The Internet of Things Is Making Waves, Lots of Them; How Safe Are We from Its Web of Radiation?

Depression & Anxiety 383 views
Written by Timothy Pfaff

Assuming that industry pressure to innovate will easily outpace research and regulations about it, we can still make choices about how much radiation we invite into our lives.

The Internet of Things Is Making Waves, Lots of Them; How Safe Are We from Its Web of Radiation?

Let’s stipulate for the purposes of this post that there will never be a conclusive evidence of a link between cell-phone use and cancer. Countless laboratory rats have died in the failed attempts.

Rabble rousers on the matter have long claimed—clearly not conclusively—that “the industry” has known about the link all along, and, like the tobacco, oil, and pharmacy industries, has either kept what it does know secret or has notified the public about it on the down low, that is, without what you could call the signal boost to bring it to the public’s attention.

Let bygones, and so forth. But as the communications world is about to vault into 5G, there are things that concerned observers and wannabe regulators think you should know. So do we.

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Now what?

The ruckus is down to an April 23 article by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie in The Nation, a liberal American magazine, headlined “How Big Wireless Made Us Think That Cellphones Are Safe: An Investigation.” There’s a long if narratively compelling introduction about the history of the wireless industry “coverup.”

If you want to get to the good stuff, or the new stuff, anyway, it begins in the second section, which states its purpose clearly:

“This article does not argue that cell phones and other wireless technologies are necessarily dangerous; that is a matter for scientists to decide. Rather, the focus here is on the global industry behind cell phones—and the industry’s long campaign to make people believe that cell phones are safe.”

You probably already know this, at least intuitively, but the article continues:

“That campaign has plainly been a success: 95 out of every 100 adult Americans now own a cell phone; globally, three out of four adults have cell-phone access, with sales increasing every year. The wireless industry is now one of the fastest-growing on Earth and one of the biggest, boasting annual sales of $440 billion in 2016.”

What follows at considerable length—and I’m not being snide, here; it’s a great read—is the two Marks’ account of the wireless industry’s research and alleged cover-up right up to now. The “now” is an as-yet-not-released report by the U.S government’s National toxicology Program (NTP), which the World Health Organization (WHO) will (soon) review before making its assessment of wireless-radiation-related cancer.

5G and The Internet of Things

“There is a catch, though," the writers in The Nation say, and so we quote it verbatim:

“The Internet of Things will require augmenting today’s 4G technology with 5G, thus ‘massively increasing’ the general population’s exposure to radiation, according to a petition signed by 236 scientists worldwide who have published more than 2,000 peer-reviewed studies and represent ‘a significant portion of the credentialed scientists in the radiation research field,'" according to Joel Moskowitz, the director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, who helped circulate the petition. “Nevertheless, like cell phones, 5G technology is on the verge of being introduced without pre-market safety testing.” [Emphasis ours]

Here’s more:

“The wireless industry’s determination to bring about the Internet of Things, despite the massive increase in radiation exposure this would unleash, raises the stakes exponentially. Because 5G radiation can only travel short distances, antennas roughly the size of a pizza box will have to be installed approximately every 250 feet to ensure connectivity. ‘Industry is going to need hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of new antenna sites in the United States alone,’ said Moskowitz, the UC Berkeley researcher. ‘So people will be bathed in a smog of radiation 24/7.’”

Cutting to the chase (from The Nation article):

“There is an alternative approach, rooted in what some scientists and ethicists call the ‘precautionary principle,’ which holds that society doesn’t need absolute proof of hazard to place limits on a given technology. If the evidence is sufficiently solid and the risks sufficiently great, the precautionary principle calls for delaying the deployment of that technology until further research clarifies its impacts.

“The scientists’ petition discussed earlier urges government regulators to apply the precautionary principle to 5G technology. Current safety guidelines ‘protect industry—not health,’ contends the petition, which ‘recommend[s] a moratorium on the roll-out of [5G]…until potential hazards for human health and the environment have been fully investigated by scientists independent from industry.’”

Radiation studies—more than you may know

In a March 29 article, “New Studies Link Cell Phone Radiation with Cancer,” for Scientific American, Charles Schmidt writes that the new reports for the National Toxicology Program differ from previous ones in both size and scope. It’s not just that they studied more rats, they studied more rats in more ways.

“The NTP looked at ‘near-field’ exposures, which approximate how people are dosed while using cell phones. Ramazzini researchers looked at ‘far-field’ exposures, which approximate the wireless RF radiation that bombards us from sources all around us, including wireless devices such as tablet and laptop computers,” Schmidt writes. In both cases, the rats studied developed heart tumors at a rate higher than usual. The same kinds of tumors are “exceedingly rare” in humans.

The findings confirm that exposure to radio-frequency radiation has “biological effects” in rats “related to cancer.” But scientists are also looking at electro-magnetic field (EF) radiation, which is emitted continuously from cell phones and wireless devices that are turned on (because they are connecting to cell towers even when not in active use).

In a March 30 article headlined “We now have the first clear evidence cell phone radiation can cause cancer in rats,” Quartz explains that the peer-reviewed new studies will be passed on to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which is charged with determining risk to humans and issuing public guidelines accordingly, and then to the Federal Communications Commission, charged with developing safety standards for cell phones.

The article quotes Ronald Melnich, the NTP senior toxicologist who designed the latest studies, as calling it “unlikely” that any future study could demonstrate conclusively that cell phone use poses no radiation risks to humans. Stating his opinion that the FDA should put out guidelines based on the rat studies, Melnich added:

“I would think it would be irresponsible to not put out indications to the public. Maintain a distance from this device from your children. Don’t sleep with your phone near your head. Use wired headsets. This would be something that the agencies could do right now.”

Should we be scared?

Better decisions are made on the basis of awareness rather than fear. The “scare” about the consequences of radiation from cell phones is now sufficiently old that it is of nearly vanishing interest to consumers.

That said, it would be prudent to assume that the industry will want to roll out upgrades such as 5G and The Internet of Things at a pace faster than that of any regulatory agency. It would be equally prudent to assume that both the Food and Drug Administration and the Federal Communications Commission (whose current director is pressing for the urgent dismantling of internet neutrality) are, in the current administration, more likely to take their marching orders from industry rather than the other way around.

What we think

  • We’re going to continue using your cell phone(s) as much as or more than we currently do.
  • We will make most if not all of the upgrades industry promotes.
  • The lion’s share of the choices about the ways in which and the extent to which the internet insinuates itself in our lives (think only of banking and health care systems as indications) will be made for us and not by us, and we won’t know most of them are being or have been made.
  • We can exert the control we do have and would be wise to.

In our reading about the rapidly oncoming Internet of Things, one example stood out from all the rest. If it’s not already in place, it soon will be that “the internet,” presumably in some kind of close proximity to your infant, will tell you when it’s time for a diaper change.

This time/need has been determined in other, more direct, and less electronic ways for millennia. To the extent that it’s something you could spare your baby, with its soft, fragile, impressionable body, why not spare your baby unwarranted internet surveillance from the get-go? 

We won’t be able to control the surrounding “web” of radiation that antennas and relay devices for wireless technology will implement. But we can make personal decisions about how close we want our bodies to get to the cell phones and other devices they enable.

It got my attention that Professor Melnick recommended not sleeping with our cell phones. Much as I would like to have greeted that with a “Duh,” I could not deny the fact that I do—did—sleep with my cell phone, very near my head in fact. It’s my alarm clock, it’s my blah blah blah. I could without too great a disturbance to my life go back to limiting my bed companions to a few books, a magazine or two, a notebook, and a pen.

And we do have choices about how much we use our devices, how much of the time we leave them on, where we carry them, and how many of them we surround ourselves with. In the spirit of “better safe than sorry,” we might be wise to make, and reconsider, those choices. Already the temptation is to add “…while we can.”

Sources/Reading: (on previous research)