Advanced digital electric meters, commonly called “smart meters,” gather data about electricity usage and periodically transmit that data across an advanced metering wireless network. During the periods when they broadcast, smart meters emit a type of radiation known as “non-ionizing.”
Ionizing and non-ionizing radiations differ in fundamental ways.
Ionizing radiation – Ionizing radiation reaches us through medical scans and x-rays, through cosmic rays when we travel on airplanes and through radon in the soil. Ionizing radiation is also released by radioactive fuel used in nuclear power plants.
Scientific studies have shown that exposure to ionizing radiation causes short-term and long -term health problems in people. Ionizing radiation has a short wavelength and high frequency. Smart electric meters do NOT produce ionizing radiation.
Non-ionizing radiation –Non-ionizing radiation includes extremely low frequency (ELF) waves produced by electrical equipment, ultraviolet light from lasers, and other types of electromagnetic fields. Compared to ionizing radiation, non-ionizing radiation has a longer wavelength and its health effects are less well understood.
Radiofrequency (RF) radiation
"Radiofrequency" (RF) is electromagnetic energy that falls within the frequency range of 3 kHz–300 GHz.
Smart meters emit radiofrequency radiation, a type of non-ionizing radiation, when they transmit information to a base station at an electric utility. According to the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) of the U.S. Department of Labor, RF radiation is absorbed throughout the human body and can cause damage by overheating cells.
Research is still pending to determine whether exposure to RF radiation causes other types of health effects beyond heat (thermal) impacts. Cell phones also emit RF radiation, and because they are widely used and held close to the brain, public health research often focuses on them.
Exposure guidelines for radio waves
To protect against health hazards from exposure to RF electromagnetic fields, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has adopted RF limits.
FCC RF limits are based on input from organizations that include the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc. (IEEE), which issued recommended guidelines for RF exposure in their standard IEEE C95.1. (Methodology used to establish this standard is explained in this document.) Two other professional organizations, the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements (NCRP) and American National Standards Institute (ANSI), also have recommended maximum RF exposure levels.
What is the health risk from smart meters?
Based on studies of cell phone usage (which delivers radio waves close to the head), the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified RF electromagnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans based on an increased risk for gioma, a malignant type of brain cancer, associated with wireless phone use.” However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded that the evidence to date shows no increased health risk.
The non-profit California Council on Science and Technology (CCST) funded a study that looked specifically at smart meter RF emissions. The CCST was commissioned by the California Assembly to perform an “independent, science-based study … [that] would help policy makers and the general public resolve the debate over whether smart meters present a significant risk of adverse health effects.”
The CCST study, published in 2011, found “no clear evidence” of harmful effects from smart meters’ RF emissions. It concluded that “no additional standards are needed to protect the public from smart meters or other common household electronic devices.” As with other studies focused on RF emissions, the CCST recommended additional research.
Engineers generally believe that if smart meters are manufactured, installed, and operated in compliance with guidelines from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), they are safe. Risk increases in the following situations:
- If someone spends frequent, extended periods of time very close to a smart meter, causing prolonged and heightened exposure. Children are likely to be especially vulnerable.
- If a smart meter malfunctions in such a way that increases the frequency or duration of its duty (transmission) cycle.
- If a smart meter is not manufactured or installed properly to conform to FCC guidelines.
Individuals who are concerned about excessive exposure to broadcasting smart meters may consider shielding the device to reduce radiation. However, partial shielding is likely to reflect back the radio waves in unanticipated directions. Shielding only the street side of a meter mounted on a building does not prevent radio waves from entering the building.