Answer to Question #10946 Submitted to "Ask the Experts"

Category: Micro/Radio Waves, Radar & Powerlines — Microwaves and Radiofrequency

The following question was answered by an expert in the appropriate field:


I have heard stories about people's landscape plants and trees dying in the vicinity of a smart meter and/or an automatic meter reading system (used on gas meters). Pictures online show a vine growing on a house with a distinct dead ring of vegetation on the wall of the house directly around the smart meter. Also, I had red-tip photinias next to my gas meter that suddenly died within the last year and a half. Photinias are disease-prone anyway, but I have to wonder if there is a direct correlation of the bushes dying within a month of installation, exacerbating the diseases they had.  

Is there anything I can do to protect vegetation from radiofrequency radiation? 


I will explain why I conclude that it is highly doubtful that radiofrequency (RF) emissions from smart meters could affect plant growth as you have observed near the installations. Based on your observations, I suggest it might be more likely that the areas were sprayed with some type of herbicide.

At its basic level, a smart meter is a utility meter (typically for electricity, but also for gas or water) with advanced communications capabilities. In contrast to a slightly earlier generation of meters that could transmit usage data to technicians driving through a neighborhood, smart meters can transmit data on a frequent basis (hourly or more) directly to the utility. This enables utilities to move to time-of-use pricing, providing economic incentives to reduce the peaks and valleys of utility consumption throughout the day, allowing for more efficient use of the electric grid.

Most smart meters use modern wireless networking technologies in which low-powered RF transmitters (similar in principle to Wi-Fi routers) are incorporated into the meters. Meters in nearby houses are linked together in a network, which allows effective communication. In the future, the meters will also have additional wireless transmitters that link appliances in the home, allowing homeowners to access and monitor their usage and control appliances. For more information about the basic operation of a smart meter, please see the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) reports Characterization of Radio Frequency Emissions From Two Models of Wireless Smart Meters and An Investigation of Radiofrequency Fields Associated With the Itron Smart Meter (these and other relevant reports are available on the EPRI website by entering "Smart Meter" in the search box).

The wireless transmitters found in smart meters in most systems have a peak power output and operating frequency similar to that used by Wi-Fi client cards and routers found in people's homes and computers. Several studies have been reported in which exposure to RF energy from smart meters and other appliances have been measured. The studies are very technical, and the exposure varies considerably depending on the communications system that is used by a particular utility and other factors. However, all sources of exposure to RF energy from ordinary wireless communications devices found in the home, including smart meters, are unequivocally far below government safety limits.

There has been considerable public interest in possible health effects of RF energy, including that emitted by Wi-Fi and smart meters. However, despite a substantial amount of research in this area, there is no convincing evidence that RF field exposure below government safety limits causes health effects in adults or children.

Gary Zeman, ScD, CHP

Answer posted on 24 March 2014. The information posted on this web page is intended as general reference information only. Specific facts and circumstances may affect the applicability of concepts, materials, and information described herein. The information provided is not a substitute for professional advice and should not be relied upon in the absence of such professional advice. To the best of our knowledge, answers are correct at the time they are posted. Be advised that over time, requirements could change, new data could be made available, and Internet links could change, affecting the correctness of the answers. Answers are the professional opinions of the expert responding to each question; they do not necessarily represent the position of the Health Physics Society.