Site hosted by Build your free website today!

Power Lines, Wiring Pose Health Risks

SACRAMENTO, California, July 16, 2001 (ENS) - Added risk of miscarriage,

childhood leukemia, brain cancer and greater incidence of suicide are

some of the health risks associated with exposure to electric and

magnetic fields such as those that radiate from power lines, according

to a California health department review.

Released Friday under pressure from a California First Amendment

Coalition lawsuit, two reports summarize and analyze a decade of

research done at a cost to ratepayers of more than $7 million.

Two reports by researchers from the California Department of Health

Services say human population studies suggest there might be a problem

from electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) from power lines, wiring in

buildings, certain jobs, and appliances.

On behalf of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), three

scientists who work for the California Department of Health Services

were asked to review the existing scientific literature about possible

health problems from these sources. The PUC request for review did not

include radio frequency EMFs from cell phones and radio towers.

Power lines radiate electric and magnetic fields.

Three assigned scientists, a physician/epidemiologist, a

geneticist/epidemiologist, and a physicist with training in epidemiology

assessed the literature with the assistance of 10 other DHS scientists.

It is "more than 50 percent possible" the scientists reported, that EMFs

at home or at work could cause a "very small increased lifetime risk of

childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, and amyotrophic lateral

sclerosis known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease."

"It is more than 50 percent possible that EMFs at home or at work could

cause a five to 10 percent added risk of miscarriage."

"It is 10-50 percent possible that residential or occupational EMFs

could be responsible for a small increased lifetime risk of male breast

cancer, childhood brain cancer, suicide, Alzheimer's disease, or sudden

cardiac death," the scientists wrote.

In every instance, they took care to note that "there is a chance that

EMFs have no effect at all."

"It is very unlikely - two to 10 percent possible - but not impossible,

that residential or occupational EMFs could be responsible for even a

small fraction of birth defects, low birth weight, neonatal deaths, or

cancer generally," the researchers said.

All of the three reviewers give a degree of confidence of at least 10 to

50 percent possible that residential or occupational EMFs could be

responsible for a small 15 increased lifetime risk of adult leukemia or

female breast cancer, and one gave a degree of confidence that was


The reviewers compared the size of possible risks from EMFs to the size

of possible risks from chemical and physical agents now being regulated.

They agreed that with the exception of miscarriage, the added risk, if

any, of even a highly EMF exposed individual getting any of these rare

diseases would be such that the vast majority of highly exposed

individuals - 95 percent to 99.9 percent - would not get them.

"Calculations suggest that the fraction of all cases of these conditions

for which EMF might be responsible would be very low," they said.

Still, these results were not readily released to the public, according

to the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) which mounted a

lawsuit to make them public.

Dr. Raymond Neutra is director of the California Department of Health

EMF Program. (Photo courtesy McGill University School of Medicine)

In late June, the lawsuit was filed in Alameda Superior Court by the

California First Amendment Coalition and Citizens Concerned about EMFs,

two public benefit non-profit organizations. Defendants named in the

suit are the California Department of Health Services (DHS), DHS

Director Dr. Diana Bonta, the California Electric and Magnetic Fields

Program, and EMF Program Director Dr. Raymond Neutra.

The two reports, one a compilation of all available scientific evidence,

the other examining public policy implications of the data, were

originally ordered by the California Public Utilities Commission in


"We are delighted that the state decided to abide by the California

Public Records Act rather than go through protracted litigation," said

CFAC executive director Kent Pollock. "The people of California won an

important victory this morning."

The reports were scheduled for release in early May, but at the last

minute the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) asked state

department of health to delay releasing the reports until CPUC staff

could review them.

Several California Public Records Act requests for the reports were

denied. The letters of denial said release was inappropriate because any

last minute CPUC changes would become detectable if the reports were

released before the CPUC had a chance to review or alter them.

"These reports in their uncensored versions are important to the public

because they reflect an unbiased risk assessment of the effects that EMF

exposure from electric utility facilities has on human health," said

Peter Frech, executive director of Citizens Concerned About EMFs.

"If these reports were censored for political reasons or delayed until

the state of California had bought the transmission grid from the

utilities, then the whole purpose of the California EMF Research Program

- to inform the public about such risks - would have been defeated."

The increased risk of miscarriages did not show up in animal studies,

the three DHS reviewers said, but "two new epidemiology studies in

humans suggest that a substantial proportion of miscarriages might be

caused by EMFs," they said.

Miscarriages occur in about 10 to 15 percent of pregnancies in any case,

the reviewers point out. "The theoretical added risk for an EMF exposed

pregnant woman may be an additional five to 10 percent according to

these two studies. If true, this would clearly be of concern to

individuals and regulators."

But the type of EMF exposures implicated by these two new

epidemiological studies "short, very high exposures probably come from

being within a few inches of appliances and indoor wiring, and only

rarely from power lines," the reviewers theorize.

"It may not be possible to avoid all such exposures in modern life,"

they say.

Seventy-five percent of the women in the studies had at least one of

these brief high exposures during a day. Even one exposure a day, if

typically experienced during pregnancy, seemed to increase the risk of

miscarriage. Nonetheless, the majority of pregnant women with such

exposures did not miscarry, the reviewers emphasized.

The policy report recognizes four value perspectives. One says, in

effect, do not incur costs unless risks are virtually certain.

A second stresses freedom for property rights from governmental


A third proposes regulation in the name of social justice if a small

percentage of the population is especially vulnerable.

A fourth, used by economists, attempts to quantify the risk of harm and

the cost of avoiding it in order to design a yardstick of reasonable

cost-benefit tradeoffs.

In this report, the policy analysts relied mainly on the cost-benefit

approach as one that all parties could understand and critique

objectively. They concluded, among other things, that:

.Relatively modest cost measures to add protection against EMFs from

transmission lines might cost $136 million to avoid 27 deaths statewide

over the projected 35 year life of the lines.

.The expensive option, undergrounding of the lines, might avoid 495

deaths over the 35 years but might cost $248 billion. To an economist,

how much was worth spending would depend on how many lives were seen as

otherwise threatened over the 35 years.

.For distribution lines, those bringing power to homes and workplaces,

the modest cost estimates are $234.5 million to save 47 lives over the

period, or $5.03 billion to save 1,005 lives over the period.

.Different grounding procedures within homes might cost $200 per home

and save 22 lives over the period.

"The PUC has administrative procedures for reconciling conflicting

interests and perspectives with regard to the power grid. This is

particularly important in the face of the need in California for more

capacity in generation and transmission of electricity. State and local

agencies develop policy for schools. Since electricity is so ubiquitous

many agencies have potential interest in this issue," the researchers

pointed out.

"People will often tolerate risks and not be anxious if there is cost to

them to remove the exposure or benefit from tolerating it," the

researchers concluded. "Therefore it will be important to provide

information to the public and to develop stakeholder agreement on how to

proceed with regard to EMF exposures."