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Smart meters emit radio-frequency radiation.  Although the scientific community has not achieved a consensus on the health effects of radio-frequency radiation (RFR), there is much peer reviewed research available suggestive of harmful health effects to living beings (humans, animals, birds, pollinator species, etc.). The following article is a brief summary of the issue, with particular focus on “smart” meters.

smart meter wireless radiation comparison

Inherent biases in industry sponsored research. What does science say about the health effects of “smart” meters? It depends upon who you ask. In 2006, Dr. Henry Lai, Professor Emeritus, University of Washington Department of Bioengineering did an analysis of studies on the health of effects of wireless and found that when research is funded by industry, negative health effects are found only 27% of the time, but when research is independently funded, health effects are found 68% of the time. Many others have noted the troubling discrepancies media biases and conflicts of interest which quite often minimize the harmful effects of radio-frequency radiation. For example here, here, here.

Product defense strategies aim to create doubt, obscure truth. In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as a Class 2B potential carcinogen. In 2014, Seattle City Light paid Dr. Asher Sheppard, a telecommunications industry consultant to help write their “White Paper” on AMI. Dr. Sheppard’s research has over the past dozen years been funded by among others – Verizon, Nokia, Comcast, and the Cellular Telephone and Internet Association.

Cleverly crafted language in disputing health risks of AMI is central to the industry tradition of “product defense strategy” first pioneered by the  tobacco industry in the 1950s. Many consulting firms specialize in this field today, with the manufacture of doubt in the public mind being their primary aim.

The Bio-Initiative Report (2012) analyzes thousands of studies on the effects of low-intensity electro-magnetic radiation. The authors, a multidisciplinary team of scientists and doctors from around the world, make a convincing case for the establishment of more stringent biologically based standards for wireless radiation. Eight branches of the federal government, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Fish and Wildlife Service, have lobbied the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to modernize their archaic “guidelines”, but their requests have thus far fallen on deaf ears.

FCC guidelines are outdated and controlled by industry. The FCC, currently headed by an ex-telecommunications executive, considers the question of wireless safety a closed case, relying on a half-century old guideline developed by the military which posits that the only negative effects from wireless radiation could be due to tissue heating. This “thermal” effect, dismisses the possibility that more subtle non-thermal biological harm could occur through continuous exposure. However, the Bio-Initiative Report offers ample evidence that there are indeed biological effects from continuous exposure to low level radio-frequency waves – effects such as disruption of voltage regulated calcium channels in cells and breakage in DNA chains.

With the “smart” meter global market potential estimated in the trillions over the coming decades, it is no surprise that well financed public relations campaigns have attempted to discredit concerns regarding the health effects of meters.

How often the meter pulses determines radiation exposure. In order to transmit your electrical usage data to the utility, “smart” meters have a transmitter which sends data via a radio signal in the 902 megahertz (mega= million) to 2.4 gigahertz (giga=billion) frequency range. (Note: For an excellent introduction to the issue of electro-magnetic radiation (EMR), including RFR, read “An Electronic Silent Spring“).  Although policy makers may debate the appropriate time interval of data transmission, as if such measures will mitigate concerns of microwave radiation, this debate is irrelevant to radiation exposure. The primary factor in determining the amount of microwave radiation exposure to living beings in the vicinity of the meter is not how often data is transmitted, but how often the meter generates electro-magnetic pulses and for that, one needs to take measurements. In some cases, meters have been measured generating pulses up to 190,000 times per day. That’s more than twice a second, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week three hundred sixty five days a year.

“Smart” meter radiation exposure much greater than from cell phone. Utilities will often claim that “smart” meters only transmit for a few minutes a day. Those “few minutes” are in actuality split into tens of thousands of brief pulses, each one lasting only a few microseconds in duration. Similarly, the utilities claim that the power density (i.e. the amount of power that can be measured near the meter) is comparable to a cell phone. However, the power output is reported by utilities as an average over time and does not take into account the intense peaks of energy which occur during the very brief pulses. When this clarification is factored in, “smart” meters emit considerably more radiation than cell phones.

The Bullet Analogy. If you mentally imagine the impact force of a bullet fired from a rifle the moment that it strikes a human being, one quickly realizes its lethality. However, if the impact force is averaged over time, one might be easily confused into believing the bullet is harmless. A “smart” meter is analogous to a gun, shooting high impact bursts of microwave radiation.

Exposure is 24/7. Additionally, “smart” meter radiation is continuous and involuntary, not limited to shorter intervals as is the case during cell phone use where people have the option to turn off their phone when not in use.

Mesh networks amplify exposure levels. Also, the cumulative effects of exposure from living within a network of radio-frequency emitting “smart” meters has never been considered, much less studied. Neighborhood collector nodes, where one “smart” meter collects and re-transmits the data from many meters will result in greatly elevated RF radiation to the inhabitants of that home, most likely without their consent or knowledge. Apartment buildings will  have banks of many smart meters, again resulting in elevated microwave radiation to nearby inhabitants.

Smart meter health effects have never been studied. In conclusion, there is ample evidence suggestive of harmful biological effects from RFR. Global re-insurance corporation, Swiss-Re, places “the unforseen consequences of electro-magnetic radiation” in its highest category of long range risk with regards to casualty losses.

Utility and industry sources often use statements like “to date, no adverse health effects have been established as being caused by mobile phone use”. Or, there is no “established link”, etc. Such carefully crafted language (see note 10), is indicative of product defense strategies. In other words, even considering the thousands of studies supporting the linkage between microwave radiation and biological health effects found in the Bio-Initiative Report, because there is controversy (much of it created by well-funded corporate campaigns), 100% certainty and agreement doesn’t exist.

The only thing we can say with certainty is that while there is ample evidence for concern, long term effects are unknown. “Smart” meter health effects have never been studied and the research related to wireless in general is still limited to the last few decades and does not take into account that today’s generation of children and young adults have much higher cumulative exposure than even ten years ago.


PowerDensity Table

Additional References and Resources:

An Electronic Silent Spring, by Katie Hirsch: An Electronic Silent Spring explores What is EMR? (Electromagnetic radiation emitted by wireless technologies like cell phones, cell towers, cordless DECT phones, Wi-Fi, and “smart” meters.

Dr. Henry Lai, Research Professor at University of Washington’s Bioengineering Department. At one point in Dr. Lai’s career, Motorola tried to get him fired from his post at UW after the damning results of his research on the dangers of radio-frequency radiation. Although they were unsuccessful, the corporate attack on his credibility did impact his ability to continue his research.

Impacts of “smart” meters on local wildlife: There are also negative effects being observed relating to negative impacts to wildlife – birds leaving areas where “smart” meters have been installed. It seems probable that the increased EMF smog from “smart” meters may negatively impact the deepening crisis of bee colony collapse disorder.

Science 101: Cherry Picking and Black Swans – a clear and succinct explanation of the Scientific Method and how it is being ignored by industry and government.

Scientific research of “smart” meters impact on bee populations

Take Back Your Power: An award winning documentary by Josh del Sol. The video can be streamed here.

The Bio-Initiative Report (2012) – A Rationale for Biologically-based Exposure Standards for Low-Intensity Electromagnetic Radiation.