studies, industry white papers, and policy papers identified through a literature review. GAO discussed the challenges to the performance or usage of 5G in the U.S. during its interviews and convened a one-and-a-half day meeting of 17 experts from academia, industry, and consumer groups with assistance from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
GAO received technical comments on a draft of this report from six federal agencies and nine participants at its expert meeting, which it incorporated as appropriate.
Excerpt from the 2020 GAO report (pp. 40-45)
The deployment of 5G technology, including the numerous small cell base stations needed to transmit and receive high-band frequencies, may exacerbate existing public concerns that RF energy exposure may cause cancer 93 or otherwise endanger human health, although there is limited evidence to support these concerns. Several U.S. localities, private citizens, and non-profits have filed lawsuits involving the deployment of 5G, including claims that the FCC has failed to update its RF exposure limits in light of the new technology. 94 Health concerns have also interrupted 5G deployment abroad, with several Swiss communities delaying rollouts, and protesters in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands damaging 5G towers.
Officials from federal regulatory and research agencies did not indicate any cause for alarm due to these unknowns because of the research from observational studies on pre-5G technology and from experimental studies of high-band 5G technology. 95 The National Cancer Institute (NCI) reviewed three large observational studies and several smaller observational studies of humans exposed to pre-5G technology. 96 The results of the large studies were inconsistent in linking cell phones and cancer outcomes and methodological challenges may have affected the findings. A few of the smaller studies showed a relationship with non-malignant tumors. 5G technology introduces RF energy at higher frequencies than used for existing cellular communications systems. However, higher frequencies have less penetration into the human body and therefore are thought to be less of a concern than lower frequencies.
Challenges in understanding research on the possibility of long-term health effects of exposure to RF energy from pre-5G and 5G technology include: (1) measuring RF exposure to populations, and (2) synthesizing research for decision makers and for the public.
To better address the measurement of RF exposure in future studies involving high-band frequencies, an NCI scientist noted that studies that measure exposure to RF energy and the amount of RF energy deposited into the body (dosimetry) would first need to be performed to prepare for human observational studies and to help understand how exposure is different with 5G technology.
Because there is a large and evolving body of relevant research, it is important that the results be regularly synthesized for Congress and the public. The FCC relies on the FDA as well as other organizations—principally IEEE and the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP)—to review scientific research and provide recommendations for setting RF safety standards. 98 However, each of these organizations has only reviewed a subset of the relevant research and, of these organizations, only IEEE updates its formal assessments regularly. Specifically:
"We provided a draft of this product to the Departments of Commerce, Energy, and Health and Human Services; DHS; DOD; FCC; and NSF for their review. DOD told us that they had no technical comments on the draft report; the remaining six agencies provided technical comments, which we incorporated as appropriate. Participants in our expert meeting from CTC Technology & Energy, CTIA, Google, Illinois Institute of Technology, National Consumer Law Center, Nokia—North and South America, PwC, University of Colorado, and U.S. Cellular also reviewed a draft of this product; we incorporated their technical comments as appropriate."