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Concerns Of Health Risks From Advanced Meter Radio Waves Debunked

The new wireless-emitting smart meter for reading electrical usage. (Photo courtesy Clay Electric)
The new wireless-emitting smart meter for reading electrical usage. (Photo courtesy Clay Electric)

Despite health concerns raised by some residents of Melrose, Florida over the dangers of radio waves from remote electric meter-reading devices, experts assure they are safe.

The new wireless-emitting smart meter, a component of Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI), eliminates the need for utility employees to drive to residential homes and businesses to record electricity use.

Toby Moss, chief information officer for Clay Electric, said advanced meters work no differently than other meters used by utility companies across the country. Clay Electric serves 14 counties, including the four that encompass Melrose: Alachua, Bradford, Clay and Putnam.

Utility companies across the country use smart meters, including those in North Central Florida such as GRU, Florida Power & Light and Duke Energy.

“It has a radio chip inside of it which transmits (via) radio waves the same information the meter reader would obtain,” Moss said.

Moss said smart meters save time and money and help the environment by reducing emissions with fewer utility company vehicles on the road. Additionally, he said they allow utility companies to better manage the electrical grid, as outages can be reported and fixed before the homeowner is even aware of an issue.

However, not every customer is happy to have an advanced meter installed on their property.

At a meeting of the Melrose Business and Community Association on Jan. 8, Jeff Klein, a physician, spoke about natural health options and the dangers of smart meters. Others at the meeting admitted they did not know much about the potential hazards, but agreed there may be a cancer risk if one's home is bombarded with additional radio waves.

While some residents are concerned, others are not worried at all.

“As soon as you say radiation, people get scared and run the other way,” said Melrose resident Joe Rush.

The advanced meters transmit over the unlicensed radio frequency band, which is the 900-megahertz band. This is the same frequency that garage door openers and baby monitors transmit.

The meters only transmit a total of about one minute a day throughout the course of a day, Moss said. Clay Electric’s wireless-emitting meters transmit once every four hours.

“By comparison, if you have Wi-Fi in your house, you’re about a thousand times more susceptible (to) radio waves than anything that meter would give you,” Moss said. “If you have a cell phone in your pocket, you’re 12,600 times more exposed to radio waves than a meter.”

Moss said people should keep in mind they are living among radio stations, TV stations and cell phone towers. The unlicensed RF band operates at such a low frequency that a person would have to stand within one yard of the meter for these waves to have any impact at all on their body.

“Basically, to get the equivalent of one hour’s worth of cell phone use, as far as radio waves, you’d have to stand with your chest against a smart meter for about 200 years,” Moss said.

The Electric Power Research Institute has conducted research on advanced meters. A study from 2011 found that the exposure level from smart meters were significantly less than that from common household items such as cell phones and microwave ovens.

A reason people could be concerned about health hazards from smart meters is that RF radiation is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." Smart meters do use this type of radiation, so it is possible that smart meters could increase cancer risk.

However, according to the American Cancer Society website, it is very unlikely that living in a house with a smart meter could cause cancer. It is difficult to prove or disprove a link between cancer and smart meters because people experience so many other sources of exposure to radio frequency radiation. But the amount of RF radiation from smart meters is much less than that of even a cell phone. Thus, it is highly unlikely that living in a house with a smart meter increases risk of cancer.

If customers distrust the safety of advanced meters, they can opt to have a regular "old-fashioned" meter that requires manual readings, Moss said. They just have to fill out a form and pay for the cost of meter reader to come to their home or business.

“Twenty or 30 years ago, the safety of these meters might have been a question,” Rush said. “But we’ve already done the experiment. It’s a red herring.”

Taylor is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.