Is 5G dangerous to us?

5G radiation: how we are protecting you – and how you can protect yourself

When it comes to 5G, radiation protection is a top priority. Limits have been set to protect citizens from proven health effects – just as they were for the previous generations. To minimise exposure further, there are plenty of things you can do too. Here are the key tips.

The mobile is our constant companion. When we send messages or make phone calls, mobiles use high-frequency electromagnetic fields – EMF for short. Although we cannot see or feel them, we are surrounded by electromagnetic fields. Mobile radiation produces a thermal effect when it comes into contact with bodies and objects, albeit to such a small degree that we do not feel it at all. To make sure the thermal effect remains harmless even when the level of EMF is massive, these waves are not allowed to exceed the established limits. The limits for transmission installations in Germany are defined in the Ordinance on Electromagnetic Fields, taking as their basis the Federal Immission Control Act. The limits for mobile phones are set out in the Radio Equipment Act. Mobile phones must comply with the permitted SAR value. This applies to all mobiles carrying the CE symbol. The Federal Network Agency monitors the market and makes sure, based on the Radio Equipment Act and using checks carried out on a random basis, that only devices bearing the CE symbol reach the market.

Across the board, the new 5G technology uses frequency ranges similar to those used to date in mobile communications. This means current study findings apply extensively to 5G. The BfS is currently carrying out research into how rising data volumes and new transmission installations will affect the exposure level of the population. It is thought that the average exposure level will remain low – far below the limits. Experts do not expect 5G to have any health implications. The limits are far below any level at which harmful effects might be possible.

How do Germany and other countries deal with limits?

Limits in Germany conform to the recommendations for protection from non-ionising radiation issued by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) and the German Commission on Radiological Protection (SSK). At present, the recommended limit for the population, the so-called basic limit, is 0.08 watts per kilogram for the entire human body. A higher level of localised exposure is permitted for smaller portions of the body: the head and trunk are allowed 2 watts per kilogram, and the limbs 4 watts per kilogram.

A report by the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) (2018) compares the various European countries and how they deal with the proposed maximum values of the ICNIRP. The EU does not have any legally binding rules. There is, however, an EU recommendation from 1999, which is based on the ICNIRP recommendations. The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment divides the countries into three groups. The first adopts the values from the EU recommendation in national law. Group 2 has either no legally binding limits or limits that are less strict. Countries in group 3 have limits and guidelines that are stricter than those in the EU recommendation.

1.Group 1 adopts the limits derived from the EU recommendation in national law and to varying degrees implements precautionary measures (examples: Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Hungary, Ireland, Malta, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Slovakia and Germany).

2.Group 2 has no legally binding limits or it has limits that are less strict than those laid down in the EU recommendation. Some countries in this group implement precautionary measures (examples: Austria, Denmark, Latvia, the Netherlands, Sweden and Great Britain).

3.Group 3 has stricter limits and guidelines relating to EMF than those recommended by the EU (examples: Belgium, Greece, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland and Italy).

What can I do to protect myself?

The effects of EMF on humans are already well researched. To date, there has been no evidence of harmful effects occurring below the limits. Further research into individual issues is ongoing. For those seeking to protect themselves more, the Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS) advises a cautious approach when it comes to using mobile end devices.

Even though there has to date been no proof of health effects caused by mobile telecommunication fields falling below the applicable limits, we still advise caution. We might already have reached the start of 5G, the fifth generation, but mobile technology as a whole is still relatively young. And although the effects of mobile communications as a whole are very well researched, the consequences of intensive mobile use over four decades have yet to be conclusively determined.

Inge Paulini, President, Federal Office for Radiation Protection

The BfS therefore recommends keeping EMF exposure to a low level as a precaution. With this in mind, there are many things citizens can do to protect themselves. 

1.A little distance goes a long way. Even if you are closely attached to your phone, a bit of distance is a good thing. The BfS advises minimising radiation exposure when making phone calls or surfing. Ideally, you should turn on your phone’s speaker or use a hands-free set or headphones, so as to avoid holding your mobile too close to your head.

2.Bad reception? Bad idea! It’s hard to make phone calls in dead spots, and the radiation exposure is far higher too. Users are better off using their phone in a location with good reception. You should also avoid phoning in a car that has no external aerial because reception will usually be poor.

3.Use a landline at home. Many young phone users don’t have a fixed-line connection. However, using your home connection for phone calls made at home can reduce EMF exposure.

4.Make yourself scarce! The United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends cutting down on time spent with smartphones because less mobile use means less contact with EMF. So take a break – or finish the call when everything has been said that needs to be.

5.Talking is good – writing is better. Instead of phoning, send a text message – either via a messaging service or by SMS. This is one way for users to reduce the amount of time spent holding their mobile to their head.

6.A value of considerable value. High-frequency fields such as those found in mobile communications have one single established effect on human beings: the body absorbs part of their energy, and this process generates heat. The amount of energy absorbed is indicated by the specific absorption rate (SAR). The lower the SAR, the less tissue is heated by radiation. When purchasing a new mobile end device, users should always pay attention to this value. In principle, all models sold in Germany comply with the maximum SAR value. The SAR value is determined according to uniform testing standards in line with the European standard EN 62209. The Federal Office for Radiation Protection website publishes the parameters for mobile phone emissions here. Incidentally, devices that, among other things, produce comparatively low levels of radiation carry the Blue Angel label.

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