Health impact of 5G
Current state of knowledge of 5G-related carcinogenic and reproductive/developmental hazards as they emerge from epidemiological studies and in vivo experimental studies
The upcoming deployment of 5G mobile networks will allow for significantly faster mobile broadband speeds and increasingly extensive mobile data usage. Technical innovations include a different transmission system (MIMO: use of multiple‐input and multiple‐output antennas), directional signal transmission or reception (beamforming), and the use of other frequency ranges. At the same time, a change is expected in the exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) of humans and the environment. In addition to those used to date, the 5G pioneer bands identified at EU level have frequencies of 700 MHz, 3.6 GHz (3.4 to 3.8 GHz) and 26 GHz (24.25 to 27.5 GHz). The first two frequencies (FR1) are similar to those used for 2G to 4G technologies and have been investigated in both epidemiological and experimental studies for different end points (including carcinogenicity and reproductive/developmental effects), while 26 GHz (FR2) and higher frequencies have not been adequately studied for the same end points.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified radiofrequency (RF) EMF as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’ (Group 2B) and recently recommended RF exposure for re-evaluation ‘with high priority’ (IARC, 2019). Since 2011 a great number of studies have been performed, both epidemiological and experimental. The present review addresses the current knowledge regarding both carcinogenic and reproductive/developmental hazards of RF as exploited by 5G. There are various in vivo experimental and epidemiological studies on RF at a lower frequency range (450 to 6000 MHz), which also includes the frequencies used in previous generations’ broadband cellular networks, but very few (and inadequate) on the higher frequency range (24 to 100 GHz, centimetre/MMW).
The review shows: 1) 5G lower frequencies (700 and 3 600 MHz): a) limited evidence of carcinogenicity in epidemiological studies; b) sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental bioassays; c) sufficient evidence of reproductive/developmental adverse effects in humans; d) sufficient evidence of reproductive/ developmental adverse effects in experimental animals; 2) 5G higher frequencies (24.25-27.5 GHz): the systematic review found no adequate studies either in humans or in experimental animals.
Conclusions: 1) cancer: FR1 (450 to 6 000 MHz): EMF are probably carcinogenic for humans, in particular related to gliomas and acoustic neuromas; FR2 (24 to 100 GHz): no adequate studies were performed on the higher frequencies; 2) reproductive developmental effects: FR1 (450 to 6 000 MHz): these frequencies clearly affect male fertility and possibly female fertility too. They may have possible adverse effects on the development of embryos, foetuses and newborns; FR2 (24 to 100 GHz): no adequate studies were performed on non-thermal effects of the higher frequencies.
This study has been written by Dr Fiorella Belpoggi, BSC, PhD, International Academy of Toxicologic Pathology Fellow (IATPF), Ramazzini Institute, Bologna (Italy), at the request of the Panel for the Future of Science and Technology (STOA) and managed by the Scientific Foresight Unit, within the Directorate-General for Parliamentary Research Services (EPRS) of the Secretariat of the European Parliament.
The scoping review search was performed by Dr Daria Sgargi, PhD, Master in Biostatistics, and Dr Andrea Vornoli, PhD in Cancer Research, Ramazzini Institute, Bologna.
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.
Gianluca Quaglio, Scientific Foresight Unit (STOA)