Fearing Cancer From 5G, Portland City Council May Ask FCC to Investigate

"This substantial increase in cell towers deployed in communities means greater contact with them."

Fearing unknown health risks, members of the City Council in Portland, Oregon, will vote Wednesday to oppose the rollout of 5G wireless networks.

In a proposed resolution, Mayor Ted Wheeler, along with Commissioners Chloe Eudaly and Amanda Fritz, write that there’s evidence suggesting wireless networks can cause health problems — including cancer

They express concern that the Federal Communications Commission has not conducted enough research to demonstrate that 5G networks are safe, while at the same time prohibiting state and local governments from passing their own regulations on telecommunications technology.

And while Wheeler, Eudaly, and Fritz are correct about the FCC’s power to dictate how state and local governments manage wireless networks, the connection between 5G networks and cancer is a lot more complicated than they say it is.

What Does the Science Say About 5G and Cancer?

“There is evidence to suggest that exposure to radio frequency emissions generated by wireless technologies could contribute to adverse health conditions such as cancer,” reads the proposed resolution. This evidence comes from a large-scale study conducted by the National Toxicology Program (NTP), a division of the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The final results of this study, published in November 2018, showed a strong association between the type of radiation used for mobile phone signals and certain types of cancerous tumors in lab rats. 

But that’s where the situation gets tough.

4g vs 5g signals
How 4G antennas broadcast signals compared to how 5G antennas beam signals across a city.

The NTP study, which took place over 10 years and involved exposing more than 7,000 rats and mice to radio-frequency radiation — the type used in cell phones — didn’t actually involve 5G networks. It didn’t even involve 4G or 4G LTE, which are used today. It focused only on signals used by wireless technology under the 2G and 3G standards.

These technology standards, which use the same radiation frequency range as 4G, modulate the signal differently. 2G and 3G may have been the state-of-the-art when the study began, but since large-scale studies on cancer take a long time to identify statistically significant effects, the technology has undergone multiple evolutions in the intervening time. So as Inverse previously reported, it’s nearly impossible to say whether these results will apply to 5G hardware.

Since the available research doesn’t address 5G, the Portland City Council’s resolution demands that the FCC embark on another such research project to assess the health effects of 5G. Presumably, it would take just as long to conduct another study on the hypothesized connection between 5G and cancer, but by that time, the industry will almost certainly have moved on to 6G — or 7G.

5g wireless internet
By the time studies show whether 5G causes cancer, it probably won't be the industry standard anymore.

Local Versus Federal Regulations

The Portland City Council’s resolution is just as much about local control as it is about the uncertain connection between 5G and cancer, though.

In their resolution, Wheeler, Eudaly, and Fritz express dismay that federal law prevents state and local governments from refusing federal mandates on telecommunications standards.

FCC regulations also require state and local governments to accept all telecom companies’ applications to build new wireless communication infrastructure. The mayor and the city council members are wary of what federal control over this massive wireless network overhaul will mean for their constituents’ exposure to 5G frequencies.

“Wireless companies in the U.S. say they’ll have to install about 300,000 new antennas, close to the total number of cell towers built over the past three decades,” they write. “This substantial increase in cell towers deployed in communities means greater contact with them.”

Of course, this exposure is only harmful if 5G is found to affect human health. And unfortunately, the only way to figure that out would be for the FCC or DHHS to conduct another large-scale trial — a trial that wouldn’t be done in time to matter, since 5G is practically knocking on the door.

That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be studied, though. And in fact, a small but growing movement of European scientists is calling for caution amid the dawning of 5G networks around the world, arguing that the available data on the health risks of cell phone radiation should be cause enough for everyone to slow down.

Wednesday will bring the results of the Portland City Council’s vote, which could set the tone for how the federal government responds to public concerns about the health effects of 5G networks — as well as state and local governments’ demands to set their own standards.

Whatever happens in Portland, it seems clear that this proposed resolution is just a preview of the growing opposition movement against 5G.