At one end of the radiation spectrum there is the non-ionising radiofrequency, electromagnetic radiation (RF). These longwave and microwave frequencies are used for radio, TV, smartphones, smart meters, base stations, Wi-Fi and other wireless telecommunications. RF radiation lies in the frequency range between 3,000 Hertz (kHz) and 300 billion Hertz (GHz). RF radiation has so far been considered safe.
At the other end of the radiation spectrum we have the ionising electromagnetic radiation. This ultraviolet (UV) ray, X-ray and gamma ray radiation has sufficient energy to break chemical bonds or remove electrons from atoms. This type of radiation lies in the frequency range between 10 thousand trillion Hertz (PHz) and over 10 million trillion Hertz (ZHz).
A large amount of ionising radiation hitting us over a short period of time would overwhelm the body’s natural ability to repair the damage. There is consensus on the view that ionising radiation is dangerous and deadly.
Light rays (sunshine) fall within the radiation spectrum between infrared rays and ultraviolet rays. Our eyes are tuned to take in light rays. Too much sunshine can however damage our skin.
RF radiation was pioneered by Heinrich Hertz in 1888. The acceleration in use of wireless communication in the past two decades has brought non-ionising RF radiation into sharp focus and has been the subject of numerous studies as scientists and people around the globe are becoming increasingly concerned about its health effects.
When RF radiation hits any living or other object it is either absorbed, transmitted or reflected, or a combination of these. This depends on the frequency (Hz) of the radiation on the one hand and the density and size of the atoms making up the object on the other hand.
All RF waves travel through space at the constant speed of light of 300,000km per second. You can visualise them as waves in a sea with crests and troughs. The distance between crests is the wavelength. The number of crests that pass any given point in one second is called a Hertz (Hz) or Frequency.
Higher frequency electromagnetic waves are considered more harmful than lower frequency ones because they pack a harder punch i.e. more is crammed in a smaller space and in a shorter time. Another element in this equation is the electric charge that the waves carry.
The analogy of waves finds its origin in the romantic notion held by some scientists that explanations of phenomena should also be elegant in order to be acceptable and thus the imagery of these invisible waves moving through space. It also predisposes the mind to think that they are as harmless as waves washing up on a sandy beach. In reality what we have is invisible airborne electric currents travelling through all the space around us at the speed of light.
Apart from frequency, RF radiation is also characterised by strength. This is the electric part. The strength of a wireless signal is measured in microwatts per square metre. A microwatt is a millionth of a Watt. A Watt is a function of the voltage (push) and the amperage (flow) of electricity.
5G stands for Fifth Generation and it is the generic name for the latest technology that supports wireless communication. 5G was preceded by 1G to 4G. This new 5G technology would enable speeds that are one hundred times faster than the 4G, one gigabit per second, technology. 5G achieves this by using RF radiation further along the radiation spectrum – up to 90 billion Hertz per second – than previously used.
Non-ionising radiation could have adverse biological impacts on human health
Our bodies are susceptible to RF radiation as biological life uses electric currents at cellular level to perform vital functions and to communicate. This is an infinitely intricate and vulnerable system. This also holds true for animal and plant life.
A study was published by the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information in December 2017 called ‘Exposure to Magnetic Field Non-Ionising Radiation and the Risk of Miscarriage: A Prospective Cohort Study’.
This study concludes that “women who were exposed to higher non-ionising RF radiation levels had 2.7 times the risk of miscarriage than those with lower non-ionising radiation levels exposure”.
“This study,” the authors said, “provides fresh evidence, directly from a human population, that non-ionising radiation could have adverse biological impacts on human health.”
Lennart Hardell, Michael Carlberg and Lena Hedendahl from the Department of Oncology, Orebro University Hospital, Sweden and The Environment and Cancer Research Foundation, Sweden, conducted a study published in 2018 measuring the levels of RF radiation in an apartment located in Stockholm close to two groups of rooftop mobile phone base stations.
“This study shows high RF radiation levels. Of special concern is the levels in bedrooms, especially those two used by children, since they seem to be more vulnerable to adverse health effects than grown-ups. They have also a longer expected life in which illnesses may later become manifest. The results indicate that this apartment is unsuitable for long-term living based on current knowledge of the potential adverse effects on health of RF radiation.”
In June 2017 Professor Hardell wrote an article in the International Journal of Oncology called ‘World Health Organisation, radiofrequency radiation and health – a hard nut to crack (Review)’.
He said: “During use mobile phones and cordless phones emit RF radiation. The brain is the main target organ for RF emissions from the handheld wireless phone. An evaluation of the scientific evidence on the brain tumour risk was made in May 2011 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC). The epidemiological studies supported evidence of an increased risk for head and brain tumours such as glioma and acoustic neuroma.
“The IARC reached the conclusion that RF radiation from devices that emit non-ionising RF radiation in the frequency range of 30k Hz to 300bn Hz is a possible human carcinogen. Later studies have collaborated these findings and have strengthened the evidence.”
He concludes: “In spite of the IARC evaluation little has happened to reduce the exposure to RF fields in most countries.”
The WHO’s current fact sheet on this subject dates back to 2014. The WHO promised a formal risk assessment of the impact on health from exposure to radio frequency fields by 2016. This does not appear to have been published yet.
In January 2019, 247 scientists from 42 countries, specialising in the health effects of electromagnetic radiation, signed an appeal to the United Nations expressing grave concern regarding 5G. In May 2019 235 scientists and doctors from 39 countries signed an appeal to the EU Commission urging it to stop the rollout of 5G.
Here’s the thing. What I have understood is that RF non-ionising radiation may be undermining our well-being and may be having a cumulative negative effect on our health. Children, the elderly and patients may have a higher health risk from exposure due to their still developing, stressed or damaged immune systems. As for the rest of us, we would prefer to live longer rather than shorter lives, I am sure.
The fact that we may have polluted the very space in which we exist is a sobering thought indeed.
This is a Times of Malta print opinion piece
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