A new study concludes that the radio frequency (RF) radiation levels of controversial wireless power usage meters being installed at homes in Marin and all over Northern California is higher than previously thought.
Sage Associates, environmental consultants based in Santa Barbara, published the results of its study on SmartMeters online Friday. The devices, which have sparked widespread controversy, protests and installation bans in some cities and counties, allow for remote readings of power and gas usage and eliminate the need for human meter readers.
Opponents of the devices have questioned their accuracy and their potential health effects, particularly for children, elderly and those predisposed to be sensitive to electromagnetic frequencies. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) establishes standards for the health and safety for such devices, while the Califoria Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regulates Pacific Gas & Electric's installation and use of them in the Bay Area and beyond.
The study found that “no positive assertion of safety can be made by the FCC, nor relied upon by the CPUC, with respect to pulsed RF when exposures are chronic and occur in the general population. Indiscriminate exposure to environmentally ubiquitous pulsed RF from the rollout of millions of new RF sources (smart meters) will mean far greater general population exposures, and potential health consequences.”
The study found FCC public safety limit violations could be possible within six inches of the meter, said Barry Smith, a spokesman for the Environmental Health Coalition of West Marin.
"PG&E is misleading the public with false assurances of safety,” Smith said in a statement. “SmartMeter radiation will be a permanent part of the home, and people have no idea how high their chronic RF exposure might be."
The location of the Smart Meter could also lead to heightened RF exposure, the report concluded.
“In addition to exceeding FCC public safety limits under some conditions of installation and operation, smart meters can produce excessively elevated RF exposures, depending on where they are installed,” the report stated. “With respect to absolute RF exposure levels predicted for occupied space within dwellings, or outside areas like patios, gardens and walk-ways, RF levels are predicted to be substantially elevated within a few feet to within a few tens of feet from the meter.”
The report concluded that there were a number of additional factors at each individual installation that needed to be taken into account when evaluating RF impacts. Those factors include how much wireless activity already exists within a house hold or building, including wireless phones, wireless Internet routers, wireless security systems and wireless baby monitors, among others.
The age and medical condition of the residents of the house also affect the potential impact of RF exposure, as does the exact location of the Smart Meter and how close residents are able to get to it.
The California Council on Science and Technology released a report in early January on the health effects of the wireless meters. The conclusion was that the meters emit lower levels of radio frequencies than many household products, are well below federal standards even under worst-case scenarios and that FCC standards are adequately safe for possible thermal health effects.
However, the report also concluded that not enough is known about the non-thermal health effects from radio frequencies and that more information should be provided to consumers about emissions of all devices, including SmartMeters.
On Feb. 1, misdemeanor charges against a Novato woman in a case stemming from a protest in Rohnert Park against a company that installs SmartMeters. Bahia resident Ilona Gallo called it “jail for justice” when she was hauled off in handcuffs Jan 11 for blocking a driveway entrance to a company that installs the controversial wireless devices that allow for remote readings of power and gas usage.
The Marin County District Attorney's Office decided not file charges against two women who were at a SmartMeter protest in Inverness in December.
— Bay City News Service contributed to this report