Cell phone towers continue to pop up, especially with the spread of 5G. Areas that were once dead zones now have signal, meaning that more people than ever before are finding themselves living in close proximity to a cell tower. With that, it’s natural to wonder — is living near a cell phone tower safe?
It turns out, that’s a tricky question to answer. In an attempt to do so, we will need to go over the basics of cell tower radiation, as well as some of the existing research. We’ll also touch on 5G and the unique issues with millimeter-wave towers.
Let’s dive in.
Cell tower radiation
When you place a call on your cell phone, it uses radiofrequency waves to send a signal to your provider’s nearest cell tower. The cell tower transmits that signal to a central hub that connects your call. A cell tower’s range varies based on terrain and other factors, but generally, it’s two miles on the low end and 10 miles at the higher end. Note that this is for 4G — we’ll talk about 5G ranges a little later.
The radiofrequency waves that are sent and received by a cell tower are a form of EMF radiation. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulates tower radiation and has set the acceptable limit at 580 microwatts per square centimeter. While most towers do operate well within this limit, there is still evidence to suggest that prolonged exposure could be tied to health problems. In fact, the World Health Organization’s International Association for Research on Cancer classifies RF-EMF radiation as “possibly carcinogenic for humans” and acknowledges that more research is necessary.
Cancer, along with other health issues due to EMF radiation exposure, is even more of a risk to children because of their thinner skulls.
In addition to cancer, other health effects associated with RF-EMF radiation include male fertility problems, miscarriages, neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, and hormonal changes. And those suffering from a condition called Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) may experience a number of unpleasant symptoms when near a source of RF-EMF radiation, including nausea, dizziness, itchiness, and insomnia.
Cell tower studies
Not many studies on the safety of cell towers exist, especially when it comes to long-term effects. The studies that do exist are usually small-scale. It’s important to keep in mind that, although a small-scale study may find one thing, those results must be repeated on a much larger scale before we can truly draw conclusions from it.
Nevertheless, the studies that are out there seem to indicate that more research is needed. For example, a 1998 study looked at instances of cancer in those living near a transmitter in Italy. Even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors, there was a statistically significant increase in mortality in an area with a high leukemia rate.
In another study, researchers compared cancer rates of those living near a cell phone tower in Isreal with those living in another, nearby area. The actual rates of exposure in the homes nearest the cell tower were well below the legal limit, and yet, there were significantly higher rates of cancer in the tower group versus the control. The increase was particularly high for females, although researchers did note that the study took place over the course of fewer than two years. A longer-term study could yield different results.
For more studies on cell phone tower radiation, see our guide to Cell Phone Dangers.
There are actually three types of 5G towers. The first two are very similar in frequency and range to 4G, so we won’t discuss them here. For our purposes, we’re most concerned with high-band, or millimeter-wave 5G towers. For a more detailed explanation of all 5G technology, see 5G Technology Explained.
High-band 5G towers operate at a much higher frequency than other types of cell towers — between 24 and 39GHz. Because of that, even less is known about the safety of millimeter waves. These cell towers are generally scattered throughout dense urban areas. They are known for having weak signal strengths that cannot easily penetrate obstacles, which means cell phone companies have to install a lot of them in order for even a small geographic area to be covered in signal.
Due to its short-range, high-band 5G is really only intended for cities and other crowded areas. If you live in a suburb or somewhere more rural, odds are you will be covered by low-band and mid-band 5G towers and not millimeter waves. For those who do live or work in a city, however, these towers could pose a potential health risk.
Is living near a cell phone tower safe?
The truth is, no one can definitively answer that question. The subject hasn’t been extensively studied, and yet we build more and more towers every year. That alone could be a cause for concern.
Without more research, it’s necessary to go over the facts and make a determination for yourself. If you’re truly unsure, it may be worth investing in an EMF meter and testing the levels around your home with your cell phone, WiFi, and electronics unplugged or at least powered off. You’ll want a meter that is capable of detecting radiofrequency radiation, such as the TF2 from TriField. If the EMF levels are high outside and inside your home, it’s very possible that cell tower radiation is contributing to that.
If you are concerned about cell towers, we have a few resources available to help.
The first step is to find out where your closest cell towers are. We have a step-by-step guide to locating 5G cell towers, as well as one for locating 4G cell towers, that breaks down how you can pinpoint their location.
Once you’ve determined where your nearest tower is, find out what you can do to protect yourself and your family by checking out our guide to what to do if your house is near a cell phone tower. In it, we discuss what you can do to lower your family’s overall exposure and decrease the risk to your health.