Dozens of Wood River Valley residents filed into Ketchum City Hall on Monday night to warn council members of incoming perils related to 5th-generation wireless technology. Among their belongings were bookmarked “Stop 5G in 5B” packets, legal pads for note-taking and cell phones protected in special radiation-blocking cases.
By the end of the two-hour discussion—during which most speakers made passionate appeals and ran over their designated three minutes—City Council members appeared to take the residents’ comments to heart.
“From a public safety standpoint, I think [5G] is something we need to fight,” Councilman Jim Slanetz said after the public-comment section.
Actively preventing 5G from entering the Wood River Valley, however, could have costly legal ramifications. In January of last year, the Federal Communications Commission thwarted the ability of local government leaders to block 5G infrastructure, like small-cell nodes, from infiltrating their communities.
But that order didn’t seem to be a deterrent for Stop 5G in 5B members, who mobilized via a grassroots movement in December to push for a moratorium on 5G until the technology can be proven safe.
“The [telecommunications] industry has to prove it’s safe before deployment. We need to be 100 percent sure,” said Sun Valley Institute Director Aimée Christensen on Monday.
What 5G is
Last year, 5G—or 5th-generation technology for cellular networks—began replacing its 4G predecessor. Today, 5G is available to Samsung Galaxy users in over 30 U.S. cities from Boise to Miami.
The new communication standard relies on millimeter waves at the higher-frequency end of the radio spectrum to transmit data. (While 4G, which uses radio waves, can transmit data at speeds up to 100 megabits per second, 5G is estimated to delivery data at 10 gigabits per second.)
There’s no question that 5G offers radically faster internet speeds than 4G—as well as decreased buffering times and the ability to revolutionize self-driving cars. Its shorter wavelengths, however, require small-cell nodes to be positioned throughout a city about every block.
Several 5G critics on Monday night said the frequencies emitted from the nodes are worrisome.
“[5G] is going to cripple, kill and destroy all living things,” valley resident Jim Hungelmann said. “This is a crime, an assault. It’s the same as taking a fork and stabbing someone. The attack is upon us.”
Many speakers said studies on 5G’s millimeter waves have been woefully lacking, and contended that health consequences could include autism, cancer and dementia. Longtime valley resident Cheryl Hymas’ approach was to offer the council tips to protect their homes from 5G and Wi-Fi.
“Don’t go to bed next to your cell phone. Don’t use wireless devices. You can buy an [electromagnetic frequency] protector cover, too,” she said.
Dick English, however, said 5G’s effects don’t need to be neutralized. That’s because radiofrequency waves—which include microwaves, visible light and radio waves—are a type of nonionizing radiation, he said, and cannot cause DNA damage.
“X-rays are ionizing radiation. What we’re talking about it is not ionizing—it doesn’t cause physical injury,” he said. “We need to calm down about 5G.”
Agencies such as the FCC, the World Health Organization and the American Cancer Society each back up English’s assertion.
“At relatively low levels of exposure to [radiofrequency] radiation … the evidence for production of harmful biological effects is ambiguous and unproven,” the FCC stated in 2018.
Council President Amanda Breen said she would be hesitant to pass a moratorium against 5G without adequate proof of harm, but Councilman Michael David said time is of the essence—and a moratorium could be appealed if necessary.
“We need to be prepared,” David said. “5G is coming at us quickly.”
City attorney Bill Gigray said an anti-5G ordinance could be crafted, but the city would need sufficient evidence of the technology’s adverse effects if it were to go to court.
As the meeting drew to a close, Hungelmann spoke out of turn to ask Bradshaw to proclaim March as “5G Awareness Month.”
“This is a public meeting, not a meeting with the public,” the mayor said. “Respect for the process is important.”