Are Cell Phone Towers Dangerous?

black metal tower under blue sky

Are cell phone towers dangerous?

Whenever new technology emerges in the world, there’s always a little initial confusion and concern. When we don’t know how something works, we also can’t be sure that it’s not dangerous.

Now that around 5 billion people worldwide have their own cellphone, cell towers are a more prominent part of our landscape than ever before. Everywhere you look, you can see these towering stations, delivering invisible signals to people across the globe.

That leaves us to wonder, are cell phone towers dangerous? What are the radio frequencies that cell towers emit actually doing to our planet, and our people? Should we be concerned, particularly now that new technology is on the horizon in the form of 5G towers and new signals?

graph showing percentage of adults who own a mobile phone or smartphone in advanced economies

We might not be able to give you a definitive answer on how safe cell phone towers are, but we’ve curated as much information as we can to help you reach your own conclusions.

How Does a Cell Tower Work?

Answering the question “are cell phone towers dangerous?” might be important to you before you buy a new phone.

Most people can track their concerns about cell tower technology back to one simple thing – a lack of knowledge. Understandably, when people hear about things like radio frequencies and electromagnetic waves coming from cell phone towers, they get worried. We know that other invisible waves, like radiation, can be dangerous to our health – so why not cell phone waves too?

To understand how safe cell phone towers actually are, we first need to know how they work. A standard cell tower usually stands between 50 and 200 feet high and communicates with nearby cellphones through RF waves.

Radio Frequency Radiation and Cell Phones electromagnetic spectrum | FDA

RF waves are a form of electromagnetic energy that exists on the electromagnetic spectrum somewhere between radar technology, and the waves that delivery your radio and TV. Like visible light, your television, and your FM radios, these are “non ionizing” waves. Scientists tell us that non-ionizing waves have no direct damage on DNA cells, as far as we know.

However, ionizing rays, like X-rays and gamma rays aren’t always as safe.

There’s no proof at this time that the RF waves coming from your local cell tower can actually cause any significant damage to you, or your body. However, that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever feel the impact of the RF waves on your phone. At very high levels, RF waves can actually generate heat – which might be why you notice that your ear gets warm after using the phone all day.

Are cell phone towers dangerous? Cancer Studies

When questioning, “are cell phone towers dangerous?” many people worry about cancer.

Various forms of ionizing RF frequencies, like x-rays, have been linked to cancer and the development of cancerous tumors in the past. However, the same can’t generally be said for non-ionizing waves like those that connect with your cell phone. Cell tower waves can only have an impact on your body at extremely high levels – much higher than the levels required to transmit your voice from your phone, to the base station, then to another phone user.

Even if you were exposed to significant levels of cell phone radiation, it’s unlikely that it would cause any actual damage. As mentioned above, high levels of waves can warm your body slightly, but the energy that these waves give off isn’t enough to break any chemical bonds in DNA molecules. With radiation waves that can cause cancer, the breakdown of DNA cells is usually the first step in causing any lasting damage.

picture showing cancer mutation produced by ionizing radiation

There are other reasons that cell phone tower frequencies are usually deemed “safe” by the experts. For instance, RF waves from a cell tower have longer wavelengths, which can only concentrate down to about an inch or two in size. In other words, the waves aren’t small enough to affect specific cells in your body. Even if these waves could interact with individual cells in the body, the level of waves you can access at ground level is very low.

The RF waves from an antenna at a cell phone tower direct towards the horizon, which means that by the time they reach our level, they’ve usually scattered and are less concentrated. Near typical base stations for the cellular grid, the ground energy is hundreds or thousands of times lower than the limits the US FCC has set for exposure to these kinds of waves.

Even if you lived right on top of a cell phone tower, the ground level of the radio waves transmitted isn’t much different from the background levels that you’re exposed to in urban areas anyway. Remember, you’re usually exposed to around 100 million times more electromagnetic radiation in your life today than your grandparents were.

Even without cell phone towers and 5G towers to consider, the human landscape today is filled with microwave antennas, television signals, and other wireless transmissions.

Are cell phone towers dangerous? Other issues

How are cell phone towers dangerous in other ways, then? We know for instance, that cell phones can cause acne, but how worrisome are the towers that support cell phone signals?

So, what if you were able to concentrate the amount of radiation you received from a cell phone tower? Maybe by standing on the roof with a cellular antenna? It is possible that if you were standing right next to an antenna you would be exposed to a higher, more dangerous level of radiation, but it’s difficult to know what kind of impact this would have.

Even the level of energy that you get from RF waves inside the building where a base station is mounted isn’t strong enough to cause any real damage. Antennas are always pointed away from the building, and wood or cement blocks automatically reduce the energy from a set of RF waves.

x-ray of the human body showing Human Energy Fields

Some people still believe that radio frequencies from cell towers could be behind various forms of ailments. For instance, there are people who say that the radio waves from cellphones interfere with the natural electromagnetic frequency of the body. These individuals believe that people who a high level of sensitivity to EMF frequencies can suffer from conditions like:

  • Headaches
  • Cognitive issues
  • Memory loss
  • Brain fog
  • Cardio stress
  • Low sperm count

However, there doesn’t seem to be any significant evidence to indicate that cell phone waves would have any influence on your health at all. No leading organizations like the NTP or IARC have classified cell phone towers as a potential cancer risk. Although the FCC have set safety limits for how much of a radio frequency a person should be exposed to, the federal government says that they don’t believe there’s any real hazard to people living close to cell towers.

What Do Experts Say About RF Signals?

So, there’s no obvious data that indicates cell phone towers would be dangerous, but what about RF waves in general? The International Agency for Research on Cancer did say that RF radiation was “possibly carcinogenic” to humans in 2011, although there doesn’t seem to be a lot of information available in this study.

More recently, the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) in the USA issued a full report based on the results of various studies published between the years of 2008 and 2018. The research also included an overview of national trends in cancer rates. The report found that there was insufficient evidence to support a casual connection between radio frequency radiation, and the formation of tumors.

The information available so far is limited, but it seems to indicate that RF waves given off by cell phone towers don’t have enough energy to do the DNA damage required for any significant health problems. While some studies do indicate possible increased rates of specific tumor types in rats, and lab animals, those studies don’t have any conclusive answers.

A large set of studies published by the National Toxicology Program of the US on cell tower activity exposed groups of mice and lab rats to RF waves. The animals were exposed to waves all over their bodies for several hours per day, starting before birth and continuing throughout their lives. The studies found a slightly increased risk of uncommon heart tumors in rats, called malignant Schwannomas. However, these tumors only appeared in male rats, and didn’t affect the mice.

picture showing how Cell Phone Radiation Affects your Brain's Activity when you are talking on phone

Scientists have since said that the limitations of the studies make it difficult to know how the tumor growth findings would apply to humans if they were exposed to RF waves on a consistent basis. The International Commission of Non-Ionizing radiation protection conducted a review of the studies at a later date in 2019 and said that it wasn’t possible to draw any significant conclusions about the ability of RF waves to cause issues like cancer.

Are cell phone towers dangerous to people living nearby?

Although many people have asked the question “are cell phone towers dangerous?” over the years, there aren’t a lot of reports that specifically look at the connection between living next to a cell tower and having a higher risk of cancer. The results of the studies that are available are a little bit difficult to use as absolute evidence of any conclusive answers.

Scale showing the frequency range of the electromagnetic spectrum.

For instance, in the UK, a study compared the families of young children with cancer, to families of children without cancer, and found no link between the exposure a mother had to cell phone towers during pregnancy. The research looked at the amount of energy from the RF waves that came from nearby towers and determined that childhood cancer didn’t seem to be linked to exposure to cell tower radiation.

Elsewhere, researchers in Taiwan conducted a similar study comparing children with cancer to a group of children that did not have cancer. The studies found a slightly higher risk of cancer overall for children who lived in towns with a significant amount of exposure from cellphone towers. However, this finding was less apparent when they examined the impact of radio frequencies in other ways.

Both of the studies notably relied on estimations of the amount of exposure the children had to radio frequencies each day. Neither study actually measured the exposure to RF waves from nearby cellphone towers, making it difficult to determine whether there are any specific conclusions to be drawn.

Are cell phone towers dangerous with regular exposure?

So are cell phone towers dangerous? It’s difficult to say much for certain.

The research available on whether cell phone use could have an impact on human health is even less helpful than the studies for cell tower exposure. According to several dozen studies, there are no links between the growth of possibly cancerous tumors in people who use cell phones regularly, and the radio waves emitted by those cellphones.

There aren’t any reports available right now that directly link cell phone use to an increased risk of cancer. However, some experts do believe that regular cell phone use could lead to other health issues. For instance, exposure to blue light from a cellphone could be a factor in depression and other mental health problems caused by sleep deprivation. Studies do indicate that exposure to all kinds of blue light can affect the way we sleep, and therefore have a significant impact on health.

a woman using phone in bed in blue light

Over-exposure to the bright lights of cell phones could also cause headaches or eye strain in some cases. However, there’s no evidence that a cell phone would cause any lasting damage to the brain or eyes at this time. Currently, scientists have reported various adverse effects that may have a link to cell phone use. For instance, over-excessive use of cellphones might harm your sleep patterns, reaction times, and brain activity. However, additional study is necessary before we know for sure.

There’s also a slight risk for people who use cellphones next to medical devices, like implantable defibrillators, pacemakers, and some hearing aids. The interaction of different electromagnetic waves could cause some interference. You probably already have an idea of how phones can interfere with electronics if you’ve ever been asked to switch your device off on an airline.

Because the biggest risks of cell phones are generally linked to trouble sleeping, issues with concentration, and limited focus, scientists have also seen an increase in traffic accidents when users have constant access to a phone. Even when people use hands-free kits, the risk of potential collisions is much higher than it is for those not using phones at all.

Are cell phone towers dangerous with 5G?

The availability of 5G is spreading at a rapid pace. Experts like telecoms company Ericsson believe that 5G internet will spread over around 65% of the global population by 2025. As the latest innovation in cell tower technology, 5G is unsurprisingly attracting a lot of attention.

You might assume that fifth generation networks are exactly the same as 4G and standard cellphone networks. However, that’s not necessarily the case. 5G networks work very differently to the standard cell phone towers, transmitting much larger amounts of data over shorter periods of time.

So, what do the wavelengths look like from a 5G cell tower?

Earlier generation networks used RF wavelengths underneath the region of around 6 GHz. While some 5G networks will still use solutions in this range, others will require higher-frequency wavelengths that fall at the lower end of the spectrum, usually around 30 Ghz and 300 Ghz.

In layman’s terms, the RF waves transmitted by the 5G landscape are higher in frequency than the older generation solutions, they’re still classified as non-ionizing radiation. This means that they can’t directly damage DNA.  

Another point to note is that the higher frequency waves transmitted by modern 5G towers will only travel very short distances. Like your standard radiofrequency waves from cell towers, these can’t go through solid objects like buildings. 5G networks do sometimes require more, smaller versions of the standard cell tower base stations. These small cell stations are sometimes mounted on utility poles, streetlights, and various building structures around the world.

The presence of multiple smaller cell tower base stations mean that 5G antennas are usually much smaller to people in their day-to-day lives. However, it’s worth remembering that these small cells operate at a much smaller power level than the bigger base stations for your basic cell phone frequencies. The biggest concern that most people have about 5G towers is that extra, small cell stations dotted around the urban landscape could ultimately expose more people to a greater number of RF waves.

Are Cell Phone Towers Dangerous?

Importantly, the high-frequency RF waves that come from 5G towers are less able to penetrate into the body than lower waves. This may mean that their less likely to have potential health effects. Unfortunately, like with standard cell tower radiation, it’s difficult to determine whether there are any risks, as research into these issues is still underway.

At this time, however, there has been very little study demonstrating that radiofrequency waves in 5G cell tower technology could have any negative impact on the human body.

The same applies to standard cell phone towers, which don’t seem to pose any danger to our health on a significant scale. However, if you’re concerned about any radiofrequency waves or radiation from your phone and cell towers, you can always choose to cut back on your usage.

Due to the damage caused to sleep and concentration by standard cell phones, it’s usually recommended to manage your cellphone time carefully anyway.

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