Cape Town - 5G technology has been hailed as the next big step forward for communication technology across the world. But some Cape Town residents are opposing it out of fears for their health.
5G will in theory be 600 times faster than the current speed of 4G mobile networks, and 10 times faster than the fastest fibre-optic connection in South Africa. So far, the only company to have launched 5G services in the country is Rain, which began its offering in Johannesburg earlier this year.
According to its website: “As at September 2019 we have close to 250 towers built in Johannesburg and Tshwane, with an estimated 500000 households in the coverage area.
“During 2020, Rain hopes to expand the network to Cape Town and Durban, and in due course cover all of metropolitan South Africa.”
With roll-out imminent in Cape Town, some communities are mobilising to oppose the erection of 5G masts in their areas, citing fears that range from nosebleeds and headaches to cancer and fertility problems.
Hout Bay local Angie Curtis has organised a Facebook group of 45 residents who are strongly opposed to 5G technology in the valley.
“If we allow the 5G Trojan Horse to enter our cities, we will be condemning ourselves to a future of ever-escalating exposure to harmful wireless radiation that will accompany 5G and beyond,” Curtis said.
“Because of their developmental stages, children are much more susceptible. In addition, wireless radiation effects are cumulative, putting children at greater risk.”
Local 5G company Rain contested health concerns on its website.
“The Rain network is built conforming to all international safety standards (set by the World Health Organisation), as well as all local regulations. Given that we use a frequency band similar to 4G/LTE, 5G poses no increased health risks.”
Because the range of 5G transmitters is shorter, there will need to be more of them, and placed closer together throughout communities. This has led to concerns that people will be exposed to high doses of radiation.
Professor Antoine Bagula, head of the Department of Computer Science at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), said the fears stem from people who hear “high-frequency” and fear dangerous radiation.
“What is different with 5G compared to other technology is that it’s using high frequencies. It will be much more powerful radiation,” he said. “But the good news is that when you look at the electromagnetic spectrum, there is ionising and non-ionising radiation.
“The ionising is like X-rays and gamma rays - these are the ones which are dangerous to health, which can produce cancer. But 5G is deployed in non-ionising frequencies.”
So far, Bagula said, there is no legitimate science proving there is a health risk - but we should proceed with caution while more extensive studies are done.
“Up to now nothing has been proved. Maybe there are some studies that should be done, evaluating the impact of 5G on health issues.”
Dr Steve Novella, an assistant professor of neurology at Yale and the editor of Science-Based Medicine, said 5G uses less power than natural light.
“You go out in the sun, and you’re bathed in electromagnetic radiation that’s far greater than these 5G cell towers.”
A petition on Change.org that was originally started by Cape Town resident Colin Aron has since garnered 2128 signatures. Aron’s reason for starting the petition was his personal experience with sensitivity to wi-fi.
“A new 5GHz wi-fi system has gone up across my home town Kalk Bay, Cape Town, bringing the familiar brain fog, anxiety, restless sleep and strange fluctuating headaches back into my life,” he wrote.
“I have never been able to be near wi-fi for long due to this. There are millions of people around the world who have reported issues with wi-fi, but the noise is getting MUCH louder with the roll-out of 5G.
“Ringing ears, bleeding ears, skin rashes and other lovely conditions have been reported after the installation of cell towers.
“These are immediate effects, not to mention the long term cancer and infertility concerns.”
Aron said that of all wireless technologies, 5G is the most dangerous.
“5G now poses the greatest threat with extremely high frequency, short range antennas almost everywhere.
“We do not need a future where we need not lift a finger while our microwave infested homes figure everything out for us.
“We did not ask for this technology and some of us outright cannot live a life worth living with this technology.”
Western Cape Department of Health spokesman Mark van der Heever said that levels of radiation would be closely monitored, and masts would not go up without public consultation.
“The application for approval for the erection of a mast must follow the relevant application process through the local municipality. During this process the municipality will consult all stakeholders,” he said.
“The level of electromagnetic radiation through a mast is monitored by Environmental Health within the local municipality who will advise the National Department of Health on harm associated with the emission of electromagnetic radiation.”