Are SmartMeters Dangerous, Too? 

PG&E's new meters have been vilified for allegedly overbilling customers. Now there's evidence that they may bad for your health, as well.

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PG&E's Moreno says he does not know why independent electromagnetic-fields consultants are measuring pulses at greater far frequency than once every four hours. Moreno also insists that that SmartMeters pose less of a threat than practically any other appliance in your house. The Electric Power Research Institute seconds that assertion. Senior Technical Executive Rob Kavet said a typical SmartMeter transmits data only 1 percent of the day, at an average power of 1/100th of a watt, and falls way below FCC standards. Furthermore, following the inverse square law, radiation strength rapidly drops off. So positioning your body a foot away from the source dramatically reduces your exposure.

However, it gets a bit more complicated than that.

FCC safety standards are calculated through a complex formula, but are based entirely on thermal affects — meaning: How high can radiation go before body tissue literally starts cooking? (Think of a small man in a microwave. How long will it take for that man to heat up?). So take that number, reduce it by a lot, and the FCC says you're safe.

But Sage, co-editor of the BioInitiative Report, a self-published study co-authored by fourteen scientists, researchers, and health policy professionals, has been insisting for years that studies have shown electromagnetic fields damage DNA at levels well below the FCC limit — possibly 6,000 times below the limit. Such studies have prompted medical professionals like UC Berkeley School of Public Health director Joel Moskowitz to suggest FCC standards might be woefully inadequate.

The standards also are time-averaged, which means the peak pulse is considered over a thirty-minute period. So if a SmartMeter pulses for a fraction of a second, and that pulse is averaged over all the time the meter is not pulsing, the average will be far lower than the peak. Sage says this calculation gives an inaccurate "safety" reading. Sage likens SmartMeters to radio-frequency nail guns. "It's an enormous, short pulse," she said. "It goes right through walls and it only stops when it hits something juicy. You become a walking antenna."

Though the utility company in Santa Barbara where Sage lives is Southern California Edison — not PG&E — she says SmartMeters are pretty much the same across the country. And Edison's SmartMeters carry a peak power density of 229,000 microwatts per centimeters squared at 8 inches away, according to data provided to Sage by the utility that she shared with the Express. By comparison, a cellphone usually emits a power density of around 250 to 300 microwatts per cm squared when pressed to your head.

So in the fraction of a second that the SmartMeter is transmitting data, it's almost 1,000 times more powerful than a cellphone, though a cellphone emits a lower radio frequency over an extended period. Sage said that because of the intensity of the pulses, it's crucial to accurately count how often the meters are firing.

But tracking pulses is difficult because complicated time-averaging calculations inaccurately suggest peak pulses are far less frequent than they really are. Morgan says he calculated the peak power density to be 288,184 times larger than the average power density calculated by PG&E.

When asked for a comment on these numbers, PG&E declined. But spokesman Moreno did say concerned customers are welcome to call PG&E, and that comparing Southern California Edison's meters to PG&E's was like comparing "apples to oranges."

It's nearly impossible for consumers to accurately measure for themselves the magnitude of SmartMeter pulses, because high-end testing equipment is prohibitively expensive. Even Scott, a professional with a $5,000 instrument, couldn't get an accurate reading of the meter in the basement of the downtown apartment building. He did find the transmissions were weak — closer to PG&E's estimates than Sage's. But he worries that the people with the skills and the expensive equipment needed to measure the full extent of a meter's activity are already working for the telecom and power industries.

"More research is needed, more people with instruments are invited to measure this phenomenon," he said. "And hopefully, people will generously share their information so we can get a big picture of what's going on." Scott says he will continue to investigate SmartMeters in single and multiple configurations around neighborhoods and apartment complexes. "I have the feeling this is just the beginning of this issue," he said.

In the meantime, people like Annie Mills say they will take matters into their own hands. Mills plans to test the method of wrapping her SmartMeter in aluminum foil to obstruct its transmissions, until PG&E "comes out to see why it's not working."

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