MONTPELIER -- Vermont's top health officer told lawmakers
Thursday not to worry about a form of radiation emitted by
the wireless smart meters Vermont utilities want to install
in customers' homes and businesses.
Dr. Harry Chen, the state health
commissioner, told the Senate Finance Committee on Thursday
that an international health panel last year found that
radio frequency radiation emitted by cellphones is a
possible source of brain cancer in heavy cellphone users.
Chen said smart meters emit well less than 1
percent of the radiation emitted by cellphones, and they're
not often held right next to the head.
"From actual measurements the Department of
Health has made at active smart meter antenna, the devices
are not likely to emit levels of radiofrequency radiation
more than a small fraction of a single percentage of the
levels from a wireless telephone, even at very close
proximity to the meters," Chen told members of the Senate
The committee also heard testimony by other scientists and
environmentalists who said there is cause for concern.
Smart meters communicate with a utility, allowing it to
track and bill for electrical usage without sending meter
readers out once a month. They enable utilities to pinpoint
the locations of power outages much more easily than was the
case with previous technology. Eventually, they're expected
to allow customers to track their own electrical usage with
an eye toward saving money and energy.
Promoters of the devices say they can help
reduce power demand when it peaks, for example, on a hot
summer day. Such systems can orchestrate power users taking
turns having their air conditioning turn off for a few
minutes at a time, reducing power demand on the overall
system and cutting the need for utilities to buy extra power
when it is most expensive.
Critics say the wireless smart meters
Vermont's two largest power companies -- Green Mountain
Power and Central Vermont Public Service -- are hoping to
install this year emit radio frequency radiation in pulses
with uncertain and possibly worrisome health effects.
Dr. Karl Maret, a California physician who has studied the
issue, urged the committee to require Vermont's utilities to
install more expensive hard-wired smart meters.
With the wired meters, "our health long-term would be more
assured. There would be no radiation whatsoever, and I think
that's the core issue here," Maret said.
Chen sought to put the committee at ease. "People are not
likely to be exposed to measureable amounts of radio
frequency radiation from smart meters," he said.
Some of the critics pointed to
"piggy-backing," in which new sources of radiation are added
to televisions, microwave ovens, wireless computer systems
and other already existing ones.
"All build radio frequency emissions to a point where they
aren't typical, and they aren't characterized" by scientific
studies, said Cindy Sage, a California-based environmental
The state Public Service Board, which
regulates utilities, has been reviewing the companies' plans
to install smart meters since 2007, but it is only since
July of 2011 that critics have been raising health concerns
in Vermont, said George Young, the board's policy director.
Changing course now likely would impose significant costs,
which likely would be passed on to ratepayers, he said.
Matt Levin of the group Vermonters for a
Clean Environment, acknowledged his group and its allies
were late to the debate. With utilities already having
bought thousands of wireless smart meters, switching to
wired meters would be "a very significant and costly course
correction. I get that," Levin said.
But he said some individuals are more sensitive to the sort
of radiation emitted by smart meters than others. He urged
the committee to require the Health Department to prepare to
deal with the complaints that will arise. Those calling with
them "should be treated with dignity and respect," he said.
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