September 4, 2015
According to our Federal Communications Commission (FCC), “harmful
interference” refers to anything that interferes with existing radio
or TV broadcasts and cellular or Internet services. The definition has
never included biological harm.
Uncountable electronics have flourished under this regulation.
Meanwhile, no federal agency studies the non-thermal effects of
exposure to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emitted by electronics.
FCC regulations do not consider the long-term or chronic effects of
EMR exposure on pregnant women, infants, children, people with medical
implants or wildlife. Regulations do not consider the effects of EMR
exposure from multiple sources. (While the EPA has authority to study
EMR exposure on the public health and environment, since 1996,
Congress has granted it a budget of zero.)
Meanwhile, during these past two decades, municipalities around the
world have significantly increased their deployments of new
technologies. For example, utilities have installed wireless
transmitting meters for water, gas and electricity. Santa Fe’s utility
is no “different.”
Concerned citizens must therefore rely on their own research to
determine their exposure threshold and to find ways to reduce their
EMR exposure in a nearly saturated environment.
In June, 2015, our public utilities department began replacing
Firefly water meters with Badger water meters. The department aims to
identify leaks, which claim a significant percentage of water use. The
Badger meters will help with this goal. As I understand, the Badger
meters are programmed to transmit water use data via a text message
every day. While each transmission may take less than one minute,
transmitting water use data from 34,000 Badger meters to our public
utility will take about four hours.
How are Firefly and Badger meters different?
To send data, Fireflies require a person driving by the meter once
per month with a hand-held reader to collect the meter’s data. Firefly
batteries expectedly last ten years. To transmit their data, Firefly
meters do not engage cell towers.
Badger meters engage cell towers. They operate in a radiofrequency
range that could interrupt medical implants. Children certainly should
not sit or play on them. If a Badger meter detects a leak, it will
transmit an alarm to the utility via the nearest cell tower, perhaps
like a constant text message. Badgers also alarm when their batteries
expire, possibly every year or two.
How do Fireflies and Badgers compare in terms of EMR emissions? To
find out, we’d need independent measurements taken over several days.
Badger meters do not comply with FCC rules in several ways:
- The FCC license for Badger’s transmitters requires each one to be
kept at least 20 centimeters from all persons. Stepping on a water
meter lid would have you closer to it than 20 cm.
- The FCC requires meter manufacturers to provide people who are
exposed to the meter awareness of their exposure and means of insuring
safety, perhaps by a label or by distributing information. Badger has
not provided labeling nor information.
- The FCC’s license for use of Badger’s transmitters prohibits
transmitters from being installed beside each other. But around Santa
Fe, water customers with multiple units or guest houses (for examples)
have co-located meters–visible by two or even three warts on one
water meter lid.
These raised bumps could also create a hazard for people in wheelchairs.
In a full-page ad in the August 30 New Mexican, the City’s Water
Conservation Office announced its Badger installation project, which
will allow customers to “monitor daily water use.” At a time when
climate scientists insist we need to reduce our energy consumption by
8-10% annually, how much more electricity will Badger data require?
(According to Greenpeace’s Gary Cook, if data centers [which require
air conditioning] were a country, they’d rank fifth in consumption of
Once leaks are identified, could Santa Fe’s utility department
program the Badgers so that they transmit data weekly, bi-weekly or
monthly? Asked another way, once leaks are identified, what would be
the purpose of transmitting data daily? In Golden, Colorado, for
example, water use data is collected only four times per year.
Santa Fe’s public utility department will grant anyone who does not
want a Badger meter and would like to retain a person-read meter an
“opt-out.” If you’ve already got a Badger meter, you may also request
an opt-out. The public utility department will remove the Badger meter
and replace it with a person-read meter.
To request an opt-out of the Badger meter, email Diana Catanach,
email@example.com, or phone her at 955.4364. Simply tell
her your address and that you would like to opt out of the Badger meter.
Currently, our public utilities department will not charge a fee for
opt-outs. This policy could change–although many utilities, including
the NM Gas Co. and the Eugene, Oregon Water and Electric Board, do not
charge for opt-outs.
For more information about transmitting utility meters, please visit
my website’s intro packet on “smart” meters: