Proponents of smart meters say the devices promote energy conservation by providing detailed feedback to consumers about their habits, but critics say the technology can be harmful to health and it poses real privacy concerns.
Smart meters — or “advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) installations” — are wireless devices that use radiofrequency (RF) radiation to transmit information about how much water, gas and electricity consumers use to utility companies.
The U.S. rolled out its first smart meters in 2009 when Congress introduced the Smart Grid Investment Grant (SGIG) program as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
According to the SGIG website, the program “aimed to accelerate the modernization of the nation’s electric transmission and distribution systems.”
In 2015, smart meters got a big push from the Obama administration, which funded the rollout of about 18 million smart meters.
In 2021, U.S. electric utility companies installed more than 111 million smart meters — roughly 88% of the meters were installed in personal residences.
Promoters of the technology argue the meters promote energy conservation because they measure and record electricity usage frequently and provide the data to the utility company and consumer at least once a day, allowing the consumer to get detailed feedback on their energy habits.
However, critics say the technology can be harmful to health, especially for those who experience electromagnetic sensitivity — and especially for children.
They also cite privacy and personal liberty concerns about how utility companies use the data collected by smart meters — and who they share that data with.
‘People unwittingly sleep … on the other side of the wall and get very, very ill’
“Smart meters are a bad idea because they use two-way radiofrequency microwave radiation to send your usage data for electric, gas, water, solar and propane energy,” said Cecelia Doucette, a technology safety educator and the director of Massachusetts for Safe Technology.
Doucette told The Defender that doctors at the 2021 EMF Medical Conference — where healthcare practitioners earned continuing education units on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of illness associated with electromagnetic fields (EMF) — underscored that “smart meters, close-range cell towers and 5G small cells are primary triggers of microwave sickness.”
“These meters are installed directly on our homes and elsewhere with no informed consent, and people unwittingly sleep or spend time on the other side of the wall and get very, very ill,” she added.
Richard Conrad, Ph.D., principal of the consulting service Conrad BioLogic, in 2013 published a study based on a survey of 210 individuals who considered themselves affected by smart meters.
The results showed “a full 97.6% of the 210 respondents were either very sure or fairly sure that their smart meter caused new or worsened symptoms.”
About 45% of the respondents believed the smart meters caused them to become electrically sensitive.
In 2018, the U.S. National Toxicology Program (NTP) — part of the National Institutes of Health — determined from a $30 million study that there was “clear evidence” that electromagnetic radiation (EMR) is associated with cancer and DNA damage.
Since then, more studies have linked EMR — including the RF radiation portion of the EMR spectrum — to many adverse health effects including tinnitus, fatigue, headaches, dizziness and disorientation and nausea and vomiting.
Children especially at risk
In 2021, researchers — including Beverly Rubik, Ph.D., founder and director of the Institute for Frontier Science — reviewed more than 250 peer-reviewed research reports on the detrimental bioeffects of wireless communication radiation and concluded RF radiation may:
- cause morphologic changes in erythrocytes including echinocyte and rouleaux formation that can contribute to hypercoagulation;
- impair microcirculation and reduce erythrocyte and hemoglobin levels exacerbating hypoxia;
- amplify immune system dysfunction, including immunosuppression, autoimmunity, and hyperinflammation;
- increase cellular oxidative stress and the production of free radicals resulting in vascular injury and organ damage;
- increase intracellular Ca2+ essential for viral entry, replication, and release, in addition to promoting pro-inflammatory pathways; and
- worsen heart arrhythmias and cardiac disorders.
The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies everything on the RF-EMF spectrum as a 2B “possible human” carcinogen.
Children may be especially at risk, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The authors of a 2005 article published in the AAP’s journal, Pediatrics, wrote:
“Concerns about the potential vulnerability of children to RF fields have been raised because of the potentially greater susceptibility of their developing nervous systems; in addition, their brain tissue is more conductive, RF penetration is greater relative to head size, and they will have a longer lifetime of exposure than adults.”
In their executive summary on wireless technology and public health, Physicians for Safe Technology state:
“The abundance of peer-reviewed science showing harm coupled with obsolete radiofrequency safety guidelines that fail to address long-term health effects and non-thermal biological effects indicate that a precautionary approach is essential to reduce potential harm to the public and the environment.”
Even after NTP researchers in 2018 alerted the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to its findings, the FCC went ahead and granted approval for 5G wireless technology.
The FCC’s actions came as no surprise to Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics which, in 2015, published a 56-page investigative report titled, “Captured Agency: How the Federal Communications Commission Is Dominated by the Industries It Presumably Regulates.”
“The wireless industry will deploy delay tactics by saying we need more than one study to prove harm,” Doucette said, “and right on the heels of our $30M study, Italy’s Ramazzini Institute published another large study that corroborated the NTP findings.”
Smart meters expose people to continuous RF radiation by emitting a “sharp” electromagnetic pulse.
A California investigation for the utility company PG&E determined smart meters could pulse up to 192,000 times a day, Bathgate noted.
Additionally, he said, most smart meters don’t have a surge suppression mechanism [present in old analog meters] and thus pose a fire risk.
In March 2015, a dump truck hit a PG&E power pole in Stockton, California, causing about 5,000 meters that had been placed on residents’ homes to instantly explode due to overvoltage.
According to EMF Safety Network, there have been at least 10 incidences in the U.S. similar in nature to the Stockton incident — and others in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Attorney: “yet another invasion of individual liberty, autonomy and privacy’
Smart meters capture and disclose an extraordinary amount of information about what people are doing inside their homes, W. Scott McCollough, lead litigator on behalf of Children’s Health Defense’s EMR-related legal work, told The Defender.
McCollough, a former Texas assistant attorney general and telecom and administrative law attorney, said this invasion of privacy is even worse when smart meters are combined with other Internet of Things devices like “smart” thermostats, refrigerators and washing machines.
“The utility can discern what appliances are being used and even when individual lights are turned on or off,” McCollough said. “It can develop a fine-grained ‘home’ profile that it can then sell to data brokers without user consent using a ‘surveillance capitalism’ model. There are also, of course, surveillance state implications.”
Smart meters also can “restrict people’s ability to use electricity as they wish by allowing the utility to remotely turn off heating and cooling without user consent — even if the user has medical needs requiring heating or cooling to maintain a prescribed temperature inside the home,” McCollough said.ii, where customers of Maui Utility can choose to opt in — rather than opt out — of having a smart meter installed.
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