5G regulators, researchers working to bust risk myths

Redouble efforts to counter false claims made by Australia's 'Stop 5G' movement

The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) and the Australian Centre for Electromagnetic Bioeffects Research (ACEBR) are redoubling efforts to bust myths about the negative health effects of 5G in the face of a small but growing ‘Stop 5G’ movement.

ARPANSA is the government agency that sets national standards on electromagnetic energy exposure limits. ACEBR is a National Health and Medical Research Council research centre tasked with ‘addressing the health debate’ around non-ionising electromagnetic energy.

ARPANSA this week promoted its ‘Talk to a Scientist’ hotline, which enables members of the public to speak directly to a radiation expert about any concerns. The agency in recent weeks has published blog posts to dispel the “concerning misinformation circulating” about 5G health effects, while ACEBR has published fact sheets which emphasise that “no indication” of health impacts have been observed.

Both bodies this week fronted a media briefing in a bid to curtail inaccurate reporting of 5G health risks.

The effort comes is response to a growing ‘Stop 5G’ movement in Australia and globally, whose members last month took to the streets in three cities to protest the roll-out of 5G infrastructure. The movement has also run numerous information evenings, at which speakers claim the radiowaves used by 5G cause ‘electrohypersensitivity’ and have been linked to anxiety, mental illness, autism and Alzheimer's.

“One of [our new approaches] is communicating with the media and helping to not have messages out there that might be feeding into these types of ‘nocebo’ effects,” ACEBR director Dr Sarah Loughran, told Computerworld.

“There are people that are suffering and yes it’s not due to electromagnetic energy exposure, it’s more of a psychosomatic condition, but the more we know about it, and the more we can find out about it and the more we address it, the more we’re able to help these people,” Loughran said.

Both agencies acknowledge that although the Stop 5G movement is relatively small, it is growing in Australia.

“So I think it would be remiss of us to ignore that regardless of what the cause is,” Loughran said.

However, both agencies said they were unlikely to attend a ‘Stop 5G’ event to counter any claims spread there.

“I’m not sure how much power we would have there, and it can also be quite aggressive when you’re at these events,” Loughran said.

Counterpoint

Countering the misinformation about the dangers of 5G is a difficult task. One of the issues is the science community’s reticence to make absolute claims.

When taking a listener question on ABC Radio National late last month as to whether long term exposure to 5G was “100 per cent safe for all humans, animals, insects and plants” ARPANSA’s assistant director of assessment and advice Dr Ken Karipidis could not answer in the affirmative.

“We’re not in the business of providing 100 per cent guarantees; we’re in the business of assessing the evidence and providing advice based on the evidence,” Karipidis responded.

Various ‘Stop 5G’ group pages on Facebook took this as an admission from ARPANSA that "5G is not safe”.

But as the University of Wollongong’s Professor Rodney Croft, an adviser to the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, explained: “Of course it is impossible for science to demonstrate that anything is absolutely safe, and so regardless of whether we’re talking about Wi-Fi or orange juice, science cannot demonstrate absolute safety”.

As Loughran put it to Computerworld: “One of the most difficult things in science in general is to change beliefs, particularly strong beliefs.”

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