David Nightingale: Smart Meters And Microwaves

Feb 19, 2017

Smart meter
Credit Talbott/National Institute of Standards and Technology / Wikimedia Commons

This essay is about the 'smart' technology that many utility companies have introduced, and to which there is a degree of nationwide opposition.

Let's look at the whole electromagnetic spectrum coming for example from the sun. Newton demonstrated only part of the spectrum when he passed sunlight through a prism, finding all the colors of the rainbow, red to violet.

Looking just beyond the red he found that a thermometer was affected. This is the infra-red (or heat), and beyond that (unknown to him of course) lie radio waves and microwaves. Microwaves are used everywhere -- in cell phones, wi-fi, microwave cookers, radars, TVs and others. These types of electromagnetic wave differ only in frequency (or wavelength).

Some of us may remember the well-documented beaming of microwaves directly at the Chancery of the US Embassy in Moscow between 1953-1976. There was indeed a fear of damage to human cells, and a study was made in the Dept. of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins by the late Abraham Lilienfeld in 1978. That study has never been published in detail, but there are references to it in the Journal of Environmental Health [Ref.2], and there is also an interesting article by James F. Schumaker, a foreign service officer in the Moscow embassy for many years, who, like other colleagues there, developed a low white blood-cell count. After a painful bone marrow test Schumaker was identified with leukemia, which actually later in life subsided. [Ref.1.]

Now let's turn back to Newton's spectrum as we know it today, and look at the frequencies beyond the red (or harmless) end. (For those who would prefer wavelengths rather than frequencies in MHz, just ask the nearest physics major -- it's an easy conversion.)

The red color (or longest wavelength) has frequency~ 4000 (MHz.)

Lower down we find the microwaves, eg, about 3000 for weather radar.

Microwave cookers operate at 2,450  -- the frequency that agitates the water molecules in our food.

Next lower we find the utilities' smart meters at about 900, very close to US cell phones at 850 (although there are other frequencies for cell phones, eg, 1900.)

Lower still we find various FM stations, around 90 or 100 (MHz.)

Today cell phone usage is so high that we are living in an increasingly dense sea of microwaves. So who should care about the smart reader adding its little bit to the cell phone emanations ... or a powerful weather radar slowly sweeping over us, and so on. Later studies than Lilienfeld's 1978 studies have so far shown these waves to be generally harmless -- barring of course the 2450 MHz vibrations of water molecules -- but I believe we have to go on being wary, and studying them more.

However, that is not the entire story.

What the utility companies are doing is PULSING their information, so if you have a meter on the outside wall, the darn thing is transmitting millisecond bursts of microwaves, and these bursts are coming at random times. If people are complaining this can cause headaches it's not altogether surprising. I have personally found when driving that the strobe-like winter sunlight coming sideways through trees as I travel at certain speeds tends to irritate, and I often shield my eyes to avoid the discomfort of such pulsing.

I'm out of time now, but it does seem to this writer that, because of this pulsing, home owners (everywhere) should have been given the choice of smart meters or not, and with no extra fees involved either way.

References:

1. James F. Schumaker:  internet references, eg, in the Assoc for Diplomatic Studies and Training, and others.

2. J.Mark Elwood, "Microwaves in the Cold War"; in "Environmental Health," 2012.

Dr. David Nightingale is Professor Emeritus of Physics at the State University of New York at NewPaltz and is the co-author of the text, A Short Course in General Relativity.

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