Australian radiation safety agency fires back at 5G health fearmongering

5G is fine, ARPANSA has said, and a single study does not make for scientific consensus.

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Image: ARPANSA

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) has returned serve to the myriad submissions made to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Communications Inquiry into 5G in Australia that state 5G is a health threat to humans and fauna.

"Higher frequencies do not mean higher exposure levels," ARPANSA bluntly stated in its submission.

"Current research indicates that there is no established evidence for health effects from radio waves used in mobile telecommunications. This includes the upcoming roll-out of the 5G network. ARPANSA's assessment is that 5G is safe."

The agency stated that while the frequencies used in 4G and 5G mean some energy is absorbed into the body, it is too low to create any "significant heating of tissue", and the higher millimetre-wave frequencies set to be used for 5G in the future do not "penetrate past the skin".

"The power level will be low and no appreciable heating will occur in the skin," the agency said.

If exposed to energy levels 50 times higher than the Australian standard, heating of tissue can occur, such as when welding or exposed to AM radio towers, but that is why safety precautions are taken, ARPANSA said.

The submission also reiterated the scientific fact that radio waves are non-ionising, and cannot break chemical bonds that could lead to DNA damage.

"There is no established evidence that low-level exposure to radio waves causes cancer," the submission said.

ARPANSA acknowledged that in 2011 the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) placed mobile telecommunication frequencies on its list of possibly carcinogenic to humans, but also put it into perspective.

"This classification is not intended to cause alarm, but to encourage further research in this area," it said.

"Other things that IARC classify at this level include pickled vegetables and aloe vera."

ARPANSA struck out at bogus science circulated online as not having balance, cherry-picking data, and not taking a weight of evidence approach.

"No single scientific study, considered in isolation, will provide a meaningful answer to the question of whether or not radio waves can cause (or contribute to) adverse health effects in people, animals or the environment," the submission said.

See also: Telstra chair likens 5G health truthers to anti-vaccination and Flat Earth movements

On the impact to bees, an issue often cited by 5G critics, the agency said there was limited research of impact from electromagnetic fields on the diversity or abundance of insects or bees.

"The few ecological studies that do exist generally report little or no evidence of a significant environmental impact," it said.

"The studies that do show an effect, such as the ones listed, suffer from poor scientific method and the reported effect of electromagnetic field exposure cannot be separated from other environmental factors."

ARPANSA further said any biological effects on humans are "physiological responses that can occur for a broad range of reasons" and are not classed as health effects which require medical treatment.

"While ARPANSA and the [World Health Organisation] recognise that the symptoms of EHS [electromagnetic hypersensitivity] are real and can have a disabling effect for the affected individual, EHS has no clear diagnostic criteria and the science so far has not provided evidence that RF exposure is the cause," it said.

"The majority of scientific studies published to date have found that under controlled laboratory conditions, EHS individuals cannot detect the presence of RF sources any more accurately than non-EHS individuals. Several studies have indicated a nocebo effect i.e. an adverse effect due to the belief that something is harmful."

ARPANSA said it would continue to assess the impact of exposure from radio waves on people and the environment.

Backing up the view of ARPANSA on its submission, Vodafone Australia noted in its submission the level of Australia frequency standards.

"It is important to recognise that Australia has some of the most comprehensive and stringent radio frequent safety and electromagnetic energy (EME) compliance requirements in the developed world," it said.

The Office of the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman said in its submission that it had received 45 complaints about EME in fiscal year 2019, and received 32 complaints this financial year.

Last month, Telstra chair John Mullen likened 5G health truthers to the anti-vaccination and Flat Earth movements.

"There is absolutely not one shred of evidence that 5G or for that matter, 4G, has any harmful effect on humans," Mullen said during Telstra's annual general meeting.

"And I realise for those that believe -- like anti-vaccination or even the Flat Earth Society -- it is very hard to change people's opinion."

During July, Telstra conducted a test that found the electromagnetic energy levels used in 5G is similar to 3G, 4G, and Wi-Fi.

"In the testing we completed inside apartments and cafes near our 5G Innovation Centre at Southport on the Gold Coast, we measured 5G EME levels consistently under 0.02% of the ARPANSA standard limit -- that is more than 5000 times below the safety limit put in place by the Australian government body responsible for EME," Telstra principal EME strategy, governance and risk management Mike Wood said at the time.

"In fact, in our apartment testing, we had a room full of network engineers maxing out their devices simultaneously, while still delivering those EME results of more than 1000 times below safety limits.

"It is also important to note that existing safety standards for EME cover 5G, including children, are conservative and will also include the higher mmWave frequencies to be used in the future."

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