How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My New Smart Meter

Smart Meter

Smart Meter

One day, it just happened: I came home from work at the end of a hard-earned day to find a new PG&E Smart Meter blinking at me from the front of my house.

Sure, I’d been warned that this would occur via some slick mailings produced by the PG&E Propaganda Department. But it all seemed so… sudden. For years I’ve bumped along with one of those old-fashioned meters with spinning dials and complex mechanical innards, and then in a single day I was transported into the 21st century by a new meter with LCD readouts and wireless data transfer capabilities. Oh my!

So how is it going? Admittedly, I have been experiencing some bizarre health effects ever since the Smart Meter was installed. Specifically, I keep having hallucinatory dreams about a Zombie Ed McMahon ringing my doorbell to drop off a gigantic check for $13 million from Publisher’s Clearinghouse Giveaway. But correlation is not causation, so I’m trying to separate the spooky substance of my undead nightmares from the arrival of my Smart Meter.

The same cannot be said for a few nervous souls on the bernalheightsparents mailing list, however. They worry that the new wireless Smart Meters emit radiation, and radiation is bad, so these meters must be bad. Because, you see, they emit radiation. And this radiation can have (as one commenter put it) “toxic effects.”

Now, one can reasonably argue that Smart Meters erode personal privacy. Likewise, it could be argued that Smart Meters are a diabolical high-tech tool that will enable PG&E to jack up your electricity bills. Personally, I don’t think either of those things are true, but on these points at least reasonable people can reasonably disagree.

Yet on the topic of “toxic threats,” the arguments don’t hold up well to rational analysis. Bernal resident Fiid Williams is a member of the bernalheightsparents mailing list, and yesterday he weighed in on the debate with a simple primer about wireless technology and radiation hazards that should be required reading for anyone who has concerns about the safety of Smart Meters, cellphone towers, or any of the other wireless data transmission systems that pervade our contemporary, glamorous, jet-set lives.

Neighbor Fiid’s comments are reprinted in their entirety, by permission:

There are two principles that matter here.

1) Non-Ionizing vs Ionizing Radiation

Ionizing radiation = nuclear reactors, radioactive materials, x-rays. CAUSES CANCER.

Non-ionizing radiation = radios, cell phones, smart meters, wireless routers. There is no currently understood biological pathway for non-ionizing radiation to cause cancer.

2) Inverse Square Law

Say you have a 40 Watt traditional lightbulb in a closet. I’d submit it’s enough light to see.

Put it in a 10 foot square room, and it’s pretty inadequate, correct? This illustrates the inverse square law. As you move away from a transmitter, the power that you get from it goes down the cube square of your distance away from it.

This is why everyone expects cellphones to cause cancer. The transmitter is _RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR HEAD_. Oddly though, the studies that are coming out on cell phones continue to be inconclusive.

As it pertains to Smart Meters, the transmitters are far away from you, so you’re getting minuscule fractions of watts from them, and the radiation they emit they only emit for short periods of time, (because they don’t transmit much information), and it’s the wrong kind of radiation for a provable cancer risk.

If you walk to the Good Life once a week, your traffic accident risk dwarfs this. I was concerned that my bill would go up (which is didn’t), but not at all about the RF element.

Nicely said. Yet if you have further doubts, consider reading this eminently balanced article about the safety of Smart Meters written by the Environmental Defense Fund, which says much the same thing.

All I need now is for someone to tell me how to make these vexing hallucinations about Zombie Ed McMahon go away. A tinfoil beanie, perhaps?

PHOTOS: Telstar Logistics

32 thoughts on “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My New Smart Meter

  1. “They worry that the new wireless Smart Meters emit radiation, and radiation is bad, so these meters must be bad.” Seriously? LOL. I love SF!

  2. Minor inaccuracy in the physics lesson; it should read, “As you move away from a transmitter, the power that you get from it goes down the *square* of your distance away from it.”

  3. unfortunately the new meters interfere with our baby monitors – there was an article in the SJ Merc about it a few months back – but if you want some serious anti-meter hysteria, check out the reaction in Mendocino County.

  4. The biggest “problem” (if you can call it that) for my mom’s condo building was the fact that the meters all crashed somehow, and everyone’s bill was reduced to less than 2 dollars! Crazy! They seem to work ok now, but if you like congestion pricing for parking and traffic, then you’ll like these too because with them they can create incentives to cut electricity use more accurately.

    as for radiation – I swear there are people in this town who think they can live in a 21st century city but with all the accoutrements of living in the 17th century…

  5. SMART METERS LINKED TO CANCER and other Health Maladies.

    A. The WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION on May 31 2011 placed the Non-ionizing radiation coming from Wireless smart meters (and some other wireless devices) on the Class 2-B Carcinogen List along with DDT and Lead. (pdf)

    (Biological pathways are also NOT known for DDT, Lead and many other toxins that are prohibited. To know the biological pathway is extremely important and interesting, but it is not necessary to recognize the danger. I do not need to know the biological pathway of rat poison to know that I must prevent my child from playing with it or eating it.)

    B. The National Institute of Health months ago found biological changes in the brain after only minutes of exposure to non-ionizing radiation.

    C. Laboratory Scientists have observed
    (1) Human Cell Damage
    (2) DNA Chain Breaks
    (3) Breaches in the Blood-Brain Barrier
    from levels of non-ionizing radiation lower than emitted by WIRELESS Smart meters.

    So MANDATORY installation of Wireless smart meters on people’s homes must STOP.

    Because Cell Phone use and other devices are Voluntary and can be shut off at the user’s discretion, that is a different issue.

    Video Interview: Nuclear Scientist, Daniel Hirsch, (5 minutes).

    Video Interview: Dr. Carpenter, New York Public Health Department, Dean of Public Health, (2 minutes).

    2-page Press Release:

    4. RADIATION MEASURED FROM SMART METER MOUNTED ON A HOME ONCE ACTIVE IN THE UTILITY SYSTEM SHOWS RADIATION BURST PULSES APPROXIMATELY ONCE EVERY FOUR SECONDS 24 HOURS PER DAY traveling through the bodies and brains of the inhabitants of that home. Tests of meters in the laboratory can show much less radiation activity than meters installed on homes in an active operating system.
    Youtube Video (6 minutes, 1st minute is sufficient).

    • Oh boy. Suffice to say, many of the very studies cited here do not establish a proven link between electromagnetic radiation and adverse health effects, and your characterization of them is misleading. (That said, thank you for providing links.) Also, ALL CAPS DO NOT MAKE YOU MORE PERSUASIVE, so please refrain from using them.

    • I really don’t have time to troll through the trolling, but let’s just take two:

      (A) The WHO actually concluded:

      “The levels of RF exposure from base stations and wireless networks are so low that the temperature increases are insignificant and do not affect human health.”

      “These studies have not provided evidence that RF exposure from the transmitters increases the risk of cancer. Likewise, long-term animal studies have not established an increased risk of cancer from exposure to RF fields, even at levels that are much higher than produced by base stations and wireless networks.”

      So, actually, the WHO concluded exactly the opposite of what you are implying.

      The scary-sonding “Class 2-B” are for “[…] agents, mixtures and exposure circumstances for which there is limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans and less than sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals.” In short, it doesn’t mean that there is evidence of carcinogenicity.

      (4) Yes, and you can also measure the radiation from AM radio towers and TV stations. The fact that you can measure the radiation proves nothing.

      I’m sure the other points are just as compelling.

    • The meters might be mandatory, but using electricity is not. That’s all voluntary. Feel free to live in a shack in the mountains.

    • Sigh…I really shouldn’t pile on here, but I will point out that lead does not, in fact, cause cancer. It causes OTHER bad things, i.e. serious nervous system damage. But there is not really any evidence that it causes cancer. DDT is also not really particularly strongly linked to cancer either(although more so than lead). DDT is also bad for other reasons.

      Other fun things classified as 2B by the WHO: gasoline engine exhaust, nickel, pickles, progestin(i.e. the pill) and titanium dioxide(in every sunblock ever made). Just because it is classified by the WHO as 2B does not mean it is something you should worry about.

  6. Wonder why Mendocino County would generate serious anti-meter hysteria. Can’t have anything to do with some of the uses are electricity up, would it?

  7. Be cautious of Utility company shills that enter these comment sections.

    They pretend to be our neighbors, but:
    1. They offer NO documented information
    2. They attack the style of other comments, rather than the information.
    3. They often hold the standard to a “PROVEN Link.” Very few things if any are PROVEN on this earth if “Proven” is required to be 100% proof and if so, then nothing can reach that standard. But associations that are statistically significant suffice to prohibit DDT, Lead in paint, children playing in traffic, certain artificial sweeteners that have been banned, etc. And the Utility company statements are not just “Not proven” they are pulled out of the air and completely fabricated.

    There is no financial reward to challenge the utility company lies. But these shills come on quickly to challenge and diffuse well laid out information and sources for others to see, read and make their own informed rational choices. Yet again, the shills actually provide NO information.

    On a personal note, the utility company shills are low class beings devoid of morality in their actions and their leader, William Devereaux, the California Director of Smart Meters for the PG$E Utility Company ,was personally caught doing these same shill activities on community sights and he was forced to resign so that PG$E could pretend it was just his personal actions, not those of their corporation, when all evidence showed that it was specifically PG$E’s corporate strategy.

  8. A. The WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION on May 31 2011 placed the Non-ionizing radiation coming from Wireless smart meters (and some other wireless devices) on the Class 2-B Carcinogen List along with DDT and Lead.
    DDT and Lead are direct toxins. They poison people. They can manage this without causing cancer, so avoiding exposure to them is frankly a bit obvious.

    2B is the only categorization for anything that is still a suspect for being a cacinogen. This group is rather fun- it contains Coffee, Carpentry and Joinery (which is what your house is made of), Titanium Dioxide (a principal ingredient in Sunblock), Occasional exposure to dry cleaning and Bracken Fern which is a plant, and a fairly sedate one at that.

    So – I claim this argument for being against your position. If there was any significant link, it would have been rated higher already. There is a good deal of well executed data on this already.

    B. The National Institute of Health months ago found biological changes in the brain after only minutes of exposure to non-ionizing radiation.
    Biological changes aren’t cancer. Water causes biological changes. And sometimes death.

    Also – this is a study about cell phones, which are right next to your head. I don’t spend long with my ear next to my smart meter. And yet still, there is no properly significant link that has been established; which surprises me as much as you.


    These things are all obviously biased from the get go. I’m not interested in hyperbole.


    The Karolinska institute release looks interesting, although it looks like it’s really a release from ~7 scientists. It doesn’t seem to have been published in a peer reviewed journal, or have gendered any discussion in the scientific community, which given it’s broad claims, are surprising.

    As for the video – 2 milliwatts per square meter (or 2000 microwatts) is kind of low for right next to a wireless transmitter. What the video fails to show is:

    1) Readings in a faraday cage
    2) Readings in a rural setting
    3) Readings before the meter was installed.
    4) Readings with a traditional meter (which will also produce EMF, although in a different frequency range (lower frequencies _have_ been correlated with health problems.), although you don’t seem to be lobbying for the power to be cut off altogether.
    5) any kind of calibration information for the device being used, or proof that it hasn’t been tampered with, or that it’s make and model are a reliable indicator of what it claims to purport.

    I did find the manual for the device and I noted that the operator isn’t using the antenna that is recommended, which would alter the readings.

    It’s essentially a video of an unverified tool with an untrained operator in non-controlled circumstances. It doesn’t prove that there isn’t another source in the vicinity. It doesn’t prove that the readings or abnormal or harmful. It doesn’t establish what the background EMF level was in the area. It doesn’t compare this meter to the mechanical one that was there before it. It’s totally inconclusive.

  9. I love the idea of congestion pricing since I’m an adherent (in spirit, if not always in practice) of the Off-Peak Lifestyle.
    And it certainly seems that many folks who express concern about smart meters give little thought to their own home wi-fi networks, cellphones, bluetooth devices, etc. (all things that glamorous, jet-setting Bernalwoodians find de rigueur).

  10. Getting kicked off that frootbatty, hysterical list was the best thing that ever happened to me. Nuthatches abound.

  11. This paranoia of being killed via radiation emitted from twenty-first century technology has been with us since the first microwave oven became a part our modern day kitchens. Do you remember all the talk of death from this oven during the seventies? I rarely hear of it today. Nor did I wear elbow pads, knee pads, face mask, gortex gloves, synthetic helmet, and number twenty-nine sunscreen(I don’t think one could even get that) when I learned to ride my first bike at Precita Park in 1972.

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  13. i’m really disappointed to see that my neighbors are using this serious subject as an excuse to try to be cute.
    yes, i know it’s easier to just let the corporations have their way with us and hope and pretend that everything will be ok. that’s one reason this country is in such a mess; Americans are all too busy being entertained and fed propaganda by the mass media that we don’t question, let alone speak up and challenge, what those in power have up their sleeves. while we are content to be fondled at the airport and told by PG&E that we have no choice regarding Smart Meters, we keep parroting the cliche that the wars we are paying for are protecting our “freedom”.

    • I’d echo what xof says below, and I’d also add a potentially controversial augment: It’s precisely because of the decline of mass media that kooky ideas — like the notions that global warming is a hoax, or that tax cuts actually increase government revenue, or that SmartMeters are a conspiracy to strip away privacy — are now more free to propagate. That’s what happens when you exist too long inside your own echo chamber. I don’t miss the days of the Big Three TV networks, not at all. But by now its also pretty clear that the alternative comes with a different set of problems, and facile thinking seems to be one of them.

  14. i’m really disappointed to see that my neighbors are using this serious subject as an excuse to try to be cute.

    Quite the opposite. When people start screaming “OHMYGHODWIFIWE’REALLGOINGTODIE” over things like this, it’s crying wolf. Thus, when a corporation really does something bad (like, say, fracking), this kind of pointless panic can be used to respond with a heavy, world-weary sigh and a comment about how the dirty hippies are at it again.

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