The inexorable rollout of the superfast 5G mobile network has been met with a legal challenge in the UK courts—and it could have worldwide implications. If it’s successful, governments may not be able to rely solely on health agencies, such as the World Health Organization, to assess the safety of the technology but will be directly responsible for the health of their citizens.

Governments will have a legal duty of care to point out all the possible health hazards—even if they haven’t been proven—of the 5G (Fifth Generation) network, explain how people might reduce their exposure and create a system to monitor cases of illness that may have been caused by the network’s radio-frequency radiation (RFR).

Although the challenge is specifically against the UK government, a judgment will create a legal precedent that may well have reverberations throughout Europe and the rest of the world.

The UK’s Royal Courts of Justice believes the UK government has a case to answer and that it has failed in its duty of public care and, as a result, is in breach of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention on Human Rights.1

Judge Mary Stacey gave permission in a judicial review last February for the challenge to proceed after rejecting arguments from the UK government that RFR doesn’t cause health problems, according to the conclusions of the ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection), an arm of the WHO. Government didn’t have a duty of care beyond that of following the guidelines of expert groups such as the ICNIRP, a representative argued.

And because there were no health risks with 5G, government health agencies didn’t need to monitor for any adverse reactions to the network as it expands across the country.

Speaking for the claimants, Action Against 5G, a lobby group whose legal challenge was funded by public donations, leading civil rights lawyer Michael Mansfield argued that the ICNIRP hadn’t categorically stated that 5G was safe, but said there wasn’t enough quality research to make a definitive judgment.

In its 2020 report, the ICNIRP had identified three potential health risks from radiofrequency EMFs (electromagnetic fields): nerve stimulation, changes to cell membranes and possible effects from the heating of cells.

As 5G radiation is much more powerful than the previous 4G network, it is negligent of government to assume there is no health risk. Governments should be telling their citizens about all the risks from RFR, proven or not, and ways they can protect themselves. People who are electro-sensitive, small children and people with metal implants, including pacemakers, are at special risk from RFRs, Mr Mansfield argued.

And we object, too

Action Against 5G isn’t the only lobby group worried about the network’s health impacts. The EU 5G Appeal, which is made up of 180 scientists and doctors from 36 countries, is calling for a moratorium on the 5G rollout “until potential hazards for human health and the environment have been fully investigated by scientists independent from industry.”

It cites the Precautionary Principle as the wisest approach to an unproven technology such as 5G. The principle, adopted by the EU in 2005, states that when there is uncertainty about the impact on human health, “actions should be taken to avoid or diminish that harm.”

The group also argues that the 5G rollout goes against the EU’s own Resolution 1815, which requires regulators to “take all reasonable measures to reduce exposure to EMFs . . . and particularly the exposure to children and young people who seem to be at most risk from head tumors.”

Not so independent

Even though the ICNIRP has highlighted a few potential health hazards, it is still viewed by some independent researchers as “an industry-loyal NGO (non-governmental organization).” Many of its members are linked to companies in the telecommunications industry, and five of the six members of the International EMF Project, which is assessing long-term health risks of the 5G network, are also members of the ICNIRP.

Mixed messages about the dangers of mobile networks are the result of a conflict of interest among ICNIRP members and their relations to telecom companies, argues Lennart Hardell, a lecturer at the Faculty of Medicine and Health at Örebro University in Sweden.2

In 2011, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluated cancer risks from radiofrequency (RF) radiation and classified it as a Group 2B risk, a possible human carcinogen. Despite this, “little or nothing has been done to reduce exposure and educate people on health hazards from RF radiation. On the contrary ambient levels have increased,” Hardell argued.

So, what is 5G?

5G is 100 times faster than 4G and has 1,000 times greater capacity. It can support many more devices, including self-driving cars, virtual reality appliances, telemedicine, remote surveillance and telesurgery.

Launched in 2019, 5G uses higher frequencies of electromagnetic radiation—radio frequency radiation (RFR)—than earlier versions. RFR is non-ionizing radiation, which doesn’t impact on cells. It is a type of low-energy radiation that does not have enough energy to remove an electron (negative particle) from an atom or molecule. Non-ionizing radiation includes visible, infrared and ultraviolet light; microwaves; radio waves and radiofrequency energy from cell phones.

RFR creates an area known as an electromagnetic field (EMF), and EMFs can cause molecules to vibrate, leading to a possible heating effect on exposed tissue. Its frequencies are well above the ultra-high frequency (UHF) range, having wavelengths in centimeters of 3–30 GHz (millimeter range 30–300 GHz).

It’s the first generation to use beamforming, which sends data directly to devices, while previous generations sent signals in all directions. Despite its power, 5G technology is effective only over short distances, requiring many more antennae, located every 10 to 12 houses.

More evidence than you’d think

The WHO may be pulling its punches over RFRs, but that’s not been the case with some researchers. The Europa EM-EMF Guideline states “there is strong evidence that long-term exposure to certain EMFs is a risk factor for diseases such as some cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and male infertility.3 In the world’s largest study of RFRs, researchers from the National Toxicology Program noticed a “statistically significant increase” in brain and heart cancers in male animals exposed to EMFs that are below the ICNIRP’s safe levels.4

A review of 94 studies found that 80 percent of in vivo (real life) studies and 58 percent of in vitro studies “demonstrated effects . . . but do not provide adequate information for a meaningful safety assessment.”5

In an unpublished review of the evidence, Dr Henry Lai at the University of Washington has concluded that 263 of the 290 studies published since 1997, or 91%, reported statistically significant effects of RFR on free radical-related cellular processes, and only 27 (9%) found no significant effects.

He argues that RFR exposure consistently changes cellular free radical status and that effects can occur at low specific absorption rates (SAR) or power density of exposure. After reviewing 70 low-intensity exposure studies, he found 68 (91%) of them noted significant effects on free radical-related cellular processes.6

The new tobacco?

Despite these concerns, 5G seems like a train that is out of control and can’t be stopped. Telecom companies are expected to invest US$57 billion in the new network, building higher network density, adding spectrum and upgrading equipment. The full potential and monetization of the new technology will happen over the next decade, industry researchers predict.

Far from being stopped in its tracks by any judicial review, the UK government is already preparing for the next generation—6G. Three UK universities have been given £28 million in government funding to develop the 6G network in association with Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung, and another £80 million has funded the state-of-the-art UK Telecoms Lab to test new network equipment.

With the telecom industry set to gain from the new network while also fielding the people researching its safety, some observers have seen parallels to the tobacco industry. Although scientists recognized tobacco as a major cause of lung cancer in the 1940s, the industry’s propaganda machine—which included marketing and paid-for research—was so effective that even as late as 1969, a third of American doctors still believed a link hadn’t been established.

Independent researchers fear that 5G is the “new tobacco.”