Nature of the Debate over Health Effects

From the view of the proponents of smart grid technology, “…smart meters offer consumers the means with which to economically optimize and plan their use of electricity, while providing the electric utility the information to more efficiently operate the system, pinpointing issues with local service in real time.  Smart meters deployed in California and many other states across the U.S. communicate wirelessly, meaning that they both receive and emit RF electromagnetic fields.  The smart meters studied in California operate at a power of 1 watt or less, producing fields that are very small compared to the exposure limits published by the FCC, ICNIRP and IEEE, even at very close distances to the meter face. …  there is no evidence for adverse effects of RF exposure below the level documented in laboratory experiments that caused tissue heating accompanied by behavioral disruption.”  [Reference:  Electric Power Research Institute Document 1024952,  “EPRI Comments: A Perspective on Two Smart Meter Memoranda,” February 2012.]

In addition, a document issued by the California Council for Science and Technology, Final Report, dated April 2011, entitled, “Health Impacts of Radio Frequency Exposure from Smart Meters,” page 13, it states:

“There currently is no conclusive [emphasis added] scientific evidence pointing to a non-thermal cause-and-effect between human exposure to RF emissions and negative health impacts.”

The term conclusive is generally understood to mean, “putting an end to debate or question especially by reason of irrefutability.”

The type of discussion and logic employed in the above statements essentially represents a straw man argument for this issue, which is based upon the premise that “conclusive” evidence is needed prior to taking action.  However, in biology and medicine, there is very little that is known conclusively or with near 100% certainty.

From the viewpoint of those who advise caution in using wireless technologies, including smart meters, arguments normally include the elements listed below.

From May 24-31, 2011, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a Working Group of 31 scientists from 14 countries, met in Lyon, France “to assess the potential carcinogenic hazards from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields.”  The conclusion of the IARC Working Group was to classify “radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B) … A positive association has been observed between exposure to the agent and cancer for which a causal interpretation is considered by the Working Group to be credible,…”

According to the press statement made on May 31, 2011:

“Over the last few years, there has been mounting concern about the possibility of adverse health effects resulting from exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields, such as those emitted by wireless communication devices.”

“The IARC Monograph Working Group discussed the possibility that these exposures might induce long‐term health effects, in particular an increased risk for cancer.  This has relevance for public health, particularly for users of mobile phones, as the number of users is large and growing, particularly among young adults and children.”

“Dr Jonathan Samet (University of Southern California, USA), overall Chairman of the Working Group, indicated that ‘the evidence, while still accumulating, is strong enough to support a conclusion and the 2B classification.’”

Reference: World Health Organization Press Release, N-208, May 31, 2011.

Link at:

In addition to the above IARC press information, Robert Baan, PhD, a member of the IARC Monographs, wrote a clarifying e-mail on Mon, 29 Aug 2011, where he stated:

“So the classification 2B, possibly carcinogenic, holds for all types of radiation within the radiofrequency part of the electromagnetic spectrum, including the radiation emitted by base-station antennas, radio/TV towers, radar, Wi-Fi, smart meters, etc.”

Furthermore, according to the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM), “In recent years our members and colleagues have reported an increase in patients whose symptoms are reversible by eliminating wireless radiating devices in their homes such as cell phones, cordless phones and wireless internet systems.”

So at issue here is really how much “evidence” do you really need to begin taking action to protect the public?  It is noteworthy that there appears to be a disparity of opinion between the judgment of certain bureaucratic scientific bodies and promoters of wireless technology as compared to those who practice medicine.

Do you need “conclusive evidence” to take action, or is “limited evidence” sufficient to take a precautionary approach?

Although physicians make use of evidence-based science, they supplement science with actual observation of a patient’s history and presenting physical signs and symptoms.  Physicians utilize both subjective and objective data that lead to a conclusion.  Physicians draw upon diagnostic skills and clinical experience as well as scientific information and clinical research when they exercise clinical judgment.  The practice of medicine involves the well-informed care of patients.  When a diagnosis for a patient is uncertain, the physician will “think outside the box” to look for an odd correlate or telling detail that will lead to a plausible hypothesis that can be engaged and tested.  Providing a “standard of care” reflects both an art (clinical judgment) and science (published peer reviewed literature) of medicine.  Clinical judgment is developed through practice, experience, knowledge, and continuous critical analysis.  It extends into all medical areas:  diagnosis, therapy, communication, and decision making.

In medical science, not all results are consistent due to biological variability.  We are all the product of thousands of genes that interact with each other and the environment in unpredictable ways.  Each individual is unique.  Not every smoker dies of cancer.  Some people are allergic to eggs and most are not.  One may be allergic to peanuts while another is not.  We don’t all have the same side effects from taking prescription drugs, and we can’t all be expected to respond in the same way to electromagnetic insults.   Just because everyone is not affected by RF radiation doesn’t mean that no one is affected.

Whether or not the FCC (and its associated exposure guidelines) recognizes adverse effects from non-thermal levels of RF radiation, more and more physicians are recognizing that RF emission levels far below FCC exposure guidelines are affecting their patients.  Symptoms are relieved when RF radiation levels are reduced.  Furthermore, more and more research studies document physiological effects from low levels of RF exposure.  Although it is not fully understand why low-level RF emissions seem to affect some individuals and not others, an increasing number of physicians are concluding that some medical conditions are either caused or aggravated by RF emissions.

What remains to be seen, is whether there can develop a true consensus among all stakeholders that some level of precautionary approach needs to be taken with regard to the deployment of wireless technologies.

[References:  In documenting the above perspective, several references were used, including a book entitled, “How Doctors Think:  Clinical Judgment and the Practice of Medicine,” Oxford Press, 2005; “Clinical Judgment and the Medical Profession,” an article from the “Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice,” published in 2010, by Gunver S Kienle MD and Helmut Kiene MD; Direct testimony by Dr. Andrew Goldsworthy before the Canadian Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health, April 29, 2010.]

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