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ARE SMART METERS A HEALTH HAZARD?

By Maureen Kirsch

The day smart that meter transmissions were enabled in her neighbourhood, Maria collapsed. Later she discovered what had caused her to suddenly develop an erratic and life-threatening heart arrhythmia.

Her astute GP told her to go out of the area, away from smart meters. Within hours of doing this, she gradually began to feel better. She spent a month away from her home, being cared for by her family before she could return.

The inside walls of her home have now been painted with protective shielding paint. The windows are covered with radio-frequency (RF) reflecting curtains. All wireless devices are now turned off. Although she has made her home a ‘safe haven’ she still develops symptoms when in public places.

 

Recalling that time is still traumatic for her, as she thought she was going to die. “Since the completion of the roll-out of smart meters in my area, I have been very, very sick. I have continuous palpitations, chest pain, a weird taste in my mouth, loss of appetite, lethargy, dizziness, fainting attacks, an inability to concentrate and chronic insomnia.

“I'm not able to function, I can't work, I can't look after my family. My symptoms disappear when I'm in an area without smart meters.”

Maria is a medical doctor, specialising in women's health and is currently unable to work.

WHAT IS A WIRELESS SMART METER?

SMART METERS-PIC Smartmeter 8-7-13A wireless smart meter is an electronic meter that measures household electricity usage and relies on wireless technology, through the use of pulsed microwaves, to send meter data back to the power utility.

These meters give the power companies the ability to remotely collect data and to control our power usage. They can disconnect and reconnect our power supply from afar for their own purposes and charge different prices for electricity depending on the time of day it is used.

Since the roll-out of smart meters began in Victoria, there has been much controversy over their privacy and security, billing errors and simply the fact that there was no public consultation and no customer choice.
By far the most concerning issue is the growing cost to human health and the environment.

“In Victoria, and elsewhere in the world, people are becoming sick after wireless smart meters are connected to their electrical systems, even people who were not hypersensitive.” (See www.stopsmartmeters.com.au)

The symptoms most commonly reported are insomnia, tinnitus, headache, fatigue, dizziness, agitation, nausea, memory problems, visual disturbances, palpitations, nose bleeds and prickly skin sensations.

There is a growing body of anecdotal evidence and an overwhelming amount of credible scientific evidence from noted doctors, scientists, epidemiologists and neurologists from around the world that indicate proven negative biological effects on living tissue from radio-frequencies, which are emitted from smart meters. Despite this, government authorities in Australia continue to ignore the warnings.

“We have evidence ... that exposure to radio-frequency radiation ... increases the risk of cancer, causes damage to the nervous system, causes electro-sensitivity and has adverse effects on reproductive systems,” says Dr David Carpenter, Director of the Institute of Health and Environment, University of Albany, New York.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has classified radio-frequency electromagnetic fields as possible human carcinogens (Group 2B), based on an increased risk of glioma, a malignant type of brain cancer associated with wireless phone use (IARC – International Agency for Research on Cancer 2011). These are the same frequencies as are deployed by smart meters.

The Seletun Scientific Panel, comprising international experts on the biological effects of electromagnetic fields (EMFs), states that “New biologically-based public exposure standards, taking into account long-term as well as non-thermal exposures, are urgently needed to protect public health worldwide” (Seletun Scientific Statement, page 1). The statement recommends standards that are approximately 50,000 to 60,000 times lower than the current International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) standard on which Australia bases its standards.

Therein lies the problem. Using their “current prescribed exposure limits” based on the standard set by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) , Victoria's Department of Primary Industry (DPI) conclude that “Compliance with the ARPANSA limits (which mirror those of ICNIRP) would deem the installation of smart meters safe with respect to radio-frequencies.”

Unfortunately, the limits adopted appear to fail to take into account sensitive populations, people with metal and medical implants, elderly people, frail people, pregnant women and children.

“There are no current, relevant public safety standards for pulsed radio-frequency radiation involving chronic exposure of the public” says Dr Poki Namkung, former Public Health Officer, County of Santa Cruz, California, in her report entitled, ‘Health Risks Associated with Smart Meters’. “Exposure is additive, and consumers may have already increased their exposure to RF radiation through voluntary use of wireless devices … It would be impossible to know how close a consumer might be to their limit, making safety an uncertainty with the installation of smart meters.”

ALARMING EFFECTS ON CHILDREN

Even more alarming are the effects that smart meters can have on children.

Dr Davra Davis, epidemiologist and founding director of the Toxicology and Environmental Studies Board at the US National Academy of Science, says “... children's heads can absorb double or more of the radio-frequency energy of adults' heads.”

ARPANSA has recently produced a fact sheet with advice for parents on how to reduce their children's exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from mobile phones and other wireless devices, stating, “This technology is so new that it's impossible to be completely sure that there isn't some risk. This is particularly true for children for whom there is little research evidence.” Notably, neither ARPANSA nor the DPI has given any advice on how to reduce exposure to smart meter emissions, especially from meters that are installed near bedrooms.

The BioInitiative Report of 2012 concludes that, based on 1800 new studies, there is “reinforced scientific evidence of risk from chronic exposure to low-intensity EMF and to wireless technologies (electromagnetic fields including microwave radiation).

“Public fears about wireless smart meters are well founded,” says Dr David Carpenter in his article, ‘Smart Meters: Correcting the Gross Misinformation’. These public fears are backed by worried medical authorities who are seeing a growing number of citizens developing electromagnetic sensitivity (EMS), especially since, for many of them, these symptoms developed dramatically after the installation of a smart meter.

TAMARA'S STORY

Teacher, 47 years old

SMARTMETERS-PICTamara2  8-7-13Tamara says she was just a normal person, working part time and running her home, when she became suddenly ill, suffering pains in her head, heart palpitations, pains in her bones, tinnitus, poor short-term memory, red skin and eyes, a rash on her arms, difficulty sleeping and a general feeling of fatigue and being unwell.

A few months later, she discovered that a smart meter had been installed in her next-door neighbour's house, directly opposite, and only a few metres from her kitchen window. The timing of the installation coincided with the time Tamara became ill.

Attached to the outside of the meter box was a small disc which contained extra aerials.

Tamara has now been diagnosed with EMR sickness and is under medical care. She has a metal medical implant, and hopes that this complication will not further compromise her health.

Tamara has had to rearrange her whole house, moving her bed into a small room at the back of the house. She is not able to work due to being unable to spend any length of time near WiFi emissions.

Like hundreds of others, she has written letters and phoned government authorities, met with State and Federal Ministers and contacted her power company seeking help.

She is refusing to have a smart meter in her home and has locked her meter box, cutting a viewing hole in the cover so that the old analogue meter can be read manually. She has also erected 'no trespass' signs at the entrance to her property.

Her power company finally complied by removing the outside aerial from her neighbour's smart meter (not the actual meter) and promising a postponement of her installation until December 2013.

After that date, the power utilities current mandate to install smart meters will have expired and the Victorian government will have to determine a new strategy.

STEVE'S STORY

IT professional, 44 years old

Steve discovered he was sensitive to EMR well before he found, through his own research, that there is a label for this condition – electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS).

He noted that, consistently, within minutes of using a wireless router he would feel a pressure in his head and chest, tingling sensations in his hands and face and would be left with a headache that could last for days. He also experienced severe discomfort when using a mobile phone.

Subsequently, he was able to function quite happily by minimising his mobile phone usage and using only wired devices in his home.

In 2011 smart meters were rolled out in Steve’s street. Although he resisted having one at his home, he has been severely affected by his two neighbour's smart meters, which were installed some three metres from his bedroom.

Soon after their installation, he experienced a consistent pattern of waking up at night with a severe sharp pain in his head and great difficulty falling back to sleep.

He says, “Every morning I would wake up with a serious headache, which would make concentration and performing simple duties quite difficult. On a number of occasions I would wake up with my heart beating irregularly.”

2012 was an ongoing health battle for Steve, with increased sensitivity to wireless devices. Even things that normally would not have bothered him – such as laptops, phone chargers and light dimmers – increased his suffering from constant headaches and lethargy.

He underwent many tests with his GP and neurologist, with all results negative for any brain disorders or tumours.

Steve says, “I know it is wireless that is causing these issues, because when I go to areas that have very low EMR and no smart meters I feel fine after several days.”

Steve has recently painted his house with shielding paint and installed RF blocking curtains. This action, he says, has helped immensely to reduce his sensitivity to a manageable level.

Although Steve has taken precautionary measures in his own home at great expense, he is concerned at the lack of support, care and understanding by his power utility and the various government departments that he has been in contact with over this issue. He has effectively become a prisoner in his own home, because to venture out into the neighbourhood for extended periods of time leaves him drained and feeling unwell.

MAUREEN'S STORY

Maureen knew nothing about smart meters when she became sick. Initially, she did not even know that one had been fitted in her home.

Quiet suddenly, she developed chronic insomnia and could not fall asleep. She began to get severe pressure in her head, but this feeling would come and go depending on where she sat in her house. She also began to suffer vision disturbances.

These problems continued for about a month, when by chance she saw a news report on smart meters concerning a woman who had developed health problems similar to her own.

“I phoned my power distributor,” said Maureen, “and they came to my home and assured me that the smart meter they had fitted complied with government regulations. They did, however, admit to me that some people seem to be more sensitive than others and promised to turn down my meter by 90%.”

Over the next four months Maureen’s health did not improve. She found she had become sensitised to all wireless technology. “At the school where I taught, I could not even stand in the classroom because the wireless routers and laptops would give me such extreme head pressure, blurred vision and a kind of brain fog that I could not think clearly. The symptoms would continue for many hours, and while at home it would feel as though my skin was radiating. ”

After four months of battling this problem, she felt that she could not continue teaching and gave up work. Six weeks later she moved out of her house and into one that did not have a smart meter fitted.

“I feel better while in this new house, but my problems continue because in my neighbourhood I am surrounded by smart meters. I have done all I can to reduce my EMR exposure – no microwave oven, no DECT cordless phones and no WiFi devices – but going out anywhere is now quite difficult and stressful. I can feel the smart meter emissions when driving or walking down the street. I also have a constant high-pitched ringing in my ears.”

Maureen experiences pain in her teeth, which react to the pulsing signals from smart meters, and also when near mobile phone towers. She has spent six months having all her amalgam fillings replaced in an attempt to alleviate these symptoms.

Because many public places, like shopping centres, libraries, cafes, etc., have WiFi hotspots, she tends to avoid going out, or only going out if necessary to do a quick ‘dash and grab’ shopping trip.

“For fifteen months now,” declares Maureen, “I have been researching to try to resolve my problems, and what I have discovered is astounding. I have collected more than 150 stories about health concerns with smart meters and have met many other people in Victoria who have also been suffering serious, debilitating health effects.”

ROSEMARY AND VIC'S STORY

Rosemary and Vic had lived in their home for twenty years. Shortly after the installation of a smart meter, they noticed ringing in their ears, dizziness, nausea, headaches and heart palpitations. When away from home, their symptoms would subside, but would come back with a vengeance every time they re-entered their home.

“We phoned our power distributor to ask to have the smart meter removed,” they reported, “but the company refused, despite our desperate pleas and having a doctor's certificate. The power distributor admitted that they were aware that 5% to 10% of the population are really sensitive to these radio-frequencies.”

Out of desperation, Rosemary and Vic moved into their van, away from the smart meter. They lived in the van for six months, while trying to resolve the problem by again contacting their power distributor, the Energy and Water Ombudsman and Energy Safe Victoria with no resolution. They have been forced to move interstate, leaving their friends and family behind, just to get away from smart meters.

TIM'S STORY

Graphic designer, 22 years old

Tim had just started a new job as a graphic designer in a small inner-city terrace studio in Melbourne. Over a period of three weeks, he became quite unwell, suffering headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, heart palpitations, severe kidney pain and inability to concentrate.

He found that after leaving work or having a few days off, he would gradually recover, only to have the symptoms recur each time he went back to the studio.

Tim then discovered that there was a smart meter on the studio wall opposite his head, hidden in a wooden meter box. To eliminate other causes, he underwent medical tests, namely, ECG, blood tests and a kidney scan, which were all clear.

His symptoms continued and became worse the longer he stayed at work. Fearing permanent health damage, he resigned.

He feels fine when away from these pulsing emissions, but has now become sensitised to wireless radiation and becomes quite dizzy when exposed.

DR ALEXANDER MCDONALD

A Principal Research Scientist at the CSIRO

A landmark Australian legal decision may pave the way for sufferers of electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS) to receive compensation for workplace injuries. In Melbourne, and for the first time in Australia, in a Federal workplace compensation case handed down on 28th February 2013, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal has provided qualified legal recognition of the health effects of electromagnetic radiation (EMR) also known as electromagnetic fields (EMF).

The Tribunal found that “Dr McDonald has suffered either an aggravation of his sensitivity to EMF or an aggravation of his symptoms by reason of his honest belief that he suffers from the condition of EMF sensitivity and that his exposure to EMF associated with the trials (in his workplace) has worsened his sensitivity.”

There will be more of the details surrounding this important decision in the next issue of this magazine.

CONCLUSION

Stop Smart Meters Advocate, Janobai Smith, sums up the situation as follows:
“Given the current scientific studies and the adverse health outcomes evidenced as a consequence of radio-frequency exposure, is the continuation of the smart meter roll-out worth the gamble?

Surely the government of Victoria, given the magnitude of what is at stake, should be heeding the call from the public for precaution,”

SOURCES AND FURTHER READING

  • Stop Smart Meters Australia – ‘Smart Meters in Victoria: Information and Concerns’
  • Seletun Scientific Statement 2011
  • BioInitiative Report 2012
  • ARPANSA Fact sheet 14
  • Johanson, O, 2011
  • Carpenter, D 2012 – ‘Smart Meters: Correcting the Gross Misinformation’.
  • Jamieson, 2011 ‘Smart meters – Smart Practices’