Resident addresses city’s meter issue with petition
Jim Morrow is testing a hunch that the average Fairfield resident believes radio-read water meters are safe.
In response to a petition from a local group, which prompted the city to drop fees for the removal of radio-read water meters, Morrow has decided to launch his own petition called Fairfield’s Quiet Majority.
He aims to gather 1,001 signatures — set just above those gathered by the Fairfield Coalition for Safe Utility Meters — through his blog, tfqm.blog.com. Though his effort may seem tongue-in-cheek, and has culled only 24 signatures in 10 days, his assertion that wireless meters are in fact safe has offered a counterpoint to the vocal group most heard in recent months.
The device in question is the Neptune e-coder R900i water meter. The device transmits relatively low frequency radio waves for 7 milliseconds every 14 seconds, totaling 44 seconds of every day.
Proponents of the wireless meter say they have improved accuracy over touch pad systems. Fairfield waterworks distribution worker Mike Keller said the drive-by system allows water department personnel to read meters from a vehicle within roughly three blocks of the device. He said the devices also allow for better leak detection.
“When there are leaks or high bills, wireless meters can answer a lot of questions with the e-coder reader,” he said.
Keller said they also make his job easier.
“I don’t have to go into the ditches and stand in snow drifts in the winter,” he said.
According to the water department, 37 residents have had their wireless meters switched to the previously used touch pad devices, and 28 more are on a waiting list.
To Morrow, this relatively low number compared to the thousand who signed the petition, demonstrates a low number of residents seriously concerned about the devices.
Morrow is not without caution when it comes to the electromagnetic spectrum.
“Radio frequencies can be dangerous,” he said. “ The people most vulnerable are those who work in those environments.”
Morrow himself worked as a transmitter engineer at a television station in Cheyenne, Wyo. after receiving a degree in broadcast engineering and a first class radio license from the Federal Communications Commission.
He said he felt “a little buzzed” after working long days in Cheyenne alongside electron tubes. He also used fiber optics as an example, saying workers are trained not to look into either end of the fiber to avoid damaging the retina from the lasers.
But Morrow said he felt the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates use of the radio frequency electromagnetic spectrum, has set adequate standards.
Radio frequency electromagnetic fields are commonly used in telecommunications such as in cell phones, wireless telephones, wireless Internet, remote controls, radio and TV station broadcast antennas and in wireless water meters.
These devices do not use high frequency electromagnetic waves such as x-rays and gamma rays, proven to pose health risks from ionizing radiation. However, the FCC monitors use of lower frequency waves for thermal and non-thermal effects. Microwaves for instance can have thermal effects, which can damage tissue in the body by trapping in too much heat.
According to the FCC, “at relatively low levels of exposure to RF radiation, i.e., field intensities lower than those that would produce significant and measurable heating, the evidence for production of harmful biological effects is ambiguous and unproven.”
These “non-thermal” effects reported have ranged from headaches to dizziness to tumors, but the commission says such studies have not been successfully replicated.
Some citizens in Fairfield have reportedly experienced non-thermal effects, and have held meetings to discuss research and literature on the subject.
The FCC has acknowledged the possibility of such low-level biological effects, but said they have not been replicable and are therefore inconclusive.
For Morrow, the FCC’s “clean bill of health,” along with the inverse square law and low duty cycle of the Neptune meter prove its safety.
Newton’s inverse square law applied to the meters says the force of the radiation from the device exponentially drops off at further distances. The law has commonly been applied to cell phones as well.
Morrow said the low duty cycle of the meter refers to the fact it emits radiation only 44 seconds per day, meaning the meter is off the majority of the time.
While few argue water meters produce comparable radiation to a cell phone, Robert Palma, president and chief engineer of Midwest Research Corp. in Fairfield, said focusing on the amount of radiation misses the point.
“You can decide whether to hold a cell phone up to your head or not,” he said. “It is the imposition of radiation on the public not only without permission but without knowledge that I oppose … and this has been going on for years.”
Palma sells a product he developed with his brother meant to diminish radiation exposure from cell phones. He said community members approached him this spring, seeking his professional opinion on the safety of the radio-read meters.
Upon review, Palma carefully crafted a letter to the mayor outlining his concerns in June. The main premise of the letter focused on the city’s responsibility to err on the side of precaution when it comes to the public’s health.
Morrow, on the other hand, believes people should have the right to opt out, but shouldn’t “expect the city to pay for it.”
He is in support of using primarily wireless meters in town, but offering the option of a landline for those concerned about wireless radiation. Residents would be responsible for maintaining a landline.
Mayor Ed Malloy said Morrow has been a part of the discussion on wireless meters since the spring, but said it is likely too late now to switch gears.
“He has a lot of expertise in the area and was part of the initial dialogue many citizens were having regarding the meters,” said Malloy. “But I don’t see that the wireless meters would be reconsidered at this time.”
However, the mayor said plans to switch to fiber optic technology is not set in stone.
Morrow has vocally opposed implementing a fiber system, which he said would incur more debt on Fairfield residents.
City administrator Kevin Flanagan said he’s exploring ways of implementing fiber in town without “getting into a large bond issue.”
Flanagan said a new petition will not likely change the stance of the city.
“Its not a tennis match, and it shouldn’t be encouraged to be one,” he said.