Is 5G technology so dangerous that technicians have to wear hazmat suits to install it? A graphic widely shared on Facebook in South Africa suggests so. It shows a person in white overalls, standing on a crane and, it seems, repairing telecoms equipment.
The text reads: “5G guy wearing a fucking hazmat radiation suit”. This is echoed in a comment below the image: “5G tower install requires hazmat suit to install.”
A hazmat suit – short for hazardous materials suit – is a whole-body garment worn to protect people against dangerous materials.
The term “5G” stands for the “fifth generation” of mobile internet connectivity, set to replace the current 4G technology. It promises “much faster data download and upload speeds, wider coverage and more stable connections”, according to the BBC.
But is it dangerous? And what’s really happening in the photo?
‘Non-ionising radiation does not have enough energy’
Leon du Toit, deputy director of radiation control at the South African health ministry, told Africa Check that non-ionising radiation refers to “radiowaves or microwaves used for telecommunications (radio, TV, cellphones), heating (microwave ovens and industrial applications) and medical purposes (electrosurgery)”.
He added that non-ionising radiation “does not possess enough energy by a long shot to damage the DNA of any person, and there exists no scientific evidence that exposure to non-ionising radiation could cause cancer”. So no hazmat suit would be needed while working on a cellphone tower – 5G or 4G.
Africa Check spoke to the technical team at Vodacom, a South African mobile communications company. We asked whether a worker would have to wear a hazmat suit when installing 5G and if the hazmat suit would actually help against radiation.
“No, a hazmat suit is required for working with ionising radiation, which is totally different to the non-ionising emissions from radio equipment,” said Vodacom.
Worker probably cleaning 4G phone tower
Earlier in 2019 fact-checking organisation Full Fact found that the person shown in the graphic was probably not installing 5G, “but wearing protective clothing to clean a 4G mobile phone tower”.
“The structure in the picture looks like a monopalm, which is a type of 4G mobile phone tower seen in the US that’s adapted to look like a palm or other common tree.”
Fact-checking site Snopes has also debunked the claim: “Scientifically, this claim makes zero sense. While cellphone towers in general do use electromagnetic radiation, the form is non-ionising.” – Taryn Willows
Republish our content for free
For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false
A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?
Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.Publishers guide
Africa Check teams up with Facebook
Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.
The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.
You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.