Smart Meters put to the test after homeowners worry they are harmful to their health

With new technology comes new concern

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - With new technology comes new concerns.

There's a wireless device that's getting installed right now on just about every home in South Florida.

It's called a smart meter. 

Last November, the Contact 5 Investigators first told you about fire concerns related to the installation of the new wireless devices, click here to watch the story .

Now, some homeowners have new concerns.  They're worried the devices could be harmful to their health.

"I will resist this as long as I can," said Stephanie Austin.  She has put a sign on the front lawn of her Vero Beach home and a letter near her meter, stating she doesn't want the new technology.

"I want our community to be safe," Austin said.

She's not alone.  There have been smart meter protests and anti-smart meter websites popping up across the country.  Some cities have even put installation on hold.

To hear from Josh Hart, the director of the website on his concerns, click here.

"This is a lifetime issue, it's not going away," said Austin.

They're concerned because the old meters were analog meters with a spinning dial that are connected to cables.  A meter reader would have to come out to read the amount of energy used.

The new meters have a two-way radio built in.  It transmits pulses of information called radio frequency or RF that lets the power company know how much energy you're using.  There are no more cables, no more meter readers.

To hear from an RF expert about what the technology is and why he thinks it's safe, click here .

You can't see or here radio frequency but it's all around us.  It comes from appliances and devices like cell phones, Wi-Fi, and cordless phones.

But homeowners like Austin are worried about the long-term health effects of the radio frequency waves that come from a device that doesn't have an on and off switch.

"We can't shut it off, it's 24-7," said Austin.

Another homeowner in The Acreage, Greg Morton, has also expressed concern.

"Unfortunately my meter's about six foot from the head of my bed, so it's putting out RF waves 24-7, then I'm getting saturated with RF waves," said Morton.

It took a while, but the Contact 5 Investigators tracked down someone who works in wireless technology to help put a meter to the test.

Gary Minker of Radio Works RF Consulting in Lake Worth used an antennae and what's called a spectrum analyzer to measure just how much RF was coming from a smart meter.

First, he placed the antenna ten feet away from the meter.

"The energy the smart meters create is miniscule," said Minker.

We watched as the energy level peaked when the meter transmitted information.  But Minker said it was at very low levels.

He tested the meter again.  This time, with the antennae right next to the meter.

"Even at the elevated levels, it's still a level of energy that would be considered absolutely harmless," he said.

Next, he compared the levels with not just one, but three different types of cell phones. 

Minker said each of the three phones gave off more wireless energy than the smart meter itself.

But just days after our testing, a group of doctors with the American Academy of Environmental Medicine called for astop to smart meters until more testing can be done.  They stated there are credible questions about genetic and cellular effects from RF exposure, especially in children.

A spokesperson for Florida Power and Light said the meters are safe and approved by the FCC.

"They emit a very low powered signal that only records your energy usage," said Marie Bertot of FP&L.

"They go through rigorous testing to ensure accuracy and safety," said Bertot.

For homeowners like Austin and Morton, it doesn't matter.

"We want more research, we want public hearings," said Austin.

Some homeowners are also worried about privacy concerns regarding the technology.  A spokesperson said, they use the most up to date encrypted technology.

After they called in their concern to FP&L, the company has put their homes on hold.

"Don't force us to have the meters, have an opt out program," said Morton.  "If you want to charge us a little more to have a meter reader come out to read it I would be ok with that," he said.

As of right now, the power company does not have an option for you to opt out.  They do warn customers against putting anything on their home that would block or tamper with the meter itself.

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