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Battle in California over Potential Health Risks of Smart Meters

Health advocates press regulators to get answers before broad rollout of wireless devices into millions of homes

By Amy Westervelt

Jun 9, 2010

Last February, an article in GQ about the caused a furor, reopening a debate that periodically flares up and dies down without firm scientific resolution. Do wireless radio frequencies increase cancer risks? Nobody knows for sure, which is one reason why communities all over the world have fought the installation of cell towers and municipal WiFi networks in their midst.

Now, electromagnetic field (EMF) and radio frequency (RF) safety advocates are setting their sights on the smart meters that will replace the dumb meters now in everyone's homes. Instead of just measuring electricity usage in order to generate a monthly bill, smart meters will communicate with the grid so that consumers can use power more efficiently and cheaply.

It's a device central to the coming clean energy economy, and like cell phones, smart meters are attracting the attention of health and safety advocates concerned about the effects of yet another network of radio signals that will surround consumers across the country.

Case in point: The Sebastopol, Calif.-based EMF Safety Network filed a formal petition with the California Public Utilities Commission asking the regulators to review the Smart Meter program of northern California utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) for potential health risks.

In its application, the Network is requesting the CPUC to get some answers. It wants an independently prepared RF Emissions Study, evidentiary hearings on RF health, environmental, and safety impacts, and performance reviews of actual Smart Meter programs. The Network also wants customers to be given the choice to opt out of having a smart meter installed in their houses, and a temporary moratorium on any further smart meter installations until the evidence is in.

The CPUC moved in late April to set a hearing on the subject, while PG&E submitted a request to dismiss the application altogether, on the grounds that the field of RF regulation is pre-empted by federal law.

"The FCC is the body that is responsible for RF regulation," PG&E argued. "All meters with SmartMeter™ technology have been licensed or certified by the FCC. Under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, the CPUC is precluded from regulating RF emissions. Any proceeding on this subject would be a waste of the CPUC's time and resources.”

PG&E also threw down a separate challenge to the EMF Safety Network's protest, saying it would "consider submitting evidence" if a hearing ever happened to demonstrate the lack of evidence of health risks and the evidence of economic harm to ratepayers if smart meters were prohibited, among other things. In other words, PG&E was telling the EMF Safety Network to bring it on.

But PG&E may face an uphill battle if the health advocates move away from conspiracy theories and link into existing public concern over cell phone-related health risks -- since both devices transmit and receive radio frequencies.

Reliable Studies?

At first glance, it seems like an unfair fight. PG&E, with on-staff attorneys and millions of dollars, versus the ragtag EMF Safety Network, armed only with one report already broadly discredited. It's called the BioInitiative Report, and it lacks scientific rigor, according to many international scientific bodies.

In its analysis of the BioInitiative Report, the Health Council of the Netherlands points out that the report’s authors did not follow standard scientific methods, that several of the reports authors are not scientists and that various chapters offer a selection of the available scientific studies but no information on how or why those particular studies were selected.

The BioInitiative Report has

The BioInitiative Report has been criticized by a number of independent and governmental research groups for its lack scientific rigor and balance. The following is a summary of those criticisms:

Health Council of the Netherlands
The Health Council of the Netherlands is an independent scientific advisory body. Its task is to provide the government and parliament with advice in the field of public health and health/healthcare research. In its review of the BioIniative Report, it found

Last year a report was published that is playing an increasingly prominent role in the debate on electromagnetic fields and health: the BioInitiative Report . It contains recommendations to reduce the exposure limits for electromagnetic fields that are currently applied in the Netherlands and in many other countries. In an advisory report, the Electromagnetic Fields Committee of the Health Council now gives its opinion as to the scientific value of the BioInitiative report. The Committee concludes that this report is not an objective and balanced reflection of the current state of scientific knowledge and does not provide any grounds for revising the current views as to the risks of exposure to electromagnetic fields.

Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research (ACRBR)
The ACRBR is an organization committed to building a better understanding of the biological and possible health effects of human exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF). The Centre implements a well-directed multidisciplinary research program drawing on the extensive skills, knowledge and experience of scientists from a number of Australian research institutions as well as overseas affiliates. With respect to the BioIniative Report, it concluded

Overall we think that the BioInitiative Report does not progress science, and would agree with the Health Council of the Netherlands that the BioInitiative Report is “not an objective and balanced reflection of the current state of scientific knowledge” (page 4). As it stands it merely provides a set of views that are not consistent with the consensus of science, and it does not provide an analysis that is rigorous-enough to raise doubts about the scientific consensus.

Electric Power Research Institiute
The Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) is an independent, non-profit company performing research, development and demonstration in the electricity sector for the benefit of the public. In its review of the BioIniative Report, it found

Unlike the BioInitiative Report, previous EMF health risk assessments that have made recommendations regarding precautionary measures (for example, a 1999 NIEHS report and a 2007 WHO assessment) have supported measures that are safe and cost-effective. For example, WHO recommends implementation of low-cost measures in the design and engineering of new facilities, devices, and equipment, including appliances.

The BioInitiative Report will likely be subject to further scrutiny and review by the scientific community. Despite the report’s position, the scientific community has determined that the ICNIRP and IEEE guidelines are protective against the known effects of ELF and RF exposures. The ICNIRP and IEEE exposure limits for ELF magnetic fields are designed to prevent nerve stimulation caused by electric fields induced in the body. As WHO stated in its June 2007 Environmental Health Criteria document with respect to acute neural stimulation effects of EMF exposure, “International guidelines exist that have addressed this issue. Compliance with these guidelines provides adequate protection.” RF exposure limits, such as those published by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), ICNIRP, and IEEE are designed to protect against tissue heating from deposition of thermal energy in the body. WHO plans to review the RF literature in coming years.

EMF-NET Consortium
The EMF-NET Consortium involves 41 participants, including all the coordinators of the EC (FP5) on-going projects, coordinators of research projects at European national level (Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, UK), and representatives of other EC and international activities, such as EC COST ACTION 281 and the WHO EMF project, associations of industries and manufactures, regulatory bodies, scientific associations, and trade union associations. The EMF-NET aims to provide a framework for the coordination of the results of the research activities related to the biological effects of electromagnetic fields, considering also the potential risks related to exposure in the working environment (occupational exposure). In its review of the BioIntiative Report, if found

• This report is not a consensus of a working group, but rather an assembly of chapters written by various scientists and consultants. There is no mention of who initiated this review or who funded the work, nor of potential conflicts of interest.
• Ms Cindy Sage of Sage Associates (USA) is the author of the "Summary for the public" that is written in an alarmist and emotive language and whose arguments have no scientific support from well-conducted EMF research. She is also the author of five more chapters (with a total of 6 out of 17 chapters) and the co-author of the final key chapter on policy recommendations.
• There is a lack of balance in the report; no mention is made in fact of reports that do not concur with authors’ statements and conclusions. The results and conclusions are very different from those of recent national and international reviews on this topic.
• If this report were to be believed, EMF would be the cause of a variety of diseases and subjective effects, including: Sleeplessness, headache, fatigue, skin disorders and changes in skin sensitivity, loss of appetite, tinnitus, impairment of memory and concentration, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, cardiac problems, changes in brain and nervous systems activity, stress reactions, inflammatory and allergic reactions, genotoxic effects, changes in immune system function, and many types of cancers. . . . None of these health effects has been classified as established in any national or international reviews that assessed biological and health effects from exposures below internationally accepted EMF limits when the whole database of scientific literature is reviewed according to well-accepted international risk assessment methods and criteria (see Annex 1 and 2).

Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Committee on Man and Radiation (COMAR)
COMAR is a Technical Committee of the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). It reports to the EMBS President and Administrative Committee. EMBS is the world's largest international society of biomedical engineers. The organization's 8,200 members reside in some 70 countries around the world. It provides its members with access to the most fascinating people, practices, information, ideas, and opinions, from one of science's fasting growing fields. The Committee on Man and Radiation (COMAR) is a group of experts on health and safety issues related to electromagnetic fields, from powerline through microwave frequency ranges. In COMAR Technical Information Statement: Expert Reviews on Potential Health Effects of Radiofrequency Electromagnetic Fields and Comments on the BioInitiative Report, COMAR concluded

This report summarizes the conclusions from several major reports and comments on the markedly different conclusions in the BioInitiative Report (abbreviated BIR below). Since appearing on the Internet in August 2007, the BIR has received much media attention but, more recently, has been criticized by several health organizations (see Section titled Views of health agencies about BIR). COMAR concludes that the weight of scientific evidence in the RF bioeffects literature does not support the safety limits recommended by the BioInitiative group. For this reason, COMAR recommends that public health officials continue to base their policies on RF safety limits recommended by established and sanctioned international organizations such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers International Committee on Electromagnetic Safety and the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, which is formally related to the World Health Organization.

German Federal Office for Radiation Protection (BfS)
BfS is a German governmental office that works for the safety and protection of man and the environment against damages due to ionising and non-ionising radiation. In its review of the Bioinitiative report, BfS finds

The authors of the “Bioinitiative Report” conclude that the current limit values do not sufficiently protect the public from health risks due to high- and low-frequency electromagnetic fields. By contrast the BfS states that at the moment there is no reason to question the protective effect of current limit values. This statement is, among others, based on the results of the German Mobile Telecommunication Research Programme (DMF), carried out by the BfS from 2002 to 2008. The programme was one of the largest programmes worldwide relating to open scientific questions in connection with high-frequency elec-tromagnetic fields.

Okay folks...

My apologies for not attributing the opinion that the BioInitiative Report lacks scientific rigor - that did not come from myself or from PG&E, but from several public health research centers and government departments throughout the world, none of which could be categorized as "industry friendly." That said, none of them, nor I, said that not following standard methodology for a report discounts the information in it. My point was that, because of all the experts out there who have highlighted the methodological issues with the report, using it as a primary source might be problematic for EMF. I can also understand why someone might want to recoup some of the funds spent pulling the report together; again, the problem is that people are used to scientific reports about public being available for free to the public, so charging a fee immediately raises suspicion, further compounding the report's image problem. If you cannot look at these issues head on, accept and deal with them, you cannot hope to sway people, in my opinion. Furthermore, defensiveness and emotional responses are not characteristics that help bolster one's scientific credibility. The description of EMF as "ragtag" was not meant to be an insult, at all. I admire the work the group is doing to research these issues and share information with the public. Rather, the point was to highlight the fact that a grassroots group is going up against a corporate titan. I am not siding with PG&E on this, nor with EMF - as a reporter I am not allowed to choose sides. Rather, I'm trying to present both sides of the issue and look at how these concerns will affect consumers. If the piece seems weighted toward one side or the other, it was not at all intended.

BioInitiative Report -- the real reason for it

The BioInitiative Report was written over 6 years by a group of dedicated researchers and scientists. They examined and reported on more than 2000 peer-reviewed studies. All of these had been published and reviewed by their peers long before being included in the Report.

PG&E and other industry people will charge that the Report is biased and its recommendations should be ignored. That is what they want you to believe so that you will continue to believe THE LIE, that there is no evidence of harm from radiation so long as WHO's and ICNIRP's guidelines are followed. These guidelines are the ones adopted by FCC, Health Canada and many other governmental agencies around the world.

One problem, WHO and ICNIRP are misleading these agencies and the public. Industry has funded research and scientists who are willing to provide studies supporting this lie, as it has ensured that WHO and ICNIRP maintain the status quo. When doing reviews of science, selection criteria ensures that only studies supporting the desired results are considered. ("Conflict of Interest & Bias in Health Advisory Committees: A case study of the WHO's electromagnetic field (EMF) task force" by Don Maisch, Journal of the Australian College of Nutritional & Environmental Medicine, April 2006) By so doing, the lie continues.

The BioInitiative Report was intended to dispel this lie, to report that, to the contrary, there are thousands of independent studies done over decades demonstrating that harm does occur at levels emitted by cell transmitters and phones, FM transmitters, WiFi, DECT phones, etc. The scientists who wrote the Report were biased because they knew, from their own research, that these products are dangerous, especially to pregnant women and children. The intent of the Report was to warn the public and the agencies responsible for providing guidelines for exposure that there is danger unless things change, and change drastically.

All of the services and products currently being developed and sold around the world could be done in a safer manner, but it would cost the corporations money. It is far better for their bottom line to maintain the lie as long as possible. The corporations will continue to attack the BioInitiative Report because they fear it. It sheds light on a fact they have worked hard to hide -- non-thermal radiation at very low levels causes irreparable harm.

We ignore the recommendations of the BioInitiative Report at our peril, and, worse, at the peril of our children and grandchildren.

Welcome to Amy, who

Hello Amy Westervelt and we will wait for you to catch up.

For a 'ragtag' group, the EMF Safety Network has done some stellar research work on smart meters, provided high quality educational materials, organized it on a website for you, and has figured out how to work within the byzantine CPUC organization to petition for reconsideration of PG&E's applications. Hats off to them.

The BioInitiative Report was a monumental effort - and put on the web to put it into the hands of everyone, not just academics and people who read scientific journals. That is equity of information, planet-wide. We then published most of the science in the BioInitiative Report in the peer-reviewed journal Pathophysiology in 2009. So much for your misplaced comments on the BioInitiative, and we welcome a correction. Industry-friendly groups have tried (and failed) to discredit it, but this was expected like tobacco companies tried to spin science, and oil companies say they will prevent environmental damage. It goes with the turf. Once you have put up several hundred thousand of your own dollars to do some high quality science in the public interest, you too might ask for a small access charge to the reports people need - to keep the website up and going so people can continue to download it for free, and get periodic updates on the science and public health issues.


So now they are saying the BioInitiative's authors did not follow scientific procedure. This sounds like yet another attempt to spin uncomfortable findings away from public scrutiny. I am not surprised to see it. Joseph Goebbels said, "Propaganda is not meant to fool the intelligencia, it is merely meant to provide them an excuse to avoid seeing ugly realities they'd rather not believe." Now people don't have to read the BioInitiative Report and make up their own mind because it has already been conveniently explained away for them.
Hard being a Cassandra, but somebody's gotta do it!

Ok to republish

How can one get ok to republish on blogs and local paper posts?

Creative Commons apply?

A little history

The microwave-brain tumor question is a total red herring that, if the public is dumb enough to keep buying it, will prevent any progress from being made on the issue for decades. It was discovered during WW II that microwaves could cause strange health problems among radar operators, even at sub-thermal power densities (i.e. at power densities lower than those required to literally cook flesh, which is what current "safety" standards are based on). Some of the more cruel operators even entertained themselves by using their equipment to shoot birds from the sky. The fact of microwaves ability to interfere with proper function of biological systems was exploited by both sides throughout the cold war–the Soviets even went so far as to bombard the US embassy with microwaves, and successfully caused a lot of bizarre health issues for State Dept. workers, including cancer.

There is an entire stealth-warfare industry, born after WW II, that manufactures products designed to interfere with basic biological functions by using low-power microwaves. One guy who worked for the British government on microwave warfare in the 60's and 70's has even been nice enough to summarize the effects of different modulation frequencies on people and post them in an open letter (available at ).

The point here is that we've known for a long time that microwaves harm living things, even at low power. The telecom industry can pay large numbers of highly-credentialed scientists to say that microwaves are safe, but that's not really the point. The technology has already found innumerable military applications, and the "soft-kill" industry continues to grow to this day. Why exactly the microwave band was deemed a good idea to deploy for global telecommunications is anybody's guess, but it definitely wasn't out of ignorance of the effects that such frequencies can have on living systems.

Cindy Sage is right

It's true the Bioinitiative report is one sided, but as the founder of WikiLeaks said in the New Yorker recently, being unbiased means treating the dust and the bodies in the street as equal. The playing field has never been level in this area. The industry and military funded researchers have done a great job of eliminating funding for almost everyone else.

There should really be no doubt that long term exposure to cell phones causes cancer. It's there in the data of the best and biggest studies... but even some of the researchers can't bring themselves to believe it. Meanwhile many people know they are affected, and though it's been hard to prove this in blind studies, the of N. Leitgeb in Austria proves statistically that people who claim to be electrosensitive are indeed more sensitive to electric currents applied to their arms.

"There should really be no

"There should really be no doubt that long term exposure to cell phones causes cancer." Really? HOW ABOUT THERE IS NO EVIDENCE TO EVEN SUGGEST THIS. Every researcher who has attempted to find a causal link has had his/her study ripped to shreds. There is no credible evidence of any kind. Worrying about this is like worrying that your drinking water is killing you. It's ridiculous, and people need to get a grip and do something productive with their lives. In my opinion, Cindy Sage knows nothing of science and has only worked to promote her career as a consultant to fearful jurisdictions. I'd love to get her in a deposition. This topic is the modern version of Snake Oil. Welcome to the new charlatans.

"Worrying about this is like

"Worrying about this is like worrying that your drinking water is killing you?" Oh dear.....

From the California Dental Association Executive Bulletin, January 12, 2010:

“Specifically, ADA granted CDA $200,000 to assist in our effort to prevent the placement of “fluoride and its salts” on the List of Chemicals Known to the State to Cause Cancer or Reproductive Toxicity that is produced by the State of California, Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA). The Safe Drinking Water and Toxic Enforcement Act of 1986 (Proposition 65) requires the governor to publish this list of toxic chemicals each year. OEHHA is currently considering fluoride and its salts for inclusion in the Proposition 65 listing. A determination is expected within the next 13 months.”

Osteosarcoma (Bone Cancer) and Fluoridation
Caffey (1955) noted that the age, sex, and anatomical distribution of the cortical bone defects observed in the Kingston-Newburgh fluoridation trial were “strikingly” similar to that of osteogenic sarcoma. There was no follow up study.
Cohn (1992). The New Jersey Department of Health conducted a study of osteosarcoma occurrence in seven Central New Jersey counties. The study finds a statistically significant relationship between fluoridated water and osteosarcoma among males less than 20 years old.
Bassin (2001). A Doctoral Thesis from the Harvard School of Dental Medicine analyzed data from a large case control study of fluoride and osteosarcoma. A robust, statistically-significant relation (7 times increase) was found between consumption of fluoridated water during the childhood growth spurt (ages 6-8) and osteosarcoma among boys less than age 20.
Bassin (2006) Above age-specific work published in Cancer Causes and Control 17: 421-8. Among boys less than age 20 who consumed water with 0.3 to 0.99 ppm fluoride between ages 6-8, the risk of osteosarcoma was five times greater than for boys drinking nonfluoridated water. At 1 ppm or more, the risk was seven times greater.

Takahashi K et al. (2001) Journal of Epidemiology Vol. 11, No. 4 July. From the abstract:
Age-specific and age-standardized rates (ASR) of registered cancers for nine communities in the U.S.A. (21.8 million inhabitants, mainly whites) were obtained from IARC data (1978-82, 1983-87, 1988-92). The percentage of people supplied with “optimally” fluoridated drinking water (FD) obtained from the Fluoridation Census 1985, U.S.A. were used for regression analysis of incidence rates of cancers at thirty six sites (ICD-WHO, 1957). About two-thirds of sites of the body (ICD) were associated positively with FD. Cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, colon and rectum, hepato-billiary and urinary organs were positively associated with FD. This was also the case for bone cancers in male, in line with results of rat experiments. The likelihood of fluoride acting as a genetic cause of cancer requires consideration.

New Scientist Jan. 22, 1981.
Hydrogen bonding is a weak interaction that holds molecules together. They make and break easily and this is what makes them so versatile - indeed the hydrogen bonds formed between amides (the links between amino acids) are the most important weak hydrogen bonds in biological systems. That these can be disrupted by fluoride in the formation of much stronger bonds may explain how the chemically inert fluoride ion could interfere in the healthy operation of living systems. Thus some of the serious charges that are being laid at its door - genetic damage, birth defects, cancer and allergy response - may arise from fluoride interference after all.

Hip Fracture and Fluoridation
Fluoride is incorporated more readily into mineralizing new bone rather than existing bone. Thus, adults retain about 50 percent of ingested fluoride whereas infants and children retain 87 percent. When fluoride substitutes the hydroxyl ion in the crystal lattice of bone, it makes bone more brittle and diminishes tensile strength. The link between fluoridated water and hip fracture:
1a) Cooper C, et al. (1990). J of Epidemiology and Community Health 44:17-19.
1b) Cooper C, et al. (1991). J American Medical Asso. 266:513-514.
2) Danielson C, et al. (1992). J American Medical Asso. 268: 746-748
3) Hegmann KT, et al. (2000). American Journal of Epidemiology P. S18.
4) Jacobsen SJ, et al. (1992). Annals of Epidemiology 2: 617-626.
5) Jacobsen SJ, et al. 1990). J American Medical Asso. 264(4): 500-2.
6a) Jacqmin-Gadda H, et al. (1995). J American Medical Asso. 273: 775-776 (letter).
6b) Jacqmin-Gadda H, et al. (1998). Epidemiology 9(4): 417-423.
7) Keller C. (1991) Osteoporosis International 2: 1109-117.
8) Kurttio PN, et al. (1999) American J of Epidemiology 150(8): 817-824.
9) May DS, Wilson MG. (1992). Osteoporosis International 2:109-117.

Fluoridated Water and the Brain
Varner JA et al. Brain Research 784, 284-298 (1998). Twenth-seven rats were divided into three groups and for one year were given either distilled water, distilled water with 2.1 ppm NaF – the same concentration of fluoride normally used in fluoridated drinking water – or distilled water with 0.5 ppm AlF3. In both treated groups, the aluminum levels in the brain were elevated relative to controls. The researchers speculate that fluoride in water may complex with the aluminum in food and enable it to cross the blood-brain barrier. Both treated groups also suffered neural injury and showed increased deposits of B-amyloid protein in the brain, similar to those seen in humans with Alzheimer’s disease. “While the small amount of ALF3 …required for neurotoxic effects is surprising, perhaps even more surprising are the neurotoxic effects of NaF” at 2.1 ppm, the authors write.

Masters R.D., Coplan M.J. et al. NeuroToxicology 21(6): 1091-1100. (2000) From the abstract:
Chronic, low-level dosage of silicofluoride (SiF) has never been adequately tested for health effects in humans. We report here on a statistical study of 151,225 venous blood lead (VBL) tests taken from children ages 0-6 inclusive, living in 105 communities of populations from 15,000 to 75,000. The tests are part of a sample collected by the New York State Department of Children’s Health, mostly from 1994-1998. Fluoridation status was determined from the CDC 1992 Fluoridation Census. For every age/race group, there was consistently significant association of SiF treated community water and elevated blood lead. The highest likelihood of children having VBL greater than the danger level of 10 micrograms per deciliter of blood occurs when they are both exposed to SiF treated water and likely to be subject to another risk factor known to be associated with high blood lead. Results are consistent with prior analyses of surveys of children’s blood lead in Massachusetts and NHANES III.

Chronic Kidney Disease and Fluoridation
The kidneys are exposed to significant amounts of fluoride as they try to eliminate it from the body. At risk of retaining harmful levels of fluoride are the 16.8 % of U.S. population aged 20 years and over who have Chronic Kidney Disease (2004 NHANES). Formerly a proponent of fluoridation, the National Kidney Foundation wrote on April 15, 2008, “The 1981 NKF position paper on fluoridation is outdated. The paper is withdrawn and will no longer be circulated.”

Maureen Jones, Archivist – Citizens for Safe Drinking Water –
(408) 297-8487 Fluoride Action Network –

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