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5G: no new health risks according to the data available

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News of 20/04/2021

Population exposure to electromagnetic fields in the radiofrequencies band is changing, driven by technological progress and the emergence of new digital habits. As part of the deployment of 5G, new frequency bands are already being used (3.5 GHz band) or are scheduled for use in the near future (26 GHz band). Following on from its expert appraisals on radiofrequencies and health, and based on the scientific data available to date, ANSES considers that the deployment of 5G in the 3.5 GHz frequency band is unlikely to present new risks to health. For the 26 GHz frequency band, the data currently available are insufficient to conclude whether or not there are health effects. More knowledge is required on the links between exposure and health effects. To this end, ANSES is underlining the need to continue research and – in particular – to monitor changes in population exposure with the increase in the number of base stations and the expansion in network use.
On 20 April 2021, the Agency launched a public consultation to collect comments from the scientific community and stakeholders.

5G: new 3.5 GHz and 26 GHz bands to increase speed and allow a greater number of connected objects to communicate

The main difference in relation to previous generations of mobile networks is that 5G should be able to handle a far larger amount of data without saturating the network. This new technology aims to foster the development of innovative services and new uses for both consumers and businesses in a wide range of areas: virtual reality, transport, urban connections, industry, telemedicine and online education.

Alongside the frequency bands already used by other mobile technologies, 5G is using
the 3.5 GHz band allocated to the four French mobile operators in late 2020, to provide coverage in wide geographical areas. The 26 GHz band will be added to the network within the next few years, primarily to enable communication between connected objects.

Deployment of 5G in the 700 MHz - 2.1 GHz frequency band extensively covered in previous ANSES expert appraisals

To date, operators have deployed 5G primarily in the 700 MHz - 2.1 GHz band. This band includes frequencies that have already been used for several years by existing generations of mobile communication technology, 2G, 3G and 4G. 

Previous studies conducted by ANSES on the effects of exposure to electromagnetic waves in the radiofrequency band have shown no evidence of health effects associated with exposure to sources of electromagnetic fields corresponding to current digital uses. However, research and assessments are continuing into possible effects, such as cancer and altered brain function or fertility.

Regarding exposure levels, studies conducted internationally and by the ANFR (French National Frequency Agency) show little variation, irrespective of whether the base stations are emitting 3G, 4G or 5G signals.

Deployment of 5G in the 3.5 GHz band: new health risks unlikely

In France, the first commercial services using the 5G mobile phone network were launched only recently in the frequency band around 3.5 GHz. The resulting exposure to electromagnetic fields is not representative today of what it is likely to be in the future.

Owing to the lack of scientific data on possible effects at this frequency, ANSES conducted further investigations to establish whether exposure to different frequencies of electromagnetic radiation could lead to different biological effects or modulate their intensity. It was not deemed feasible by the experts to conduct a rigorous extrapolation of the results of scientific studies conducted at different frequencies in order to draw conclusions on any possible effects in the frequency band around 3.5 GHz. 

Moreover, the data available on exposure, particularly outside France and in the studies conducted by the ANFR as part of their trials, do not suggest a significant increase in population exposure in the current state of knowledge.

In view of this information, the Agency considers it unlikely at present that new health risks will be created by the deployment of 5G in the frequency band around 3.5 GHz.

Exposure to the frequency band around 26 GHz: exposure concerning the surface layers of the body at a level that is probably low, although data are insufficient to conclude whether or not there is a health risk

As the deployment of 5G applications in the frequency band around 26 GHz is still at the planning stage, no exposure data are currently available.

ANSES therefore considered an extended frequency band, between 18 and 100 GHz, for which the wave penetration depth is similar, in order to investigate the possible health effects described in the scientific literature available. This literature mainly studies the effects on the skin, eyes, membranes, central nervous system and cells from various human or animal tissues (skin, neurons, cornea, etc.).

ANSES sought to assess the probable level of exposure in the 26 GHz band. Exposure in this band is not the same as in the other frequency bands, since the waves penetrate only to a depth of around one millimetre, leading to exposure of the surface layers of the skin or eyes. The simulations available suggest low levels of exposure.

Nevertheless, the data available at this time are insufficient to conclude whether or not there are health effects associated with exposure to electromagnetic fields in the 26 GHz frequency band.

A need to continue producing new data and knowledge

In view of the importance of obtaining more knowledge on the links between exposure and health effects, ANSES has underlined the need to continue research. The Agency's experts recommend taking steps to characterise exposure and to add to existing knowledge on the links between exposure and biological or health effects for the new frequencies, as part of a process including experimental studies. As part of its work on 5G, ANSES identified the need to take account of new points of interest, e.g. signal intermittence or the exposure of surface layers for the 26 GHz band. It will also be particularly important to monitor changes to exposure driven by greater network use and an increase in the number of base stations. In the light of the findings of these studies and research, ANSES may review its opinion or undertake new expert appraisals.

A public consultation open until 1 June 2021 on the work of the Agency

In view of public interest in the subject and the possible rapid emergence of new data relating to the current deployment of 5G, the Agency launched a public consultation on 20 April 2021, to gather comments from the scientific community and stakeholders. If necessary, a supplemented report and opinion will be published after analysis of the comments received during this consultation, which will run for a period of six weeks.