March 6, 2011

Foes of smart meters resist and insist: Health effects are real

Citing symptoms caused by radio waves, 10 Mainers file a new petition that seeks an alternative to CMP's upgrade project.

By John Richardson
Staff Writer

Julie Tupper's home is a wireless-free zone.

click image to enlarge

Gregg and Anat Levey, shown with Kaya, 6, and Aden, 4, say their smart meter led to insomnia and dizziness. The Leveys had CMP put the old analog meter back on their house in Falmouth. Meanwhile, company officials and regulators say there is no evidence of adverse effects from the meters' radio waves.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

"I used to have wireless in the house (for Internet access), and I knew something strange was going on. I had it pulled out and the difference was night and day," she said.

The joint pain and other aches she had struggled with disappeared, she said. Soon, the cordless phone was gone, too, and the microwave retired. "I (got) all wireless out of my home because I knew it was causing problems for me."

Tupper, of South Portland, is one of an unknown number of Mainers who consider themselves especially sensitive to the invisible radio frequency waves sent out by wireless communication devices. Some, like Tupper, have turned their homes into safe havens where they can retreat, at least to some degree, from the ubiquitous radio waves floating around most offices, homes and residential neighborhoods.

Now, they say, they also are feeling the effects of new wireless electrical meters -- smart meters -- that Central Maine Power Co. is installing on homes in their neighborhoods. Some say symptoms such as heart palpitations and sleeplessness were bad enough to force them out of their homes until the meters could be temporarily removed.

Tupper and nine others filed a complaint with the Maine Public Utilities Commission in late February. It is the sixth petition seeking to suspend CMP's smart meter changeover or force the company to offer an alternative to customers who don't want the devices on their homes for a variety of reasons.

Maine, followed closely by California, is on track to become the first state to decide whether homeowners have a right to reject the new generation of electricity meters.

"There are utilities all across the country facing this or similar questions," said John Carroll, spokesman for CMP. "We are ahead of everybody."

The newest petition is the first one in Maine to focus exclusively on the health issue. It also raises the question of whether customers have a right to keep entire neighborhoods, or communities, free of smart meters and the wireless signals they send.

Health experts and government agencies say there is no scientific proof that the technology has anything to do with joint pains, headaches, dizziness, sleeplessness and other symptoms reported by the 10 Mainers who signed the petition, or by residents in other states who are reporting similar reactions. There also is no conclusive proof that the radio frequency waves are not causing health effects and the question deserves more study, they say.

For CMP, unproven health concerns are not enough to stall new technology that promises to improve the efficiency of the grid and cut costs for the company and its ratepayers.

"There does not appear to be a link that is going to make these people sick," Carroll said. "The signals from these meters are very, very low-powered." And, he said, an average meter will only send signals a total of 4.4 seconds during a day.

Those who insist they can feel the health effects, however, say they don't want to be part of any smart meter experiment.

"You try to maintain your home as a place where you can get away from it," Tupper said. "People are saying, 'Oh, this isn't real.' This is real. People are getting sick. ... Someone like me is the canary in the coal mine."

Tupper said she's never been able to hold a cell phone to her head without a sharp headache, and can get heart palpitations or become dizzy when driving near cell towers. "It's like an allergy. You might not be allergic to mold, but somebody else is," she said.

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