Following our special project, 5G: Out of the Lab and Onto the Street, we received some emails from engineers saying that we should have given some thought to possible health risks associated with 5G. While conspiracy theories and Russian propaganda abound, engineers stick to the facts based on scientific studies.

Initial 5G deployments use frequencies below 6 GHz, and we’ve been exposed to such frequencies for our entire lives. 5G differs from its predecessors in that it will use millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies starting at 24–28 GHz and 39 GHz in the U.S. The short range from these frequencies will require many so-called “small cells” located on light poles, buildings, utility poles, or wherever they can be mounted. EE Times’ sister publication EDN has published a three-part series, “Does 5G pose health risks?,” by Larry Desjardin that’s focused on mmWave signals.

In Part 1, Desjardin examines potential ionization and thermal health risks from mmWave signals. These are conventional risks that the FCC recognizes. Both effects are manageable. For one thing, ionization isn’t a risk at mmWave frequencies because a mmWave photon doesn’t have the energy to remove an electron from an atom. Thermal effects were also minimal and could only occur by placing a transmitter next to your skin. Even then, evidence is unclear, and you can easily avoid that situation by using headphones or operating your cellphone in speakerphone mode.

Desjardin examined electromagnetic (EM) effects in Part 2. Here, the outcome was not so clear. After reviewing several scientific studies, Desjardin concluded that there could be negative impacts from electromagnetic radiation. He concludes that there is evidence showing that a causal link could exist. For example:

  • mmWave frequencies conduct to the interior of the body through the sweat glands.
  • Bacteria and cells are affected by mmWave frequencies.
  • DNA damage is a precursor to cancer.


Desjardin discusses in Part 3 the potential risks of continuing to deploy 5G, but those risks so far lack strong evidence of health effects. We need more studies, which raises the fear among conspiracy theorists that we won’t know about negative effects until it’s too late. As Desjardin says, “It is impossible to balance the risks and benefits when the risks and benefits are so unquantifiable.”

Desjardin argues that we also need to lift the taboo regarding not talking about the effects of EM waves on our bodies. “There are a lot of kooky conspiracy theories and bad science out there. But that does not mean the whole subject is kooky?”

Read the series and judge for yourself.


It’s time to remove the taboo of discussing EM effects on living beings.