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Is 5G technology the new fracking?

We have grown accustomed to trusting the telecommunications industry to advance technology to meet the consumer demand for higher speeds and more innovation without asking any questions about the risks. However, the fifth generation of advancement demands our attention and our concern.

Fracking gave us flammable tap water, miniature earthquakes and livestock kills as a warning sign to reconsider its consequences. Will 5G wireless technologies burn our skin? Decimate important insect populations? Disrupt sleep patterns? Cause severe headaches or even brain cancers? Our 7-year journey in Maryland to ban fracking started with a Baltimore Sun op-ed I wrote in December 2010 calling for a moratorium on drilling permits until we had an opportunity to study whether it would have a negative impact on our health, environment and local economy. Now is the time to sound a similar alarm about efforts to roll out fifth-generation wireless technology across our state.

5G wireless technology is not only hailed for its ability to transfer higher volumes of data more rapidly between our cell phones, tablets, televisions and computers, but it also promises a future of connecting nearly every electronic device and sensor imaginable while giving us the capability of monitoring and controlling them remotely. Whether it is kitchen appliances or home medical equipment, energy systems or vehicles, the future promises to weave everything from an individual’s heart monitor to a family pet’s biochip into an interconnected web of communication and networking via the internet. Industry jargon calls it the Internet of Things (IoT).

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We do not know much about the consumer health and environmental impacts of an IoT world. This 5G wireless broadband technology uses a different type of shorter (millimeter) wavelength known as radio-frequency microwave radiation (RF/MR), and we are woefully uninformed to understand its impacts on humans, insects, animals and the overall environment of our communities where the proliferation of these small cells will be deployed.

We have grown accustomed to silently sitting back and trusting the telecommunications industry to advance technology to meet the consumer demand for higher speeds and more innovation without asking any questions about the risks. However, this generation of advancement demands our attention and our concern.

If we think of the data that gets transmitted wirelessly as tiny energetic bullets that pulse through the microwaves that carry the information, we are currently being hit with 700 million to 2.1 billion microwaves per second for our cell phones and 2.4 billion to 5.8 billion microwaves for tablets and laptops under 2G, 3G and 4G systems that are operating today. This number is estimated to explode to 24 billion to 90 billion microwaves per second under 5G technology.

The race is on across the country to pass state-based streamlining legislation to allow wireless providers unfettered access to existing electrical lines and other public rights of way at hospitals, schools, fire stations and neighborhood locations to build cell antennas needed to connect these short waves. Maryland is currently considering such laws. Counties and municipalities are opposed to the legislation because it would usurp local zoning control. However, the more important questions that need to be raised are about the health and environmental affects of the technology itself.

Maryland should be the first state to institute a moratorium on implementation of 5G technologies until we know more about its risks.

This much we do know: Millimeter wave frequency technology has been weaponized by the military. This level of frequency, used in 5G applications, is currently being advanced by the Department of Defense in their crowd-control guns. It causes severe burning because this wave frequency is able to bypass the skin and absorb into the sweat glands. Are we truly confident we know enough about this new technology to unleash it throughout our communities?

We must especially be concerned about the unknown impacts of around-the-clock pulsations of millimeter wave frequency on vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities and those who are immune-compromised.

Telecommunications companies will say that these small cell antennas are completely safe and fall within federal guidelines overseen by the Federal Communications Commission. The catch? Those guidelines were written in 1996 and have not since been updated to keep pace with the changes in technologies, rendering the FCC compliance meaningless.

Ultimately, the threat might be worth the risk when weighed against the consumer and economic benefits. However, we do not know that yet because the proper studies have not been done. Just as we did not presume that fracking would ultimately be banned when we began asking the tough questions, we do not know what the final outcome of any 5G inquiry will be. Questions should be asked and answered before we rush to open a box that could cause unintended biological and environmental consequences for humans, animals and plants alike. We need to take the time to make sure we get this one right the first time.

Heather R. Mizeur (heather@heathermizeur.com) is a former member of the Maryland General Assembly.

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