Eluxe Magazine




By Jody McCutcheon

Technology’s purpose is to increase our standard of living. Yet sometimes we’re so enamoured by the convenience or pleasure a new product offers that we overlook its risks. Or perhaps the risk may not be immediately apparent, or worse yet – authorities tell us there’s no danger until it’s too late: think tanning beds, asbestos, tobacco, thalidomide. Everything was great with those products…until it wasn’t. Which brings us to wireless smart meters (for simplicity’s sake, let’s just call them smart meters).

Essentially, these gadgets have replaced the meter-reader who used to come to our houses and read the utility meter. Smart meters provide technology that measures a house’s exact consumption of gas, electricity, even water, and sends that information back to the supplier by communicating with a central control system. It does this wirelessly, via radiofrequency (RF) transmissions, most commonly through wifi and cellular methods.

Smart meters have been implemented in many countries, including Australia, Canada, Italy, the UK and US. The kind of strange thing about them is that they’re legally mandated in many of these places, including the US, where they’re already in 65 million homes. In turn, UK homes will require them by law come 2020. But what are the dangers of smart meters, if any?

The Dangers of Smart Meters

Why All The Fuss?

From a corporate standpoint, the smart-meter strategy may seem like a terrific idea. Governments and utilities companies assure the public that the gadgets are safe, that they cause no significant health risk. The California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) released a report saying smart meters are safer than cellphones. The American Cancer Society has also deemed them to be safe. But not everyone is happy with the idea of smart meters, much less their installation. Apart from a potential fire risk associated with them, serious concerns remain over RF emissions.

In their wireless communications back to suppliers, the machines emit short, frequent bursts of radiation, and they’re never switched off. Utilities companies calculate RF exposure numbers by averaging the emissions, or pulses, throughout the day. But at times, these pulses spike to intense levels that belie the companies’ time-averaged calculations.

This fact has many people worried about health risks, and not just those in the general population. Considering that the World Health Organization (WHO) and the International Agency for Research on Cancer classify wireless radiation as a 2B carcinogen, it’s perhaps no surprise that objections have been raised by scientists, physicians, radiologists, nurses, other health care professionals and radiation experts.

While the American Cancer Society has acknowledged that RF emissions constitute a possible carcinogen, the general rebuttal is that smart meters are situated outside the home, further away from people than are other RF dangers, such as cellphones, cordless phones, microwaves, wireless routers, etc.–so surely they mustn’t cause any harm, right? Indeed, as far back at 2013, experts were so convinced of smart meter safety that worriers were labelled as being ‘ignorant’, as per this Huffington Post article.

The Dangers of Smart Meters

People Are Getting  Sick

And yet, people continue to complain of illness from their smart meters. The list of symptoms is long and far-ranging. Most commonly mentioned are headaches, insomnia, agitation, memory and concentration problems, fatigue and disorientation. Still others include nausea, leg cramps, cardiac issues, seizures, dizziness and tinnitus. To that litany, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine adds that “multiple studies correlate RF exposure with […] cancer, neurological disease, reproductive disorders, immune dysfunction, and electromagnetic hypersensitivity*.”

(*Whether or not electrohypersensitivity (EHS) actually exists is a “sensitive” topic, and far beyond the purview of this article. Not every health expert recognizes it as a legitimate condition. Regardless, studies such as this oneand this one suggest that those who experience it during exposure to electromagnetic fields–such as from a smart meter–aren’t imagining their symptoms. Furthermore, this study of Australian EHS sufferers suggests “smart meters may have unique characteristics that lower people’s threshold for symptom development.” EHS sufferers respond to neither medication nor the suggestion that they may not in fact be ill. So they aren’t just suffering without relief; they’re doubly suffering without relief, from unrelievable symptoms and from the scorn of others. If anyone needs compassion, EHS sufferers do.)

More recent information indicates that smart meters also affect the nervous system. While the machines communicate with utilities suppliers via broadcast microwaves, they apparently also do so through additional frequencies transmitted in the 2-50 kilohertz range; and several uncontested studies (e.g., herehere) indicate that these additional frequencies can disrupt the nervous system. This danger is demonstrated in a  videorecorded by Warren Woodward, a specialist in smart meter microwave transmission power.

Woodward’s homemade study compares electrical emissions from a standard analog energy meter with that from a smart meter, using a battery-operated oscilloscope to measure waveform expression from both the analog meter and the smart meter. The comparison shows a significant difference in waveform expression between the two, and shows the additional, nerve-disrupting frequencies. As Woodward suggests, smart-meter owners may have legitimate grounds for a class-action suit against power companies, whether in the US or elsewhere.


Growing Evidence

While governments and power companies stand by their declarations of safety, growing evidence suggests that smart meters aren’t so safe. Maybe the problem is simply that the powers-that-be have relied on short-term studies for their support. Or maybe it’s something worse.

The aforementioned CCST findings may have been superficially reassuring, but they were based on a three-decade-old report commissioned by Pacific Gas & Electric, a company with a vested interest in putting smart meters in California homes. More troubling, the CCST report is largely cut-and-pasted from a brochure published by the Electric Power Research Institute, an industry lobby group. These actions have conflict of interest written all over them.

Experts have begun to take matters into their own hands, calling out governments and power companies for neglecting to perform due diligence in assessing the effect of RF exposure. Radiation expert and University of California instructor Daniel Hirsch has published a refutation of the CCST’s findings. In his words, “the cumulative whole body exposure from a Smart Meter at 3 feet appears to be approximately two orders of magnitude higher than that of a cell phone, rather than two orders of magnitude lower.” And this report by British neuroscientist Dr Sarah Starkey challenges the government’s laissez-faire policies toward RF exposure.

Others opinions also support this skepticism. The non-profit Center for Electrosmog Prevention, for example, has stated that smart meter radiation is actually as much as 160 times greater than that from cellphones. This figure is on the low end of other estimates from several other independent studies, some of which claim smart meters emit 1,000 times the radiation of a smart phone.

Finally, a recently unearthed report on the assessment of long-term (1960-1997) exposure to weak electromagnetic fields suggests Soviet workers suffered from a familiar list of chronic debilities. These included headaches, sleep disorders, cardiovascular and immune system problems, fatigue, difficulty with concentration and memory, nervous system disorders and tinnitus. Long before government and corporate reassurances of safety, it seems, came evidence of danger.

Is it any wonder that as of October, 2016, an ongoing appeal asking the WHO and United Nations to establish new electromagnetic field (EMF) safety standards had elicited the signatures of 223 scientists from 41 nations? Going a step further, Poland’s second-largest city Krakow is taking steps to protect its citizens from increased levels of electrosmog caused by cellphones, wifi, smart meters and other devices. Mayor Jacek Majchrowski has initiated public forums to discuss the problem and plans to re-zone cellphone towers to reduce levels of EMF exposure, as well as implement meters that detect RF and extremely low frequency EMF’s. Will other cities soon follow suit?

Few Solutions

Despite reassurances from the powers-that-be, no one really knows the long-term, cumulative effects of smart meters. Worse, there are few practical solutions to the present problem. The easy suggestion is to avoid smart meters all together. The problem with this is that in areas where they’re mandated, customers must pay an opt-out fee, or a fee to replace the wireless smart meter with a wired one. How is it possible that we don’t even have a choice in a matter that may gravely impact our health?

The best thing we can do is petition our governments to change policy and establish more long-term studies that examine the effects of smart meters and RF exposure. For now, though, we are the canaries in the coal mine.

Sources/Further Reading












All images: Pixabay


AMY GOODMAN INTERVIEW: How Big Wireless War-Gamed the Science on Risks, While Making Customers Addicted to Their Phones

How Big Wireless War-Gamed the Science on Risks, While Making Customers Addicted to Their Phones

Web Exclusive APRIL 05, 2018

We continue our conversation with Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent and investigative editor, who co-authored a major new exposé, “How Big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe.” He discusses how wireless companies “war-gamed the science” by funding friendly studies and attacking critical ones; the potential dangers of the pending expansion of 5G with the “internet of things”; the role of the telecommunications industry officials turned federal regulators; and how companies deliberately addicted customers to this technology through the addition of social media.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!The War and Peace Report, with this web exclusive. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to Part 2 of our look at a new investigation by The Nation headlined “How Big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe.” It reveals how cellphones were first marketed to U.S. consumers in the 1980s without any government safety testing. Then, a decade later, one of the industry’s own hand-picked researchers, George Carlo, reportedly told top company officials, including leaders of Apple, AT&T and Motorola, that some industry-commissioned studies raised serious questions about cellphone safety. On October 7th, 1999, Carlo sent letters to industry CEOs urging them to give consumers, quote, “the information they need to make an informed judgment about how much of this unknown risk they wish to assume.” Instead, the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association reportedly tried to discredit Carlo’s findings, and had him physically removed from its premises during its annual conference in February 2000.

AMY GOODMAN:The Nation investigation notes Carlo’s story “evokes eerie parallels with two of the most notorious cases of corporate deception on record: the campaigns by the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries to obscure the dangers of smoking and climate change, respectively.”

For more, we continue with our interview with one of the authors of the new investigation, Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation’s environment correspondent and investigative editor.

So, Mark Hertsgaard, if you could reiterate, at this point, in 2018, as you evaluate the science or talk to the scientists who are evaluating it, what do you think is of most concern about cellphones? And then talk about ways to mitigate your—the effects of cellphones.

MARK HERTSGAARD: Sure. I want to emphasize I’m not a scientist. I’m a journalist and an author. But we talked to a lot of scientists. And our story does not say whether cellphones are safe or not. We looked at the industry disinformation and propaganda campaign that for the past 25 years has been convincing the public that these cellphones are safe.

And the way they’ve done that is to war-game the science, as they put it in an internal memo from Motorola. They’ve funded their friendly scientists. They’ve attacked critical science, independent science. They’ve put their own people onto advisory boards. All that said, that’s resulted in, I think, the message coming across from the mainstream media, frankly, that cellphones are safe enough, shall we say?

However, that point of view took a major hit just last week, the night before we released our story. There was a peer review by independent scientists of the biggest study that the United States government has had to date on cellphone radiation. This was a study by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, that’s part of the National Institutes of Health. The study was commissioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. And it released some preliminary findings in February, and then those findings were peer-reviewed by independent scientists last week. And those independent scientists finally concluded that there was, quote, “clear evidence,” unquote, “clear evidence” that cellphone radiation can cause cancers.

And notably, those independent scientists upgraded the confidence level of that and other findings by this National Toxicology Program. So, what that seemed to do was to confirm the suspicions by outsiders that the National Toxicology Program brass, the people up at the top, were trying to downplay this study, because it was the very same data that had been released in 2016, and when that data was released in 2016, it came with a public health warning by the National Toxicology Program. And in 2018, back in February, they tried to downplay this. So it’s very significant that last week these independent scientists said, “Oh, no, there is clear evidence here that cellphones can cause cancer.”

Now, before you all worry out there that you’re having the equivalent of a cigarette habit, let me just say that the evidence is not yet definitive of how much—how high the risk is for cancer and genetic damages and other concern here. But it is definitely, it seems, a risk. If you look at the scientific data that is compiled by the National Institutes of Health, the actual studies that they catalogue there, the vast majority of them do indicate that there are health impacts of this technology, of this radiation, I should say, according to Henry Lai, a professor at the University of Washington, who’s analyzed all of this. And we talked with him in some detail.

So, there are things you can do. The main thing you can do as a consumer is to minimize your use of your cellphone. Use a landline telephone whenever you can. And if you must use a cellphone, always use earbuds, and use it for as little the time as possible. Don’t go on and on. Have your phone call and complete it. And in general, you want to try and minimize the risk.

That’s as—again, I am not a pediatrician. I’m not a doctor here. You can talk to organizations like the American Pediatrics Association, which, by the way, told the Federal Communications Commission five years ago that they needed to revisit this question because their standards weren’t adequate. The FCC has not done that. But you can talk to them. You can talk to a group called the Environment Health Trust, and they will give you more information on this.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, that’s really interesting that you talk about the FCC and they haven’t done that, because the former head of the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, is—was Tom Wheeler. In 1999, then the president of the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, Thomas Wheeler spoke to ABCNews’ 20/20. Listen carefully.

TOM WHEELER: I mean, I believe that the cellular phone is safe. Our industry has gone out and aggressively asked the question: Can we find a problem? And the answer that has come back is that there is nothing that has come up in the research that suggests that there is a linkage between use of a wireless phone and health effects.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that was, yes, Thomas Wheeler, who was President Obama’s pick as FCC chair, speaking to Brian Ross on ABC. Mark Hertsgaard, can you talk about his role?

MARK HERTSGAARD: And that was a lie. That was a lie that Mr. Wheeler told. We spoke with Mr. Wheeler for this story. He gave us an interview but insisted on putting it off the record except for one statement that said that he followed the recommendations of the Food and Drug Administration, which had found no dangers from [cellphones]. But what he told Brian Ross in that story, that there had been—that they went out and aggressively questioned the science, “Was there a problem?” that part was true. But to say that they found no such evidence, that was an absolute lie. And I use the word “lie” deliberately. He knew perfectly well, by that time, that he had been told by George Carlo, the scientist, that there were serious questions, from their own $28.5 million research program.

And so, to me, the career of Tom Wheeler is an interesting illustration of a very old story in Washington, D.C., about how the regulatory agencies of the federal government get captured by the very industries that they are supposed to regulate. So, Wheeler left the industry and later went on to head the FCC for President Obama. And in the meantime, it’s gone the other way around. The FCC person, vice president at the FCC, I guess, or vice chair, rather, Baker, came to—now runs the trade association. And this is why the Harvard study on this, by Norm Alster, calls the FCCa captured agency. They have been captured by the industry they’re supposed to regulate.

And the single best example of that that I can give you is the FCC does not even independently test the radiation levels on these phones. They take what the industry claims, and just put it on their website. That is not good enough. Part of the reason that we’re down this road all the way we are so far is that we did not test cellphones back in the 1980s, before they went on the consumer market. And we’re about to make that same mistake again with 5G technology.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what 5G technology is?

MARK HERTSGAARD: Sure. “5G” means fifth generation. And that’s the next generation of the technologies that have been used for cellphones and wireless, going back into the 1990s. And where people might have heard of it most is, 5G technology is what will be required if we go to this thing called the internet of things. The internet of things is the idea of your smartphone being connected to your smart car and your smart household, so that all of your appliances, your cellphones, your computers, everything will be connected 24/7, so that you can—while you’re driving home, you can turn on the oven 25 minutes from home so that it’s nice and warm, and you can make your dinner when you get home. That seems like it’s a kind of a convenient idea perhaps.

But when we did the reporting on this, my colleague Mark Dowie went to the conference of the industry and saw—and we have this picture in The Nationmagazine story—saw a picture of a baby, a doll, wearing a diaper, and at the crotch of the diaper is a little transmitter. So, this transmitter, under the 5G technology, internet of things, this transmitter will send a little message to mom or dad in the next room that, “Oh, the baby’s diaper needs changing.” Well, do we really need that? And do we really want to have radiation going from our baby’s crotch to our cellphones? Why don’t we just walk into the next room and check for ourselves?

NERMEEN SHAIKH: In January 1993, David Reynard of Tampa, Florida, sued the NEC America Company. Speaking on national TV, Reynard said his wife’s NEC phone caused her lethal brain tumor. Let’s go to a clip from ABC News’s 20/20 investigation that aired in 1999 that begins with Reynard.

DAVID REYNARD: The tumor was exactly in the pattern of the antenna.

BRIAN ROSS: David Reynard went on to almost single-handedly create a national scare, when he filed a lawsuit and went public with his allegations.

DAVID REYNARD: Well, we’re suing the carrier. We’re suing the manufacturer.

BRIAN ROSS: There was great alarm on Wall Street. Even though Reynard’s lawsuit was later thrown out by a judge for a lack of reliable scientific evidence, it left the cellphone industry with a huge public relations problem.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: So, Mark, could you comment on that and also the distinction, if there is any, in terms of possible risks, of using a cellphone to talk as against using it for email or for texting? Is there a difference, from what you’ve learned about possible risks?

MARK HERTSGAARD: That’s really where the industry—wireless industry’s propaganda campaign was launched, because, as Brian Ross’s report just showed, they had a huge public relations problem at that point. It was—there were congressional subcommittees beginning to investigate. The stock on Wall Street was tanking. And that’s when Tom Wheeler stepped up and immediately told a hastily gathered press conference, “Cellphones are safe, but we’re going to revalidate that with this new science.”

And that was how they then found George Carlo, the scientist who they hired to do that. And it’s interesting. George Carlo, I wouldn’t call him a whistleblower exactly, but he certainly did not work out the way that the industry had hoped. They had hired him because he seemed like, by his own acknowledgment in our interviews with him—he seemed like an industry guy. And they thought that because he had previously done studies in which he said dioxin was not terribly harmful in small quantities. Dioxin, of course, was behind the Love Canal and the Agent Orange scandals, one of the most toxic chemicals on Earth. He had also said that breast implants were not necessarily dangerous. So he seemed—George Carlo seemed like the kind of guy who would return a friendly verdict for the industry. And then he did not. And that is really where their ways parted. And Carlo eventually told the truth, wrote to Brian Ross and to us, and in a book, Cell Phone Radiation, if listeners want to check that out.

Now, to your question, Nermeen, about the differences, again, I’m not a scientist here. I’m a little uncomfortable talking about that. There are plenty of places where you can go to get good information on this. I’d recommend the National Environment Trust, is one. The American Pediatrics Association has also raised concerns about this. However, I do know this from sources that we’ve interviewed on this story, that you want to always wear earbuds, if you’re going to use a phone. You want to minimize your use of the phone. And yes, texting is better than a phone call, in terms of the amount of radiation you’re exposed to. And also, the moment of the connection of the call is when there is the biggest surge of radiation. That is, after you’ve dialed, and you hear it ringing, and then it connects to the other phone, at that moment, hold that phone away from you. The farther away it is from your skull, the less radiation that is going to be touching you. But again, the main thing is to just limit your use of all of this to the maximum extent that you can. Use landlines when you can. You know, the world still spun on its axis, we all had our lives, before there were cellphones. You can do it, folks.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about the criticism of your piece. Dr. David Gorski, a surgical oncologist at Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Institute, wrote a piece for his blog Science-Based Medicine criticizing your report. His post is headlined ”The Nation indulges in fear mongering about cell phones and cancer.” In it, Dr. Gorski writes, “An article published last week in the Nation likens wireless telephone companies to tobacco and fossil fuel episodes in their tactics of spreading fear, misinformation, and doubt regarding the science of cell phone radiation and health. To produce this narrative, the investigation’s authors rely on unreliable sources and cherry pick scientific studies, ignoring the scientific consensus that cell phone radiation almost certainly doesn’t cause cancer, all the while disingenuously claiming that they aren’t taking a position on the health effects of radio waves.”

And Dr. Gorski continues, “The idea that the radiofrequency electromagnetic radiation used by cell phones and wireless networks is somehow causing horrendous health effects in humans, be it cancer (brain, breast, or other), behavioral problems, mental illness, or whatever is, like antivaccine pseudoscience, a claim not supported by evidence that just will not go away,” says Dr. Gorski. Your response to that, Mark Hertsgaard?

MARK HERTSGAARD: Thank you, Dr. Gorski, for providing such a illuminating illustration of the very kind of disinformation campaign we’re talking about here. We’re not scientists, but maybe he would revisit his blog post if he looked at what the peer review of independent, credentialed scientists just said last week about the National Toxicology Program’s finding. They said, quote-unquote, “clear evidence”—”clear evidence” that cellphone radiation causes cancer. We are not cherry-picking. That is exactly what the biggest study ever funded by the United States government has said about this. And it was not what the government agency was trying to say. The government agency was trying to retreat from that position. And it’s only because of peer-reviewed scientists on the outside that we know that. Go back and read our piece, and compare it to the good doctor’s blog. I’m very confident that our reporting stands up.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Mark, I know you have to take your daughter Chiara to school. Congratulations on her 13th birthday today.


AMY GOODMAN: Does Chiara have a cellphone?

MARK HERTSGAARD: She has a cellphone that, I will say, her mother gave her, over my objection.

AMY GOODMAN: Oh, boy! We’re not going there.

MARK HERTSGAARD: And we’re not going to go there. But she is limited on the cellphone and has—knows that you must always use earplugs and—earbuds, rather, and to limit the usage. So, we try and analyze it like that. And she has promised to watch this show and to read The Nation piece, and we’re going to revisit all that. I understand this is something that is in every household in America.

And by the way, we didn’t talk about this, but they also deliberately addicted their customers to this technology. Just like the cigarette companies, the tobacco companies, added nicotine to cigarettes, the wireless companies deliberately addicted people to this technology. They’ve admitted that. Sean Parker at Facebook talked about that in November. And they are now regretting that, some of those individuals. But the fact remains that this is a highly addictive technology. And they were told 20 years ago that this could cause cancer in kids, and they kept doing it. Think about that. Think about that.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s end with Sean Parker, who was speaking at an Axios event in Philadelphia last year, Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, who said Facebook was deliberately designed to hook users.

SEAN PARKER: That thought process was all about: How do we consume as much of your time and conscious attention as possible? And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever. And that’s going to get you to contribute more content. And that’s going to get you, you know, more likes and comments. And it’s a social validation feedback loop, that it’s like a—I mean, it’s exactly the kind of thing that a hacker like myself would come up with, because you’re exploiting a vulnerability in human psychology. … It literally changes your relationship with society, with each other, with—you know, it probably interferes with productivity in weird ways. God only knows what it’s doing to our children’s brains.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Facebook’s founding president, Sean Parker, talking about how the site was deliberately designed to hook users. That does it for our interview with Mark Hertsgaard, The Nation‘s environment correspondent and investigative editor. We will link to The Nation‘s new investigation, which he co-wrote with Mark Dowie, headlined “How Big Wireless Made Us Think That Cell Phones Are Safe.” Mark Hertsgaard is the author of seven books, including Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.

To see Part 1 of our discussion with Mark Hertsgaard, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Thanks so much for joining us.

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