Health, privacy concerns raised over new utility meters
For nearly two years, Robert Marx has had constant ringing in his ears when he is at home in Redford.
And that’s not the only issue he has faced since new utility meters with enhanced digital and transmitting technologies have been installed. Marx, along with several township residents, have recently voiced health and privacy concerns about the meters.
“I don’t sleep as well as I used to,” said Marx, who has spent most of his life in Redford. “I’m up at 4 a.m. every morning. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence, but most of their (meter) readings are done at that time.”
Lois Dennison’s health problems are even worse. A township resident for the past three decades, she said she has an extreme sensitivity to the radiofrequency (RF) waves put out by the devices. From swelling in various parts of her body to splitting headaches to hair loss and constant drainage, she believes the meters are a threat to the general public, too.
“I want to see these stupid meters gone from our lives,” Dennison said. “They’re hurting us. The radiation coming from these meters will hurt you, your family, your pets and the environment. Period.”
DTE Energy began installing electric “smart” meters in 2008, according to company spokesperson Randi Berris. By the end of 2016, she estimates four million electric and gas meters will be installed to serve southeastern Michigan residential and business customers.
Berris said the utility is sympathetic to customers for what it terms an “emotional issue,” but doesn’t believe the meters pose health risks.
“DTE Energy believes there is absolutely no merit to the concerns raised by some individuals about smart meters, and we remain confident in the safety, security and benefits provided by the meters,” Berris said. “The relatively weak strength of radio frequency signals generated by smart meters means that any impact of RF exposure is minimal – similar to the levels of exposure from TVs and radios. In fact, smart meters produce significantly less RF exposure than other common electric devices, such as cell phones, baby monitors, wireless routers, laptop computers and microwave ovens.”
Redford began installing new water meters last year. Township Supervisor Tracey Schultz-Kobylarz said the meters use different technology than what’s found in DTE’s equipment. While they do project the RF electromagnetic fields, she said they’re at a lower intensity than what is transmitted by the utility’s meters.
“Ours are not that strong,” Schultz-Kobylarz said. She noted that the water meters are manufactured by Neptune Technology Group, not Itron, which is used by DTE. “These meters are certified by the FCC.”
Health, privacy issues
Those assurances, which the township provided residents prior to the implementation of its water meter program, didn’t stop Dakar Murry from raising concerns at Redford Board of Trustees May 10 meeting. He said the meters installed by DTE had caused health problems and asked township officials to consider an “opt-out” option for the water meters.
Like Dennison, Murry said his body is hypersensitive to RF electromagnetic fields. He asked the board what he should do if the water meters also affect his health.
For Dennison the answer is clear: Fight.
She said she started experiencing problems almost immediately after meters were installed in May of 2014 by DTE. Among other issues, she said became extremely sensitive to sunlight.
“I use to walk six to 10 miles per week,” said Dennison, 68. “By mid-June, I couldn’t stand to be in the sun. I became almost completely out of it the sun affected me so bad.”
She contacted DTE and a host of governmental agencies in an effort to get the meters removed, but found little help. Finally, in March of 2015, the portion of the electric meter that transmits the RF was removed. But she’s still stuck with the smart gas meter.
“My body is in constant pain,” Dennison said.
Others are fighting in different ways. The Michigan Meter Choice Coalition pushed for and helped get legislation started that would give the state’s residents the right to opt out of using the smart meters in favor of older analog technologies.
Coalition spokesperson David Lonier said House Bill 4916, however, has been languishing in the House’s energy and policy committee since last September.
“We want a public hearing on it,” he said. “I think it would pass. The problem is getting it out of committee.”
Besides health concerns, Lonier said the coalition, which is more than 2,000 members strong, fears privacy is at stake. He said information transmitted by the meters is easily hackable or could even be sold to third parties for marketing or other purposes.
Berris briskly denies those charges.
“DTE never sells customer information to third parties,” she said in a statement. “We participate in numerous state and industry-specific cyber-security initiatives and adhere to the Michigan Public Service Commission privacy rules and our own DTE Energy information security policy. We perform security assessments of our vendors.”
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