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What is a safe proximity from a Smart Meter for a pregnant woman?
February 6, 2014 2:10 PM   Subscribe

My home's Smart Meter is located directly across from my kitchen sink, on the exterior side of the wall they share. I probably spend about 40 minutes each day standing within 2 feet of the meter, doing dishes and washing produce, etc. My stove is only about 4 feet from the meter, and I love to cook so I spend a considerable amount of time there as well. I am hoping to become pregnant soon. Is this exposure to radiation something I should be at all concerned about?

I know there is some controversy surrounding the issue of the long term effects of cell phone radiation exposure, so I am pretty vigilant about keeping my phone in airplane mode when I'm not using it, just to be on the safe side. Can anyone out there educate me about how the radiation emitted by a Smart Meter stacks up next to that of a cell phone, whether they are the same type of radiation, and whether there have been any controlled studies indicating their safety or lack thereof? And is it possible to opt out of Smart Meters in Texas?
posted by lmpatte2 to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
The radiation from a smart meter is about 0.00001 times what a cell phone emits. And radiation from a cell phone has been found to be negligible.
posted by chevyvan at 2:14 PM on February 6 [20 favorites]


Can anyone out there educate me about how the radiation emitted by a Smart Meter stacks up next to that of a cell phone, whether they are the same type of radiation, and whether there have been any controlled studies indicating their safety or lack thereof

They've been studied and no health impacts have been found.
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 2:20 PM on February 6 [4 favorites]


Also keep in mind that what it is radiating is non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation, which is a different thing from the ionizing radiation that you get from things like the decay of radioactive isotopes or nuclear reactions. You are basically surrounded by sources of non-ionizing radiation daily (WiFi signals, Cell signals, TV/Radio stations, Solar energy, etc.), and the power of whatever the smart meter is outputting is likely negligible in that context.
posted by Aleyn at 2:24 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


How close are you to a radio tower or cell phone tower? If one of those is a single digit number of blocks away(and a cell phone tower probably is unless you live in the sticks) then i bet you're getting like, orders of magnitude more power from that.

This is like being worried about food additives giving you cancer when your roommate chain-smokes with the windows closed.

And to be clear, even that(by which i mean the transmission towers) is known to be safe for the reasons described above.
posted by emptythought at 2:34 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


The low powered radio transmissions from the box will have no measurable effect on your body. What's important is taking your pre-natal supplements, particularly folic acid and avoiding stress.
posted by w0mbat at 2:44 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


To your last question, it is possible to opt out of smart meters in Texas, but it will cost you, possibly quite a bit. You'll need to contact your utility for the specifics.

In my own view, there are much better ways to spend that money.
posted by nickmark at 3:08 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


You're getting more radiation from radio stations, satellite signals, and the wires in your house – not to mention the sun, even when you're indoors – than you are from your cell phone or your electricity meter. None of it is harmful. (Well, some solar radiation is harmful, but that's not the kind we're talking about here.) The wavelengths that we're dealing with are down in the radio and microwave part of the spectrum, which is extremely low-energy and doesn't have any ability to damage your cells.

Think of radiation as baseballs. It's far from a perfect analogy, but it'll do for our purposes. A moving baseball's energy varies according to its speed, just as a moving photon (the particles that carry radiation) varies according to its wavelength. One is kinetic energy and the other is electromagnetic energy, but for the purposes of our analogy that difference is unimportant.

Now, a single baseball travelling at 100 mph is almost certainly going to do some damage if it hits you, just as a single gamma ray particle vibrating at 1019 Hz is going to do some damage if it hits you. (Most gamma rays pass right through you without hitting anything at all, but the few that do hit have enough energy to break molecular bonds, which is how radiation burns and radiation-induced cancers are caused.)

However, even 100 baseballs are unlikely to cause you any harm if they're only travelling at 1 mph. (It would still be inconvenient, but that's just a flaw in our analogy so we can ignore it.) They simply aren't carrying enough energy to do any damage. Equally, radio waves and microwaves, with frequencies down around 103 to 109 Hz, are simply not energetic enough to do any damage to your body no matter how many of them you are exposed to.* They are, as other people have mentioned, non-ionizing. What that means, roughly speaking, is that they lack the energy to break molecular bonds; you need to get up at least into the hard ultraviolet to see damage from radiation (this of course is what causes sunburns).

There's definitely been a lot of concern about these types of radiation, but you don't need to be concerned. The concern has come from a combination of misunderstood science, manipulative media organizations that are happy to mangle the truth if they think they can use it to frighten people into watching/reading/listening to them, conspiracy theorists, and flawed research.

In truth, the principles involved are very well understood in the sciences; so well understood that even I, a biologist, know about this despite the fact that it falls in the jurisdiction of physics. To someone who's been trained in the sciences it's elementary stuff (not that I'm saying it's elementary to everyone – there's no shame in not being a scientist, obviously – but to people with that particular background it's well-trodden ground). There's also been quite a bit of solid research into the subject along with the flawed stuff – albeit scientists were at first reluctant to do it because of the sheer implausibility of the hypothesis and the fear of being snickered at by their colleagues – and despite what you've probably heard it's really quite definitive. The kinds of radiation that you're asking about in this question carry no risk.

Now, if you want to start worrying about chemical additives in food and consumer products, then we'll have a real can of worms on our hands. But as far as the radiation from your electricity meter, your cell phone, or any other appliances or electrical equipment around your home? Don't worry about it. It's fine. It's about as harmful as a rather dim flashlight would be, and for exactly the same reasons. There are plenty of things in our modern lifestyle that are worth concern, but this isn't one of them. You can safely put it out of your mind.

*Microwaves at 2.4x109 Hz exactly are a special case; that's the resonant frequency of water, so if you have enough of them (many orders of magnitude more than something like an old-fashioned cordless phone or a wireless router would put out – you'd have to be literally inside your microwave oven to get this effect) you can get water molecules to vibrate and heat up. This is not a concern with the radiation coming from appliances, I promise you. Not only are the particles too few, but water is also very good at absorbing that frequency and turning it into heat (otherwise microwave ovens wouldn't work) so what little of it there is in the environment can't really penetrate into your body. In any case it's a rather different effect from what things like UV and gamma rays do, and it's specific only to the 2.4GHz frequency and then only when that frequency is present in very large amounts, millions to billions of times more than what a cordless phone or WiFi router generates.
posted by Scientist at 3:15 PM on February 6 [64 favorites]


Smart Meters
What are smart meters? (American Cancer Society)

Sroll down to the section "Can smart meters cause cancer?"
posted by lampshade at 3:38 PM on February 6


Honestly, I think that "Can smart meters cause cancer?" section on the ACS website is a bit misguided. When it starts with, "smart meters emit RF waves, which are a type of electromagnetic radiation, so there is the potential for them to cause harm," they're just using bad science. That statement is, frankly, incorrect.

Not all types of electromagnetic radiation are even potentially harmful. To cause harm the radiation needs to be many orders of magnitude higher, either in frequency or in amplitude or both, compared to what a smart meter puts out. If one or both of those criteria is lacking (which it definitely is in smart meters) then there is not even the potential for harm.

To go back to the baseball analogy and extend it a bit further, they need to be either moving fast enough that an impact causes damage (high frequency) or else there need to be so many of them that you are physically squashed under the pressure of all the baseballs piled on top of you (high amplitude).

What's coming out of a smart meter is the equivalent, in our analogy, of being gently bumped by a baseball moving at a slow walking pace, once every few hours. It's just not possible for it to cause damage.

The paragraph on the ACS website uses language that is not just prudently cautious, but actually contrafactual. I don't know why they've done that – they are presumably a science-based organization, so they should know better – but they have, and it's wrong. I suspect that that language was put in by their PR department (probably over the indignant objections of their science consultants) in order to deter conspiracy theorists and litigious charlatans from throwing a fit. It does a disservice to their readers though, by stating that a potential for harm exists when in fact it does not.
posted by Scientist at 4:03 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


Data on RF emissions of smart meters. Short version: "the exposure to radio frequency from a smart meter [at a range of 8 inches] – over its entire 20-year life span – is less than a single 30-minute cell phone call."
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:10 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Thanks, all. I feel so much better about this now. Though it would have been nice to have an excuse to make my husband do the dishes for 9 months.... Maybe I'll do that anyway. :)
posted by lmpatte2 at 5:03 PM on February 6 [6 favorites]


agree with all of the above; the hazard of smart meters isn't radiation, it's privacy. in the coming "internet of things", your smart meter will know when your refrigerator light goes on.

an ideal husband would do the dishes about half of the time anyway.
posted by bruce at 6:22 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Thanks, all. I feel so much better about this now. Though it would have been nice to have an excuse to make my husband do the dishes for 9 months.... Maybe I'll do that anyway. :)

You're pregnant - that's all the excuse you need.

"I'm actively building a HUMAN BEING over here. The LEAST you could do is clean the kitchen!".
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 7:33 PM on February 6 [3 favorites]


agree with all of the above; the hazard of smart meters isn't radiation, it's privacy. in the coming "internet of things", your smart meter will know when your refrigerator light goes on. an ideal husband would do the dishes about half of the time anyway.

Yeah... I've read concerns about privacy regarding Smart Meters, but I'm quite comfortable with anyone and their dog knowing how often I open the fridge. I don't have many skeletons in my closet, but I sure have juicier secrets than that. :) (And the dishes are my chore for the time being, but hubbs does the cat pan, trash, recycling, grocery shopping, cleans the bathrooms, and works 12 hour days. He's pretty ideal in my book!)

"I'm actively building a HUMAN BEING over here. The LEAST you could do is clean the kitchen!"

Filing that away for future use! :)
posted by lmpatte2 at 7:42 PM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Supposedly there are all kinda of things for pregnant women to worry about, but if you do further research you'll find that most of the things are myths/very low percentage chance of happening.

Googling pregnancy myths will lead you to all kinds of stuff. The article I linked isn't the greatest but it does hit some of the highlights.

Best pregnancy advice is to google it every time someone tells you something nonsensical.
In my first pregnancy my MiL freaked out when I was reaching over my head to change some light bulbs. She told me pregnant women shouldn't reach above their heads. I had never heard that so I googled it and found out that it is a myth, but supposedly reaching overhead was likely to wrap the umbilical cord around the babies neck. Google reassured me that it wasn't true.
posted by MadMadam at 8:08 PM on February 6


Sorry for getting off track, but someone kindly pointed out to me via MeMail that 2.4GHz isn't actually the resonant frequency of water, and the microwave heating effect isn't confined to that particular frequency. To correct my previous statement: there's a broad range of microwave-band frequencies that can be used to heat water, but none of them will cause heating unless present in quantities many orders of magnitude greater than are used for signalling by things like phones and smart meters. You're still safe unless you manage to put your head inside a microwave oven and turn it on.
posted by Scientist at 10:26 AM on February 7


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