Cell Phones, Radiofrequency Radiation, and Powerline Fields

This broad category covers several types of nonionizing radiation, including general questions about health effects of microwaves and radiowaves, and questions about possible health effects of technologies that use this energy: radar, satellites, cell phones, and cellular networks such as 5G are all included here. Also included are general questions about health effects of power line or extremely low frequency (ELF) fields, and questions about possible health effects of technologies that use this energy: power lines, household appliances, medical devices that use pulsed magnetic fields.

This video provides a brief overview of nonionizing radiation from a cell phone, laptop, or cell tower and the potential health effects.

5G and Coronavirus: No Link

5G is not a particular physical entity, but a set of specifications for how cell phones communicate. 5G systems transmit radiofrequency (RF) signals, as do all previous "Gs"—such as 2G-GSM, 3G-CDMA, 4G-LTE—but use a different method of processing signals. All RF transmitting systems are subject to limits on human exposure to RF energy, in the United States, those of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

5G technology is still developing, but present 5G systems operate in several frequency ranges, from present-day cellular bands to higher frequencies close to or within the millimeter wave band. Millimeter waves are used in a great many applications, including in airport security systems and in collision avoidance radar systems in automobiles.

RF energy is nonionizing—the energy of the photons that carry it is too low to break chemical bonds (in contrast to ionizing energy such as x rays). The term "radiation" is often used with respect to cell phone signals, in the technical sense of energy that is transmitted, or radiated, through space, like light from a flashlight. The term has no implications regarding possible health effects.

The safety of cellular telephone transmissions has been evaluated by health agencies many times over the years, and they have reviewed several hundred studies. These agencies have not identified any hazards from RF exposure at levels below internationally accepted safety limits. See, for example, this recent statement by the US Food and Drug Administration:

"While many of the specifics of 5G remain ill-defined, it is known that 5G cell phones will use frequencies covered by the current FCC exposure guidelines (300 kHz-100 GHz), and the conclusions reached based on the current body of scientific evidence covers these frequencies. The FDA will continue to monitor scientific information as it becomes available regarding the potential impacts of 5G."

There is no scientific basis to suspect that 5G technology is related in any way to coronavirus or to damage to the immune system. For example, the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency recently issued a statement that concluded:"There is no established evidence that low level radio wave exposure from 5G and other wireless telecommunications can affect the immune system or cause any other long term or short term health effects."

Health agencies are continuing to follow scientific developments in the field of biological effects of radiofrequency energy, but so far have not expressed concern about possible health effects of RF signals at ordinary environmental levels.


FAQs Developed by the HPS

The following FAQs have been developed by our topic editors for this category:

  HPS FAQ   Cellular Phone and Base Station
  HPS FAQ   Microwave Oven Q & A
  HPS FAQ   Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation: Satellite Dish, Radar, Power Line, and Miscellaneous
  HPS FAQ   Smartphone RF Exposure
  HPS FAQ   Tower Radiation

Relevant HPS Web Pages

The following HPS Web pages also address this category:

  HTML page   A Practical Approach to Microwave Oven Safety
  HTML page   Cell Phone Use Listed as Possibly Carcinogenic: Health Physics Society Thoughts
  HTML page   Extremely Low Frequency Radiation/Power Lines
  HTML page   Health Risks Associated with Living Near High-Voltage Power Lines
  HTML page   Human Exposure to Radiofrequency Energy From Wireless Local Area Networks
  HTML page   Microwave Ovens
  PDF   Mobile Telephone Fact Sheet
  HTML page   Radiofrequency (RF) Radiation

Questions Answered by HPS Experts

The following health physics questions have been answered by an expert and approved by our editors for inclusion in our "Ask the Experts" feature. Click on the question to see the answer.

Questions in this Category Are in the Following Subcategories:
  •  Cell Phones
  •  Microwaves and Radiofrequency
  •  Satellite Dishes
  •  Miscellaneous
Cell Phones
Q4037   –   X rays from high-voltage tubes
Q6083   –   Cell phone vibration on stomach
Q7030   –   Microwaving tea bags with staples in them
Q8044   –   Cat sleeps on top of microwave
Q8635   –   Microwave emissions from radar sites
Q10050   –   Government radar site
Q10733   –   Accidental RF exposure
Q10832   –   Measure RF from a cell phone
Q10946   –   Vines dying near gas meter (smart meter)
Q10951   –   Marine radio
Q10952   –   Dirty electricity
Q10996   –   Traffic speed minders
Q11043   –   Police communications tower
Q11053   –   Laptop RF fields
Q11269   –   Wearable computers
Q11359   –   Radiofrequency Interference with AFCI Breakers
Q11558   –   Work in high RF fields
Q11719   –   Can military radar cause cancer?
Q11814   –   RF safety for self-driving vehicles
Q11901   –   Accidental RF exposure
Q11975   –   Household RF environment
Q12085   –   Smart meter radiofrequency exposure in homes
Q12166   –   Exposure to radiofrequency fields
Q12595   –   Can an angiosarcoma be caused by radiofrequency radiation?
Q12896   –   Health effects of 5G wireless telecommunications networks
Q13181   –   Cell towers on roof, what are safe RF levels?
Microwaves and Radiofrequency
Q11223   –   Third-floor apartment near cell towers
Q12172   –   RF exposure from Apple Watch
Satellite Dishes
Q3392   –   Satellite dishes
Q7243   –   Neighbor's satellite dish
Q7307   –   Too close to children
Q8628   –   Satellite dish for TV, Internet, long-distance phone
Q10762   –   Radiofrequency signal from satellite dish
Q11158   –   Satellite dishes on apartment building
Q11743   –   Incidental exposure to dish antenna
Q11955   –   SATCOM Station RF Safety
Q12828   –   Radar exposure to air traffic controller
Q8480   –   Transformer
Q12067   –   Child exposure to electronic devices
Q12127   –   Can electric cars cause health effects?
Q12909   –   Radiofrequency and breast cancer

Other Useful Websites

The following websites may also be useful:

  External website   About Mobile Phones – Australian Government
  External website   Cell Phones – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  External website   Cell Phones - US Food and Drug Administration
  External website   Cell Phones Do Not Give You Brain Cancer – Science
  External website   COMAR Finding on Radiofrequecy Safety and Utlity Smart Meters (IEEE)
  External website   Do Cell Phones Cause Brain Tumors? – Veritasium
  External website   Electric and Magnetic Fields Q&A – National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
  External website   Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) – World Health Organization
  External website   IEEE/COMAR Reports and Publications
  External website   International Commission on Nonionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP)
  External website   Is WiFi a Health Threat in Schools? – Education Next
  External website   New study: no increase in brain cancer across 29 years of mobile use in Australia – The Conversation, Simon Chapman, Author, Emeritus Professor in Public Health, University of Sydney
  External website   Potential Hazards of Radiofrequency Fields – Federal Communications Commission
  External website   Press Release: Cell Phone Use Not Linked to Cancer Risk – Journal of the National Cancer Institute
  External website   Radiation-Emitting Products – Food and Drug Administration
  External website   Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) Tags – Food and Drug Administration
  External website   Radio Frequency Safety – Federal Communications Commission
  External website   Radio Frequency Safety FAQs – Federal Communications Commission
  External website   Radiofrequency and Microwave Radiation – Occupational Safety and Health Administration
  External website   RadTown USA – US Environmental Protection Agency
  External website   Wi-fi Radio Waves and Health – Public Health England