Radio Frequency Regulations Unchanged Despite Environmental, Health Hazards

Birds flying near a cell tower

(Credit: Unsplash)

by | Feb 21, 2024

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Research compiled by the Environmental Health Trust indicates that radio frequencies, or electromagnetic radiation from 4G and 5G networks, may pose a serious threat to wildlife and human health, particularly as it remains largely unregulated in the United States.

In a recent interview, Dr. Devra Davis, former Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) panelist and CEO of the Environmental Health Trust, explains that 5G networks, although marketed as an energy-saving requirement for improved wireless connectivity, have been found to maintain a host of environmental costs. Research studies, ranging from investigations of 5G’s effect on honeybee productivity to its detrimental effect on plant growth, indicate a need to further explore potential damages associated with wireless radiation.

Meanwhile, U.S. radiofrequency limits have remained the same since 1996, and the country maintains the most lenient rules towards cell tower emissions in the world. With immense progress having taken place in the mobile wireless industry, the sector appears to be far behind in terms of addressing its contribution to biodiversity loss, damage to trees, and a number of additional environmental and human health costs.

Wireless Damages Tree Canopy, Exposure Limits Fail to Consider Wildlife

Davis says that radio frequencies from phone base stations have been found to damage trees, confirmed by a long-term study using photographic recordings of trees over about a decade.

“The study looked at trees, and you can see this tree trying to move away from the antenna,” she tells E+E Leader. “Not only is the tree growing away, but the parts of the crown closest to the antenna are thinning. And experts say that in another 15 years, that tree will be dead. Unless, of course, they have powered down the antenna.”

Trees are also increasingly being cut down to allow for cell infrastructure as well — the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) claims that 800,000 new wireless cells will reportedly be needed to expand the U.S. 5G network. Wireless radiation has also been found to affect honeybees, a crucial pollinator for global food systems.

“The 5G frequency resonates exactly with the body of the honeybee, which is an indication that it can be damaging to them,” says Davis. “We know that pesticides are a key contributor to the decline of honeybees, but another major contributor could well be wireless radiation.”

When the FCC designed exposure limits for RF, limits were designed only for humans, while standards have yet to be made for wildlife and plant wellbeing. Amidst rising concern over biodiversity loss and its domino effect on the Earth’s overall environmental health, monitoring and regulating 5G’s contribution to this issue may benefit both wildlife and humans.

5G Increases Energy Consumption, Requires Improved Standards in U.S.

With energy consumption increasing worldwide, the ability to meet global decarbonization targets becomes more complex as renewables have to keep pace with this demand. 5G has been described as a battery vampire as it has been found to consume over three times more power than 4G stations.

As demand for 5G increases, the technology is expected to consume a fifth of the world’s energy by 2025 and significantly contribute to global emissions unless data centers turn to emissions-free energy sources and adopt other energy efficiency measures. Davis also recommends wired, fiberoptic transmission as a lower energy, environmentally-conscious solution.

Changes may not be made in the 5G sector unless regulations are put into place, whether a regulatory body or otherwise. With simple changes to cell phones and cell towers, considerable improvements may be made — Davis explains that some fixes are as basic as a phone software change.

“Some of the solutions here are not rocket science,” she says. “We can reprogram these devices, and they can go to sleep.”

As the country becomes increasingly connected and Wifi is required by nearly every industry, few people, animals, or plants go without wireless exposure. The U.S. may implement monitoring and regulatory practices to prioritize human and environmental health despite this growth.

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