Smart Meters emit trivial RF while wellness advocates spread unhealthy fear

My letter to Ashland City Council for June 19, 2012, meeting about charging fees for opting out of Smart Meter installation

(Disclaimer: I haven’t evaluated all the aspects of Smart Meters to know if I favor them or not, but I do believe that radio frequency (RF ) fears of health risks are unwarranted.)

Dear Council members and Mayor,

I understand the City has decided to allow residents to opt out of Smart Meter installation, largely due to fears about radio frequency (RF) safety. Further, I read in the media that the added expense for allowing opt-outs could cost the city as much as $150,000.

RF radiation can be an emotional topic for many, and I personally tend to favor freedom of choice. But, I feel that the financial burden of accommodating scientifically unsupportable claims should be born by those adhering to the claim.

While not all RF safety questions have been thoroughly answered through scientific research (which may be an impossible expectation and something that might still not satisfy many opposers), the most credible expert sources are reassuring that RF devices are very safe when regulations are followed.

RF exposure from Smart Meters appears to be especially trivial (similar to baby monitors, TVs, radios, remote controls, garage door openers), given their very low power intensity, short transmission time (typically less than a minute per day), and the fact that exposure to electromagnetic radiation decreases exponentially with distance from the source. Smart Meters transmit primarily from the front (aiming away from the house), the RF is attenuated by an enclosure and obstacles like walls, and they’re not a device that people ordinarily stand close to or hold directly up to the face as they might do with cell phones. And even if they were, the RF exposure is minuscule compared to a cell phone.

Meanwhile I see a fair (or should I say unfair) amount of misinformation; for example, suggesting that scientific research has shown that many people suffer from electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EMH) from RF waves.

Systematic reviews of the best studies on this question have shown no correlation between reported EMH symptoms and the level of RF exposure reported to be causing them. While the medical symptoms are real, it’s the fear of RF and not the RF itself that appears to be causing a stress response and/or leading the sufferer to misattribute symptoms caused by something else to RF radiating devices.

I urge our city council members and the mayor to counter the wave of fear-mongering about radio frequency (RF) radiation by (1) studying the consensus of scientific opinion based on systematic reviews of the best scientific evidence from credible US and international sources (for example: ICNRP, WHO, HPA, FCC, FDA, NIOSH, etc.), and (2) widely distributing a plain language report to the public explaining the safety of non-ionizing radiation and of RF devices that meet FCC guidelines.

Policy decisions that involve the safety of RF devices should be based on reliable, expert opinion; decisions accommodating unwarranted fears could end up reinforcing the misperception that such fears are warranted.

I recommend the following sources:

“What are electromagnetic fields?” A primer on electromagnetic field, including what they are and how safe they are.

“Electromagnetic fields and public health – Electromagnetic hypersensitivity”

About Smart Meters: “Health Impacts of Radio Frequency from Smart Meters,” California Council on Science and Technology, 2011.

Thank you for your consideration.

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