We’ve received a few calls from residents who are worried about possible radiation exposure from smart meters installed in their homes by utility companies. Read on for information about this topic:
What are smart meters?
Smart meters measure your home’s use of electricity, natural gas, or water. The measurements are used to bill you for the services. In the past, information from the meters was read by employees of the utility who came to your house. Smart meters, on the other hand, automatically send usage information directly to the utility companies.
How do smart meters work?
Smart meters send information to their central systems using radiofrequency (RF) transmissions, based on the same technology that is used by cell phones, pagers, radios, and Wi-Fi. Concerns have been raised about the safety of smart meters, mainly because they create electromagnetic fields, which are considered a form of radiation.
What are electromagnetic fields?
Electromagnetic fields are a basic force of nature (like gravity), that are generated by electricity. They are found almost everywhere in nature where they are created by things such as lightning and static electricity. Human-made RF radiation from electromagnetic fields occurs wherever people use electricity, such as near power lines and electrical appliances.
How are people exposed to RF radiation from smart meters?
The amount of RF radiation people are exposed to from the smart meter depends on their distance from the meter antenna and the power of the RF signal. The amount of radiation given off by a smart meter is similar to that of a typical cell phone, cordless phone, or residential Wi-Fi router. Smart meters typically send and receive short messages about 1% of the time, so transmission does not occur continuously, as it does with cell phones and WiFi.
Smart meters are typically installed outside the home. Therefore, people are much farther away from the source of RF waves than some other possible sources of exposure such as cell phones and cordless phones within the home. In addition, walls that separate the smart meter’s antenna from the building occupants further reduce the amount of exposure. This means that the amount of RF radiation residents are exposed to from a smart meter is probably much lower than the amount from other sources.
Can smart meters cause cancer?
RF radiation is low-energy radiation, called non-ionizing radiation because it doesn’t have enough energy to remove ions from atoms. Non-ionizing radiation causes atoms to vibrate, which creates heat but does not directly damage DNA. RF radiation is classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” This is based on the finding in at least one study of a possible link between cell phone use and a specific type of brain tumor.
Because RF radiation is a possible carcinogen, and smart meters give off RF radiation, it is possible that exposure to a smart meter could increase cancer risk. But to be exposed to an amount of radiation sufficient to increase your risk of cancer to any significant degree you would have to stand next to a meter that was continuously transmitting signals for several years! This is an unlikely scenario, which is why smart meters are considered safe. The likelihood of cancer is just too low.
Can smart meters cause any other health problems?
Smart meters have not been studied to see if they cause health problems. But studies of RF radiation emitted from other sources have shown that exposure to large amounts of RF radiation, such as during accidents involving radar, has resulted in severe burns. No other serious health problems have been reported.
Do smart meters interfere with electronic medical devices such as heart pacemakers?
A study that examined the effect of smart meters on pacemakers and implantable defibrillators found that the smart meters did not interfere with these devices.
What about health effects to children?
While is it true that children are more vulnerable to environmental exposures than adults, there is no evidence that children may be harmed by smart meters.
How do I reduce my exposure to RF radiation from smart meters?
Because low levels of RF radiation have not been clearly shown to cause health problems, lowering your exposure from smart meters will probably not make a difference to your health.
“What are Smart Meters?” American Cancer Society http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/othercarcinogens/athome/smart-meters
“Short Factsheet on EMF.” California Electric and Magnetic Fields Program http://www.ehib.org/emf/shortfactsheet.PDF
December 2014. This fact sheet was authored by Jose Marquez, University of Illinois at Chicago medical student and Susan Buchanan, MD, MPH, Director of the Great Lakes Center for Children’s Environmental Health – Region 5 Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit (PEHSU). The Region 5 PEHSU is part of a national network of experts in children’s environmental health who provide quality medical consultation for health professionals, parents, caregivers, and patients on health risks due to a natural or human-made environmental hazards. Call our Hotline if you have questions about this or any other environmental health issue: 866-967-7337.
This document was supported by the Association of Occupational and Environmental Clinics (AOEC) and funded (in part) by the cooperative agreement award number 1U61TS000118-05 from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR).
Acknowledgement: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) supports the PEHSU by providing funds to ATSDR under Inter-Agency Agreement number DW-75-92301301-0. Neither EPA nor ATSDR endorse the purchase of any commercial products or services mentioned in PEHSU publications.