The Disinformation Campaign Behind 5G And How Big Wireless Convinced Us That Cell Phones Are Safe

If you’re like the rest of us, you probably use your cell phone for everything now. It’s not just used to make phone calls anymore. It's our email, social media, TV, music, and calendars. But is it safe?

By Hannah Leah4 min read
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When a product goes on the market, we as consumers just assume that it’s been tested and regulated so it should be safe. What we often forget is that corporations will sometimes do anything to make more money, even if it means covering up vital information that might prevent sales. It’s not until years later that a product is recalled because there have been findings of safety issues, sometimes life-threatening ones. 

The Disinformation Campaign

The story begins in the 1980s, when, “remarkably, cell phones had been allowed onto the US consumer market…without any government safety testing.” By the early 1990s, only six out of every 100 adults in America had a cell phone plan. But some of those users were getting diagnosed with cancer, and the finger was being pointed at cell phones. 

In January 1993, a man named David Reynard claimed on national TV that his wife’s cell phone caused her to develop a fatal brain tumor. During her pregnancy, David gave his wife Sue a handheld cellphone in hopes it would make her life easier. She later died of a brain tumor that David believed was caused by the cellphone. He claimed the tumor was exactly where the phone’s antenna would be during calls. He sued the phone’s maker, NEC America Company. The story went viral, triggering investors to drop their stock and a congressional subcommittee investigation. 

Cell phones were onto the US consumer market without any government safety testing.

The cell phone industry was on risky ground, so Tom Wheeler, president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association (CTIA), claimed his company would fund a research program. He told reporters that “cell phones were already safe” and that “the new research would simply re-validate the findings of the existing studies.” He hired an epidemiologist with a law degree named George Carlo, who directed the Wireless Technology Research project (WTR), starting in 1995. This research project remains the best-funded study on cell phone safety ever.

The Wireless Technology Research Project Findings

Over the next four years, the WTR funded over 50 studies, many of which raised “serious questions” about cell phone safety. In a secret meeting in 1999, Carlo shared these findings with CTIA’s board of directors and officials from 32 cell phone companies, including Apple, AT&T, and Motorola. 

Carlo followed up this meeting a few months later with a letter, saying that the WTR’s research found that cellphone users were at more than double the risk of neuro-epithelial tumors on the outside of the brain. The letter stated there was some “correlation between brain tumors occurring on the right side of the head and the use of the phone on the right side of the head. Laboratory studies looking at the ability of radiation from a phone's antenna system to cause functional genetic damage were definitively positive, and were following a dose-responsive relationship.”

He urged CEOs of major cellphone companies to give consumers the information they deserved so they could make informed decisions about how much risk they wanted to assume based on these findings. 

Tom Wheeler publicly bashed Carlo in an attempt to suppress his findings and protect the cell phone industry and its profits, claiming that Carlo had never briefed the CTIA and that the studies had never been peer-reviewed. The Nation writes, “Wheeler’s tactics succeeded in dousing the controversy. Although Carlo had, in fact, repeatedly briefed Wheeler and other senior industry officials on the studies, which had indeed undergone peer review and would soon be published, reporters on the technology beat accepted Wheeler’s discrediting of Carlo and the WTR’s findings.” Wheeler eventually became part of the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates the wireless industry. 

Carlo told The Nation that “they would do what they had to do to protect their industry, but they were not of a mind to protect consumers or public health.”

More Studies Agree with WTR Findings

As time went on, more studies were done to test the safety of cell phones. In 2011, the World Health Organization would classify cell phone radiation as a “possible” human carcinogen. CNN reported that “A team of 31 scientists from 14 countries, including the United States, made the decision after reviewing peer-reviewed studies on cell phone safety. The team found enough evidence to categorize personal exposure as ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans.’” Most of these studies find that putting the cell phone to your head presents a higher risk for cancer compared to using a hand-held device. 

In 2015, a petition was signed by 250 scientists to the United Nations and World Health Organization, stating that there is serious concern over the health risks associated with electromagnetic fields emitted by wireless devices. Helio reports on this saying, ​​”According to the scientists’ appeal, risks associated with electromagnetic fields include increased cancer risk, cellular stress, genetic damages, structural and functional changes of the reproductive system, learning and memory deficits, neurological disorders, and negative impacts on well-being.” The WHO encouraged nations to implement guidelines to protect against these risks, but as the government doesn’t make the industry a high priority, there is little regulation. 

Putting the cell phone to your head presents a higher risk for cancer compared to using a hand-held device. 

There are multiple other studies relating to cell phone exposure and health risks. In 2013, a case series found a higher risk of cancer from cell phones carried close to the body, such as if it were tucked into your bra. The study reported, “Four extraordinary multifocal breast cancers that arose directly under the antennae of the cell phones habitually carried within the bra, on the sternal side of the breast.” 

The study continues, “DNA damage indicators in hair follicle cells in the ear canal were higher in the RFR exposure groups than in the control subjects. In addition, DNA damage increased with the daily duration of exposure.”

A 2014 Swedish study by the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that there were lower survival rates in patients with glioblastoma associated with long-term use of wireless phones. So what safety measures are in place to protect the consumer?

Back in 1996, the FFC attempted to regulate the radiation levels that cell phone users were exposed to by establishing “cell phone safety levels based on ‘specific absorption rate,’ or SAR. Phones were required to have a SAR of 1.6 watts or less per kilogram of body weight.” However, these SAR levels are self-reported to the FCC by the cell phone manufacturers. What’s more, these self-reported numbers are not independently tested and manufacturers don’t have to put their SAR level on their product’s package. Even worse, SAR levels don’t take child cell phone users into account, who are more susceptible to the effects of radiation. 

The Unexplored Risks of 5G

The use of 5G is new to us, as the wireless industry continues to evolve. But 5G comes with many unknown risks because of the increased exposure to radiation. Wireless companies are pushing forward with rolling out 5G, without sufficient safety research or concrete knowledge of how this will affect consumer health and public safety. This shouldn’t be shocking at this point, given how the wireless industry has a history of funding research favorable to its goals, misrepresenting the findings of studies that disagree with it to the public, placing people favorable to their goals in positions of power, using money to manipulate policy, and in general showing a lack of concern for the consumer (even children). Can they be trusted when it comes to 5G?

The radiation emitted from 5G is said to be very similar to 4G and previous networks. The main difference is that 5G will expose us to millimeter waves, whereas the other networks do not. The risk of millimeter wave exposure is not fully known yet, and there are no clear results from the studies about it. Professor Hans Kromhout, an epidemiologist at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, agrees that it’s hard to assess the risk of 5G because the research done on it is funded by private sectors who tend to find research in the direction that benefits them. 

As The Nation so succinctly puts it, “No scientist can say with certainty how many wireless-technology users are likely to contract cancer, but that is precisely the point: We simply don’t know. Nevertheless, we are proceeding as if we do know the risk, and that the risk is vanishingly small. Meanwhile, more and more people around the world, including countless children and adolescents, are getting addicted to cell phones every day, and the shift to radiation-heavy 5G technology is regarded as a fait accompli.” 

Closing Thoughts

There are certainly many opinions on the link between cell phones and cancer. But the connection that is there, however tenuous, is disconcerting. So for your next phone call, maybe opt for speakerphone. 

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