What impact does radiation from communication technologies have on animals and plants?

Responding to public concerns about the effects of new telecommunications technologies, like 5G, on the natural environment, Australia’s radiation safety regulator and Swinburne University investigated the evidence, developing a systematic map of 334 studies; 237 relating to effects on animals and 97 about plants.

Lead author and Health Impact Assessment Assistant Director at Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), Associate Professor Ken Karipidis says “this map presents all the available research on the impact of radio waves on plants and animals in the environment. It specifically highlights areas where further research is required.”

Exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from telecommunications sources is one of the most common and fastest growing human effects on the environment, the paper says.

While there are established international guidelines for limiting human exposure to these kinds of non-ionising radiation, there are no equivalent guidelines for protecting animals and plants.

The systemic map will help inform the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection in work currently underway on a statement about the environmental effects of radio waves.

The researchers say community groups and members of the public have expressed concerns about the impact of radiofrequency electromagnetic fields on animals and plants, citing the lack of research into these issues. For example, a particular public concern is the impact of 5G on bee colonies.

They say the mapping exercise provides an opportunity to analyse issues where there are clusters of studies, such as the effects on insect and bird reproduction, development and behaviour and grain and legume gemination and growth. 

The paper published in Environmental Evidence also indicates areas requiring further research, particularly given knowledge gaps and the poor quality of many studies.

“Future research should investigate the effect of radio waves at higher frequencies such as those used by 5G and future technologies,” Karipidis says.

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