On a chill Sunday evening late last month, 70 concerned citizens packed into Addison Road Community Centre in Sydney for a 5G information evening.
A man with wild hair and a bushy grey beard met me at the entrance. “Welcome brother,” he said as I entered.
A documentary about the dangers of wireless radiation – Generation Zapped – was playing. Two older ladies busily scribbled down notes. A young man in a hoodie covered in vegan slogan patches kept whispering loudly to his partner: “See?!”
This was Sydney’s first ‘Community Forum Exploring the Hidden Dangers of 5G Radiation’, one of a number of similar information evenings held across the country in recent weeks.
Most here had found out about the event on Facebook, in groups and on pages like Stop 5G Australia (with close to 5000 members) and We Say NO To 5G in Australia (with nearly 7500 followers). There are more localised, affiliated anti-5G groups too, like Stop 5G Northern Rivers and No 5G in the Blue Mountains, where support was rallied for a coordinated, three city march in June. Another group protested outside a Northern Rivers’ council chambers last month to call for a moratorium on the rollout.
A man in a leather jacket grabbed a microphone and introduced himself as Vic Leach from the Oceania Radiofrequency Scientific Advisory Association, a group of retired scientists who maintain a database of research relating to electromagnetic radiation and human exposure.
Leach described a condition called electro-magnetic sensitivity, which he claimed was caused by Wi-Fi and mobile signals. The database proved it, he said. The condition (which is not recognised by the majority of medical doctors) will likely get worse because of the mmWave technology needed for 5G, Leach said.
They didn’t think asbestos or smoking was dangerous for decades before they did, Leach added.
ORSAA’s president Dr Julie McCredden appeared next, via Skype, speaking earnestly about alleged links between electromagnetic signals and anxiety, mental illness, autism and Alzheimer's. “We hope the world has time. It may not be war that kills us, it may be we do it to ourselves,” she concluded.
A break. The bearded man reset the Facebook Live feed that had been streaming the event and pointed people towards the urn at the back of the room. Someone brought out a huge glass dish of sliced apples and carrot sticks.
Later a self-declared “anti-ageing medicine expert” wearing a maroon Paisley shirt called Dr Russell Cooper spoke. 5G’s origins, Cooper said, “was early military technology for crowd silencing”.
There is little basis to any of the speakers’ claims. The Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), which sets the standards around radiofrequency electromagnetic energy exposure limits, last month spoke out against the rise of ‘misinformation’.
“Contrary to some claims, there are no established health effects from the radio waves that the 5G network uses,” ARPANSA said.
Regulator of the radio wave limits, the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), says “allowable electromagnetic energy exposure levels are set well below levels at which harm to people may occur”.
Most health authorities globally, as well as the World Health Organisation, agree. But the anti-5G groups do not, and they are determined to make the roll-out of 5G infrastructure as difficult as possible for telcos.
Today’s 4G macro cell base stations – usually installed on towers or roof tops – can serve areas up to several kilometres. ‘Second wave’ 5G uses what is called millimetre waves – mmWaves – in a higher slice of the radio frequency spectrum and able to carry more information. Because of their higher frequencies, mmWaves can travel less far, so networks require more base stations called small cells.
Optus predicts it will need “potentially 10 times more” small cells to cover the same area as a macro cell. They are likely to be seen on light, power and tram poles, at bus stops, railway stations and on advertising panels.
Typically, telcos do not require local council or government approval to install small cell equipment. This is to “bring you better, cheaper services in the fastest possible time” ACMA says, and leaves anti-5G campaigners little opportunity to resist.