OMG 5G Internet is coming and it promises to fulfill all our communication dreams with truly seamless connectivity and practically unlimited data. 5G’s going to make Big Data into Fast Data and Ubiquitous Data, connecting and automating everything. Soon the very idea of an Internet-free space will seem hopelessly antiquated, and tolerance for slow video buffering will drop to historic lows.

The way marketers talk about the much-anticipated “5G,” or Fifth Generation, of mobile wireless technologies (scheduled for mass rollouts by 2020), you could be forgiven for thinking there are no drawbacks at all associated with unprecedented data density. More and faster is always better, right? That’s the 5G promise — blanket saturation of everyday spaces with “connectivity” to an unprecented degree.

When you fill a space with “connectivity,” what are you really filling it with? Electromagnetic radiation. All the wireless communications we know and love depend on the propagation of electromagnetic (EM) waves through space to transmit our data from one place to another. We can’t see these low-frequency waveforms, but we increasingly shareli our lives with them.

On the eve of the 5G revolution, it’s a sensible time to review how all this radiation affects our bodies and our health. After all, we humans are highly sensitive, complex electromagnetic beings. Like all plants, animals, and the biosphere itself, our bodies depend on complex choreographies of EM signalling. What does it mean to drown out the natural bioelectromagnetosphere 24/7 with our incessant texts and cat videos? And what will a world of 5G-level radiation do to our bodies? The answers may surprise you.

Do wireless technologies really cause health problems?

Actually, yeah. It depends on the person and the level and kind of exposure. But yeah. While there’s no shortage of interested parties ready to mock the very idea as conspiracy, it’s nonetheless a fact, and perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of the Information Age: There is a dark side to techno bliss, and it’s called “electrosmog” — toxic electromagnetic fields that fiddle with the electrons in our brains and do all sorts of other nefarious things at a cellular level.

Yes, it is true that modern communications only utilize non-ionizing and low-frequency transmissions. It has long been taken for granted that non-ionizing, low-frequency radiation is inherently harmless. However, science has uncovered a range of impacts on biological tissues unique to lower frequencies. Some of the most troubling effects occur with the extremely low frequency (ELF) modulated signals used by cell phones, routers, and other common devices. These can propagate waves at the same frequencies as many delicate electro-physiological processes in the body, thereby causing them to malfunction.

Low-frequency EM fields have been investigated exhaustively on a global scale for decades, a fact crystallized by the efforts of the Bioinitiative Working Group, an international collaborative project involving prominent scientists and public health experts. In 2007, the Group released a milestone report summarizing the results of more than two thousand studies investigating the effects of weak electromagnetic fields.

“We now have a critical mass of evidence, and it gets stronger every day,” says David Carpenter, MD, coauthor of the report and director of Institute for Health and the Environment at the University of Albany.

While there is plenty of evidence that weak EM fields can do damage, it is also true that different people are affected in different ways. For some, no problems of significance may develop. But for others, the impacts can be severe. Irresponsible usage of mobile high-tech hardware is particularly dangerous for children and pregnant women, as well as the growing number of people with electromagnetic sensitivity — EMF allergies — and those with medical implants easily messed up by ambient EM pollution. And that’s to say nothing of plantsand animals, which are usually much more vulnerable than humans.

If toxic EM radiation has been growing in step with mobile telecommunications all this time, it’s now headed for the boost of a lifetime with 5G connectivity. 5G will make it a lot harder to avoid EM fields, even as they multiply in intensity. The sources of high-energy radiation are going to be everywhere — much more tightly packed than today’s 3G/4G cell-tower infrastructure. Here’s why.

The Fifth Generation of mobile connectivity (and whatever comes after it) will depend on governments making available new higher-frequency airwaves — parts of the spectrum that haven’t been used much for mass communications so far. Expansion into Gigahertz (Ghz) territory is necessary to crack open more bandwidth for a much-anticipated global economic expansion. Higher-performance frequencies will be needed to move data on behalf of “Industry 4.0,” the Internet of Things, self-driving cars, lots more AI, smart sex dolls, smart socks, and so forth.

The gigahertz and terahertz bands proposed for 5G are powerful enough to support a hyper-connected and automated economy/police state. However, you cannot transmit such high-speed data from centralized infrastructure like cell towers, because higher-energy waves can’t travel as far. It’s a trade-off baked into the physics. Thus, you need a lot more antennas to provide the same coverage. So the industry’s plan is to install thousands or millions of “small cells” instead — essentially a whole army of miniature high-gain cell towers.

Companies and governments want to densely deploy these mini cell towers across homes, neighborhoods, workplaces, campuses, parks, and more. The goal is to lay down a network dense enough for instant, continuous, seamless coverage everywhere, always, for realz.

Complete coverage sounds great, except it will also make it a whole lot harder to avoid electrosmog without becoming a hermit. If 5G yields electromagnetic pollution on steroids, what are the potential environmental and health consequences? More cancer? Further harms to pollinator populations? Accelerated collapse of endangered species? We don’t know exactly how bad it will get, or if the truth will even be told about the consequences when they occur.

Like billowing secondhand smoke, the new connectivity will affect everyone, not just those who buy in to the devices and connections. Risky exposures could become effectively mandatory in a majority of everyday spaces. But there is another way.

Many communities in the U.S. and around the world have acted to minimize their own exposures. Some jurisdictions have even banned EM-intensive technologies in sensitive situations where children, pregnant women or those with electrosensitivities may be at particular risk.

In France, for instance, Wi-Fi is not allowed in nursery schools. In Belgium, new cell phones must carry a label that says “Think about your health – use your mobile phone moderately, make your calls wearing an earpiece and choose a set with a lower SAR value.” In India, the Supreme Court has ruled that mobile towers cannot be located near hospitals, schools, and playgrounds due to radiation deemed “hazardous to life.”

It’s not that these places aren’t taking part in today’s tech and data markets. They’re just carving out safe spaces and issuing commonsense warnings based on conclusions rooted in research. This might be health-seeking behavior worth emulating!