Smart meters: Quebec’s "health tax" challenged
Adapted from La Maison du 21e siècle magazine, Winter 2013 issue
by André Fauteux, Editor
by André Fauteux, Editor
Gaétane Boucher has lost everything: her family, her home, her job. While living in Granby, Quebec, the former industrial designer constantly suffered from severe headaches, numbness, dizziness, blurry vision and memory loss she related to electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure. "As a child, I lived in a house with radiant electric heating in the ceiling and I played regularly under powerlines - feet in the water to boot! - for 10 summers. I later acquired my electrosensitivity symptoms after working on a computer 8-10 hours a day for many years."
Ms. Boucher suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, accompanied by chemical intolerance and electromagnetic hypersensitivity (EHS). This heavy diagnosis was recognized in 2006 by the Quebec Office for People with Disabilities (OPHQ). The 48-year-old woman thus receives a disability pension of $ 797 per month.
There is no proof that EMFs cause EHS, said the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2005. Nevertheless, this syndrome, which surveys have shown affects up to 10% of Europeans, is recognized by the Austrian Medical Association and Scandinavian countries. In 2000, the Nordic Council of Ministers of these countries including Denmark recognized that symptoms of electromagnetic intolerance "disappear in non-electrical environments." EHS is difficult to diagnose, because people can react to different frequencies and the manifestation of symptoms is often delayed. Sweden recognizes EHS as a functional impairment entitling those who are affected to a suitable environment where EMF levels are low.
This is what millions of people who have become intolerant to EMFs are demanding. A class action suit filed by some sixty British Columbians will be heard in 2013 by their provincial Human Rights Tribunal. They say they are harmed by the new digital meters that emit thousands of brief microwave pulses daily. This type of microwave radiofrequency (RF) was classified as "possibly carcinogenic" by the WHO in 2011.
In 2006, exhausted and discouraged at having to move 14 times in two years without being able to relieve her symptoms, Gaétane Boucher finally discovered in Lac-Mégantic, a rare Quebec valley which at the time was still free of RFs emitted by cell phone antennas. She built herself a small cabin in the woods, where she recovered her health by living without electricity for three years. She still lives there, alone, without a phone: "I'm dying of boredom and isolation," she wrote us by email. After getting well, she asked Hydro-Québec to connect her cottage to the electric grid. A decision she bitterly regrets today.
Her health collapsed after Hydro-Québec installed an Itron brand first-generation wireless meter. In the last eight years, some 800,000 Quebec homes were equipped with these devices, which transmit RFs to allow remote reading of electrical consumption, as well as the 20,000 second-generation "smart" meters, installed in three pilot regions in 2012. "My vision is a bit murky, I feel pressure in my forehead, buzzing and pain in my ears, I lose my balance, have difficulty concentrating and mood swings: all the symptoms that I have when I'm in the city, but less intense, says Boucher. I sleep a lot and I have to rest often. Before, I could work on my property and in my cottage without a problem. But since the meter was installed, my life is very difficult every day. '
Ms. Boucher is flabbergasted by two decisions issued on October 5 by the Québec Energy Board. At first, it allowed Hydro-Québec to install 1.7 million residential smart meters of the 3.8 million slated for installation by 2017. This despite that in many countries, thousands of people have complained of health problems occurring after the installation of such meters on or in their home.
Opt out fee
"Like many, I'm very angry, upset and worried for us and our children," said Gaétane Boucher. She is especially outraged that the Board, in its second October 5 decision, authorized Hydro-Québec to impose fees of $98 to $137 to those who ask that a non-RF-emitting meter be installed, as well a permanent $17 monthly fee ($206 per year for life) to cover the cost of manual meter reading which up to now has been free of charge. For her, these fees amount to a health tax because the installation of a non-emitting meter is essential to her well-being.
Ms. Boucher is stunned that the Quebec Ministry of Health and Social Services has stated in a public health advisory issued in March 2012, that RF meters "do not pose health risks." The Energy Board's decision was based on this statement.
This despite the fact that the health effects of RF meters have never been studied. The Supreme Court of the State of Maine recently ordered a thorough scientific investigation of this issue. Ten Quebec municipalities and more than 17,000 Quebecers have signed a petition asking the government to impose a moratorium on the installation of smart meters.
"Deploying a mesh network where millions of transmitters will communicate constantly together with the router retransmitting a deluge of data on Rogers' cellphone network is like adding a new wireless network on steroids, since it will operate continuously. This will undoubtedly be the electromagnetic storm that breaks the camel's back which is already overloaded by the ambient electrosmog," says the Quebec's Coalition Against Electromagnetic Pollution (www.cqlpe.ca).
The Energy Board did not accept the warning expressed in a report it received from Dr David Carpenter, who graduated in medicine from Harvard University and is a professor of public health at the University of Albany, New York.
According to Carpenter, although a smart meter is much less powerful than a cellphone or a relay antenna (phone mast), if it is installed near a bed it can give a higher cumulative dose than that received from a far-away phone mast or from a cell phone that is sporadically used with a headset. This is because the meter pulses high density RF spikes as well as high frequency transients (so-called dirty electricity) 24 hours a day. These emissions may be why ''adverse neurological effects have been reported in people who are often close - especially less than three meters -from wireless meters," states a letter by Dr. Carpenter endorsed by some fifty experts and published on our website, www.maisonsaine.ca.
How to protect yourself
Montrealer Helen Keyser is well aware of the problem. Her epileptic daughter Nickie, 23, slept 10 ft (3 m) from an Itron meter installed in her neighbor's apartment. "We believed that the symptoms were caused by her medication, she says, and as the crisis continued, the neurologist increased the dose. But that did not help."
It is when she experienced symptoms similar to her daughter’s that Ms Keyser drew a parallel. "When we eliminated all wireless devices in the house, her condition greatly improved. Then, after asking her to change rooms, everything came back to normal: Nickie no longer has no insomnia, nor headaches, nor memory problems, she no longer spends her weekends sleeping and she has fewer seizures."
Keyser said she became intolerant to EMFs because the same meter was installed 5ft (1.5 m) from her home office. "I hit the jackpot: huge problems writing and reading, unable to count, falling asleep in the bath in the morning and in constant physical pain to the point of taking painkillers several times a day. I had no health problems related to wireless devices before the meter was installed. I had to evacuate my office and stay many hours in the basement to recover every day.''
Keyser later discovered an easy and cheap way to shield her family from RF/microwaves: "To counter an RF transmitter installed in a home, the best solution I found is: build a wooden box to enclose what's necessary, cover the meter with aluminum foil and a mosquito screen, then another layer of aluminum, and cover it all with a cement board - the gray type which we use as shower backing. "
Is the Quebec government responsive to such testimonies and demands from its citizens? The office of the Minister of Health, Réjean Hébert, did not return our calls. "We are investigating the case," said in an interview Laurie Comtois, press officer of the Minister of Natural Resources, Martine Ouellet. The Minister, confirmed Ms. Comtois, has received "several letters and emails" about it, "from everywhere in Quebec."
For more information: