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On March 26, 2014, three (3) hearing examiners for the state of Maine Public Utilities Commission released a seriously flawed and biased report (and Appendix) concluding that the “installation and operation of … smart meters and related devices and systems are consistent with [the utility’s] statutory obligation to furnish … safe, reasonable, and adequate service.” The report was issued in the form a draft Commission order. Affected parties have until April 11 to file comments or exceptions to the report.
The hearing examiners expressed in the summary portion of the report that their conclusion regarding health and safety issues was based upon seven (7) findings. For purposes of this blog article, each finding will be listed and then an alternative finding (or counterpoint) will be provided that would more correctly and objectively describe a conclusion based upon the facts.
Finding: “The radio frequency (RF) emissions from CMP’s smart meters and other AMI components comply with duly promulgated federal safety regulations and other RF emission standards;”
Counterpoint: Current Federal RF exposure guidelines were never formulated to fully protect human health. In fact, they are only believed to protect against injury that may be caused by acute exposures that result in tissue heating or electric shock and burn. FCC exposure guidelines have no biological relevance to protect humans from chronic exposure to pulsed radiofrequency radiation emitted by devices such as smart meters. Therefore, RF emissions from installed smart meters are simply unregulated. As stated by the U.S. Department of Interior in a letter dated, February 7, 2014, “the electromagnetic radiation standards used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) continue to be based on thermal heating, a criterion now nearly 30 years out of date and inapplicable today.”
Finding: “No state, federal, or Canadian regulatory body or health agency that has considered the health impacts of smart meters (including Maine’s Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC)) has found smart meters to be unsafe;”
Counterpoint: No human health impact studies were conducted prior to the deployment of RF emitting smart grid technologies, which include the smart meters themselves as well as the associated gatekeepers and routers that are part of the overall mesh communications network for each utility’s smart grid system. Since Federal exposure standards are technically irrelevant and inapplicable to chronic exposure to pulsed RF radiation from smart meter devices, there is no basis for any state, national body, or health agency to conclude that smart meters are safe for human exposure. At best, it could be concluded that the safety of smart meters is “unknown.” As stated by Dr. De-Kun Li, a leading research scientist in reproductive and prenatal epidemiology, “Unknown does not mean safe.”
Finding: “The scientific evidence presented in this proceeding is inconclusive with respect to the human health impacts from low-level RF emissions generally;”
Counterpoint: There is overwhelming evidence that biological effects do occur as a result of exposure to low-level RF signals. It is basically a straw man argument to use language such as “scientific evidence is inconclusive” or “not proven.” The term conclusive is generally understood to mean, “putting an end to debate or question especially by reason of irrefutability.” This straw man argument is thus inappropriately used to justify the non-conservative premise that conclusive evidence is needed prior to taking any action to protect the public. In biology and medicine, there is very little that is known conclusively or with near 100% certainty. Furthermore, based upon an objective review of available scientific evidence, and in a legal sense, it is deduced that a prudent person would conclude that biological effects do occur as a result of exposure to low-level RF emissions.
Finding: “There are no credible, peer-reviewed scientific studies in the record that demonstrate, or even purport to demonstrate, a direct human health risk specifically from smart meter RF emissions;”
Counterpoint: There are credible, peer-reviewed scientific studies that demonstrate that adverse health effects may be caused based upon exposure to RF emissions from such sources as cellular and cordless phones, cell phone base stations, and Wi-Fi. In the absence of health impact studies conducted prior to smart meter deployment, caution is therefore advised. In addition, there have been myriads of anecdotal reports of adverse effects caused by smart meter emissions and there have been at least limited studies (as listed below) subsequent to smart meter deployments indicating ill-effects:
“Wireless Utility Meter Safety Impacts Survey,” by Ed Halteman, Ph.D., dated September 13, 2011;
“Self-Reporting of Symptom Development from Exposure to Wireless Smart Meters’ Radiofrequency Fields in Victoria,” a case series by Dr. Federica Lamech, MBBS, and described by the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) in a document called, “Wireless Smart Meter Case Studies.” [Note: The Lamech case series is in the process of being published in a peer-reviewed journal. The AAEM's position is that the case series is "scientific valid" and that it "clearly demonstrates adverse health effects in the human population from smart meter emissions."]
Finding: “The studies that have been presented in the record to demonstrate the risk to human health from exposure to RF-emitting devices are based on exposure to substantially higher levels of RF emissions than smart meters;”
Counterpoint: There are peer-reviewed studies as outlined in the BioInitiative Report 2012 that would support a claim that adverse biological effects should be expected based upon the RF radiation levels produced from wireless smart meters. For information on published studies showing biological effects from RF exposure from various emission sources, one can review summary information charts contained within The BioInitiative Report 2012, and specifically, relevant charts available at the following link: BioInitiative Report Color Charts for Reported Biological Effects.
Additional support for the claim that adverse effects can be expected from wireless emissions from smart meters can be found in a paper prepared by Ronald M. Powell, Ph.D. at the following link:
Finding: “The relative RF emission exposure from smart meters is significantly less than other commonly used RF-emitting electronic devices;”
Counterpoint: As stated in the conclusion section of EPRI Document # 1022270, “Radio-Frequency Exposure Levels from Smart Meters: A Case Study of One Model,” February 2011: “The average exposure levels from smart meters, as measured in the current study, are at levels similar to those that are present from other common RF sources, both indoor and outdoor.”
Biased smart grid industry comparisons typically rely on a localized near bodily contact cellular phone use exposure in an attempt to show that smart meters have “significantly less” RF emissions than other devices. Such comparisons are erroneous since they do not take into account intermittent use versus chronic exposure and do not account for differences due to extremely localized exposures from cell phone use versus more uniform whole body exposure for smart meter exposures.
In fact, it can be shown that the RF field strength values for a smart meter averaged over a period of 24 hours can well exceed the localized exposure received from intermittent cell phone use for that same 24 hour period. Beyond that, however, the comparisons are of little technical relevance since field strength intensity is only part of the information necessary to evaluate potential effects. Biological effects likely vary based upon frequency and modulation of a signal such that a very weak signal may have a significant biological effect. For additional information, refer to the following blog article/document prepared by SkyVision Solutions: “A Critical Review of Smart Grid Industry Comparisons of Cell Phones with Smart Meters.”
Finding: “CMP’s installation and operation of its smart meter system is consistent with federal and state energy policy and is a generally accepted utility practice throughout the country.”
Counterpoint: In the United States, the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, PURPA Section 111(d), as amended by The Energy Policy Act of 2005, contains language that requires state utility commissions and unregulated utilities to consider whether it is appropriate for utilities to offer customers smart metering for those who request it. The legislative intent was always that smart metering was to be considered optional.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) authorized the Department of Energy to provide financial support for smart grid demonstration projects and advanced grid technology investments. Somewhat unfortunately, and characterizing the comments of a senior Department of Energy official: “We had a huge amount of money that had to be spent on smart grid, and we didn’t have anything off-the-shelf that we could call smart grid except these meters that were designed 20 years ago.” Political pressure to spend money on “something” related to the smart grid cannot be objectively considered as a basis to justify a public policy to support smart meter deployment.
Widespread deployment of smart meters has been initiated within the past few years and many states have not yet deployed them; it is still appropriate to question the wisdom of this technology and as has been recently stated by one of the nation’s largest utilities, i.e., Northeast Utilities:
“There is no rational basis for …mandated implementation of [smart meters].”
“An Advanced Metering System is not a ‘basic technology platform’ for grid modernization and is not needed to realize ‘all of the benefits of grid modernization.’”
As a further example that smart meters are not generally an accepted utility practice is the news report on hearings for a Smart Meter Opt Out Bill in the state of Maryland in 2013, where Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE) officials were asked of the number of studies that had been performed at the Federal level to test the safety of smart meters. Michael Butts admitted before lawmakers, “To the extent of my knowledge, there is no study specific to smart meters from the federal government. … smart meters are a relatively ‘new’ phenomenon.”
In the main body of the report, the hearing examiners attempt to deflect or rationalize certain arguments made as part of the Maine proceedings. SkyVision Solutions will briefly address some of these issues.
1. Industry Bias
The report states: “we decline to use bias as a reason to diminish the weight given to CMP’s experts or the studies on which they rely in this matter.”
The above conclusion is flawed and biased. Regarding studies showing biological effects for RF-related research, there is definitive evidence that industry funded studies suffer from systematic bias towards not finding evidence of biological effects. Based upon an article  dealing with the “Source of Funding and Results of Studies of Health Effects of Mobile Phone Use,” a conclusion was reached that “Our study indicates that the interpretation of the results from existing and future studies of the health effects of radiofrequency radiation should take sponsorship into account.”
As indicated in the article/abstract, “We examined whether the source of funding of studies of the effects of low-level radiofrequency radiation is associated with the results of studies. We conducted a systematic review of studies of controlled exposure to radiofrequency radiation with health-related outcomes (electroencephalogram, cognitive or cardiovascular function, hormone levels, symptoms, and subjective well-being).”
Based upon a systematic review of experimental studies, “Most (68%) of the studies assessed here reported biologic effects,” while only 33% of studies funded by telecommunications industry showed at least one result suggesting a biological effect from RF exposure.
 “Source of Funding and Results of Studies of Health Effects of Mobile Phone Use: Systematic Review of Experimental Studies,” Huss, et.al., Environmental Health Perspectives, 2007 January; 115(1): 1–4; refer to link at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1289%2Fehp.9149.
2. IARC Classification of RF Emissions as Possibly Carcinogenic
The report states: “Although the WHO’s classification of RF emissions is an important consideration, its 2B classification was based on studies involving wireless phones, not smart meters.”
From May 24-31, 2011, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), met in Lyon, France “to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.” The conclusion of the IARC Working Group was to classify “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B).
The hearing examiners statement quoted above leaves an impression that is inconsistent with overall intent of the IARC Group 2B declaration as stipulated on page 33 of the full IARC Monograph document on non-ionizing radiation where it states:
“The topic of this Monograph is the evaluation of the carcinogenicity of radiation in the radiofrequency (RF) range (30 kHz to 300 GHz) of the electromagnetic spectrum. This type of radiation is emitted by devices used in wireless telecommunication, including mobile phones, and by many other sources in occupational and general environmental settings. … it should be emphasized that the evaluations in this volume address the general question of whether RF radiation causes cancer in humans or in experimental animals: it does not specifically or exclusively consider mobile phones, but rather the type of radiation emitted by mobile phones and various other sources.” [emphasis added]
Thus, the WHO’s IARC Monograph for non-ionizing radiation addresses all RF emission types including smart meters, and it is misleading and overly simplistic to suggest that the IARC declaration was based solely upon “wireless phones” or to infer that the IARC declaration might not be applicable to wireless devices such as smart meters.
In fact, the IARC Working group considered a significant amount of evidence in making its determination, not all of it related to wireless phone use. In an attempt to more properly characterize the perspective of the Working Group, a portion of a paragraph on page 407 of the IARC Monograph is presented:
“The epidemiological evidence on possible associations of exposure to RF radiation with cancer comes from studies of diverse design that have assessed a range of sources of exposure: the populations included people exposed in occupational settings, people exposed through sources in the general environment, e.g. transmission towers, and people exposed through use of wireless (mobile and cordless) telephones. The most robust evidence is for mobile phones, the most extensively investigated exposure source.” [emphasis added]
3. The Precautionary Principle
The report states: “We recognize the existence of the ‘precautionary principle’ and do not, in the abstract, disagree with the general conceptual framework that there may be instances where the risk of harm is so apparent that preventative measures are necessary even in the absence of conclusive evidence of actual harm. Based on the record in this case, however, we do not find that RF emissions from CMP’s smart meters, at the specific frequency and power levels of those emissions, justify the application of such preventive measures.”
The above conclusion is flawed in at least two respects:
First, the hearing examiners came to incorrect and flawed conclusions regarding the evidence that might otherwise justify a precautionary approach with regard to deployment of smart meters. Second, it is unlikely that the hearing examiners understand the true mechanics of using a precautionary approach as a risk management tool.
The “precautionary principle” represents the concept that when there is plausible threat of harm, precautionary measures should be taken, even when some cause and effect relationships are not fully understood or established. Precautionary measures can be adopted which complement Federal guidelines which do not fully address stakeholder issues and concerns, e.g., FCC exposure guidelines not addressing low level chronic exposure mechanisms. Although the wireless and smart grid industries have effectively ignored the IARC declaration that RF emissions are possibly carcinogenic, it can be argued that this declaration on its own merits now constitutes a basis for a plausible threat of harm consideration for precautionary measures.
Precautionary measures should be chosen that are proportional to the seriousness of a plausible threat of harm to this or future generations. So in considering a precautionary approach, one would evaluate whether there was a plausible (not necessarily an apparent or conclusive) threat of harm and consider specific actions based upon the results of that objective evaluation.
4. Benefits of AMI (Smart Meters)
The report states: “we have previously found that AMI will enable CMP to provide improved and enhanced service to customers, including by supporting more timely restoration of service after an outage, allowing for remote service connections, and providing detailed and near-real-time usage information and related systems that will allow customers to benefit from using electricity more efficiently. AMI is a key component of a ‘smart grid’ that is expected to support the provision of electricity that is increasingly clean, efficient, reliable and safe at a potential lower cost to consumers.”
Here the hearing examiners are making a judgment call that the benefits of the smart meters outweigh whatever risks are involved with their use. It is a serious error to make such a judgment in isolation and would seem to go beyond the scope of a health effects review of smart meter emissions.
At one point in the main body of the report it is stated that a “consequence of prohibiting smart meters would be the loss of significant public benefits.”
The purported benefits of smart meters are largely mythical and hypothetical in nature, and the more tangible risks include not only health, but economic costs, privacy, cyber security, fire safety as well as other issues. In any case, since the hearing examiners made multiple incorrect and flawed conclusions regarding just the health-related evidence, then there can be no basis at this point to believe that the report could state that smart meter benefits somehow outweigh their risks.
This blog article may be updated with additional information as the Maine report is further reviewed. There certainly are other issues that can be discussed, particularly where the hearing examiners dismiss Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity (EHS) as having no scientific basis for linkage to symptoms related to EMF exposure. The hearing examiners also too easily dismissed the argument that exposure received from a newly mandated technology should be treated differently than voluntary use of wireless devices in the home.
It is clear that the draft Commission order is basic industry propaganda where the “examiners” performing the review had a predetermined vision of what they wanted to write in the end. Otherwise, the issued document would have been much closer in perspective to the “counterpoints” presented in this blog article.
For now, this article will close by including remarks made by Ed Friedman on the newly released report, the principal complainant in the Maine proceedings:
“While not surprising, the PUC staff continues to thumb their nose at the law [ensure safety] and show their bias in favor of utilities; it’s particularly egregious they rejected something like 800 peer-reviewed scientific references submitted to them as evidence of RF bio-effects while casually accepting at face value, testimony from CMP’s product defense consulting firm Exponent, …”
For additional perspective from the “Maine Coalition to Stop Smart Meters” website, refer to the following link:
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