Safety of B.C. Hydro's smart meters stirs continued debate

Renowned anthropologist Inge Bolin has spent enough time in the Andes to know how her body feels at high altitude. However, when the Nanaimo resident came home one day in October to find that B.C. Hydro’s private contractor Corix had installed a digital smart meter against her wishes, it set off a 17-day hell ride that turned her strong constitution upside down. The German-Canadian, also an honorary research associate at Vancouver Island University, said she felt so weak she couldn’t even pack her bags to get away from the house she shares with her husband, Ron, and son, Greg.

“I never had problems [in the Andes],” Bolin told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview from her home. “I don’t have problems with the altitude. I am never dizzy. I never get headaches. I never had heart palpitations or any of these things. And sure enough, I just about had everything that can go wrong [at home]. And this was the moment that thing was being installed, and so no one can tell me it is not much [radiation] or whatever.”

To add insult to injury, Bolin said she and Ron had both printed out a sign they never got a chance to laminate, stating they did not want a smart meter. Even so, when they stepped out for a few hours that fall day, Corix installed one in place of their analogue meter. Thanks to the B.C. Liberals’ Clean Energy Act, B.C. Hydro is mandated to install 1.8 million meters by the end of 2012 throughout B.C.

Naturally annoyed at seeing hers, Bolin said she went out to check out the smart meter, which the utility claims will enable greater energy efficiency and be a more accurate means of determining how each household uses its power.

After standing close to it for 10 minutes or so, Bolin said, she began to get a headache unlike anything she’d dealt with before in her life.

“I said to my husband, ‘It’s as though you get electrocuted and your brain gets electrocuted,’ ” Bolin said. “He said, ‘Well, that can’t be.’ But it is very strange, because when I read the comments of the people in California who had theirs [meters] taken out, these comments had exactly the same kind of stuff I had. And there were quite a few who said it feels as though your brain gets electrocuted. It’s the shake. It’s as though something really shakes. It is very, very strange, and it’s very strong.”

After 17 days of dizziness, nausea, and virtually no sleep, B.C. Hydro removed the smart meter and replaced it with an analogue meter. Amazingly, B.C. Hydro, not Corix this time, sent a staffer to install a second smart meter, this time while the Bolins were home. They refused, and the utility’s electrician relented and left.

The manager of communication and public affairs for B.C. Hydro’s Smart Metering Program, Cindy Verschoor, did not respond to messages by Straight deadline. However, in a recent interview, Verschoor insisted, “The meters are safe. We’ve just completed independent testing of the meters. They use the same technology…. It’s radio frequency similar to your TV or radio. The total transmission time of the meters—that has been independently recorded in our independent testing results—is 2.734 seconds per day [per one-watt meter].”

In another interview in October, Verschoor told the Straight that B.C. Hydro safety standards for radio frequencies surpass those in Europe. Online information provided by the Crown corporation cites the “precautionary limit” of 4.5 microwatts per square centimetre in sensitive areas like schools and hospitals in Switzerland. B.C. Hydro smart meters emit less than two microwatts per square centimetre at the same distance of eight inches.

Greg Alexis, media spokesperson at B.C. Hydro, also pointed the Straight to the utility’s website, which has separate reports, by Planetworks Consulting, on the levels of electromagnetic radiation with both single meters and meter banks in multi-unit dwellings.

The first of these two contains Verschoor’s claim that the active transmission time for one meter under test was 0.94 seconds on day one and 1.83 seconds on day two, for a cumulative total of 2.734 seconds over the two-day testing period.

Critics of Hydro’s plan, including Citizens for Safe Technology, claim the reports do not take into account cumulative impacts of all smart meters as well as other devices that also add to what Bolin refers to as “electrosmog”.

Bolin, whose own health has improved, said she wants B.C. Hydro to stop installing smart meters and reinstall the analogue meters. She also worries Corix or B.C. Hydro will send somebody a third time to put in a smart meter.

“If they do do it again against our will, I’ll move.”

Dr. David Carpenter, professor in the school of public health at the University at Albany, SUNY, told the Straight the radiation from smart meters is “nothing special” when set against that from other wireless devices such as cellphones. However, he said “the industry has not been up-front” about a lot of the operations.

“They often say that the information is issued only a few times a day, but all the evidence indicates that these things are generating radio-frequency fields most of the time,” Carpenter said by phone. “The issue is really that the adverse health effects, which we understand best from the people that use cellphones a lot, are almost certainly related to aggregate exposure—how intense the exposure is over what period of time. Smart meters are going to be operating 24/7.”

Carpenter accepted the claim from proponents that radiation falls off with distance from a smart meter.

“But if the meter is outside of the house and your easy chair for watching television is just inside the wall, you are going to be exposed constantly,” he said.

“The most analogous situation with the smart meters are the demonstrations of elevated [rates of] leukemia in people that live near to powerful AM-radio transmission towers. There hasn’t been that much study of people living around cellphone towers, but there is beginning to be evidence that those people also have elevated leukemia. There are a number of other allegations that I think are less well established yet, but it is clear that these radio-frequency fields are not benign.”

Carpenter said utilities in North America have a vested interest in making sure smart meters are installed. This leads him to his uncomfortable conclusion on smart-meter technology in general.

“I think this is part of the problem, that by the time we really have clear evidence that these things are hazardous to health, they will already be installed.”

Carpenter said the debate then becomes whether citizens should be allowed to opt out of smart meters. In B.C., that is still not an option.

Comments (36) Add New Comment
Yet another ridiculously unscientific article in the Straight concerning smart meters. One person's experience (especially when they were already paranoid about them) does not mean anything. People, individually, are far too susceptible to the placebo effect which is why double blind experiments and real data are needed before making declarations- otherwise, they're just opinions.
Rating: 0
Arthur Vandelay
Why include the anecdote of the obviously disturbed woman at the beginning of this article? It's garbage like that which ruins an otherwise decent piece but I assume gives the GS the radical reputation that it desires. This also demonstrates that the green story of smart meters doesn't stand a chance against the opportunity to stick it to a non-socialist sitting government.
Rating: +4
Milgram Smart
It's a pulsed microwave, not a radio wave that can be blocked by concrete. The power company doesn't realize that they are installing microwave weapons on peoples homes or do they? Look up Barrie Trower, he is a microwave weapons expert.
Rating: +7
It is really annoying to see this sort of bull coming from BC Hydro. BCHydro's own safety standards forbid its microwave radio technicians from standing in front of the a working 1 watt microwave transmitter.

The only difference here is the transmitter is at full power only a short time so it won't do as much damage. Sort of like saying 10 minutes in front of the open Fukushimi reactor core is the same as living in Denver for a year on the average.

Modern peer reviewed science has shown that radiation damage occurs when spot radiation levels exceed a certain amount. Below that level damage is minimal.

The signal levels for cell phones and wifi are less than tenth of the output of these meters. As well an apartment dwellers may be sleeping within a few inches of banks of dozens of this units.
It is impossible to tell how metal objects in the vicinity are concentrating the signal.

All this could have been avoided if BCHydro spent a few extra bucks wiring the signal right to the meter.

Unfortunately, that was politically impossible as a new NDP government could open up the smart meter communication channel for broadband, drastically cutting Telus and Shaw's revenue and the Campbelloni's campaign donations.
Rating: 0
For smart meters to have health effects, there has to be a mechanism behind them. There is none, just as there is no debate about the safety of smart meters among actual health professionals. It's only among the uninformed and the hysterical that there is any question. It's the same flawed "logic" that leads people to oppose wi-fi in schools, or fuels the antivax crowd, and it has no basis in actual science.
Rating: -1
Save Vancouver
Ah, what would the last week of the year be without the weekly dose of the Straight's tinfoil-hat paranoid rantings about smart meters. Keep up the good "journalism". Maybe something about aliens and Atlantis next issue?
Rating: +4
Would any of you buy a used car from BC Hydro?
Rating: -4
Coach Dobbs
What about the fact that these meters are not perfect and can result in dramatically inaccurate readings of consumption,
Such inaccuracies can be attributed to a number of factors including the type of wiring (usually older), age, climate, types of appliances and so on.
Without the analog gauges there is now no way to determine wether or not the meter is properly reading the usage. Like cell phone data usage the user is at the mercy of the service provider with respect to interpeting the data properly and not in their favor. But no worries, we can trust Hydro.
Rating: -3
I enjoy the Straight but these kinds of unsupported stories really bring the publication down IMO. RF levels from smart meters are no higher than what you're exposed to walking down the street. If you think a smart meter on the outside of your house is something worth worrying about, I sincerely hope you're being consistent and avoiding cellphones and radios.
Rating: -6
Michael Casternaveras
I work in internal IT support. We had an employee report something wrong with her PC, every two days, for several months. At first we tried to help her, but it became apparent that she was the source of the problem. So we secretly switched her PC with the employee that sat next to her. She continued to report the same problems and her colleague reported none. After two weeks of this we had a meeting with the her and her manager and let her know the game was up. Her PC did not need fixing...she needed training to understand how not to break her own computer. She got the training and we've never had a call from her since.

I'm sure if BC Hydro installed a fake smart meter at this woman's home she would report the same health problems. Consumers just need better "training" regarding the health effects. More importantly, Hydro needs to communicate the DIRECT BENEFITS of these new meters to the consumer, not just the benefits to Hydro.
Rating: -2
Just because some of us have become paranoid, does not mean these "smart meters" aren't dangerous. Why would anyone ASSUME they're safe? Why do people swallow the blatant talking around the issues. Omitting most of the concerns.

Has Hydro actually 'guaranteed' in writing that these things are safe and properly calibrated?

How would they know? Why would they care if they can just ram this crap through this way. They haven't published any health studies that I've seen.

Saying there's no proof, is not the same as saying it's safe.

And why doesn't hydro even mention that some of the machines will act as relays for all the neighbouring homes too. Who chooses which unlucky family that will be?

If there were real benefits we wouldn't hear so much outrage over increased rates, health effects, electrical problems from the other unfortunate areas that already have them.

In California and Ontario, people have to do laundry in the middle of the night, and are still paying way more than before.

This is supposed to be a democracy. In this economy it is criminal to create amount of expense on something we weren't given a say in. It's obvious that someone is profiting big-time, and it sure isn't the public.

Next they'll tax how much air we breathe and make sure someone else profits by it. Why do so many people give up and rollover without even questioning? It's obvious that critical thinking skills were missed at school and weren't learned over time. Next we'll hear whiners saying " But they said it wasn't dangerous and would save us money, how were we supposed to know it was a lie?.... Poor me, I'm such a victim!.."

If they're so accurate, why aren't they sending info via fibreoptic or cable etc. I bet in no time the grow opps will be hacking and changing the readings sent anyway. So that can't be it. It probably works to their benefit now.

Get a grip, this whole fiasco makes no sense at all. We ought to really be raising more he** about this!
Rating: -5
1. Must-See 4-minute youtube video on Smart meters


2. The WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION May 31 2011 placed the Non-ionizing radiation coming from Wireless smart meters (& some other wireless devices) on the Class 2-B Carcinogen List.

3. The NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF HEALTH Feb 2011 found biological changes in the brain after only minutes of exposure to non-ionizing radiation.


(1) Human Cell Damage

(2) DNA Chain Breaks

(3) Breaches in the Blood-Brain Barrier

from levels of non-ionizing radiation lower than emitted by WIRELESS Smart meters.

5. INSURANCE COMPANIES Hired Independent Laboratory Scientists and they also observed Cell Damage and DNA Chain Breaks. Now Insurance Companies will NOT Insure Liability damage from Wireless Smart meters and other wireless devices.
 TV Video (3 minutes)

Cell Phone use and other devices are Voluntary and can be shut off at the user’s discretion, but Smart meters mounted on homes are emitting radiation 24/7 and can not be shut off.

 Video Interview: Nuclear Scientist, Daniel Hirsch, (5 minutes)

Video Interview: Dr. Carpenter, New York Public Health Department, Dean of Public Health, (2 minutes)

 2-page Press Release

9. RADIATION MEASURED FROM SMART METER MOUNTED ON A HOME (once active in the utility system) SHOWS RADIATION TRANSMISSION PULSES APPROXIMATELY ONCE EVERY FOUR SECONDS 24 HOURS PER DAY traveling through the bodies and brains of the inhabitants of that home. 
Youtube Video (6 minutes, 1st minute is sufficient)

PG$E, California’s Utility Monopoly, recently admitted that each smart meter mounted on a home transmits radiation between 10,000 and 190,000 times each day.

This admission corrected previous false statements repeated often by many utility companies across the country.

NOTE: many of the tests on non-ionizing radiation (the type of radiation emitted by smart meters) have been done using devices other than smart meters because smart meters have only been in people’s homes for a very short time.

But as a Wireless smart meter emits 100 times more radiation than a cell phone, it is not difficult to project. If a machine gun (smart meter) fires 100 bullets in the same time that a pistol (cell phone) fires one bullet, it is not difficult to project the harm that the machine gun can do, even if the tests were done with the pistol.
Rating: 0
Peter Ritchie
Let me guess, the paranoid and insane in the province will manage to win another referendum that makes the province less inhabitable for those of us with brains.
Smart Meters are required for those of us who want to buy solar panels or wind turbines to power our homes, businesses in a green manner, and sell extra power back to the grid. The old analog meters are simply incapable of working with green energy in this manner, and they should really have been scrapped over a decade ago (like the PST, if I may add that in as well).
Rating: +6
How the hell is it paranoid and insane to look at what is happening in Cali and Ontario, and deduce the same will happen here? I can't afford fancy schmancy solar panels, I'm a renter FFS. You want a smart meter? More power to ya (no pun intended). For my part, I don't want my hydro bill going through the fucking roof.

Give us a choice. So Peter Richsnot can do his thing, and I can save money with my analog meter.

Why is that too much to fucking ask?

Rating: +2
Ron Johnson
After reading the comments on many sites I suspect BC Hydro marketing is behind many of them - the insulting ones that insinuate people are paranoid or 'wear tin foil hats' if they are afraid of smart meter radiation. There are volumes of research on the dangers of EMF radiation. Comparing it to cell phones is misleading, they are not cell phones. If this project could stand the light of day it wouldn't be being rushed through completion at a frantic pace before you know what hit you. Good luck in avoiding cancer. BTW the DNA damage is cumulative, it builds over your lifetime. All this from your local US directed 'utility' company.
Rating: +4
Ron Bolin
Remember when what doctors had to say about cigarettes was that one brand "tasted" better than the others? Remember when asbestos cut the costs of fires and was a super insulant? Remember when thalidomide was a serious sleep aid? Do you know anyone who is allergic to peanuts, milk or gluten, or cats? Did you know that there are many ways to achieve the end of metering that do not involve the airwaves? Did you know that for a long time you have been able to buy devices which would allow you to read your household or device use of electricity? Do you remember when a corporation had to sell you a product and could not force it down your throat? Do you remember those days? What ever happened to them?
Rating: -6
John Anderson
This is a non-story. One person's experience does not qualify as "data", nor does the plural of anecdote translate into "data". Most of us could do more for our health by exercising more and eating less fatty foods according to the scientific data from Health Canada.
Rating: +6
Save Vancouver
To Ron Johnson - Sorry Ronny, no BC Hydro marketing behind me, just a contempt for those trying to use hysterical scare tactics over a non-issue. And an equal contempt for a supposed "media outlet" like the Straight for fanning the flames of paranoia.

Maybe when all of you publicly prove you've turned in your cell phones, junked your microwaves and banned laptops from your homes I'll take you seriously.
Rating: +1
My favourite part of debating smart meter critics is their obvious lack of understanding of the technology. They'll be in an uproar about a smart meter installed outside their house, but have no trouble carrying around a smartphone in their pocket.

Same technology, same cell towers people.
Rating: -2
glen p robbins
So Robert Williams put some effort into his post. One of the videos he alludes to discusses "implied consent". Basically implied consent is determined by the action of the individual homeowner with regard to the policy of installing these smart meters. The majority of people are permitting the installation of the smart meters. Whether they are doing so out of ignorance isn't the point. BC Hydro has a policy to install smart meters - and they are acting on that policy. If a new meter is placed on a person's home and that person does nothing about it - they have given their consent by their action - or non action. According to general definition implied consent is a featured element of police breathalyzers where it is presumed that when you drive a vehicle you have consented to this or alternatively in spousal rape cases it is presumed you consent to sexual relations as a consequence of entering into marriage.

The example also cites legal cases where one lawyer uses a line of questioning on a particular witness. If the line of questioning is not challenged it is presumed that the person being questioned accepts that line of questioning under implied consent.

BC Hydro is a monopoly. Notwithstanding this it has a right to put the smart meters in place - unless an address says "No". What will be interesting will be the following imo: At the end of implementation if there are any citizens or groups who commence a class action. As part of that class action will they seek out groups and individuals in private dwellings or condos (representatives) who have said "No" to smart meter and then had them forced upon them after saying "No". As part of that class action what will be the evidence of the research that BC Hydro acquired before putting the policy in place.

I would have thought that in order to distill the science from the milieu of voodoo/propaganda that the meters would have been tested in BC for a period of at least some time in a specific area of the province. Smart meters have been around and we ought to have done our testing and looked at results from that imo. To implement a policy in this manner is a little Orwellian - it reflects to some degree government's disrespect for private property rights in the country and in our province. To predicate an entire implementation on the basis of consent which is implied is once again letting the lawyers be catalysts for public policy - and that is hurting us.

For me, this is a little like the HST - not enough consultation - not enough dissemination of information - too abrupt. Because BC Hydro is a monopoly it is important that these steps be thoughtfully considered. Remember, Campbell first brought this up around 2006 or 2007. Waited - waited (likely for the election of 2009) and then sprung the HST and rolled out this policy after getting his foot in the door.

It's pretty crass - and unfortunate that our government is so far behind being modern - it is like being in 1984 in BC imo
Rating: +3


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