Fact: Ambient Levels of Wireless Radiation Are Increasing From New Wireless Network and 5G, 4G Densification – Environmental Health Trust


Fact: Ambient Levels of Wireless Radiation Are Increasing From New Wireless Network and 5G, 4G Densification

Fact:  It is a fact that ambient environmental RF levels will increase from the densification of small cell wireless facilities. 5G deployment goes hand in hand with the proliferation of small cell antennas and, in addition, more macro (tall) cell towers.  5G relies on 4G as its backbone so the buildout includes 5G and 4G. Further, there are numerous new novel networks being installed to connect machine t machine. The antennas being installed emit low, mid and high band frequencies. 

Fact: Studies have shown an increase in RF in neighborhoods where dense small cell networks are deployed. In most cases,  the closer you are to a transmitting antenna, the higher the RF exposure. For people in close vicinity to a cell antenna (like a cell antenna outside their apartment window or a “small” cell tower in the right of way in front of their home), the ambient RF levels will increase. 

In 2021, a landmark court decision was issued by the U.S. Appeals Court, DC Circuit (EHT et al v. the FCC) determining that the FCC had “completely failed” to address the “substantive evidence of potential environmental harms.” The evidence included scientific evidence on wireless radiation impacts to birds, bees, trees and plants.  

The wireless industry statements that a small cell emits less than a large cell tower is technically correct but a misleading half truth. Generally speaking, a person living in a neighborhood where small cell networks are deployed on every block will likely have an increased ambient exposure, compared to the exposure before the small cell deployment. The person living with the cell antenna in front of their home will have a much higher exposure. A person living in the main beam of a macro tower will also have elevated exposure, compared to those living at a distance from the macro tower. 

Even though each individual “small” cell has less power than a macro tower, remember that there will be thousands of new 5G and 4G antennas, each increasing RF, in the vicinity of the new towers. Some communities will have several carriers and wireless facilities on each block

A 2021 report by the French government frequency agency ANFR on 5G analyzing more than 3,000 measurements found that RF levels had not significantly increased yet but this was due to the lack of 5G traffic. So they did additional measurements specific to 5G in the 3500 MHz band  with artificially generated traffic and concluded, “initial results suggest an eventual increase of about 20% in overall exposure.” 

A follow up 2023 report by ANFR of nearly 5,000 measurements of public exposure  carried out between 2020 and 2021 found an increasing trend in RF. The increase was not due primarily to the 5G midband, but rather  on all  bands from increases in overall traffic. 

“In conclusion, this study has shown an increase in the overall exposure level at the end of 2021 but not directly related to the introduction of 5G: an increase on almost all frequency bands is observed resulting from an increase in traffic.”

A three part research review by on the effects of non-ionizing electromagnetic fields on flora and fauna found biological effects to wildlife from even low intensities of non ionizing radiation- including radio-frequency radiation on endpoints such as orientation and migration, reproduction, mating, nest and den building, territorial maintenance and defense, and longevity and survivorship. The authors argue that the exposure is a pollution with sufficient documentation of harm to should trigger regulatory and policy action. Part 1 of the review includes documentation of the rising ambient non ionizing electromagnetic radiation exposures including research that has found a 70 fold increase since the 70’s in a site previously measured by the EPA. 

Additional research clearly documents the increase in environmental RF to people in close proximity to antennas.  

  • A 2018 study published in Annals of Telecommunications found small cell LTE networks in two European urban cities increased the radio emissions from base stations – ambient exposures- by a factor of 7–46. 
  • A 2020 paper “Radiation Analysis in a Gradual 5G Network Deployment Strategy,” presented at the IEEE 3rd 5G World Forum documents how engineers found significant increases in  RF levels if a mmWave-based 5G network was fully deployed in Austin Texas.  
  • A study published in Environmental Research created heat maps of RF from the proliferation of cell antennas mounted close to the ground on buildings and poles and the researchers found increasing RF levels. 
  • Countries that monitor RF (unlike the US) have found increases from 5G. For example, in Australia the telecom companies report RF levels with the proposals of new networks. Examples include 6.44% to 14.22%, 1.67% to 3.39% and 11% to .42% of the limit. A Russell Street Melbourne 5G network increased the level from .09% to .75% of the limit. 
  • A 2018 multi-country study published in Environment International measured RF in several countries. It found that cell phone tower radiation is the dominant contributor to RF exposure in most outdoor areas; exposure in urban areas was higher and that exposure has drastically increased. As an example, the measurements the researchers took in Los Angeles, USA were 70 times higher than the US EPA estimate 40 years ago (Sagar et al., 2018).
  • An Australian study published in the Journal of Exposure Science & Environmental Epidemiology also found that children in kindergartens with nearby antenna installations had nearly three-and-a-half times higher RF exposures than children with installations further away by more than 300 meters (Bhatt et al., 2016).

Fact:  Companies themselves state that new 4G and 5G network antennas will increase the wireless radiation levels in the area  near antennas so much that they are working to loosen several governments’ radiation limits in order to roll it out. They claim they can’t build out new networks unless the government changes the law to allow more RF. 

If 5G and 4G did not increase RF levels in neighborhoods, then why would industry pressure governments to change their laws to allow more RF in order to deploy 4G and 5G? 

Planetary Electromagnetic Pollution: It Is Time to Assess Its Impact” published in The Lancet Planetary Health documents the significant increase in environmental levels of radio-frequency (RF) electromagnetic wireless radiation over the past two decades. The study cites an evaluation that found 68.2% of 2,266 studies in humans, animals, and plants demonstrated significant biological or health effects associated with exposure to electromagnetic fields. 89%  of experimental studies that investigated oxidative stress endpoints showed significant effects and “radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation causes DNA damage apparently through oxidative stress.” The paper also highlights research that has associated RF exposure with altered neurodevelopment and behavioural disorders, structural and functional changes in the brain and the sensitivity of pollinators. “These findings deserve urgent attention. This weight of scientific evidence refutes the prominent claim that the deployment of wireless technologies poses no health risks at the currently permitted non-thermal radiofrequency exposure levels” (Bandara & Carpenter, 2018).

The Court ruling highlighted a letter by the U.S. Department of Interior which stated that, 

“There is a growing level of anecdotal evidence linking effects of non-thermal, non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation from communication towers on nesting and roosting wild birds and other wildlife…. “However, the electromagnetic radiation standards used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continue to be based on thermal heating, a criterion now nearly 30 years out of date and inapplicable today. “ and “third-party peer-reviewed studies need to be conducted in the U.S. to begin examining the effects from radiation on migratory birds and other trust species.”