Authorities should lead in addressing 5G EMF misinformation

In October this year the GSMA held its 9th EMF Forum and, for the first time, this was held virtually. A regular event in our Brussels calendar, the October 2020 forum proved an opportunity for the GSMA to review the harmonization of EMF policies, discuss the latest scientific developments, and address concerns raised by the deployment of 5G networks.  This year, and for the first time, the forum had a particular focus on 5G and EMF misinformation and the harm this can cause.  Among an invited audience of mobile industry, government, public health organisations, civic society, policy makers, local and European representatives, all topics were explored in an open and constructive manner, facilitating an exchange of information, and helping us to understand what more can and should be done to publicly engage on these issues.

Divided into five sessions covering effective EMF communications, the updated ICNIRP (2020) EMF Exposure Guidelines, actions regarding public exposure to electromagnetic fields, harmonised RF-EMF limits and compliance rules, and environmental impacts of EMF, the forum was opened by Daniel Pataki, Head of Europe, Russia and CIS at the GSMA.

In his opening remarks, misinformation in respect to electromagnetic fields in general and 5G, in particular, was addressed. Highlighting recent attacks on mobile antenna sites and the harassment of telecommunication workers, he reiterated the statements from the World Health Organization, the European Commission and public health agencies who have made it clear that there is no link between COVID-19 and 5G.

The theme of misinformation continued in a panel discussion on effective electromagnetic field communication. Panellists recognised the need for credible governmental information addressing false 5G claims and the enormous challenge faced by governments and industry as they address public concern about radio signals. Professor Stephan Lewandowsky from the University of Bristol and co-author of the Debunking 2020 Handbook explained that it is more effective to build resilience against being misinformed rather than waiting for myths to gain traction. All panellists agreed that trust is very important for effective communication, so independent scientists and public health professionals should be at the forefront of dealing with 5G misinformation.

The long-anticipated 2020 update to ICNIRP’s EMF Exposure Guidelines was presented by Dr Eric van Rongen, the Vice-chair of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). Following a complete analysis of the scientific literature published in the last 20 years, ICNIRP concluded that there was ‘no evidence that RF EMF causes adverse health effects other than through heating’ and specifically ‘no evidence for cancer’’.  In light of these findings, Dr van Rongen stressed that the updated guidelines are more accurate, with a better biological rationale but were also more complex.

Outlining whether further actions in respect to Public Health would be taken at a European level, John Ryan from the European Commission’s Directorate for Health and Food Safety confirmed that the European EMF Recommendation follows a precautionary approach with conservatism built into the limit values. The Commission is aware of public concern about 5G and Mr Ryan said that it should be a reassuring message that even at maximum use, 5G levels will only be a tiny fraction of limits. Following the publication of the updated ICNIRP guidelines, the European Commission plans to use the Scientific Advice Mechanism for an official opinion on updating the European EMF recommendation.

Further analysis was provided by Associate Professor Luca Chiaraviglio of the University of Rome Tor Vergata who also pointed out that adoption of ‘precautionary’ EMF rules are counterproductive and can also result in higher transmit powers from mobile devices.

On the issue of the effect of 5G on birds or trees, Dr Gunde Ziegelberger from the German Federal Office for Radiation Protection presented results from a 2019 workshop confirming that results from studies ’are in part inconsistent or even contradictory‘ concluding that ‘there is no validated scientific evidence for negative effects on animals and plants’.  

A further panel discussed responses to EMF challenges linked to 5G rollout. Michel Van Bellinghen, the incoming chair of the Body of European Regulators for Electronic Communications (BEREC) highlighted a recent position paper addressing misinformation which concluded that ‘compliance of 5G technology with the new ICNIRP guidelines will continue to provide the highest level of protection to date.’ Eva Kaili MEP confirmed that the European Parliament wants to remove points of ‘friction’ to support 5G rollout. However, 5G safety concerns have been raised and it is important to have arguments based on scientific information to respond to the concerns of the public.

Dr Christos Datsikas spoke on 5G information made available by the European Commission to better explain the technology and address public concern. He also reminded participants that the European Electronic Communications Code calls on Member States to work towards consistent deployment conditions taking into account the European Council recommendation for EMF limits.

In 2020 both Poland and Lithuania changed from restrictive limits to adopt EMF limits based on the ICNIRP guidelines. Niclas Löwendahl, Head of Spectrum and EMF for Telia Company outlined the long journey taken by Lithuania to move from 1% of ICNIRP to the international guidelines. The plan to launch 5G added urgency to the journey as it was estimated that without a change to the restrictive limits only 10% of shared sites would be available for 5G deployment and up to three times more base stations would be required. The health and communications ministries jointly managed the update process with technical and public health input from universities and leading hospitals. However, the journey is not yet complete and work continues to review bureaucratic rules for site EMF compliance.

In conclusion, I would highlight that after almost 10 years of these events, it is clear that the consensus of the scientific community is unchanged.  The ICNIRP guidelines are scientifically rigorous and, whether we talk about 2G, 3G, 4G or 5G, complying with the ICNIRP limits protects against all established health or environmental hazards.

At the 2020 EMF Forum, GSMA presented a report explaining the key features of the updated international EMF exposure guidelines and additional language versions of the animated video 5G, EMF exposure and safety.

For more information visit our interactive map summarising European EMF and antenna siting policies and visit the EMF and Health page on GSMA’s website for more detailed information.