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Is 5G Cell Phone Radiation Safe?

A slightly edited excerpt from Are Electromagnetic Fields Making Me Ill? by Brad Roth

5G is the fifth generation of cellular phone networking that began deploying in 2019. It commonly uses frequencies up to 6 GHz, although some proposed technology could range between 30 and 300 GHz. This compares to 4G (fourth generation) cell phone frequencies of about 1 GHz. The higher frequencies of 5G radiation are attenuated in the air more than 4G radiation due to their greater absorption by oxygen and water vapor. Therefore, more lower-power cell phone base stations (towers) are needed. Compared to 4G networks, 5G should have higher download speeds (more bits per second), lower error rates, shorter delays between sending data and receiving a response, and greater connectivity (more devices can join a network). Yet for all its potential advantages, some — such as Martin Pall — question if 5G is safe.

University of Pennsylvania engineer Kenneth Foster has called Martin Pall “the most visible scientist in the public arena” on the subject of 5G health risks. Pall is one of the promoters of the Covid/5G conspiracy theory and wrote in an online article that “5G radiation is greatly stimulating the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic and therefore, an important public health measure would be to shut down the 5G antennae.” Pall earned his undergraduate degree in physics, and then received a PhD in biochemistry from Caltech. He is now retired from Washington State University after a career studying issues such as chronic fatigue syndrome. He has published an online book titled 5G: Great Risk for EU, US and International Health!

According to Pall, the main mechanism underlying health consequences of electromagnetic radiation is activation of voltage-gated calcium ion channels. Ion channels are proteins in the cell membrane having a water filled pore that allow ions to pass from one side of the membrane to the other. Generally, these ion channels are selective (they allow, for instance, calcium ions to pass, but not sodium or potassium ions) and are gated (they open and close depending on the voltage across the cell membrane, or some other factor). If calcium ion channels opened in response to a radio frequency signal, the influx of calcium into the cell would have a dramatic effect. Calcium acts as a “second messenger” in the cell, controlling signals sent from the membrane to the nucleus and triggering muscle contraction. In a healthy cell, the intracellular calcium concentration is usually very low. Too much calcium inside a cell kills it.

Pall argues that the forces on the calcium channel are over seven million times larger than the forces on a single ion, which is why these channels are so sensitive to electromagnetic fields. He writes

“Our current safety guidelines are based only on heating (thermal) effects. Heating is produced predominantly by forces on singly charged groups in the aqueous phases of the cell but the forces on the voltage sensor are approximately 7.2 million times higher. Therefore, our current safety guidelines are allowing us to be exposed to EMFs that are approximately 7.2 million times too strong.”

Pall identifies three factors underlying this magnification:

1. “The 20 charges on the voltage sensor make the forces on voltage sensor 20 times higher than the forces on a single charge.” An ion channel does have many charges, but it is a large membrane protein. Its mass is much greater than that of a single ion, so you need a larger force to move it or make it open.

2. “Because these charges are within the lipid bilayer section of the membrane where the dielectric constant is about 1/120th of the dielectric constant of the aqueous parts of the cell, the law of physics called Coulomb’s law, predicts that the forces will be approximately 120 times higher than the forces on charges in the aqueous parts of the cell.” Pall is right that the dielectric properties of water do help shield ions in water from electric fields, and this shielding should not be as effective in fat, which makes up the membrane. The dielectric constant of water, however, decreases dramatically at high frequencies. In addition, the charges on an ion channel are usually located near the water interface instead of being embedded deep in the membrane, so Pall may have exaggerated this effect.

3. “Because the plasma membrane has a high electrical resistance whereas the aqueous parts of the cell are highly conductive, the electrical gradient across the plasma membrane is estimated to be concentrated about 3000-fold.” This concentration happens at low frequencies, but at high frequencies the membrane capacitance provides a short circuit, eliminating this effect.

Taken together, Pall’s factor of seven million shrinks considerably.

Even if the factor of seven million were correct, several theoretical considerations limit how well a calcium channel could respond to a radio frequency field. The time required for one oscillation of a high-frequency wave is much shorter than the time it would take for a single calcium ion to cross the cell membrane; for 10 GHz radiation, one oscillation is a thousand times shorter. Moreover, a massive membrane protein could not respond on the time scale that the electric field is oscillating; big and bulky ion channels cannot open and close at gigahertz frequencies. Instead, a nonlinear rectification process would be needed to demodulate a pulsed radio frequency signal, and nobody has ever figured out how such a mechanism would work.

Perhaps scientists have not been smart enough to uncover such a mechanism. What is the experimental evidence that calcium channels are responsible for the biological consequences of 5G cell phones? In 2021, Andrew Wood and Ken Karipidis, of the Swinburne University of Technology in Australia, reviewed 50 years of publications examining calcium channels and electromagnetic fields, with a focus on assessing Pall’s claim that calcium channels are exceptionally sensitive to radio frequency electromagnetic radiation (Radiation Research, Volume 195, Pages 101–113). They noted that results vary, even about the direction of the response; some articles report that microwave radiation increases the calcium concentration inside the cell, and others report radiation decreases it. They cited several studies that have searched for the rectification and demodulation behaviors that would be necessary for any plausible mechanism to work, and failed to find them. They could find no reason to expect that calcium channels are more susceptible to microwave radiation than other channels having similar structures, such as channels for sodium and potassium ions. They concluded that “experimental studies have not validated that [radio frequency radiation] affects [calcium ion] transport into or out of cells.” Despite Pall’s insistence otherwise, the data argue against voltage-gated calcium channels playing a significant role in the 5G safety debate.

Joseph Mercola has recently published the book EMF*D, in which he compared using a cell phone to smoking. He wrote that “they are each an enormous threat to individual and public health.” Who does Mercola cite to support this claim? He cites Martin Pall and his calcium channel hypothesis. Stephen Barrett of Quackwatch, a website maintained by The Center for Inquiry, said that Mercola is the “world’s most dangerous supplier of health misinformation.” Mercola spreads wrong information about other health issues besides just 5G cell phone radiation. The Center for Countering Digital Hate placed Mercola at the top of its list of the “Disinformation Dozen” responsible for two-thirds of the anti-vaccine information about Covid-19.

Ken Foster and John Moulder have critically reviewed scores of experiments examining the biological consequences of radio frequency waves on fetal development, the immune system, the elevation of stress markers, and other topics (Health Physics, Volume 105, Pages 561–575). As usual, the data are mixed, but they find no consistent evidence demonstrating a health risk associated with radio frequency electromagnetic waves. When we add these considerations to the data on 4G cell phone health effects, we find no reason to anticipate that the radiation associated with 5G cell phones should be harmful.

A more recent review by Myrtill Simkó and Mats-Olof Mattsson looked specifically at studies using frequencies corresponding to 5G (International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, Volume 16, Article 3406). The majority of the articles they examined reported seeing biological responses associated with electromagnetic radiation. They assessed these articles using several quality criteria (adequate control studies, blinded studies to avoid bias, data from a range of radiation intensities to develop a dose-response curve, etc.), and found most studies failed to meet them. They identified temperature control as a prime factor in these experiments; if temperature is not rigorously held constant, warming produces artifacts in experiments. Their verdict: “the available studies do not provide adequate and sufficient information for a meaningful safety assessment, or for the question about non-thermal effects.”

Mattsson, Simkó, and Foster formulated a list of guiding principles for high quality radiofrequency electromagnetic field studies, with the goal of improving the quality of the research (Frontiers in Communications and Networks, Volume 2, Article 724772). They wrote:

“Such measures are expensive and time consuming for investigators. But it is inexcusable to encourage more poor quality studies that can alarm the public, and at the same time fail to meet quality standards for inclusion in health agency reviews and well-done systematic reviews. The present need is for well done, adequately supported studies using standard protocols, particularly at 5G high band frequencies.”

As Foster and Moulder have noted, “impossibility arguments are difficult to sustain in biology.” Like them, I can offer no proof that 5G radiation is absolutely safe. But the weight of evidence is against 5G radiation being responsible for health risks such as causing cancer. I would say solidly against it.



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Brad Roth

Professor of Physics at Oakland University and coauthor of the textbook Intermediate Physics for Medicine and Biology.