Forecaster Forum: CMP has to work with concerned citizens on the science of smart meters

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Scientists worldwide have butted heads for years over whether non-ionizing radio-frequency radiation causes cancer and other diseases. Each side accuses the other of propagating junk science. One Washington, D.C., court has called the issue an established controversy.

So Central Maine Power Co.’s attempt to convince people that there is but one side to the science only serves to sidestep the facts about smart meters, which emit non-ionizing radiation and will be attached to our homes without our consent.

Here are the facts and some clear issues of concern:

• These meters have never been tested for safety. There are no studies demonstrating long-term health effects.

• There are no federal health or safety standards for chronic exposure to non-ionizing radiation. The only standards that exist protect an adult male from death by electrocution. Thus the standards were not designed to protect us from health problems under the circumstances in which the meters are being used.

• The meters are an overlapping mesh network. Each home’s meter transmits to others in the area, and to new cell antennas being installed on utility poles to receive and boost signals. The networks cover wide areas with pulsing frequencies, so individual homes receive transmissions from other meters. These cumulative transmission levels have not been tested for safety.

• Other states and municipalities have rejected or halted smart-meter installation due to not only health concerns, but problems with over-billing, privacy and hacking, electronic interference, and electrical fires.

• Safer technology is available to hard-wire these meters, or to carry the signals through phone lines. New Mexico’s Health Department mandated that a water utility use wired connections between monitoring stations, instead of wireless, based on the precautionary principle. No agency has mandated these meters be wireless.

• Other states offer or are considering offering waivers to people who choose not to expose their families to layered radiation. Mainers have no choice.

CMP, state environmental and health officials and the Public Utilities Commission have a chance and a responsibility to halt the wireless portion of this project; to move beyond scientific disagreements and protect the public from the risk of harm. No new meters should be installed until peer-reviewed, published studies prove the mesh networks are not harmful to human health.

In the absence of any studies on smart meters, in light of the fact that FCC standards do not cover health effects of chronic exposure to non-ionizing radiation, in light of the fact that people in other states have reported everything from insomnia to muscle spasms to heart palpitations upon installation of smart meters, the precautionary principle is crucial.

Increasing numbers of people report medically documented symptoms from and sensitivity to wireless signals. Children, the elderly, people with chronic illness and impaired immune function are most at risk. The involuntary nature of smart meters means that people who need to avoid wireless exposure for health reasons will literally lose their home as a safe haven. Still, CMP is not offering an opt-out provision, even though company officials have been notified of symptoms resulting from exposure to wireless frequencies.

The controversy over the health effects of this radiation dictates the need to err on the side of caution until these meters and the cumulative exposure can be proved safe. Especially since children, with their thinner skulls and developing organs, are more vulnerable to radiation.

A CMP spokesman was quoted as saying signals from smart meters are “neither strong nor cancer causing.” The World Health Organization and the National Toxicology program are investigating whether non-ionizing radiation causes cancer. As for the signal strength, “powerful” is the word used by the company that makes the meters. The manufacturer of meters currently being installed in California boasts on its website that the signals can “penetrate mountains.” These waves are engineered to travel though homes, hills, walls and bodies.

CMP is hiring a consultant to look at scientific data. There is no scientific data on smart meters. We all know in advance what a consultant, hired by one interested party, is likely to conclude. This is the wrong way to gain consumer confidence.

We can’t wait for irrefutable evidence of harm. Governments waited too long for proof of harmful effects from PCBs, dioxin, lead, asbestos, tobacco and other toxins. As a parent concerned about my child’s health, the chance of a risk is enough for me. The doubt dictates the need to err on the side of caution. Because proof of harm beyond a reasonable doubt could come too late.

Elisa Boxer-Cook of Scarborough is a journalist, educator and environmental health advocate. She can be reached at