“I’m homeless. I sleep in a cabin with no electricity,” Deborah Cooney says by telephone from West Virginia. “It’s really cold. I have a little propane heater. But I feel much better without all the wiring around me.” By wiring, she is referring to a network of “smart meters” that San Diego Gas and Electric installed throughout her Clairemont neighborhood. She is convinced now that those meters are the cause of her present health issues.
“I could feel it when I walked in my house...a buzz of radiation around me. One step outside, and I began to feel better.” A smart meter transmits two-way wireless communication between the home and a central system. SDG&E began to exchange analog meters for such devices in 2008. Health concerns stem from the radio-frequency radiation that they emit.
It began in April 2011 when Cooney noticed a sudden and loud ringing in her ears. The San Diego piano-and-voice teacher’s symptoms came to include chest pain, tingling in her limbs, and nausea. Her cat got sick. So did her boyfriend who lived with her. At Cooney’s request, SDG&E removed the smart meter from her home. The boyfriend recovered, but the cat died. And Cooney’s symptoms persisted, albeit undiagnosed by conventional medicine. “I don’t go to Western [doctors].” She says she prefers natural healing methods.
That summer, Cooney moved to a wilderness area in Virginia called the National Radio Quiet Zone. The region was designated by the U.S. Navy and the National Radio Astronomy Observatory to, as they state, “minimize possible harmful interference.” In December 2012, Cooney took it a step further when she filed a lawsuit in San Francisco federal court.
“I am the first person to file a personal-injury suit [stemming from smart-meter harm] in federal court. I don’t know of anybody else,” says Cooney.
Named in the suit are San Diego Gas and Electric, the California Public Utilities Commission, state attorney general Kamala Harris, and Itron, a manufacturer of smart meters. What Cooney ultimately wants is a nationwide ban on the wireless meters. “There was no proper testing on them prior to installation,” she says. She also seeks $120 million in compensatory damages. “My music business has been destroyed,” she says.
Cooney, 50, speaks in bright and articulate torrents. A pianist and a singer by trade, she also goes by the name Celeste. She gigs presently at the Greenbrier, a club near her West Virginia home. But in years past, she worked the cruise-ship circuit and swank San Diego venues, such as the Bahia, the Catamaran, and the Hotel La Jolla.
“I’m still paying rent on my home in San Diego. My boyfriend lives there. Half of my things are there.” At present, she is waiting for a trial date to be scheduled. She says she would like to come back home, but first things first. “I’ve pretty much lost everything. I’ve lost my health, my cat, my home, my boyfriend, my money, and my business. I have nothing left to lose. I might as well fight to get some of it back.”