Science Questions with Surprising Answers
Answers provided by
Dr. Christopher S. Baird

How do 5G cell phone signals harm humans?

Category: Biology      Published: August 18, 2022

5G network
Public Domain Image, source: U.S. Department of Defense

The electromagnetic waves from all cell phone systems, including 5G systems, cause zero harm to humans. All cell phones and cell phone towers use radio waves to communicate. Radio waves have been in use for wireless communications for over a hundred years with no credible evidence of adverse health effects. The radio waves from cell phones do not mutate DNA, do not damage cells, and do not interfere with biological functions - not even a little bit! Furthermore, all objects naturally emit radio waves as part of their regular thermal emission. The radio waves emitted by a cell phone are physically no different from the radio waves continuously emitted by rocks, trees, desks, and all other physical objects. We are continuously immersed in radio waves emitted by rocks, trees, dirt, buildings, pencils, watermelons, physics professors, etc. Furthermore, the world has been immersed in these radio waves since the dawn of time, long before radio antennas came along. Radio waves are also what are used by AM/FM music radio stations.

Note that I already effectively answered this question ten years ago. You can read my previous answer here. This article is actually nearly identical to that article that I wrote ten years ago. I am writing this article, despite being redundant, because of several requests from my readers to address 5G technology specifically. 5G cell phone communication networks may have more sophisticated engineering protocols than previous generations of cell phone communication networks, but they still use just plain old radio waves. "5G" stands for fifth generation. 5G radio waves are physically identical to 4G radio waves in terms of their overall physical characteristics. They are different in that 5G uses more clever ways to encode and process the information carried by the radio waves. The engineering is different but the physics is not.

There are two ways that electromagnetic radiation in general can damage biological tissues, cells, and functioning: through ionization events and through bulk heating.

An ionization event is when a bit of electromagnetic radiation knocks a single electron off of an atom or molecule. This can cause the chemical bond between two atoms to break, or can cause an atom to become a reactive ion which can then go on to break chemical bonds. If this happens too much, it can lead to mutations, cancer, radiation sickness, and/or tissue damage. However, only ionizing radiation has enough energy per photon to create an ionization event. The only forms of electromagnetic radiation that are ionizing are high-frequency ultraviolet rays, x-rays, and gamma rays. Radio waves have far too little energy per photon to ionize atoms. We are not just talking about a low amount of ionization from radio waves. Radio waves cause exactly zero individual atomic or molecular ionization events. They simply have far too little energy per photon to ionize atoms. In contrast, x-rays, some ultraviolet rays, and gamma rays do have enough energy per photon to cause individual ionization events. That is why there must be radiation-safety protocols, radiation shields, and radiation-safety-trained professionals in order for an x-ray machine to be used at a dentist's office, while none of this is needed at all to sit on a bench or walk by a rock or stand on the sidewalk, even those these things are continuously naturally emitting radio waves.

The non-ionizing nature of radio waves is why you can listen to your favorite FM music radio station in your car and need zero radiation-safety equipment, zero radiation-safety protocols, and zero radiation-safety-trained professionals. Radio waves have far less energy per photon than visible light. If radio waves caused cancer then the regular visible light coming from a candle would cause thousands of times more cancer. But they don't. They do not have enough energy per photon to be ionizing. Note that all of this is very basic, very well-established, mainstream physics that has been known and verified countless times throughout many decades. I am not just guessing about this or sharing an opinion.

The other way that electromagnetic radiation can affect biological tissue, cells, and functioning is through bulk heating. Bulk heating does not require a high energy per photon. It just requires a high total intensity of the electromagnetic wave. For this reason, all forms of electromagnetic radiation can cause bulk heating, including radio waves. This is why the microwave radiation in a microwave oven can heat up food while still having zero ability to cause individual ionization or cancer. Bulk heating from non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation is also what causes you to feel warm when you are standing near a campfire. The campfire emits radio waves and infrared waves with high enough intensity to warm you. If cell phone signals were powerful enough to heat you significantly, it would be no different from being warmed by a campfire.

Bulk heating can indeed damage biological tissue by burning it. However, radio waves must have a very high total intensity to cause burns and thereby damage tissue. The radio waves used by cell phones, AM/FM radio channels, WIFI, and all other forms of radio communications are far too low in intensity to cause burns. Furthermore, radio waves that do indeed have high enough total intensity to cause physical burns through bulk heating are hard to generate and rare. For this reason, almost all types of burns that the typical person encounters; such as sunburns, burns from fires, burns from toasters, burns from irons, burns from electrical shocks, burns from acids, burns from heaters, burns from over-heated appliances, and so forth; are not caused by radio waves.

The amount of radio waves emitted into the air by 5G telecommunications equipment is a drop in the bucket compared to the radio waves already present in the air from other sources. Furthermore, unlike the early stages of cancer and radiation poisoning, a physical burn from electromagnetic-wave bulk heating causes immediate pain, instantly triggering the person to back off from the source. If the radio waves from a 5G cell phone were powerful enough to cause burns (which they are not), it would feel just like getting burned from touching a hot iron. You would immediately pull your hand away before too much damage was done. Non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation can only heat and burn tissue in a non-specific, bulk-material manner; and cannot make individual changes at the cell level or molecular level.

Note that the atoms and molecules that make up cells, cell parts, fluids, and other biological matter do indeed interact through the electromagnetic interaction. In fact, all chemical bonds and chemical reactions are ultimately caused by electromagnetic field effects. However, the atoms and molecules of biological matter interact through static atomic-scale electric fields, which are completely different from radio waves.

Surprisingly, some people feel passionately that 5G signals are harmful to humans, despite there being zero credible evidence and zero physical plausibility. Some people believe that the secret purpose of installing 5G technology is to harm humans. The problem with this type of conspiracy theory (i.e., the widespread poisoning of public spaces by conspiring organizations) is that political and technology leaders are also human and also use public spaces. If the people responsible for implementing 5G technology were really causing harmful electromagnetic radiation to be broadcast into public spaces, they would also be harming themselves, their children and their loved ones. While there may indeed be a handful of evil or mentally ill people that are happy harming themselves and their loved ones while harming others, it is absurd to think that effectively all political and technology leaders, at all levels, in all countries, are happy harming themselves and their loved ones.

In summary, 5G cell phone systems use radio waves to transmit information. These radio waves are non-ionizing and too weak to cause burns, and therefore cause zero harm to humans.

Christopher S. Baird is a physics professor at West Texas A&M University and author of the book, The Top 50 Science Questions with Surprising Answers.

Topics: cancer, cell phone, phone, photon, photon energy, radiation, radio, radio waves