PM's chief science advisor weighs in on 5G concerns

Author
Chris Keall, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 2 Dec 2019, 3:11PM
The Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, Prof Juliet Gerrard. (Photo / Greg Bowker)
The Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, Prof Juliet Gerrard. (Photo / Greg Bowker)

PM's chief science advisor weighs in on 5G concerns

Author
Chris Keall, NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 2 Dec 2019, 3:11PM

5G won't harm bees, interfere with NIWA's weather forecasts or damage your health.

That's the message from a new website set up by the Prime Minister's Chief Science Advisor, which addresses popular fears about 5G with a plain-English Q&A about the new mobile technology.

The website's launch follows a review of local and international research by Prof Juliet Gerrard and her office - and it comes at a time of heightened interest as Vodafone and Spark launch commercial 5G services this month.

"The currently available scientific evidence makes it extremely unlikely that there will be any adverse effects on human or environmental health," Professor Juliet Gerrard says in an introduction to the site.

A comprehensive "What is 5G?" explainer notes difference between harmful ionising radiation, such as that produced by X-Rays, which has enough energy to harm cells with prolonged exposure, and non-ionising radiation (such as the radio frequencies used for 5G transmission, 5G phones and wi-fi) that do not have enough energy to damage cells.

Those concerned about 5G often cite that radiofrequency radiation was classified as a "possible human carcinogen" by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (an arm of the United Nations' World Health Organisation ) in 2011.

The Chief Science Advisor's new 5G website puts this into context, noting the "possible" category - unlike the IARC's "probable" list - includes phenomena where a link to cancer cannot be completely ruled out and "catches many commonly encountered things, such as pickles and dry cleaning, so represents a low-risk rating. To put this in perspective, even the classification above this, 'probable human carcinogens,' includes widely encountered activities including drinking very hot drinks and working night shifts."

The World Health Organisation has stated that 'to date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use'.

Beyond cancer fears, anti-5G campaigners have raised the possibility of other negative effects.

The Science Advisor's site also notes, "People have also expressed concern that radio waves could have other health impacts like headaches, difficulty concentrating, and impaired sleep quality. Neither short nor long term studies have shown conclusive evidence of any of these or other health effects."

Nor will 5G harm bees, or interfere with NIWA's weather forecasts.

Gerrard that New Zealand has a precautionary regulatory regime, with rules around emissions from new cell sites and cell sites under construction.

"This ensures that potential exposure at all locations are significantly under safe limits," she says.

Separately, a Ministry of Health 5G fact sheet released in August notes that the lower power approach of 5G means lower exposure to users (not that radiofrequency exposure has been proved harmful in the first place).

Similarly, ZB's "Nanogirl" contributor Dr Michelle Dickinson has noted 5G typically utilises a higher frequency than 4G or 3G and that "As the frequency goes up, the depth of penetration into biological tissues goes down. This means that 5G is even less likely to penetrate the body than the current technology that we use, so no need to invest in a new tinfoil hat."

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