Since the advent of mobile phones, there have been people worried about whether or not the radiation can cause cancer. Similar fears have surrounded microwave ovens for decades. How much truth is there to the claims, and are some of the “experts” out there really worth listening to? One man, Arthur Firstenberg, is an adamant opponent of cell phone use and radiation. His greatest claim surrounds the questionable nature of 5G networks.

It’s a conspiracy, man

Arthur Firstenberg was a Westinghouse scholar who received his Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics from Cornell University before continuing on to medical school. He never completed his medical studies due to poor health, which he attributed to a series of dental X-rays. The X-rays, he claimed, gave him electromagnetic hypersensitivity. The condition is primarily considered by the medical community to be a psychosomatic response, though further studies are still being conducted. Despite his educational background, Firstenberg has made a name for himself as an avid voice of opposition toward the careless use of electromagnetic radiation. Most notably, he has claimed that 5G networks are “a massive health experiment” which could become a “global catastrophe.”

While his claim is certainly not the only one of its ilk, Firstenberg has a rich history of questionable claims. He is currently heading a petition to the World Health Organization to truncate the development of 5G networks. He believes that high-speed broadband networks pose a significant health risk to both humans and wildlife. According to Firstenberg, if the development of these wireless networks is allowed to continue, it will increase the risk of cancer and electromagnetic hypersensitivity. A long-running and growing body of work debunks his claims. Understanding why Firstenberg is wrong begins with understanding the differences between high and low energy electromagnetic waves.

Examining the spectrum

The electromagnetic spectrum is generally broken down into two primary chunks: High-energy and low-energy. The energy level corresponds to the wavelength of any given part of the spectrum. Low-energy waves are long and slow, whereas high-energy waves are much shorter and higher intensity. The two categories also break down into non-ionizing (low-energy) and ionizing radiation (high-energy). On the high end, you have UV radiation, gamma radiation, and X-rays. One of Firstenberg’s claims was that exposure to “over 40 dental X-rays” caused irreparable damage to his system. Exposure to the incredibly small amounts of radiation present in dental X-rays over several years amounts to less than the dose of background radiation you are constantly exposed to every day. As convenient as it might be to blame dental X-rays for some type of physical harm, the risk factor is exceptionally low and practically unheard of.

Cell phones operate between FM radio and microwave ovens on the electromagnetic spectrum, solidly in the low-energy half. Unlike X-rays and other high-energy radiation sources, radio waves are non-ionizing, which means they don’t carry enough energy to alter the atomic states of cells they interact with. Microwaves, which are nearby, carry enough energy to excite some molecules when exposed at high enough levels for a long enough duration. Studies to date show inconclusive evidence about radiation from cell phones causing any temperature fluctuations in the user. The bottom line is that the radiation emitted by cell phones and their towers doesn’t carry enough energy to affect living things. If you’re still concerned about exposing yourself to any of the radiation associated with cell phones, you can avoid most of it by using hands-free devices or by taking calls on speakerphone. If you can distance yourself from the source, you can put your mind at ease. You’ll be farther from the radiation source, making you extra safe from the danger that was nominally there to begin with. Alternatively, they still sell cans at the grocery store if you can find enough string to run between them.