SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — In 2017 Sacramento became one of the first cities in the nation to launch 5G high-speed internet service. Now some people say those radio signals are creating health hazards in their homes.
Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg is trying to position the city as a demonstration hub for new technology, but with anything new comes questions about public safety.
As Verizon puts up hundreds of antennas around the city, some parents worry about potential risks.
"I'm losing sleep, we're just concerned about our daughters," Aaron McMahon said.
Aaron and Hannah McMahon have a 5G cell site on a pole right outside their Pocket neighborhood home. They're worried about cancer or other long-term health effects on their six and three-year-old daughters living so close to a transmitter beaming a radio signal 24 hours a day.
"We had a few experts come out and told us we were living in a microwave," Aaron McMahon said.
"It's scary, it's a hard situation to be in," Hannah McMahon said. "They can't tell me that something that's fairly new, and relatively untested, is not gonna be harmful in 10-15 years."
Sacramento was one of the first cities in the nation to get Verizon's 5G high-speed technology. But some say it was done with little debate over putting transmitters in neighborhoods.
"They got sold on flashy and new, and smart city and they didn't think of the people who have to live through the testing, live through the radiation," Hannah McMahon said.
Unlike traditional cellphone transmitters which are often on buildings or towers, 5G cell sites are placed on poles near homes and businesses. More than 600 have already been installed, just a fraction of the amount needed to provide citywide coverage, and the city has little say as to where they can be placed.
So the city commissioned an independent study led by UC Davis professor Jerrold Bushberg.
"These are very low levels of exposure, and the standards are similar to those used around the world," said Professor Bushberg.
Bushberg said not all radiation is the same, and there are no adverse consequences at low levels of exposure. The FCC sets guidelines for exposure to cell signals.
"The FCC is supposed to protect us, and we don't feel their guidelines protect us as is," said Aaron McMahon.
Professor Bushberg says the Sacramento sites do not pose a health risk of any nature, that they tested well below the safety limits, in fact, he says the safety standard is set 50 times below a level that's potentially harmful to our health.
"So if you were to exceed the threshold, you'd have to hug the antenna, you'd have to climb up the pole, grab a hold of the antenna," said Bushberg. "Because these are directional antennas, the energy is focused out towards the horizon. Not downward where people are....and energy spreads out as it moves away, so when you're 10 times further away, it doesn't go down by a factor of 10, it goes down by 10 squared."
Sacramento has turned on the world's first commercial 5G network, but some parents say at what cost?
"My biggest hope is that in 20 years it's safe, but my biggest fear is that its not," said Hannah McMahon.
The city says they will make sure FCC rules are followed, and that the cells are aesthetically pleasing.
The council is expected to take up 5G next week, that's when professor Bushberg will present his findings.
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