A handful of utility customers have been concerned about the health risks associated with the installation of smart meters in their communities; these ladies even got arrested over it. But according to a recently-released independent report from the California Council on Science and Technology, which compiled a lot of the already-available research done on the subject, there are no known health risks associated with living with a smart meter.
The health issue that angry consumers have raised has been over radio frequency (RF) emissions, which wireless devices like cell phones, microwaves, baby monitors, wireless routers, and yes, smart meters, emit. These devices emit RF at various rates, and at various power densities, depending on how often they’re used and what the wireless device does.
More studies need to be done on the long-term effects of RF emissions on people. But it shouldn’t be associated with the smart meter folks.
As the CCST study points out, a cell phone at your ear actually emits a much (much) larger dose of RF (as you can see in the graph) on a body, compared to a smart meter. Standing a couple of feet away from a microwave also emits more RF on a person than standing near a smart meter.
In contrast, smart meters are mostly installed outside homes, are installed to face the street (usually not the house), are low power, and during the initial installation phase, are only in use for 2 to 4 percent of the time (though that usage will clearly rise over time, and the graph assumes 100 percent on).
If consumers are concerned about living in apartments that are close to a lot of smart meters lined up outside their wall, there have been studies on that, too. In November 2010 the Electric Power Research Institute field tested how much RF was being emitted from a bank of 10 meters of 250 mW power level at a 1-foot distance. EPRI found that the RF exposure level was only 8 percent of the FCC standard (the FCC establishes an acceptable threshold of RF emissions, and cell phones, microwaves and smart meters all fit comfortably under the limit).
So basically, if consumers are worried about RF, they should give up cell phones and microwaves before blocking smart meter installations.
There is no evidence of health risks associated with RF emissions, but there’s a lack of long-term studies on how it could affect humans over decades or a lifetime. Some studies, which aren’t widely accepted in the science community, suggest that fatigue or even cancer could come from long-term RF exposure. Clearly, that area needs to be researched more, but it will probably need to be focused around cell phone use (and not smart meters), as that’s one of the biggest contributors to RF emissions and humans.
For more research about smart meters and smart grids check out GigaOM Pro (subscription required):
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