Sunday, April 01, 2012

"Smart" electricity meters toxic for some

They're part of a Greenie idea to cut down electricity usage

A MELBOURNE couple who have slept in their car for almost six months say they have been forced from their home because of debilitating health problems suffered since the installation of their new electricity meter.

But, as the State Government stands by the controversial electricity monitoring devices, reports continue to emerge linking smart meters with new health scares including heart palpitations, chest pains, dizziness and lethargy.

Rosemary and Vic Trudeau said they had abandoned their Mt Eliza home of 22 years since the device was installed in October, causing them nausea, chest pains, tinnitus and insomnia.

"Scientists are saying we have to reduce our exposure to radio frequencies and now they're putting them on our houses," Ms Trudeau said.

"I've had two people from (energy company) Jemena admit to me that about 5-6 per cent of the population are very sensitive to radio frequency, but if you are it's just bad luck."

After five months of fighting, Jemena last week agreed to replace the device.

Meanwhile, Melbourne GP Federica Lamech is moving her family to South Australia after experiencing chest pain, heart palpitations and lethargy since meters were installed in her street in February.

Although Dr Lamech's home does not yet have a device, she said her existing sensitivity to electro-radiation had been exacerbated by the roll-out.

"I felt like I was going crazy," she said.  "I was perfectly healthy the day before with just a mild sensitivity to Wi-Fi and cordless phones, which I could manage. Suddenly I'm disabled."

A spokeswoman for Energy Minister Michael O'Brien said a government-commissioned review had found the meters were safe.


Girl dies after being sent home by public hospital despite being seriously ill

A TEENAGE girl died with swelling of her brain two days after a WA hospital sent her home with Panadeine Forte despite her complaints of "10/10 headaches" and "throbbing pain".

Amy Dawkins' mother Kerry McGlew is now preparing to take legal action against the Health Department claiming that Rockingham-Kwinana District Hospital acted negligently when it discharged her 17-year-old daughter in January 2009.

Adding to her grief, three years later Ms McGlew is still waiting for the WA Coroner to finalise a date for an inquest.

Amy was admitted to the hospital on January 8 with severe headaches, vomiting and a sensitivity to light.

Medical records, obtained by the family under Freedom of Information laws, show Amy complained to hospital staff that she was suffering from "10/10 headaches" and screamed and shouted constantly that night. Doctors performed blood tests, a lumbar puncture and gave Amy intravenous antibiotics to treat possible meningitis.

The records say the teenager, who would have turned 21 on Thursday, was released the next morning despite a "very disturbed night" where she required oxygen to stop her hyperventilating.

A note recorded at 4.30am on January 9 says Amy was given pain killers and ice packs through the night to treat head pain.

Ms McGlew claims Amy showed no signs of improvement in the hours that followed and could not move her neck or back without excruciating pain.

Yet a note recorded later that morning said Amy should be OK for discharge with painkillers.

Ms McGlew said her daughter left the hospital at midday, vomiting.

Medical staff told Ms McGlew Amy should take Panadeine Forte for the pain and it was likely she had viral meningitis, but it would go away in a week.

At 2pm the next day, January 10, the Port Kennedy mother found her daughter not breathing in her bedroom.

Amy was taken to Rockingham Hospital by ambulance where doctors took a CT scan of her brain before transferring her to Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital where she was put on life support.

The CT scan found Amy had severe swelling and fluid on her brain.

Her life support was switched off at 8.30pm the next day and Amy was pronounced dead.

"I wish I drove away from that hospital (Rockingham) and went to another one," Ms McGlew said. "I've got the worst sense of guilt."

In a January 2009 letter to the McGlew family, the Office of the State Coroner said that a medical examination had taken place but "it has not been possible to immediately determine the cause of death".

A spokesperson for the Coroner said a date for Amy's inquest would be set for later this year.

Maurice Blackburn lawyer Phil Gleeson, who is representing the family, filed a Writ of Summons in the District Court on behalf of Ms McGlew in December. The family will wait for the results of the inquest before proceeding.

A Rockingham Hospital spokeswoman said she was unable to provide comment because Amy's death was the subject of a coronial investigation.


Detention time limits won't work: Morrison

Opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison says capping the amount of time asylum seekers spend in detention will further complicate the system.

A federal parliamentary committee has urged the Government to put a 90-day limit on detaining asylum seekers.

It says asylum seekers who pass initial health, character and security checks should immediately get a bridging visa or be moved to community detention.

The committee's report says detaining people for longer than 90 days makes them vulnerable to serious mental health problems.

The Government has welcomed the report, but stopped short of making any promises on time limits, saying it is not always possible to process asylum seekers quickly.

And Mr Morrison says the Coalition does not think an arbitrary time limit is the answer.

"We don't have a problem with people being processed quickly," he told Insiders this morning.

"What we have a problem with is creating a regulatory standard or requirement that provides another form of appeal that further frustrates and complicates the system.

"By all means people should be processed in an expeditious manner, but to create further regulation around this I think only makes matters worse."

Mr Morrison says the Government would not have to worry about time limits if it had effective border protection policies.

A recent United Nations study showed the number of asylum seekers coming to Australia dropped by nine per cent over the past year.

In comparison there was a 20 per cent jump for the rest of the world.  But Mr Morrison says that can hardly be called success.

The parliamentary inquiry, which made more than 30 recommendations, has also called for the Immigration Minister to be stripped of their role as guardian of unaccompanied children in detention.

It says the move is needed to remove the perceived conflict of interest that exists in having the same person responsible for detaining asylum seekers.

The committee also wants spy agency ASIO to come under much greater scrutiny, including periodic reviews of adverse ASIO findings.

They recommended laws be amended to allow for the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to review ASIO's security assessments of asylum seekers.

The majority of the report was supported by Labor and Greens members of the committee, along with independent MP Rob Oakeshott.

But the Coalition has supported only 16 of the 31 recommendations and has issued a dissenting report.


Experts give red mark to green home ratings

The Federal Government wants all homes for sale or rent to have an energy efficient rating, but experts say the system used to attain that rating is flawed and will result in unhappy homebuyers.

The rating system is supposed to reveal the energy performance of a building - to inform people whether they could face big power bills to heat or cool a home.

Scores are awarded according to the home's energy efficiency. A score of zero means the building does virtually nothing to protect occupants from hot or cold weather. A score of 10 means occupants may not need a heater or cooler at all.

The scheme would be based on an existing rating system, which has been used in the ACT for more than a decade.

New homes in Australia already have to meet a minimum energy efficiency rating, which is now six stars across most states and territories.

But the Government's plan would require homes for sale and rent to also have a rating.

Some states have made it clear they do not want to see the energy rating scheme expanded to older homes. Victoria's Planning Minister Matthew Guy has publicly denounced the idea, calling it "yet another hair-brained tax idea from the Federal Government".

The rating costs about $150 per home in the ACT - the only state or territory that rates older homes.

The ACT has had mandatory disclosure of energy ratings on all homes for more than a decade.

That is because Canberra has Australia's biggest temperature range for a metropolitan centre - reaching 40 degrees Celsius in summer, and falling to -8 degrees last winter.

Winter heating costs are particularly large and make up the bulk of residential power bills.

ACT-based energy ratings assessor Jenny Edwards supports the idea of rating older homes.  She says it enables the public to make more informed choices when choosing a home, and it can put pressure on property owners to make homes more energy efficient.

But Ms Edwards says there are often differences between the rating, and how the house actually performs.

When she bought her own home in Canberra's inner-south, it was rated at three stars.  On living in it, and with further investigation, Ms Edwards found out it was closer to a one star.  "The first winter was freezing and the first summer was sweltering. (It is an) incredibly uncomfortable house to live in," she said.

There are many reasons why a home fails to perform as well as it is rated, including air leaks and patchy insulation.

But the ratings assessment is only a visual check of the obvious features that would affect heating and cooling bills - like orientation, window size and insulation.

Canberra assessors do not use equipment to test for air leakage, or thermal cameras to check for gaps in insulation.  "We have to assume," Ms Edwards said.      People are certainly finding that they can move into a house and find that it doesn't perform as a star rating might suggest it would.

"We can't take all the lining off the house and check the insulation has been thoroughly and evenly installed or that there are R2 batts and not R1 batts; that there aren't big gaps in the house and assessing for air leakage is not something you can do quickly and superficially."

Ms Edwards says the ratings software used for Canberra's older homes is basic, introduced 12 years ago.  And she says there is another problem with the quality of assessment.  "The level of training has been questionable. The ease with which you can manipulate the outcome, again whether it has been intentional, accidental - due to lack of training no-one can be sure," she said.

"People are certainly finding that they can move into a house and find that it doesn't perform as a star rating might suggest it would."

Ms Edwards says a national rollout of energy ratings to older homes is not straightforward.  "There is a lot of potential for issues. And how we resolve that is complicated," she said.

Public interest in the Canberra system is also lacklustre, according to a leading real estate firm.

Peta Swarbrick from LJ Hooker's city office says energy ratings are not a key concern for her clients.

"The idea is fabulous. It is absolutely a must with the whole notion of energy starting to cost more but ... it is probably the least referred to part of the contract," she said.

"And if you look at it, it looks unimpressive. It's a bunch of numbers and it's got these very sort of black and white quasi-scientific looking table and it doesn't really tell me about my house."
Tone Wheeler, an architect who teaches at the University of New South Wales, says the rating system is imperfect because it is based on science that was never designed to calculate the energy efficiency of houses or star ratings.

Mr Wheeler worked with the CSIRO in the 70s, using the precursor to the computer engine now used to run the software at the heart of the energy ratings system.

He says the computer engine was designed for architectural scientists.  "It was designed to measure thermal comfort... the idea of a comfortable temperature in a room," he said.

Mr Wheeler says in the mid-1990s, the NSW government approached CSIRO scientists to expand the scope of their computer engine.  The government wanted a way of comparing the energy use of different houses.

So the CSIRO scientists adapted the engine to also calculate the amount of energy it would take to air condition a room to a comfortable temperature.

"Then the scientists were asked to give star ratings for various levels of performance, but based on some very arbitrary criteria," Mr Wheeler said.      "I think our politicians assumed that this thing works. I am convinced that we don't have the data to say one way or the other at this stage."


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