The claim: Electromagnetic field radiation from 5G has ‘an enormous impact on your immune system’
As wireless carriers delay the rollout of 5G networks near airports across the USA, some online claim the technology could affect more than just airplanes.
“EMF Radiation from 5G has & will have an enormous impact on your immune system,” reads a Jan. 16 Facebook post from a page called the Live Better Group.
The post, which links to a webinar about the “5G & EMF nightmare,” accumulated more than 600 shares within 10 days. Similar claims have received thousands of interactions on Facebook and Instagram over the past month, according to CrowdTangle, a social media insights tool.
Cell providers’ 5G networks, which promise faster connections, have long been the target of skeptics who say they have negative health effects. USA TODAY has previously debunked online claims that 5G is dangerous and that it’s linked to the coronavirus.
This claim also overreaches, though experts say more research is needed.
“I am unaware of any evidence that exposure to 5G emissions has any adverse effects on the immune system,” Richard Tell, chair of the Committee on Man and Radiation at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, said in an email.
How 5G works
In telecommunications, 5G is the fifth-generation cellular network. It uses high-frequency radio waves and more closely distributed wireless access points to create faster, more reliable internet connections.
Radio waves are a form of electromagnetic radiation. Experts say the term describes several different kinds of energy on the electromagnetic spectrum.
“From a biological point of view, the most important difference in the types of EMR occurs when the energy has reached the ultraviolet region of the spectrum and beyond,” Jerrold Bushberg, senior vice president at the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements, told USA TODAY in an email. “In this portion of the spectrum – ultraviolet and higher energies – EMR has sufficient energy to strip electrons from the atoms.”
5G and the airline industry:What we know about the impact on travel, flights and more
That process is called “ionization,” he said, and it changes the chemistry of atoms and molecules. Exposure to ionizing radiation, such as x-rays and gamma-rays, can cause damage and mutations in human cells, resulting in cancer and other health effects.
That’s different from the kind of electromagnetic radiation 5G employs.
“The propagation of EMR at energies lower than the ultraviolet portion of the spectrum – including visible light and radio waves – is referred to as non-ionizing radiation due to its inability to cause ionization,” Bushberg said. “This is an important biological distinction between the two regions of the EMR spectrum.”
The energy in “even the most energetic portion of the 5G telecommunications band” is still “lower in energy than visible light,” he said. Verizon, for example, says its 5G “operates at frequencies of about 28 GHz and 39 GHz.” That’s well within the radio spectrum.
Very strong radio waves can heat up the body and disrupt the immune system, the BBC reported in April 2020. And the lack of research on the health effects of millimeter-wave frequencies, which are broadcasted between 30 and 300 GHz, has led to concerns about 5G.
But that doesn’t mean 5G has proven to be harmful, as the Facebook post claims.
“Since it is true that not as many biological research studies have been conducted at such high frequencies, a common expression is that ‘we don’t have any understanding of how 5G signals will affect health,'” Tell said. “The problem with such statements is that at such high frequencies, the radiated signals have very shallow penetration depth within tissues.”
For example, at about 30 GHz, energy from 5G signals is “absorbed within the first approximately one-half millimeter of the skin surface,” he said, meaning they “simply can’t get into the body interior to any extent.”
Effects on immune system unproven
Experts told USA TODAY that, while more research on the health effects of 5G technology is needed, the claim in the Facebook post is unproven.
“The claim that ‘EMF radiation from 5G has & will have an enormous impact on your immune system’ is inaccurate and uncalled for,” Dr. Marvin Ziskin, emeritus professor of radiology and medical physics at the Temple University Medical School, said in an email. Ziskin added that the claim was “without any scientific justification.”
As evidence, the Live Better Group cited in its post a “2018 study that revealed that blocking exposure to electromagnetic fields – EMF’s – produces significantly reduced symptoms in 90% of patients with autoimmune disease.” USA TODAY asked the group which study it was referencing, but it had not responded as of publication.
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Ziskin said studies that looked at the effects of millimeter waves on the immune system have produced inconsistent results. Some have shown no effect or harmful effects, while most have actually shown beneficial effects.
“The weight of evidence leads to the conclusion that no harmful effects on the immune system are to be expected from 5G networks operated within national safety standard limits,” he said.
The Live Better Group also cited as evidence a 2019 opinion article, published by the Scientific American, titled “We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe.” The article’s author, Joel Moskowitz, wrote that exposure to millimeter waves from 5G networks could have adverse health effects, including on the immune system.
However, he told USA TODAY most of the evidence is anecdotal.
“Unfortunately, at this time we don’t know what health impacts 5G is having other than from anecdotal reports, of which there are many,” Moskowitz, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California-Berkeley’s School of Public Health, said in an email. “And if we don’t start funding research on 5G biologic or health effects we may never be able to confirm or disconfirm these anecdotal reports.”
Meanwhile, regulatory agencies around the world have said the best available evidence suggests 5G is not harmful.
The World Health Organization, for example, says on its website that “no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.” The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency says there is “no established evidence that low-level radio wave exposure from 5G” affects the immune system.
And, according to the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, “scientific evidence has not conclusively linked cell phone use with any adverse human health problems, although scientists admit that more research is needed.”
That’s consistent with an April 2021 report from the Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, which Bushberg said is “the latest scientific review of the evidence.” It found “no new established causal relationships between EMF exposure and health risks.”
But that’s not the end of the inquiry. .
“Despite the fact that no health risks associated with weak electromagnetic fields have been demonstrated up to date, the authority considers that further research is important, in particular regarding long-term effects as more or less the entire population is exposed,” the report reads.
Our rating: Missing context
Based on our research, we rate MISSING CONTEXT the claim that electromagnetic field radiation from 5G has “an enormous impact on your immune system.” That claim is unproven. Experts told USA TODAY that, while more research on the health effects of 5G is needed, there is no evidence the technology has an adverse effect on the immune system. Regulatory agencies around the world have said the best available evidence indicates the technology is safe.
Our fact-check sources:
- USA TODAY, Jan. 17, AT&T, Verizon delay rollout of 5G near airports as airlines warn of ‘incalculable’ damage to economy
- CrowdTangle, accessed Jan. 27
- USA TODAY, Jan. 19, Why your 5G phone concerns the airline industry: What we know about the impact on travel, flights and more
- Frontiers in Communications and Networks, April 19, 2021, 5G and EMF Exposure: Misinformation, Open Questions, and Potential Solutions
- USA TODAY, April 4, 2020, Fact check: No, 5G wireless networks aren’t dangerous
- USA TODAY, April 23, 2020, Fact check: 5G technology is not linked to coronavirus
- Richard Tell, Jan. 25, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Dr. Marvin Ziskin, Jan. 26, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Joel Moskowitz, Jan. 25, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Scientific American, Oct. 17, 2019, We Have No Reason to Believe 5G Is Safe
- World Health Organization, Feb. 27, 2020, Radiation: 5G mobile networks and health
- Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency, April 2, 2020, 5G and other telecommunications do not affect the immune system
- Swedish Radiation Safety Authority, April 2021 , Recent Research on EMF and Health Risk
- National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, accessed Jan. 27, Electric & Magnetic Fields
- MIT Sloan Management Review, Feb. 13, 2020, 5G, explained
- Jerrold Bushberg, Jan. 25, Email exchange with USA TODAY
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration, accessed Jan. 27, Ionizing Radiation: Health Effects
- Chandra X-ray Observatory, accessed Jan. 27, Electromagnetic Radiation & Electromagnetic Spectrum
- PolitiFact, April 3, 2020, Fact-checking a conspiracy theory about 5G and the coronavirus
- IEEE Spectrum, May 6, 2017, 5G Bytes: Millimeter Waves Explained High-frequency millimeter waves will greatly increase wireless capacity and speeds for future 5G networks
- Verizon, Nov. 18, 2019, What frequency is 5G?
- Lead Stories, Dec. 8, 2021, Fact Check: NO Evidence That 5G Millimeter Waves Cause Health Problems In Humans
- Healthline, June 22, 2021, Does Wi-Fi Cause Cancer?
- BBC, April 15, 2020, Coronavirus: Scientists brand 5G claims ‘complete rubbish’
- Department of Transportation, Sept. 21, 2017, What is Radio Spectrum?
- International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety, accessed Jan. 27, Statements from Governments and Expert Panels Concerning Health Effects and Safe Exposure Levels of Radiofrequency Energy (2010-2021)
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