Smart meters an uncontrolled experiment on public health

Vancouver Courier December 9, 2011

This week, The City of North Vancouver called on the provincial government to halt plans to install smart meters or allow the program’s inspection by the B.C. Utilities Commission. In California, 43 cities, towns or counties have publicly opposed the devices, with 11 jurisdictions banning them outright. Are civic leaders bowing to pressure from paranoid Luddites, or are they wising up to a multibillion-dollar boondoggle that’s outfitting homes with fry-and-spy devices? Or is the answer huddling somewhere in between the contending claims?

The public debate about electromagnetic emissions has never moved me that much, for one simple reason: the inverse square law. Move a few feet away from a power source and the emission strength drops off greatly. It comes down to cumulative exposure over time. There might be problem in the making if you hold a cellphone a few inches from your brain for hours every day-or there might not be. It all depends on which expert you ask. Both cell phones and smart meters employ radio frequency electromagnetic radiation, and there is no scientific consensus on the health effects of radio frequency (RF) fields.

At Olson manor, our old analogue meter is positioned on the wall outside my wife’s office, just inches away from her desk. It is also only a few feet away from our sleeping heads in the main bedroom downstairs. B.C. Hydro insists on replacing it with a smart meter, and the inverse square law has come back to haunt me: emission strength scales up exponentially as you move closer to a radiation source.

B.C. Hydro claims that exposure to radio frequency during a 20-year lifespan of a smart meter is equivalent to the exposure from a single 30-minute cellphone call. Not so, according to social scientist Daniel Hirsch, a senior lecturer on nuclear policy at the University of Santa Cruz. At a 10-foot distance, the whole body exposure to radio frequency from a smart meter may be up to 80 times higher than the whole body radio frequency exposure from a cellphone.

In an interview on the news site indybay.org, Hirsch was asked what health risks these devices present to the public. “We don’t know,” he replied. “At the moment it’s uncertain what the health effect is from RF radiation. It could turn out to be significant. It could turn out to be insignificant. It’s a large experiment on a very large population and a big chunk of that experiment is involuntary.”

The lecturer draws a parallel between the current smart meter debate and the past debate on nuclear energy safety, with respect to the sluggishness of health officials to understand and acknowledge the risks of latent illnesses from cumulative doses of atomic radiation.

Dr. David Carpenter is a Harvard Medical School-trained physician who headed up the New York State Dept. of Public Health for 18 years, before becoming dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Albany. In an interview with Maine’s Smart Meter Safety Coalition, Carpenter calls the safety assurances from the energy industry “absolutely false.”

“While no one has actually done human health studies in relation to people living in homes with smart meters, we have evidence from a whole variety of other sources that demonstrates convincingly and consistently that exposure to radio frequency radiation at elevated levels for long periods of time increases the risk of cancer, increases damage to the nervous system, causes electrosensitivity, has adverse reproductive effects and a variety of other effects on different organ systems,” says Carpenter.

Carpenter insists it should be up to each individual if he or she “wants to be continually exposed, 24-7, to elevated levels of RF radiation. So an informed person should demand that they be allowed to keep their analogue meter.”

In February, Olle Johansson, a professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, issued a press release stating that “the combined effect of cell phones, cordless phones, cell towers, WiFi and wireless Internet place billions of people around the world at risk for cancer, neurological disease and reproductive and developmental impairments.”

Claims like this about the safety of RF fields should concern us, if it means a massive, long-term, uncontrolled experiment on public health. No wonder some of the lab rats in B.C. are calling for a referendum on smart meters.

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