Charbonneau: Meters pose little danger to humanity

David Charbonneau / Kamloops Daily News
February 13, 2013 01:00 AM

The threshold of danger from electromagnetic radiation can be explained by one word: frequency. If you want to know the risk of any source, such as smart meters, find out where it is on the electromagnetic spectrum.

Let's start at the low end.

Low frequencies aren't dangerous because they don't radiate easily. Power utilities use 60 hertz on transmission lines, for example.

At that frequency, little power is radiated. It's a good thing; otherwise power would be lost along the way and never get to its destination. However, power lines can radiate a small amount of noise at higher frequencies, which you can detect on a car radio as you drive under them.

Mid-range frequencies radiate well but the effect is heat. If the power is low, as from smart meters, the heat produced is imperceptible. A glowing stove burner operates at a higher frequency (infrared) and at a greater power (up to 1,000 watts) than a smart meter.

Smart meters are in the same microwave region of the EMF spectrum as cellphones, motion detectors, wi-fi, cordless phones and, of course, microwave ovens. Microwave ovens produce a substantial amount of heating.

That's how they cook food. But as long as the door seal is not damaged, no harmful heating occurs outside the oven cavity.

Frequencies higher than microwaves and infrared are dangerous because they produce ionizing radiation. That's when radiation causes damage to otherwise healthy tissue that can lead to cancer. These frequencies start in the ultraviolet range and go up through X-rays to gamma rays. They burn your skin when you sit in the sun because they break the electron bonds that hold molecules together.

Unlike smart meters, the sun radiates frequencies throughout the EMF spectrum, some of them dangerous and some not. Instead, the sun's radiation is a mixed blessing, producing healthy vitamin D and causing skin cancer. However, there are more dangerous sources of radiation in your home than smart meters. While not one death has been attributed to smart meters, about 3,200 Canadians die annually of radon gas exposure, according to a report from Health Canada.

Most of these deaths are due to lung cancer. The radiation from radon gas is from high energy electrons and helium nuclei (beta and alpha particles), not high energy photons as in the case of EMF but the damage to human tissue is from the same ionization.

One the most comprehensive studies on EMF was done by the SCENIHR Committee of the European Commission in 2009. The 86-page report has been used by both sides of the smart meter debate.

"It is concluded from three independent lines of evidence (epidemiological, animal and in-vitro studies) that exposure to RF fields is unlikely to lead to an increase in cancer in humans," say the authors.

Despite the improbability of cancer, the report shows characteristic scientific caution.

"However, as the widespread duration of exposure of humans to RF fields from mobile phones is shorter than the induction time of some cancers, further studies are required to identify whether considerably longer-term (well beyond 10 years) human exposure to such phones might pose some cancer risk."

David Charbonneau is a retired TRU electronics instructor.

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