Smart meters (and the joys of local politics)

In the May 21, 2015, board meeting we debated a motion submitted by Director Siddon:

And be it further resolved that in the interest of public safety, the Government of BC, through the BC Utilities Commission, be requested to order an immediate halt to mandatory installation of advanced (wireless) utility meters on all private residences within the jurisdiction of RDOS; and further, that all such meters recently installed within Electoral Area ‘D’ of the Regional District be removed immediately, at full cost to FortisBC.

The full motion, which was walked in during the meeting, can be found here:  Smart Meter Resolution May 2015.pdf

I voted against the motion based on the following:  The Government of Canada says this on its website:

The Government of Canada is committed to protecting the health and safety of Canadians from environmental risks, including those posed by exposure to radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic energy - the kind of energy given off by various electronic devices such as cell phones and Wi-Fi, as well as broadcasting and cell phone towers.

 

This same document (Fact Sheet - What is Safety Code 6?) explicitly refutes many of the assertions made in the recitals of the RDOS motion.

Now I don't believe everything (or even most things) I read on the Internet, but this fact sheet provides a concise overview of the position of the Government of Canada on the risks of radio frequency radiation (including smart meters).  Endorsing an RDOS motion that says that the Government of Canada is dead wrong on this topic implies that I know something that Health Canada does not. This is not a claim I am in a position to make.  We have been told X by one group and Y by the Government of Canada.  Since I personally am not equipped to assess the quality of the scientific arguments on their own merits, I can only make a best-guess based on the credibility of the sources.

Perhaps I am naive or gullible or brainwashed, but I would need a pretty good reason to say I categorically reject the official view of the Government of Canada/Health Canada on this issue.  This is not to say I always agree with the Government of Canada (or the Government of British Columbia).  But this is not a political issue.  It is an empirical question of significant scientific complexity, I cannot pretend to have the expertise or the resources to differentiate between opposing views.  In such cases, I adopt my own precautionary principle and prefer to keep my mouth shut.

In this case, keeping my mouth shut is not a problem since no one really cares whether I open it or not (update: see response of Fortis to the RDOS motion here).  That is, I am not a decision maker concerning this issue.  All matters regarding the safety of smart meters reside at either the federal or provincial level in this country.  And, as far as I can tell, the federal and provincial levels of government take this responsibility seriously.  Health Canada says exactly this in "Fact Sheet - What is Safety Code 6?" .

It seemed to me when voting on Director Siddon's motion that it would be presumptuous for a local government (which has no responsibility for the safety of smart meters) to grant itself such a role.  Such usurpation might make sense if, for example, we believed strongly that the federal government was failing in its responsibility to protect Canadians.  But this is not obviously true, at least not to me.  And the implications for those who do believe it is obviously true must be very troubling.  After all, Health Canada regulates much more than just smart meters.

Some argue (see message from a constituent below) that the RDOS should weigh in on this matter (despite no formal decision making role) on the basis of the precautionary principle.  While that might sound reasonable, I do not believe it is costless.  Specifically, I do not believe it serves the public good for one level of government to publicly question the competence and integrity of another level of government just in case. Put simply, when I voted against Director Siddon's motion, I did not believe it was wise for the RDOS to publicly contradict the clearly stated position of the Government of Canada on such a complex matter.  And since the Government of Canada already regards much of the content of the RDOS motion as "myths" (their word, not mine), the RDOS is guilty in the eyes of Health Canada of spreading misinformation.  The word I used at the RDOS to describe this situation is corrosive--corrosive of public trust in government.

I have been trained as a scientist and my belief is that serious science progresses through a dialectic process of hypothesis and refutation.  In a case such as this--an empirical question regarding the health impacts of a complex technology--the appropriate venue for the dialectic process is within peer reviewed journals.  I am not saying the peer-reviewed journal process is infallible--this is clearly not the case.  But I am saying I can think of no better way of resolving such questions.  And as any professional scientist will tell you, the peer review process is punishing.  The standard of 'proof' (in the statistical sense) is very high and the act of convincing one's scientific peers of anything is a major accomplishment.  For this reason, the following statement from Health Canada seems reasonable to me:

Health Canada scientists monitor the scientific literature on this issue on an ongoing basis. Safety Code 6 is reviewed on a regular basis to verify that the guideline provides protection against all known potentially harmful health effects.

If this is not good enough, what is?  And if we believe Health Canada's entire approach is wrong, should we not be directing our efforts at the root cause rather than the relatively minor issue of smart meters?  I touch on this in my response to a constituent below.

Comments

I received the following email from a constituent following the May 21 RDOS board meeting:

Dear Michael,
I attended your Board Meeting this afternoon and was very pleased at the result, but sorry that the resolution did not include all areas of the RDOS.  

I was disappointed that you did not come aboard and take a "precautionary approach"which is the obvious solution at this point in time.  Your lack of concern for your constituents was somewhat alarming and needs to be urgently addressed.  You have been invited to a number of presentations by Dr Mac Patterson  in the Okanagan and have not bothered to even attend one.  You displayed a flippant, arrogant approach simply quoting Canada's Safety code 6 and Health Canada's website as the ultimate authority which you seemed either nervous or disinterested to challenge.  Your comments on myths were ridiculous and totally off the mark . If you had done some real research into the issue like Tom Siddon then you would realize that Canada's standards are  laughable compared with Sweden, Austria, Russia, China and India.  Do some digging into the real health risks involved then you will step up to the plate and protect your constituents and your own family.  

Do you want to go down tobacco road all over again and wait for the body bags in the streets before you awake from your "trust government in everything" slumber?

Quite frankly I was shocked that a University Professor was so simplistic when compared to an ex-electrician who has a good measure of common sense when querying why smart meters are not CSA certified.  Then another director admitted being very shy of deep understanding of the issues but again showed street smarts by asking why Lloyds will not cover any EMF issues anymore after years of risk analysis.  

You were elected to represent your constituents and take a stand 
for their health and wellness, not hide behind some vague, fatuous platitudes.  This smacks of moral negligence which if not arrested could develop into criminal negligence as people in your area decline in health and inevitably proceed to court action.

Remember who you pays your salary!

 

I drafted a few replies; some were snootier than others.  The one I actually sent is, in my view, only medium-snooty:

I assume you have read http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/ahc-asc/media/ftr-ati/_2014/2014-023fs-eng.php

During the discussion I merely read from this--a page on a website of the Government of Canada--and yet I am "ridiculously off the mark"?

If you truly believe what you have written [above] then you have a bigger problem than smart meters.  You have a massive federal department and a supporting edifice of institutional science that is incompetent, corrupt, or both.  I have cc'ed your MP on this because your remarks are best directed at those assigned decision rights on this topic by the laws of the land.

I have no interest in a religious war on this.  It is well above my pay grade.

 

The last statement is meant literally.  I believe this is a religious war in the sense that both sides believe they have THE TRUTH and regard any opposition as heresy.  And like any religious war, there is no satisfactory way to resolve the question.  The critical point is that I do not have to take part in this religious war since, as noted above, it is not my job (as RDOS director).  There are many other things that are my job as RDOS director to which I can more fruitfully devote my energies.  In short, I am very weary of this topic.

It is a fact that some people are more sensitive than others to EMF, wireless technology, and it is fact that we just don't know enough. It is fact that those who are not a canary should not turn a blind eye just because they are not experiencing, at present, any negative health affects. Director Biddon, it is your job as a politician to not just vote on your own belief, nor on just your own truth, nor Health Canada's truth, but to do the research from both sides and keep an open mind especially when others are questioning and then decide what is best. Even if you do not agree, you should have attended the presentations and listened, and brought your Health Canada quotes and any other comments or questions. To quote what Health Canada states is truth, is naive. Look at what happened in Health Canada with the Bovine Growth Hormone (BGH); if it was not for the ONE Health Canada scientist who was brave enough to question BGH (this same scientist was later fired) and if it was not for the courage of this ONE scientist and the Senate, we would have Bovine Growth Hormone in Canadian milk and meat. And even then, the Conservation gov't still approved, for entry into Canada, products from other countries containing animal/dairy products raised with BGH. If this ONE Health Canada scientist was not successful in his case to the Senate and if BGH was approved, we would have had literature from Health Canada why BGH was safe and quoting the studies, even though this ONE Health Canada scientist found it not safe. And you would be feeding your kids, Canadian milk /meat with BGH, because you would have believed the Health Canada literature. Oh and now our Canadian Scientists are muzzled and cannot speak out, or so the newspapers state and much historical scientific data held in Winnipeg MB was destroyed, or so the newspapers state and those who witnessed it. I know personally a scientist who quit her job, as her reports and findings were on more than one occasion altered to corporate liking, not to the scientist's findings. It seems this happens in all levels of government and I am not saying all the time, but it does some of the time. I am sure and have no doubt that there are some truths coming out of Health Canada, but there are Scientists and a lot of the public stating that more studies and better technology is needed before the rushed push of wireless technology on homes and in schools. It seems choice has been removed. Thank goodness for politicians like Director Tom Siddon to have the courage to open his mind, take time from his family and busy schedule to attend meetings and do his research rather than just quoting Health Canada. He represents progress and the kind of politicians we need. He is like the ONE scientist who is brave enough to question and do the research, and then decide on the appropriate action, as all politician should, that is their job. By the previous article, it seems you have not attended one of the meetings held in the South Okanagan addressing the concerns from the scientific community and the general public, and if you had, and still held the position of Health Canada, we would have to respect that, because you listened to both sides. But you did not. And Mr. Biddon, that is the bigger problem.

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