These trees weren’t cut down because of 5G

30 May 2019
What was claimed

A picture shows trees that have been cut down before 5G is launched.

Our verdict

The picture is of felled trees in Serbia, as part of redevelopment works, which are due to be replaced by new trees. There’s no evidence this had anything to do with 5G.

What was claimed

5G kills trees.

Our verdict

We have found no evidence that’s the case.

An image of felled trees saying: “5G kills trees that is why the trees are removed before 5G is launched” has been shared on Facebook.

The image was taken in a town in Serbia called Aleksinac, where trees on a main street in the town were felled in early May.

BBC News’ Serbian service covered the story, reporting that the felling of the trees was part of reconstruction works on the street, and as part of the plan maple seedlings would be planted instead. The BBC quoted a local politician as saying that the work was not about removing the trees, but about replacing the rotten linden trees with new maple trees.

There is no mention of 5G in that article, or any others we could find about the incident.

We’ve seen no large scale, or replicated (meaning similar results have been found by other groups) scientific studies that suggest 5G kills trees or any research into the impact of 5G on trees in general. There is evidence that trees of a certain height can affect radio frequency signals. A report from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, and Ordnance Survey, about 5G planning, mentions trees (amongst other structures like bus stops, billboards and high walls) as something that could interfere with signals.

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What is 5G?

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. The UK government wants the majority of the country to be covered by 5G by 2027.

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). Radio waves in general cover a specific range of this spectrum.

The concerns about the health implications of 5G seem to stem from the fact that it can operate at a slightly higher frequency of this spectrum than the mobile technology that proceeded it, although it’s still much closer to the previous technology than it is to potentially harmful, much higher frequency rays like X-ray and gamma rays.

Higher-frequency waves, like X-rays, gamma rays and UV rays, are ionising, meaning they can damage DNA in human cells—which is why they are thought to cause cancer at certain doses. But lower-frequency waves, like the radio waves coming from mobiles, are non-ionising radiation, meaning they don’t damage DNA inside cells. The NHS says most current research suggests “it's unlikely that radio waves from mobile phones or base stations increase the risk of any health problems.”

In response to a petition asking for an independent inquiry into the health and safety risks of 5G, the government said: “Exposure to radio waves has been carefully researched and reviewed. The overall weight of evidence does not suggest devices producing exposures within current guidelines pose a risk to public health.”

Public Health England says that exposure of the general public to radio waves from existing telecoms networks are within international guideline levels and that those guidelines will continue to apply to 5G products.

An international organisation that provides scientific advice and guidance on non-ionising radiation (like the radio waves of 5G) 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.

Public Health England have promised to keep reviewing new evidence and are preparing a “comprehensive review when sufficient new evidence has accumulated”.

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