Mobile phone base stations like this do not pose a radiation risk

25 July 2019
What was claimed

Standing next to a mobile phone antenna or staying too long in its vicinity is a radiation risk.

Our verdict

Not true. Masts like the one in the image are safe to stand near.

What was claimed

Prolonged exposure to radiofrequency radiation from a mobile phone antenna may exceed the recommended guidelines.

Our verdict

There is no evidence that this is the case.

What was claimed

5G isn’t safe.

Our verdict

There isn’t convincing evidence that this is the case.

Pictures shared on Facebook over 2,000 times show a poster on a mobile phone mast, warning people not to stand too close by, or stay too long in the area as the structure is a radiation risk.

The sign isn’t an official one, and the phone mast in the picture is perfectly safe to stand near. There’s lots of evidence to show that the level of radiation near masts like these isn’t dangerous even if you loitered near one for a while. It’s not clear whether the mast has anything to do with 5G in particular, as the first 5G network launched in the UK just a few days before it was posted, on 30 May 2019.

The image shows a mobile phone monopole mast with a sign on it, and in tiny font on the sign there’s a link to an official government document on the safety of mobile phone base stations. (Base stations are the stationary radio transmitters that support mobile networks. They have antennas which are mounted on masts like the one in the picture, or on buildings.)

This sign almost certainly isn’t an official one—for one, it doesn’t include any organisation’s logo. Also, the real government document the poster links to is one from Public Health England, which directly contradicts the claim that the mobile phone antenna poses a radiation risk. Public Health England told us it hadn’t made the poster.

The document linked to says: “radiofrequency fields at ground level and in places normally accessible to the public are many times below guideline levels.”

“Where guidelines can be exceeded, normally within a few metres directly in front of the most powerful antennas, exclusion zones are implemented to restrict access.”

Ofcom, the communications regulator, has carried out measurements around base stations that consistently show the amount of radiation is well below the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection’s (ICNIRP) limits, regardless of how much time you spend there.

Dr Simon Mann, Head of Public Health England’s Radiation Dosimetry Department, told us: “Measurements of exposure levels have been made independently of the network operators at thousands of locations in the UK near to base stations and these have always been well within the [international guideline] levels. There is no convincing scientific evidence that radio signals from mobile phone masts pose a risk to public health when they are below [these] levels.”

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There’s no evidence to suggest 5G is dangerous

5G is the next generation of wireless network technology, following on from 4G. One of the many uses of this will be to provide faster web access from mobiles, for more devices at once. Like 4G, 3G and 2G before it, 5G mobile data is transmitted over radio waves—a small part of the whole electromagnetic spectrum (which includes microwaves, visible light and X-rays).

These radio waves are non-ionising, meaning they don’t damage the DNA inside cells, as X-rays, gamma rays and UV rays are able to do. 5G, although at slightly higher frequencies than previous networks, is still in this radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

The ICNIRP provides scientific advice and guidance on non-ionising radiation (like the radio waves of 5G) and it has guidelines on safe levels of exposure. Public Health England has said that these guidelines should be adopted, and that there’s no “convincing evidence” that exposure below these guidelines can cause adverse health effects. These guidelines go up to 300GHz, whereas the maximum for 5G will probably only be in the tens of GHz.

At the time of writing, EE has rolled out 5G in six UK cities and Vodafone has in 15 towns and cities. Three is reportedly due to launch 5G in London in August 2019 and O2 will in October.

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