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Wauwatosa responds to concerns about radiation from water meters

A water meter is seen on West Wells Street on July 27 .

A water meter is seen on West Wells Street on July 27 . Photo By Peter Zuzga

July 30, 2014

After receiving two complaints in the past couple months from residents who did not want Wauwatosa to install new smart water meters on their properties, city officials are considering an opt-out option for residents with health concerns about radiation.

According to the American Cancer Society, the radio-frequency waves emitted from the meters, like those from cellphones, have a potential to cause harm but at an "extremely low" risk.

Wauwatosa has installed 4,907 smart meters so far since they began the conversion in 2012. They have about 10,000 to go. The smart meters are able to wirelessly relay readings back to City Hall to reduce the number of trips workers have to make to properties throughout the city and save money over time.

One Wauwatosa man, Greg Schliesmann, recently turned to the media to voice his frustration over the installation attempt, saying the city threatened to shut off his water if he did not allow the smart meter on his property.

Karen Jaeckels, mayoral assistant, said the city is now in touch with Schliesmann and proposing a smart meter to go outside his home to give him more distance, as it did last year for another resident with a health concern. She said the city has no plans to shut off his water.

"He received three notices, the final one being a notice to disconnect," Jaeckels said. "Instead of calling us, he reached out to the media ... If people have health concerns, we're willing to work with them on it."

City staff is considering an opt-out program that might allow residents to pay a fee to use a meter that does not transmit information wirelessly. It could be similar to a program in Madison where residents can pay a one-time $50 fee to have the meter installed outside the house instead of inside or pay about $8 monthly to use an older-style meter that has to be read manually on a quarterly basis.

An opt-out policy would have to be approved by the common council and the public service commission.

For those who already have the meters or will receive them soon, Jaeckels said they are not at a significant risk. She said the city looked into the potential health impacts before contracting with Badger Meter to get the wireless technology.

Badger Meter told the city in a letter from September 2010 that the radio-frequency levels from the meters are "far below the levels that could cause harm to human health" and lower than those of TVs, cellphones and radios.

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