THURSDAY was "a day of action to stop smart meters" organized by the U.S.-based National Campaign to Stop Smart Meters.
Likely you missed it. Four protests were organized in British Columbia, while the campaign's website lists barely 20 protests across the entire United States. Meanwhile, a B.C. Citizen's Initiative Petition website to stop smart meters has yet to hit 6,000 names. It would seem that the level of general concern about possible harmful effects radiating from the meters is dying down. Nevertheless, a small percentage of the population remains convinced that wireless technology is a source of electromagnetic radiation that is dangerous to our health.
The controversy surrounding radio frequency radiation given off by cellphones, cellphone towers, wireless networks and smart meters has boiled over in recent years. The wireless industry claims its technologies and levels of radiation are safe, while people around the world claim their health is negatively affected by electromagnetic radiation.
Nasrin Nemetzade says she has electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). Patients with EHS suffer a variety of symptoms from heart palpitations to migraines they claim are caused by radio frequency radiation. Living in West Vancouver Nemetzade says she first experienced symptoms when she would go to the mall. "I'd get sort of foggy brain," she says.
Her symptoms escalated to a sharp pain in her left ear when she spoke on a cellphone, and included headaches, nausea, heaviness of her body, anxiety and over stimulation of her nervous system.
"You know that western medicine doctors don't know anything about EHS and my naturopath actually tested me. On the sole of the foot on the inside there is a point where he tests the sensitivity to electromagnetic fields. It was very painful and he found out that I am very sensitive," Nemetzade says.
She has no Wi-Fi in her home, she keeps her cellphone off in the house and has resisted getting a new BC Hydro smart meter. Avoiding the radio frequencies that are emitted by these technologies helps Nemetzade reduce her symptoms. But she says she fears more radiation will come as Vancouver continues to be a leader in wireless technology development and implementation.
"I feel actually in danger here because I have no right to defend my health which is my human right, which is my legal right, which is my birthright, to live healthy. Now I see there are forces that are taking these rights away from me and that makes me fearful and upset," Nemetzade says. "In my mind, what's going on here in Canada, in Vancouver, in the whole of North America with all this smart grid that they want to install is genocide on a long-term basis."
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EHS is not a medical diagnosis that is recognized by Health Canada or the World Health Organization. Dr. David Michelson, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at UBC, studies electromagnetic waves and fields. He says from a public health perspective he has no concerns about the radio frequency waves that are associated with wireless technology.
"Radio frequency signals we are talking about from cellphone towers and all that are not just a thousand times weaker or a million times weaker, they're a billion times weaker than anything we could sense," says Michelson
Michelson explains that the radiation wave spectrum goes from high energy gamma and X-rays that can cause devastating damage to cells down to ultra violet light which can cause DNA alterations and cancer down to visible light. Below visible light waves are low energy radio frequencies that the wireless technologies use.
At each level of radiation the waves have energy called photons. The gamma and X-ray photons are very energetic and have the ability to cause chemical changes in cells.
"By the time you get down to radio frequency waves, the photons are so weak that when they actually impact a molecule they really can't do very much more than to make it rotate and vibrate," says Michelson.
He says the vibration and rotation cause heating but, "there's no chemical changes taking place."
Safety Code 6 released by Health Canada and updated in 2009 echoes this finding. "At present, there is no scientific basis for the premise of chronic and/or cumulative health risks from RF energy at levels below the limits outlined in Safety Code 6," states the code. Michelson says that the code is enough of a protection for the public.
Scientists from universities and government research labs have been looking at radio frequency radiation for many decades to see if there are any hazards to human health, says Michelson.
"Part of the reason they are so diligent is if anybody comes up with a link between very weak radio frequency signals and human health that they're pretty well assured of the greatest academic honours out there; there will be all sorts of awards awaiting them and recognition. So nobody is holding back; if there's anything there, people want to find it," Michelson says.
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Farren Lander has a company called Health Homes Environmental that operates in Metro Vancouver testing wireless radiation among other things. He thinks that radio frequency fields are making people sick with EHS and cancers.
"I have dealt with literally dozens and dozens and dozens of people who are very, very sick. I was just sitting with a former IT specialist who was sitting on his couch crying because the neighbours have Wi-Fi going," Lander says. "He can't sleep, he can't eat, he's having trouble thinking and running his business."
Lander uses German-made instruments to measure radio frequencies in homes, businesses and stores. When he goes to do inspections on sites where he knows there are radio frequencies, he says he wears a coat and gloves with silver wires woven into the fabric to protect himself from the waves.
Lander says the vibration of cells caused by radio frequency radiation creates problems with the central nervous system, the autonomic nervous system and the blood-brain barrier. He says Safety Code 6 is inadequate. He expects that as people experience more radiation from smart meters, Wi-Fi and new cellphone towers, his business will increase.
Though EHS is not classified as a disorder in Canada, Lander believes it will be in the future. He cites the fact the World Health Organization and the International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified radio frequency electromagnetic fields as possible carcinogens to humans under class 2B.
Other possible carcinogens in this classification group include coffee and engine exhaust from gasoline, says the IARC and WHO website.
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The most recently released study into radio frequency radiation was made public Sept. 13 in Norway. The study, entitled Low-level Radio Frequency Electromagnetic Fields - An Assessment of Health Risks and Evaluation of Regulatory Practice, was published by the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. The institute assembled a cross-disciplinary expert committee to study electromagnetic fields that are part of the frequency spectrum called radio frequency fields. It concluded, "the large total number of studies provides no evidence that exposure to weak RF fields causes adverse health effects."
The committee analyzed national and international research reports and expert reviews and reports into the health effects of radio frequencies.
"The studies have been performed on cells and tissues, and in animals and humans. The effects that have been studied apply to changes in organ systems, functions and other effects. There are also a large number of population studies with an emphasis on studies of cancer risk. The large total number of studies provides no evidence that exposure to weak RF fields causes adverse health effects. Some measurable biological/physiological effects cannot be ruled out."
The committee also commented on EHS saying, "that scientific studies indicate that electromagnetic fields are not the direct or contributing cause of the condition of health problems attributed to electromagnetic fields (electromagnetic hypersensitivity)."
The experts do call for health services to take people with these health problems seriously and treat them as they would other patients. It advises general caution surrounding wireless technology and suggests, "exposure should not be higher than needed to achieve the intended purpose."
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This recommendation is far below what Una St. Clair, one of the founders of Citizens for Safe Technology, would like. She thinks wireless should be dialled back, Internet should be hard-wired and hydro meters should stay analog.
St. Clair started her group in 2008 the same year she discovered she has EHS. She started looking into the health effects of radio frequency radiation in 2004 when her children were enrolled in an elementary school where they used wireless laptops.
"In 2004, there was already science showing harmful effect - specifically damage to DNA, damage to memory, changes in learning and behaviour - and there were some significant issues that I felt I didn't want my children to be exposed to," says St. Clair.
Four years later St. Clair became ill. She suffered migraines, irregular heartbeats, insomnia, irritable bowl syndrome and fainting spells. After a battery of tests and visits with medical experts, St. Clair concluded the Wi-Fi router in her office had been turned on, unbeknownst to her, and made her sick. She says her family doctor supports her diagnosis of EHS.
"What I feel is happening to us is from accumulated exposure that has somehow created a sensitivity in our bodies to specifically pulsed man-made microwaves," St. Clair says.
She is 100 per cent positive that there are biological changes happening in her body as a result of radio frequency waves. As time continues, she thinks more people will develop the sensitivity and Health Canada will be forced to deal with EHS.
People who suffer with symptoms of EHS in Canada can get a referral from their family doctor to Toronto's Women's College Hospital where they can get help at the environmental health clinic.
The Citizens for Safe Technology was part of a group that lobbied for two resolutions passed by the B.C. Confederation of Parent Advisory Councils. The first resolution was to limit wireless Internet in schools. The second was to provide one Wi-Fi-free school at each age level
- elementary, middle and high school - in each district.
St. Clair says ultimately her group wants to provide people and children with choices and options about their exposure to radio frequency waves and to prevent involuntary exposure.
St. Clair is adamantly opposed to BC Hydro's new smart meters and is heading up a class action suit to be heard by the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal. She argues she should have the option of having a wired meter as the new smart meters will make her extremely sick.
On Aug. 28, the tribunal accepted the case - on the condition that St. Clair narrowly define her group to just people who have EHS, wrote Enid Marion, a tribunal member.
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BC Hydro spokeswoman for smart meters, Cindy Verschoor, says BC Hydro will co-operate with the tribunal's process and provide scientific evidence that smart meters are safe.
Currently there is no option for BC Hydro customers to opt out of the smart meter program. What customers can do is have their meter moved to another part of their property at their own cost.
People who do not want a smart meter can ask to have their instillation put on a hold list. Verschoor says that about three to four per cent of their customers are on the hold list for various reasons. BC Hydro has installed 71,000 smart meters on the North Shore and has 7,000 more to install this fall, Verschoor says.
She says that the smart meters communicate for about one minute a day at a power of one watt.
"The total exposure if you stood next to a smart meter for 20 years would be less than you would get from a 30-minute cellphone call," Verschoor says.
She adds, "the provincial health officer, Health Canada and the World Health Organization have all confirmed that smart meters are not a cause of concern."
Shawn Hall, spokesman for Telus, says that Telus will be working to install six more wireless sites on the North Shore in the coming months. He says this is based on the many complaints Telus receives from people asking for improved wireless services. People's fears about radio frequency radiation is based on junk science, says Hall.
"What most people don't understand is that the amount of signal coming off a cellphone tower is minute. Somewhere in the range of 15 to 60 watts, enough to power a small light bulb," Hall says.
Hall says that all of Telus's cell sites are in compliance with Safety Code 6. The location and instillation of cellular antenna systems is federally regulated and Industry Canada has the authority to allow cell towers to be built over objections from local government.
Hall would not release the number of Telus cell towers and antennas that are on the North Shore but the Loxcel Canadian Cell Tower Map, available online at loxcel.com/celltower, shows 58 cell sites on the North Shore. Often, each of these sites has more than one carrier's antenna.
Rogers and Shaw did not respond to interview requests.
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Jeanine Bratina, spokeswoman for the District of North Vancouver, says there are currently five agreements to put wireless antennas on existing structures and that no new towers have been recently approved.
"The district does have a policy in place that sets out the guidelines, criteria and permit requirements for wireless telecommunications facilities," wrote Bratina.
In West Vancouver, two applications have been put on hold as the district reviews its policy on wireless technology infrastructure, says municipal spokeswoman Donna Powers.
Currently the district is looking for input from the community regarding the creation of a new policy regarding cell towers, rooftop antennas and existing infrastructure reuse. On Sept. 24, it released a draft policy that recommends the visual impact of cell towers be minimized, they not be placed near schools or residential neighbourhoods and that carriers work together to upgrade existing cell sites rather than build new ones.
The City of North Vancouver did not provide information on its cell tower applications or policy.
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Radio frequency waves drive so much of the technology we take for granted while expecting it to work seamlessly, that it's hard to imagine turning back the clock if the alleged safety concerns are ever proven.
There may never be a one-size-fits-all consensus. As St. Clair says:
"People in general are all different. You've got tall and short and fat and thin and big boned and small boned. So it's the same thing for this sensitivity. Some people are sensitive to perfumes, chemicals, smoke, those types of thing, others are perfectly fine and healthy as long as that environmental trigger is not present. And this is the same thing."