The Arizona Department of Health Services released a report this week to utility regulators that determined the wireless "smart meters" utilities use to track electricity sales to customers "are not likely to harm the health of the public."
The Arizona Corporation Commission asked the ADHS to investigate the meters because thousands of utility customers in the state would prefer not to have the meters on their homes. Residents complain of headaches, sleeplessness and a variety of other health concerns from the meters, which use wireless signals to transmit data from one to another and back to the utility.
Arizona Public Service Co., Salt River Project and the other utilities across the country that rely on smart meters as an alternative to sending employees to collect numbers say they are a safe, efficient way to measure customers' usage. They say the radio frequencies they use are harmless and that the devices are accurate.
ADHS reviewed scientific literature from around the world relating to the radio frequencies used by smart meters, and worked with the Arizona Radiation Regulatory Agency to test meters to ensure they were operating at the frequencies described by the manufacturers.
Some studies have found that radio frequencies might potentially affect human physiology, ADHS found.
"However, these studies cannot conclude that the cellular changes necessarily lead to disease," the researchers wrote.
During the field samples testing the frequencies used by the meters, the researchers tried to create the "worst-case scenario" for the exposure a resident might get from a smart meter.
"None of the measured radio frequencies power density are at levels of public health concern," the researchers wrote. "With the available information, exposure to (smart) meters are not likely to harm the health of the public."
Some customers also worry the meters pose a privacy concern because they track electricity use, and yet others are concerned the meters pose a fire danger. Those two concerns were not addressed by the new report.
Last year, like other utilities facing the backlash, APS proposed an opt-out fee of $75 up front, plus $30 a month, for customers who prefer to keep their old meters. Before deciding on the fee, the Arizona Corporation Commission requested the ADHS study.
SRP officials in November 2011 voted to charge customers $20 a month to opt out of using a smart meter. SRP is not regulated by the Corporation Commission.
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