Devra Davis at TEDxJacksonHole

Devra Davis presents her research on cell phones as an environmental health hazard during TEDxJacksonHole on Oct. 7, 2018, at the Center for the Arts.

Lost in the swirl of election issues is the biggest subsidy to the most successful industry in history.

At this very moment Teton County is poised to build an untested system connecting your garage door, thermostat, dishwasher, digital assistants, iPads, phones, games, videos, toothbrushes, and baby temperature, breath and movement monitors — all part of the “internet of things.”

Here’s a dirty little secret: There are no 5G phones. Those routers that display “5G” are actually 5 gigahertz, but not 5G, the superfast fifth-generation network on its way to tie together the internet of things.

Want faster wireless connections? According to Wired magazine, you have to effectively subsidize industry about $5 billion a year in the form of low- or no-cost access to utility poles to build out the backbone for 5G in the right of way in front of your home. You must then pay to buy new devices and use equipment public moneys have built. Oh — and you have to unwittingly enlist in a titanic human and environmental experiment.

The speeds at which 5G frequencies will operate eventually are ultrafast — currently about 12 billion cycles, or gigabits, a second. To put that number in context, ruby-throated hummingbirds that flitter around the valley at summer’s end have a wingbeat rate of 200 times per second. 5G operates 2.4 billion times faster. Easily blocked by trees and buildings, the 5G highway has more lanes but less reach than 3G and 4G. That means you can operate more devices at once within a smaller space, which is why urban areas are the first stop for the 5G rollout.

What’s not to like? For starters, millimeter waves to be used in 5G have been found to depress bacterial growth. But the same things that can stifle bacteria could boost antibiotic resistance, worsen ear infections and asthma and promote the growth of cancer, Want a smartphone app to check your newborn’s diaper? How about attaching monitors to your baby’s feet to track late-night breathing?

All this and more is possible with 5G, providing you do not mind radiation-emitting antennas on, and in, you or your baby and unmatched opportunities for surveillance. Wi-Fi Barbie, your TV and dishwasher can spy on you, but also prepare to be held hostage by your smart pacemaker. 5G exponentially increases opportunities for ransomware and hacking. You’ll also need to be prepared for a system of millimeter-length microwave radiation linking thousands of 30-foot-tall antennas every few hundred yards and a surge in targeted ads based on what devices you use and when.

Why should we be concerned? After all, there are undeniable benefits to national security and remote warfare. President Trump — and those advising him on the health of our children — should ask who has decided (so far) to ignore a $25 million study from the highly respected U.S. government’s National Toxicology Program finding significantly increased rates of rare malignant cancers of the heart and brain in rodents exposed to wireless technology. Among the various factors that could lie behind the puzzling rise of rectal cancers in young adults, and thyroid and brain cancer in those under age 20, we must consider the possible role of radiation from the cellphones (which act as two-way microwave radios) many have carried in their pockets since childhood.

Curious why you seldom see birds sitting atop cellphone antennas? Do you wonder why the largest tree branches adjacent to the Stilson fake-pine-tree antennas are dead, or why osprey have chosen not to nest next to the new Highway 390 installation? So do I.

Israeli physicists Yuri Feldman and Paul Ben-Ishai found that the millimeter waves central to 5G technology uniquely penetrate the skin, concentrating in the sweat gland. That explains why, at higher power, the U.S. Department of Defense is using millimeter wave systems for active crowd control because it makes people feel like their skin is on fire. Researchers have also found they can be useful to treat some forms of disease.

But what about normal people just trying to get to work, feed their families and carry out the routines of daily life? What will happen if every day and everywhere, all of us, the plants we eat, and the animals we love live in a sea of untested high-frequency radiation?

Some are raising concerns about how ugly thousands of new towers could look immediately in front of their high-end homes. Others are asking whether the push to get rid of landlines simplifies the path to 5G. The federal government committed millions of dollars last year to “test” the speed and get the kinks out of the system in the next few years. But it did not allocate one penny to ask an even more basic question: What could this mean for the health and habitats of the charismatic megapredators we so fondly watch, of the bees on which all agriculture depends, or of us? In 2014 the U.S. Department of Interior criticized the Federal Communications Commission radiation guidelines as inadequate to protect wildlife, especially birds.

“The electromagnetic radiation standards used by the Federal Communications Commission continue to be based on thermal heating, a criterion now nearly 30 years out of date and inapplicable today,” it said.

This summer a European Union review body concluded that wireless radiation poses a credible threat to wildlife and plants.

If you want faster, more secure and safer connections, demand what the Fiberhood folks at Google have done for St. Louis: Build fiber-to-the-house, bypass the wireless component and promote simple ways to rely on wired connections, even for our cellphones.

More than 250 experts in the field are calling for a global moratorium on the 5G build-out until we have information on the public health and environmental impacts. It is time to stand up for the health of our children and grandchildren and the movements of animals massive and minuscule. Let’s ensure that communication systems protect public and environmental health for all creatures. Whether building bridges, buildings or networks, it’s far better to get it right now than to try to fix it later.

Teton County resident Devra Davis is president of the Environmental Health Trust, a local nonprofit promoting programs for safer technology. She blogs for Oxford University Press, The Hill, Huffington Post and other outlets. She is also a visiting professor of medicine at Hebrew University Jerusalem. Guest shots are solely the opinion of their authors.

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(1) comment

Devra Davis

For technical details corroborating scientific evidence of damage and major uncertainties regarding 5G, please consult the website We will soon post a linked version of this Guest Shot so that you can easily consult original sources on which I relied.

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