As we all begin the next mad rush to deploy Helium 5G miners, one of the questions I hear asked is, “Is 5G safe?”
Let’s start with defining what 5G means; it’s NOT 5 gigahertz. In this case, 5G refers to the Fifth Generation of mobile networks. 5G is a set of rules determining who can transmit how much on what frequency. We (including me) commonly use it rather loosely, saying “I’m going to deploy a Helium 5G miner”.
What that actually means is that we’re going to deploy a Helium miner that will transmit and receive on a specific frequency band within the 5G set of rules. That band is from 3.55 gigahertz to 3.7 gigahertz, shortened to 3.55 GHz — 3.7 GHz. As I’ve discussed in other articles, that band is the CBRS, or Citizens Broadband Radio Service.
Now that we’ve set the stage, let’s move on to potential health issues of Helium 5G radio frequency radiation, or RFR.
I’ll give you the non-scientific version first: The parts of the 5G band we’re using for Helium combined with the power output we’re limited to probably aren’t a big deal as long as you’re NOT standing with your head next to the radio. Pretty straightforward. Why do I think this?
Look, you probably already have WiFi in your house. Your WiFi router pushes out about the same amount of power that your CBRS radio will, and at frequencies that are slightly lower (2.4 GHz) and slightly higher (5 GHz). If you’re OK with WiFi, you should be OK with CBRS. That’s the common sense reasoning, but let’s get deeper.
We’ll start with a study done on zebrafish in 2020. Zebrafish are a fantastic option for these kinds of studies because they reflect the intelligence level of the person who screams “5G WILL FRY YOUR BRAIN!” without doing any research beyond a few sensational YouTube videos. Nothing against YouTube, it’s part of my core educational strategy, but it’s definitely not a gold standard for scientific inquiry.
On a more serious note, this study on the Impacts of high does 3.5 GHz cellphone radio frequency on zebrafish embryonic development found:
“Our results revealed no significant impacts on mortality, morphology or photomotor response and a modest inhibition of startle response suggesting some levels of sensorimotor disruptions.”
Now, that study was conducted on zebra fish. Zebra fish are not humans. They share about 75% of their DNA with us. In the scientific community, they are an accepted norm to use when assessing environmental impacts on biology.
My takeaway after reading the study and talking to Dr. Dasgupta, one of the authors of that study is this: With high dose exposure during your developmental years, you may lose some of your reflex speed. That is a layman’s takeaway. By the way, we invited Dr. Dasgupta to speak to the Gristle Crüe recently and he came on and gave us a presentation on that specific study. Want to dive deep? Join the Gristle Crüe and hang on!
Next, let’s take a look at a study done on “mobile phone base stations during temporary events”. What’s that cover? Let’s say you go to a state fair, or a concert in the desert. In order to provide coverage, certain operators (including those of us deploying Helium 5G units) will install temporary radios to handle all the extra cell phone traffic.
These temporary installations (loosely) double the amount of RFR you get, from 391 µW/m2 at normal levels up to 792 µW/m2 during the fair. BOTH of those values are under legal (European) limits.
A µW/m2 is “one millionth of a watt per square meter”. The µ means “micro”.
The legal limit in the US for frequencies between 2 and 5 GHz is 10 million µW/m2 for up to 30 minutes.
In this study, measurements were taken throughout an apartment complex that had a “mobile base station” on its roof. A Mobile Base Station is what a normal person might call a “cell tower” if it’s free standing or “cell cluster” on a roof; those are the big honkin’ radios the telcos use. Those are generally NOT safe to be near, and the mean measurement (remember, “mean” is the average) reflects that. Throughout the building, the mean radiation level was 3,811 µW/m2. I’d consider that (as a layman) generally not cool to be around.
However, that’s a commercial mobile base station, and not what most of us in Helium will be deploying. Now, we’re going to head off into “maybe-land” here, and things are uncertain. While there’s a brisk trade being conducted in protecting you from EMF radiation, there isn’t a ton of hard data on the effects of RF radiation on humans from cell towers in the ranges that we’re deploying. That doesn’t mean it’s bad or not bad; it just means we don’t know.
Let’s start with what we DO know. If you’re in an area with reliable cell service, you’re probably surrounded by mobile base stations blasting out RFR at around 5–10 watts, although they’re probably not that close to you. This varies, but is a good place to start. According to the FCC:
In the case of cellular and PCS cell site transmitters, the FCC’s RF exposure guidelines recommend a maximum permissible exposure level to the general public of approximately 580 microwatts per square centimeter. This limit is many times greater than RF levels typically found near the base of cellular or PCS cell site towers or in the vicinity of other, lower-powered cell site transmitters. Calculations corresponding to a “worst-case” situation (all transmitters operating simultaneously and continuously at the maximum licensed power) show that, in order to be exposed to RF levels near the FCC’s guidelines, an individual would essentially have to remain in the main transmitting beam and within a few feet of the antenna for several minutes or longer. Thus, the possibility that a member of the general public could be exposed to RF levels in excess of the FCC guidelines is extremely remote.FCC Website, Human Exposure to RF Fields: Guidelines for Cell Sites
How does 580 µW/cm² compare to our outdoor fair study above, where the average exposure was 792 µW/m²? Pay attention, because one of those uses centimeters as the area value, and one uses meters. Big difference. 1 µW/cm² is equal to 10,000 µW/m², so 580 µW/cm² = 5.8 million µW/m². Moral of the story? Far better to go to a Spanish festival than to stand in front of a US cell tower.
Still, that doesn’t leave us with an answer to our question: Are Helium 5G units safe?
The straight answer is that nobody knows for sure. I’ve seen links to studies claiming that EMF will cross the blood brain barrier and interfere with calcium levels, but that ignores the fact that those frequencies have to get inside you first, and most high frequency doesn’t go more than skin deep; they doesn’t have the penetrating power. That’s not to say those studies are quackery, but it’s also unlikely we’re facing an existential threat from EMF.
Let’s talk about another aspect of RF: Ionizing and non-ionizing radiation. Ionizing radiation is the dangerous stuff; X‑rays, gamma rays, the kind of full power radiation you need to put a lead apron on to be around. Ionizing radiation will go right through you and disrupt the atoms in your molecules (that’s the “ionization” part), leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. CBRS is NOT ionizing.
Non-ionizing radiation is the stuff that doesn’t do that kind of damage. Sure, it can shake your molecules around a bit, but it doesn’t have the power to knock an electron off an atom. Non-ionizing goes into the “questionable” bucket of unhealthy radiation.
Is it good for you? Probably not. Is it bad for you? No serious studies proving that it is categorically bad have been done. The closest thing is the zebrafish study above, and while it shows that direct radiation on an embryonic zebrafish has negative effects on their startle response, it’s not like you’re going to be bathing in 3.55 GHz for hours every day.
Now, before you go all screamer on me, I know that some people are more sensitive to EMF than others. If that’s you, I have a hard time believing you’re considering putting up a CBRS radio, but just in case…don’t do it!
If you’re a part of the non-EMF-sensitive part of the population like most of us, and you wade through the radio frequency cocktail of current modern living (WiFi, cell signals, AM/FM radio, TV, and the rest of it), you’re probably not going to notice or be effected by the RF pushed out by CBRS.
Now, to be clear, that is NOT MEDICAL ADVICE! For me, I think of my general “EMF hygiene” guidelines being appropriate:
- Don’t sleep in front of a CBRS radio.
- Don’t spend significant amounts of time close to the focused area of emitted RF (look at the radiation pattern supplied with your antenna).
- Spend time outdoors in the sunlight exercising, eat healthy foods, get plenty of sleep, laugh with your friends, and keep overall stress low.
That’s it. That’s pretty much all I can reasonably do. At the end of the day you are already in an RF soup of convenience; it’s why your cell phone works pretty much everywhere, why you can still hear WAAF anywhere in the greater Boston area, and why you can track a paraglider throughout Southern California. You’re already in the mix, my friend.
Hey, if you want to stay in the know and go deeper into these topics, and you’d like to be part of a group helping each other learn and succeed in the whole blockchain + meatspace arena that Helium started, I’d love to have you join the Gristle Crüe. As I finish writing this, I’m reflecting on the conversation the Gristle had today with Dr. Dasgupta and how useful it is to be learning from world class experts in the company of folks just like you. If that sounds exciting, well, join the Gristle Crüe!