5G technology was first deployed worldwide in 2019 and is set to soon overtake 4G as the industry standard, promoting connectivity and integration across multiple industries. With higher radiofrequency radiation than 4G, however, studies into potential health effects are needed before the technology is rolled out extensively. One such study carried out by Oregon State University (OSU) led to the conclusion that 5G radiation is predominantly benign. If the findings are right, then they could go a long way to swaying public opinion to back network implementation.
A graphic that represents the evolution of mobile technology, by showing the terms 3G, 4G, and 5G. Image Credit: Pixabay.
Why Do 5G Safety Concerns Need to be Addressed?
Currently, exposure to radiofrequency radiations (RFR) larger than 2.4GHz (gigahertz) are uncommon, and so their potential health impacts are unknown. While the radio and microwave range of 5G doesn’t include ionising radiation, studies have associated RFR exposure with adverse health effects. These include concerns over neuropsychiatric disorders, neurodegenerative diseases, and lowered sperm quality.
The biggest concern amongst them is that of developmental health. One two-year study of high RFR doses on rats demonstrated that developmental exposures to RFR can result in adverse effects. However, there has also been evidence to the contrary. It is vital that there are more controlled studies into the non-thermal effects of higher frequency RFR exposures if public concerns over safety are to be reduced.
How the Oregon State University Study Reached its Conclusion
In the aforementioned OSU study, researchers used embryonic zebrafish to emulate early developmental reactions in humans to radiation. The organism is often used to discover interactions between the environment and biological systems due to its developmental process being comparable to humans. (Zebrafish and humans are in fact similar on a genomic level, sharing around 70% of the same genes.)
An example of zebrafish, the species used in Oregon State University’s 5G study. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
In the study, the embryonic zebrafish were exposed to 3.5GHz radiofrequency for two days. This is the frequency that is typically used by 5G-enabled cell phones. The researchers used artificially high signal strength—around 200 times that of a person using a mobile phone.
The embryos were placed on plates inside a box made of copper to stop the radiation escaping. The radiation then entered the box through an antenna. Hundreds of embryos were together exposed uniformly and then monitored and examined through their rapid developmental phases. The researchers found no symbolic impacts on mortality, embryo formation, or behavioural responses. They did, however, find a moderate inhibition of startle response to sudden sound, which requires further investigation.
Could the Study Really Prove 5G Safety?
The OSU study certainly has some credibility as zebrafish are so similar to humans on a genomic level. This means that we can have confidence in how the research results would apply to humans. Also, as such a high signal strength was used, the lack of large-scale effects is certainly promising. However, if the findings are to keep up with the rapidly evolving mobile phone industry and to prove truly reliable, more research is required to discover the impacts of higher frequencies, higher exposure levels, and long-term effects.
Ultimately, on its own, this OSU study isn’t going to be enough to quell public concern. More research is required to produce unquestionable proof that 5G will cause no health effects, especially over a longer timescale.