5G networks will increase the number of wireless devices, necessitating a lot more infrastructure, so as to allow for a higher mobile data volume per geographic area. Moreover, it is necessary to build up increased network density, as the higher frequencies required for 5G (24 to 100 GHz, MMW) have shorter ranges. The studies available on these frequencies are few in number and of mixed quality.
MMW will only be brought in with the final 5G protocol, i.e. not until three to five years' time. Given this time frame, one option is to study their effects before exposing the whole world population and environment.
The results of these studies could form the basis for developing evidence-based policies regarding RF-EMF exposure of human and non-human organisms to 5G MMW frequencies. Further studies are needed to better and independently explore the health effects of RF-EMF in general and of MMW in particular.
The author thanks Dr Daniele Mandrioli, MD, PhD, Ramazzini Institute, Bologna (Italy), who advised and reviewed the methodology; Prof. Carlo Foresta, MD, and Prof. Andrea Garolla, MD, Professors of Endocrinology and Andrology, University of Padua (Italy), who critically reviewed the results on reproductive adverse effects in humans; Prof. Fausto Bersani, Physicist, Consultant, Rimini (Italy), who assisted her in the interpretation of papers regarding the exposure scenario."
Environmental impacts of 5G: A literature review of effects of radio-frequency electromagnetic field exposure of non-human vertebrates, invertebrates and plants
Arno Thielens. Environmental impacts of 5G: A literature review of effects of radio-frequency electromagnetic field exposure of non-human vertebrates, invertebrates and plants. Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA). European Parliament. 2021, 137 pp. PE 690.021, ISBN 9789284680337. doi: 10.2861/318352.
Telecommunication networks use radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to enable wireless communication. These networks have evolved over time, and have been launched in successive generations. The fifth generation of telecommunication networks will operate at frequencies that were not commonly used in previous generations, changing the exposure of wildlife to these waves. This report reviews the literature on the exposure of vertebrates, invertebrates and plants to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields in anticipation of this change.
The review shows that dielectric heating can occur at all considered frequencies (0.4-300 GHz) and for all studied organisms. Summarising and discussing the results of a series of studies of radio-frequency electromagnetic field exposure of wildlife, the review shows that several studies into the effects of radio-frequency electromagnetic field exposure on invertebrates and plants in the frequency bands considered demonstrate experimental shortcomings. Furthermore, the literature on invertebrate and plant exposure to radio-frequency electromagnetic fields above 6 GHz is very limited. More research is needed in this field.
Wireless telecommunication is a widespread technology that uses radio-frequency (RF) electromagnetic fields (EMFs) to send information between users. Wildlife can be exposed to these waves, which will partially penetrate biological tissues. These internal fields can have biological effects. Exposure to RF-EMFs and the interaction between the EMFs and organisms will depend on the frequency of the waves. Fifth generation wireless telecommunication networks (5G) will be operating partly at new frequencies that are not very commonly found in the environment. These anticipated changes warrant a review of the existing literature on the effects of RF-EMF exposure of wildlife. This study presents such a review.
A database search of the current literature in the field found that it is subdivided based on two classifiers. The first is the target group investigated: non-human vertebrates, invertebrates and plants; the second is the RF-EMF frequency studied, which is subdivided between a lower (0.45-6 GHz) and a higher frequency range (6-300 GHz). The former frequency range includes those frequencies where the current telecommunication networks operate, while the latter is the range in which 5G will partially operate. This resulted in six categories, which are reviewed separately.
Dielectric heating due to RF-EMF exposure of biological tissue is shown in all categories. This heating causes internal temperature increases in organisms or cells, which in turn has biological effects such as a thermoregulatory response. This implies that there is always a level of RF-EMF power density that will cause biological effects, referred to as thermal effects. Decoupling effects caused by elevated temperatures and the presence of RF-EMFs within biological tissue are major issues in this field of study.
Many studies focus on demonstrating (the absence of) non-thermal effects. These are effects that are caused by RF-EMF exposure but are not associated with any changes in temperature. A wide variety of other effects of RF-EMF exposure are studied. However, no effect, apart from dielectric heating, is studied in all six categories.
Lower frequency range (0.45-6 GHz)
In the lower frequency range, in vitro studies on non-human vertebrate cells showed mixed results on cellular genotoxicity and cellular transformation under RF-EMF exposure. Previous reviews on these subjects conclude either that the evidence for such effects is weak or that the literature is inconclusive. Regarding non-genotoxic effects of RF-EMF exposure, there are reports claiming that neural activity can be altered in vitro through RF-EMF exposure. Other cellular effects are either not proven or contested, or there are not enough studies to come to any conclusions on such effects. In vivo studies on genotoxicity of RF-EMFs found contradictory results. There is a debate in the literature on whether RF-EMF exposure can induce (transient) changes in the permeability of the blood-brain barrier.
It seems that the most recent studies could not show such effects. There are mixed results regarding the in vivo effects of RF-EMF exposure on the neural system. There seems to be a consensus that animals can hear (pulsed) RF-EMFs above a certain threshold, so-called microwave hearing. However, there is little evidence that telecommunication signals can induce this effect. Environmental studies on RF-EMF exposure and vertebrate behaviour focus mainly on animal nesting, reproduction, orientation and abundance near RF-EMF sources. There are a limited number of studies that conclude that behavioural and reproductive effects might occur for birds and bats under RF-EMF exposure.
RF-EMF exposure of invertebrates in the lower frequency range has been studied by several authors. In addition to dielectric heating, there is a focus on developmental, genetic, or behavioural effects. In vitro studies have shown increased neural activity in invertebrate neurons. In vivo studies on invertebrates are faced with several experimental problems and present inconclusive results on a series of investigated parameters. More research of higher quality, sham-exposed control groups is necessary. As for the limited number of studies that investigated non-insect invertebrates, they all found effects (in vitro and in vivo). This calls for more research on this topic. A very limited number of environmental studies focus on invertebrates and studies on non-insect invertebrates are under-represented as well. These topics require more research in the future.
Plants and fungi
Dielectric heating of plants has been shown in the lower frequency range. This heating might have beneficial effects, but will also induce plant mortality at a certain level. At lower levels of RF-EMF exposure, the literature on plants and fungi shows contradictory results and is plagued by experimental shortcomings. The numbers of studies and plants studied, especially for fungi, is limited in comparison to those studies that focus on animals. More research in this area is necessary, and should focus on a higher quality of unexposed control and sham control groups, temperature and exposure monitoring, and dosimetry.
Higher frequency range (6 to 300 GHz)
In the higher frequency range, in vitro studies on both vertebrate and invertebrate neurons have shown effects of RF-EMF exposure on neural activity. In vivo studies on vertebrates have shown that RF-EMF exposure of the eye can induce corneal lesions and cataract. Effects on male fertility have been demonstrated in rodents as well. Mixed results of RF-EMF exposure on behaviour and prevalence of vertebrates are found. One research group demonstrated that RF-EMF exposure can have a hypoalgesic effect in mice. These effects should be replicated by other research groups. There is some evidence that high-frequency RF-EMFs can be used to induce an anti-inflammatory response, up to a certain dosage. A limited number of in vivo studies have shown that high-frequency RF-EMFs can reduce tumor growth.
In the same frequency range, there have been in vitro demonstrations of neurostimulation and in vivo demonstration of developmental and teratogenic effects on invertebrates at relatively high power-densities. These effects should be investigated further at lower power densities. The literature on invertebrate exposure to RF-EMFs in this frequency range is limited and warrants further investigation.
Plants and fungi
The literature on fungi and plants in the higher frequency range is very limited and no conclusions besides the existence of dielectric heating can be drawn at this moment. It is necessary to execute further research in this area.
Dielectric heating due to RF-EMF exposure is shown in all categories studied.
In the lower frequency range (0.45-6 GHz), the majority of the existing literature focuses on vertebrates, for which a series of potential effects are studied. Those studies that investigate RF-EMF exposure of invertebrates in the lower frequency range focus on dielectric heating, and developmental, genetic or behavioural effects. Literature on non-insect invertebrates is very limited. Studies on plant exposure in the lower frequency range, which target exposure outcomes at plant level show experimental shortcomings. The number of studies in this category is limited in comparison to those studies that focus on animals.
In the higher frequency range (6-300 GHz) the number of peer-reviewed publications is in general lower than in the lower frequency range. For vertebrates, a series of potential exposure outcomes are studied, while the literature on invertebrates and plants above 6 GHz is very limited. More research in this field is necessary.
5. Policy options
Given the results of this review, four policy options were formulated.
A first policy option could be to fund research on RF-EMF exposure of plants, fungi and invertebrates at frequencies below 6 GHz and to fund research on non-human vertebrates, plants, fungi and invertebrates at frequencies of between 6 and 300 GHz. These studies could form the basis for evidence-based policies regarding RF-EMF exposure of non-human organisms.
A second policy option could be to call for systematic monitoring of environmental RF-EMFs, since these are the main source of exposure for non-human organisms and it is expected that this exposure will change over time.
A third policy option could be a request to make information on the RF-EMF operational aspects of the telecommunication networks public. This would again be aimed at quantifying
environmental RF-EMF exposure over time.
A fourth policy option could be to require compliance studies for organisms other than humans when base station antennas are installed in the telecommunication network. This would prevent the excessive RF-EMF exposure of non-human organisms near such antennas.
Open access report: https://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2021/690021/EPRS_STU(2021)690021_EN.pdf
Presentation of the Studies
"Over the last decades, novel wireless communication technologies, such as mobile telephones, cellular networks and Wi-Fi, have been developed at unparalleled speed. The forthcoming rollout of 5G technology across the European Union is expected to bring new opportunities for citizens and businesses by enabling faster internet browsing, streaming and downloading, as well as by ensuring better connectivity. However, 5G, along with 3G and 4G, with which it will operate in parallel for several years, may also pose threats to human health. This event will present the results of two STOA studies, which take stock of our present understanding of the impacts of 5G on health and the environment."
- Radio frequency radiation (RFR) exposure from 450 Megahertz - 6 Gigahertz:
- Probably carcinogenic to humans.
- Probably affects male fertility.
- Possibly affects female fertility.
- Possibly has adverse effects on embyros, fetuses, and newborns.
- RFR exposure from 24-100 Gigahertz:
- No adequate studies were performed.
- Manufacture cell phones that emit less RFR.
- Revise RFR exposure limits to reduce exposure from cell towers.
- Adopt measures to reduce RFR in fixed locations.
- Promote multidisciplinary research on long-term health effects of 5G and develop a method to monitor 5G exposure.
- Promote information campaigns on 5G.
- Wildlife is exposed to RFR from telecommunication networks.
- RFR exposure will change in the near future.
- More research is needed on the effects of RFR on wildlife, especially plants, fungi, and invertebrates.
- For RFR less than 6 Gigahertz, fund research on plants, fungi, and invertebrates.
- For RFR more than 6 Gigahertz, fund research on all non-human organisms.
- Monitor environmental RFR exposure, especially near cell tower antennas.
- Adopt measures to ensure all organisms maintain a minimum separation from antennas.
WELCOME and INTRODUCTION
Eva KAILI, MEP and STOA Chair
Michèle Rivasi, MEP and STOA Panel member
Ivo Hristov, MEP and STOA Panel member
HEALTH IMPACT OF 5G
Fiorella Belpoggi, Ramazzini Institute, Bologna, Italy (video: 10:28:28 - 10:48:25)
ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF 5G
Arno Thielens, Ghent University - imec, Ghent, Belgium (video: 10:49:46 - 11:09:05)
Julia Köberlein, Bernhard Scholz, Kontextlab, Munich, Germany (video: 11:09:45 - 11:20:43)
Joachim Schüz, International Agency for Research on Cancer, WHO, France (video: 11:22:08 - 11:28:32)
Kurt Straif, Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), Spain (video: 11:29:40 - 11:37:45)
Martin Vácha, Faculty of Science, Masaryk University, Brno, Czech Republic (video: 11:38:13 - 11:42:33)
Moderator: Michel Salvator Israel, Medical University, Pleven, Bulgaria (video: 11:42:34 - 11:45:38)
Ivo Hristov, MEP and STOA Panel member (video: 11:45:41 - 11:48:10)
December 14, 2020 (updated December 15)
The Panel for the Future of Science and Technology of the European Parliament held a workshop on the potential health impacts of 5G on December 7, 2020.
The workshop included testimony from the chairman of the
International Commission on Non-Ionizing
Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and from five experts.
The ICNIRP chairman claimed that ICNIRP's exposure guidelines for radio frequency (RF) radiation are adequate to protect against all health threats to humans, not just short-term or thermal effects, and that a wealth of research shows that 5G will not cause health problems.
In contrast, the five experts discussed potential impacts of 5G
to humans, wildlife and the natural environment. Each of the experts raised concerns about the adequacy of ICNIRP's
RF exposure guidelines to protect health. Both members of Parliament who chaired this meeting called for a moratorium on 5G deployment until these concerns are resolved.
- Michèle Rivasi, Member of Parliament (MEP) and STOA (Science and Technology Options Assessment) Panel member
- Ivo Hristov, MEP and STOA Panel member
- Moderator: David Gee, Institute of Environment, Health, and Societies, Brunel University, London, UK; former senior advisor to European Environmental Agency
Health Impact of 5G
- Fiorella Belpoggi, Research Director, Ramazzini Institute, Bologna, Italy
- Elisabeth Cardis, Head of Radiation Program, Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), Spain
- Rodney Croft, Chairman, International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP); Professor of Health Psychology, University of Wollongong, Australia
- Franz Karcher, DG Sante, European Commission
Environmental Impact of 5G
- Arno Thielens, Professor of Engineering, Ghent University, imec, Ghent, Belgium
- Gerard Ledoigt, Professor of Biology, Clermont Université, Clermont-Ferrand, France
Q&A from Audience and Closing Remarks
- Ivo Hristov, MEP and STOA Panel Member
- Michèle Rivasi, MEP and STOA Panel Member
- David Gee, Moderator
The video of the workshop (with simultaneous translation into six languages) can be viewed at: https://bit.ly/EUparliament5Gworkshop.
The Participants Booklet for this workshop can be downloaded at: https://bit.ly/5GEUparliamentbooklet.
5G Workshop Summary
Note: For the following summary I relied on the English translator so my notes may not accurately reflect the speakers' testimony. I apologize in advance if I misconstrued anyone's comments.
Ivo Hristov (MEP): The recent ICNIRP review of the literature and recommended radio frequency (RF) exposure guidelines suffer from a conflict of interest as they were "co-written" by members of industry. 5G should not be deployed until there is a risk assessment and until we have the tools to minimize the risks.
David Gee (moderator, Brunel University): Posed three questions to the panel of experts:
1. Is the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection's (ICNIRP) 2020 risk assessment of the health and environmental effects of electromagnetic fields sufficiently robust and reliable to define protection policies?
2. Are the exposure limits recommended by the ICNIRP for electromagnetic fields, which are based primarily on short-term tissue warming effects, sufficiently protective to avoid damage from exposures at lower levels and over the long term that are below the ICNIRP limits?
3. Is there sufficient independent research on the health and environmental effects of 5G that would help to reassure the public and minimize future liability?
Rodney Croft (ICNIRP Chairman):
Denied any industry involvement in the ICNIRP review of the literature or the development of RF exposure guidelines. Careful consideration was given to all public input that ICNIRP received.
Science is imperfect and results of a study are not completely reliable. Need to look at the body of research as a whole. The National Toxicology Program rat study is a good example of this. That the study made more than 10,000 statistical comparisons rendered the statistically significant outcomes meaningless. Thus, another study must be conducted to confirm the results.
ICNIRP recognizes some biologic effects but does not believe there is sufficient data to indicate harm to animals or the environment.
The ICNIRP RF exposure guidelines protect against all health threats to humans, not just short-term or thermal effects.
A wealth of independent research shows 5G will not cause health problems. 5G is a new transmission protocol using RF fields and knowledge about RF is substantial. The RF mechanisms are well known. Science does not find differential effects for different modulations. The effect of frequency is already understood so it doesn't matter that some 5G frequencies are different from 4G.
Elisabeth Cardis (Barcelona Institute for Global Health):
Some recent experimental animal studies and epidemiological studies find harmful effects from low-level RF exposure. ICNIRP dismisses NTP study and epidemiological case-control studies. These observations raise the possibility that the ICNIRP 2020 guidelines provide inadequate protection. However, the evidence is not conclusive. The widespread use of wireless technology warrants use of an ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) policy.
There is insufficient research on 5G, especially millimeter wave (mmw) effects, and an absence of epidemiological research. Research is also needed on measurement protocols, especially for 5G's massive-MIMO and beam-forming technology; on exposure assessment and mechanisms.
Fiorella Belpoggi (Ramazzini Institute):
We need a risk assessment on 5G (700 - 3500 MHz; 26 GHz). There have been thousands of studies on the lower frequencies; some found biological effects. ICNIRP guidelines do not sufficiently protect us from these lower frequencies, but this is a low risk.
The Interphone study found an increase in brain tumors and tumors on the acoustic nerve.
It is difficult to quantify exposures. There is uncertainty about the long-term effect of mmw's.
5G constitutes a major experiment on the human population. New technologies are being deployed without safety information.
If everyone is exposed to 5G, we will not have an unexposed comparison group in future studies.
We need safer mobile phones, especially for children and women. Up to 5 volts per meter may be safe at least from carcinogenic effects.
We need research on the combined effects of mmw's with frequencies in current use.
Franz Karcher (DG Sante, European Commission):
The European Commission (EC) is reassessing the situation following the ICNIRP new review and guidelines. EC provides guidance to EU countries but does not mandate policies. EC relies on a wide range of advice from more than 100 academies and 40 countries -- free of conflicts of interest.
The EC asked the committee on new emerging health risks to review the evidence. The last review 5 years ago concluded that 1999 exposure limits are still valid including a 50-fold safety factor for the general public and 5-fold for occupational workers. EC member states follow these guidelines or have adopted more rigorous limits (e.g., Italy).
We need more studies as existing studies are inconsistent. EC is funding more research.
EC is aware of public concerns re: 5G.
French study: 5G's massive MIMO is likely to cause a minor increase in RF exposure but much less than current ICNIRP guidelines.
David Gee summary:
1) Exposure guidelines are often too weak to be protective, e.g., with more research chemical exposure limits are usually strengthened over time.
2) The science is complex and uncertain.
3) Not much is known about 5G; we have substantial research on 2G-4G.
4) The Ramazzini Institute never found a cancer effect in animals that did not affect humans.
5) An ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) policy is wise.
6) We need more research. Use ALARA policy in the interim.
Arno Thielens (Ghent University):
The ICNIRP RF exposure guidelines do not consider the scientific literature regarding effects on non-human animals and plants that are unrelated to human health.
The effect of heating is the same in all organisms, but the amount of heating varies. The ICNIRP guidelines only address humans.
The main human exposures come from base station antennas and personal wireless devices. Normal wireless users may have much greater whole-body exposure to RF after 5G deployment.
Non-user exposures (including other species) may decrease with deployment of 5G over time due to beam-forming. However, some novel wireless applications may increase non-human exposures (e.g., tracking devices). We need to quantify this.
Most of the animal/plant/fungi research is on frequencies less than or equal to 6 GHz. Little research has been conducted on the effects of frequencies above 6 GHz.
Below 6 GHz, biological effects have been found on invertebrates, plants, especially low frequency fields, but not necessarily harmful.
Gerard Ledoigt (Clermont Université):
RF radiation has important effects on the environment. Bee behavior is affected after 35-45 minutes exposure to mobile phone radiation.
Serious effects on plants after 48 hours of exposure.
Various animals and plants are affected by 1 Volt per meter. Some plants were affected after 10 minutes of exposure including non-thermal effects on plants (900 MHz). The physiological effects in plants depended on modulation of the signal.
There is a risk from long-term exposure to health. Pregnant women and children are more vulnerable. Brain tumor risk increases with long-term exposure. The research is robust. There is a cause-effect relationship.
Increased stress on organisms. Effects on DNA, quality of sperm reduced. Organ damage, liver, affected in newborn. Not due to thermic exposure. Epigenetic responses related to types of RF signals. Cellular division is changed. DNA repair is also affected leading to cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.
5G causes stress proteins and affects cellular membranes. The immune system, the heart and brain will be affected.
Genotoxicity. Prenatal effects in mice and rats.
He advocated for a moratorium on 5G and conduct of research fully independent from any pressure groups.
David Gee (summary):
1) ICNIRP evaluation and guidelines mainly focus on health, not the environment.
2) All life forms are affected by RF and often below ICNIRP levels.
3) 5G may decrease RF exposure for non-users and increase it for users.
4) The evidence is not convincing, but certainly concerning.
5) How much evidence is needed before policy makers take action?
MEP: Asked panelists to compare safety of 5G to 4G.
Rodney Croft: There is very good science. There is no uncertainty re: safety of 5G. All ICNIRP commissioners are 100% independent and can say whatever they like.
David Gee: James Lin, a former ICNIRP commissioner, thinks animal evidence of carcinogenicity is clear and convincing.
Rodney Croft: Lin has not provided a good reason to believe this.
Elisabeth Cardis: Has questions about beamforming -- hotspots for users? Recommends periodic surveys of uses and exposures in different countries.
Professor Tom Butler: Asked panelists to compare the strength of evidence re: RF carcinogenicity in 2011 (IARC review) to now.
Elisabeth Cardis: Largest new evidence is experimental (NTP, Ramazzini). We need to wait on the next IARC review to determine the risk of carcinogenicity.
Rodney Croft: Fifteen years of research in "great detail" finds no evidence of different health outcomes from RF exposure as a function of age or in any sensitive population.
Elisabeth Cardis: Some time ago some countries recommended the use of cabled internet in kindergartens in primary schools. Not sure if this still applies.
Fiorella Belpoggi: The hazard is stronger when we expose pregnant women, embryos, fetuses, and children. Actually, in our study and in the NTP study on Sprague Dawley rats, where exposure started at the beginning of dams' gestation, we both have shown a statistically significant increase in heart Schwannomas. This didn’t happen in the NTP study on mice or in other previous studies, where exposure started in adulthood. So I am convinced that the hazard is greater for the early life window of susceptibility. For risk assessment purposes we should take into account this finding.
Ivo Hristov (MEP):
This very interesting debate has shown that 5G is likely to have an adverse impact on humans and the environment. The lack of research on 5G is very important. A plan of action for 5G should take into account the recommendations of the research community.
Michèle Rivasi (MEP):
ICNIRP says no there is no uncertainty about 5G, and that everyone is protected. But ICNIRP only deals with humans, not the environment. There are major gaps in the research on 5G, especially mmw's. Paris airports have banned 5G due to a technical incompatibility. The NTP and Ramazzini studies show robust evidence of carcinogenicity. It cannot be true that there is no uncertainty. We should set up a group of experts in Europe to conduct a robust evaluation by an independent committee. We need to do this to restore consumer confidence in 5G. We should impose a moratorium on 5G until this is accomplished.