By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette — City residents may still be able to opt out of the Niagara Falls Water Board's new metering system.
Water board members said they will explore the cost of allowing people to stick with the old meters in response to concerns from city resident Joanne Gialloreto, who suggested the radio frequencies emitted by the new devices can cause illnesses like cancer and Parkinson's Disease, citing numerous studies and a letter from the non-profit American Academy of Environmental Medicine to the Federal Communications Commission.
"I ask the Niagara Falls Water Board for a free, no condition opt-out for me and for any other citizens against the wireless water meters in our homes because it is an intrusion on our lives,"Gialloreto said during Thursday's water board meeting.
Board members heard a presentation from David Johnson, a territory manager for Neptune Technology Group, the company from which the board is buying the new metering system.
The board decided to replace city meters, which were last updated in the late 1980s, in an effort to increase efficiency for meter readers. The new meters transmit radio signals that can be picked up by a device in the car with a meter reader and then transferred into databases.
Johnson said the meters, which will improve reading efficiency and allow homeowners to better monitor water use and leaks, use the same type of radio frequency technology as cell phones and microwaves.
"In everything that we do, in all aspects of our life, there's (radio frequency)," Johnson said. "Inside your house you have a radio, you have a garage door opener, you have a microwave."
Johnson said his company's devices are subject to the same scrutiny from government agencies as any other device manufacturer.
"The thing to keep in mind is the FCC has to approve and regulate all these devices and we also have to comply with all the health standards that are out there," Johnson said.
Johnson said the meters also transmit radio waves for far less time - the total duration of the emissions is 40 seconds a day - and at a much further distance than the average person's cell phone.
"In the big picture, when you look at all the devices that emit radio frequency out there, this is considered one of the lowest (radio frequency) transmissions of any product," Johnson said.
Johnson pointed to a list of studies from organizations such as Princeton University and the Canadian Health Ministry suggesting that there is no definitive link between radio frequency and illness.
"We have to go upon the studies that have been made," Johnson said.
After several exchanges between Gialloreto and Johnson debating the merits of various studies, water board member Renae Kimble stepped in and suggested that the board look into providing an opt out for rate payers who do not want the new system.
"At this point in time we need to just move forward as best we can and mitigate our losses as quickly as we can and see how much this would cost us," Kimble said.
After the meeting, Gialloreto said she wasn't satisfied with Johnson's explanations, but was grateful to Kimble for suggesting that an opt-out be explored.
"I think she was superb in the way she handled the situation," Gialloreto said.
Paul Drof, the water board's exective director, said the board will now try to gauge the amount of people who would want an opt-out and then figure out how much money it will cost for water board employees to continue reading meters.
"To manually have to go and read meters, there's going to be a cost to that," Drof said. "I can't speak to what that cost is until I investigate how many, how often, how many people feel that way."
Drof said about 7,300 of the city's 16,000 meters have already been replaced.
"We're anticipating being done by late summer or early fall of next year," Drof said while addressing the board.
Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257