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May. 18, 2022 | Wednesday
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NOTL councillor pushes debunked claims about 5G health effects
Coun. Wendy Cheropita. (File photo)

Niagara-on-the-Lake town councillor Wendy Cheropita has some concerns about the safety of 5G cellular networks, but they appear to be based on widely debunked, fringe conspiracy theories.

And last week she came within one vote of getting NOTL council to support the further exploration of 5G health effects based those theories.

Cheropita began spouting unscientific claims about 5G during a council meeting on Nov. 25, claiming that because it operates at a higher frequency than other networks, the signals can be harmful to children and pregnant mothers.

These claims have been widely debunked, including in a New York Times investigation into where the false claims about 5G are coming from.

Still, Cheropita told council she wanted to "have an open discussion and share a little bit of information" about 5G, which refers to the fifth generation of wireless communications.

"Number one, 5G is at a much higher frequency than any other cell frequency. It requires also significantly more antennas than any other form before it, including places like light posts, which could be in residential areas, near schools, and they are obviously operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week," she said.

"Health Canada to this point, apparently, is using 1920s data in order to assess the implications of 5G and there are serious, serious concerns that have been identified," she claimed.

Health Canada says otherwise.

"And there's some really smart people working behind the scenes, including the World Health Organization, a former CAO of Microsoft," Cheropita said.

"And what they have discovered in hundreds of scientific studies is that 5G will suppress the immune system of human beings. It has a negative effect on pregnant women and children, it can cause physical system changes, as well as cognitive changes, and cell damage affecting the cellular processes that play a role in cancer development."

There is no evidence to support any of those claims and 5G is widely considered safe by the science community.

While it is true 5G does operate at a higher radiofrequency (RF) and that effects can be harmful at high exposures, there are established exposure limits in Canada, "with a safety margin of at least 50-fold from the threshold for possible adverse health effects," according to available government information on radiofrequency.

According to Health Canada, "5G will operate using both the frequencies used by current mobile devices (e.g., 3G and 4G) as well as frequencies above 6GHz, also known as millimetre waves."

But those high frequencies have been used for years "in many applications, such as security-screening units at airports, police radar, remote sensors and technology in medicine," says a government of Canada information page about 5G.

"Based on the available scientific evidence, there are no health risks from exposures to the low levels of radiofrequency EMF emitted by cellphones and antenna installations," it continues.

The issue of misinformation surrounding 5G is also addressed.

"Misinformation and opinions on the health risks from exposure to radiofrequency EMF are increasing on social media and on the internet."

Cheropita suggested council "demand that Health Canada do some kind of comprehensive review" of 5G health implications and "transparency of the potential health effects and to investigate and have Health Canada report on the specific health concerns that have already been identified."

However, Health Canada has already said it has no concerns with the radio frequency associated with 5G.

"Another frequent concern is the potential for radiofrequency EMF to increase risks of cancer. The scientific evidence does not support a link between exposure to radiofrequency EMF and cancer at the levels permitted by Canadian exposure guidelines," the government website says.

"While there have been some studies reporting an increase in incidence of brain cancer among long-term, heavy cellphone users, other studies conducted in many countries around the world, including studies assessing brain cancer trends among large populations, do not find changes in brain cancer incidence. This is despite widespread use of cellphones over the past 25 years."

Cheropita suggested other types of networks are safer.

"There are other options besides cell towers, like Bell Canada is putting in fibre optics right now. And that is much better and does not produce any of the same health implications as 5G," she said.

However, fiber optic is a form of cable and 5G is a wireless network. Cellphones cannot run on fibre optic alone and use networks like 5G to connect to the fiber backbone.

Cheropita was under the impression that additional 5G towers would be placed in NOTL by Telus, saying she got the information from a story in the Niagara Advance.

Interim chief administrator Sheldon Randall clarified that as far as he was aware, there are no plans for additional 5G towers in NOTL.

"I think some companies will be primarily using the infrastructure in the towers that they already have," he said, adding it’s not up to the municipality to decide acceptable radiofrequency levels.

"Unfortunately, we don't have a say in whether the technology is considered safe or not. That is Health Canada. We'd be more than happy to work with any councillors that would like to put any letters or ask for further clarity from Health Canada on what they consider to be safe or not safe for 5G."

Coun. Sandra O'Connor said she thought Cheropita did a "a good job of talking about some new health concerns of 5G," though she admitted she doesn't "pretend to understand" its complexities.

She pointed out that motions forwarded from the City of Niagara Falls regarding 5G, which sparked the discussion, were about the height of the towers, asking the federal government to be involved in assessing health concerns, and asking city staff to provide a report on liability if there is a 5G health claim on the city's insurance.

However, Coun. Clare Cameron fired back in defence of science.

"Not quite sure how to put this except to say that I do not share any of these health concerns," she said.

"And somebody has to stick up for science, especially in the time that we're living in. And I'm going back through history, people have expressed concerns about mysterious health ailments even from when electricity started going into people's homes."

She said her only concerns about 5G antennas in our community would be primarily aesthetic and logistical, "not one related to health concerns."

"Until a medical doctor is speaking to us about a proven, scientifically proven, concern, I just, I'm a little bit stunned that we've spent so much time even hearing this tonight," she said.

"But I simply want to express my confidence that there is not a mysterious health threat posed to our community by 5G."

Coun. Allan Bisback was quick to agree with Cameron.

"(She) beat me to it. She articulated all my comments and my views clearly. Until we have the medical professionals coming to talk to us, I think we should be very careful in what we're doing here. So I can't support this," he said.

Cheropita continued to try to convince council there are health concerns with 5G.

"Given that there's obviously not a consensus as to how people feel about 5G, and there are many, many, many scientific journals that have been produced that come from the scientific community" that she would like to see "an open public discussion to bring forward some of the scientific proof about the dangers of 5G."

She did not mention any specific scientific journal that says there is any health concern with 5G at approved Canadian levels.

Coun. Erwin Wiens pointed out the town has already signed a contract with Telus for 5G services.

"So it's almost sending out a mixed message," he said, adding he agrees with Cameron and Bisback about scientific evidence and thinks the issue is "outside the realm of the municipality."

Cheropita continued to say there are "lots of studies" that support her claims and that there should be "some kind of discussion."

"Perhaps I should think about it and come back with at least some specific evidence so that we can open up some discussions," she said.

Her motion to support Niagara Falls was narrowly defeated, with Couns. Gary Burroughs, Norm Arsenault, O'Connor and Cheropita voting to ask the "federal government to be further involved in the investigation of any health concerns with 5G technology."

The federal government website recommends a number of studies on its 5G page and clarifies a bit about the scientific process.

"There are criteria that scientists use in order to establish scientific evidence for the existence of an adverse health effect. The evidence needs to be reproducible to ensure the results were not random or due to other factors. The evidence needs to be consistent across studies; for example, the evidence is stronger if different types of studies (epidemiology and laboratory) point to the same conclusion. The evidence needs to be evaluated in its totality, meaning that both positive and negative results are evaluated on their own merit and then evaluated as a whole. Finally, the evidence needs to be generally accepted by the broader scientific community."

Despite Cheropita's claims about the World Health Organization finding hundreds of studies on 5G, the WHO information page on 5G says "to date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies. Health-related conclusions are drawn from studies performed across the entire radio spectrum but, so far, only a few studies have been carried out at the frequencies to be used by 5G."

Niagara's acting chief medical officer Dr. Mustafa Hirji told The Lake Report that people need to be careful about the information they share.

"There is unfortunately a large volume of incorrect information being spread during this pandemic – what the World Health Organization has dubbed the Infodemic."