Behind closed doors, Federal Communications Commission officials are concerned over health impacts of radio frequencies from digital meters as utilities nearly complete installing the meters in California. The danger is that although any potential health risk from wireless communications may be small, the public health impact could be significant because of the large number of people exposed, according to experts. The California Public Utilities Commission says it has no role in regulating the safety of the devices, telling ratepayers it’s up to the federal commission. In turn, the federal agency maintains in public the devices are safe and no cause for alarm. The issue is not just the bailiwick of the FCC, but includes several federal agencies--each of which has a different role in viewing the growing use of digital meters. That’s the picture painted by a top scientist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, which recently has been in discussions with the FCC on potential health concerns surrounding smart meters. Overshadowing governmental dialogue is the World Health Organization’s research earlier this year designating radio frequency electro-magnetic field radiation as a “possible” carcinogen. Most of the concern about cancer from radio frequencies swirls around cell phones, because they are used so close to the head. Not surprisingly, scientists point out, most of the scientific studies to date have focused on brain cancer from close range exposure to radio frequencies produced by cell phones, rather than lower level whole body doses from “smart” meters and other wireless devices. That may change. “We’ve got a lot of questions about smart meters,” said Michael Wyden, National Toxicology Program project manager at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Wyden’s heading up a $24 million, multiyear study of the whole-body health effects of chronic exposure to cell phone signals requested by the Food & Drug Administration. He said that if smart meters do indeed have similar operating characteristics to cell phones, the study should also shed some light on how the meters affect health. If the signals have different characteristics and concern continues to mount about the new meters, Wyden said the Toxicology Program may have to initiate a study specifically dedicated to the potential health effects of the devices. The federal government regulates smart meters and other devices emitting radio frequencies through a “two-pronged” effort, explained FDA spokesperson Erica Jefferson. The FCC sets standards to guard against burns from the devices and FDA tracks any health problems that may develop after the devices are deployed. Many health scientists maintain there’s a building body of data showing that cell phones can cause brain cancer, lower sperm count, and other health effects. However the health scientists believe the jury is still out when it comes to the health effects of more diffuse and typically distant signals from smart meters, particularly the notion of hypersensitivity to smart meters and other wireless devices. Hypersensitivity usually encompasses a wide variety of health effects from sleep disruption and headaches, to heart palpitations. The scientists agree, though, that without further studies, the potential effects of smart meters remain unknown.