EMF hazards continue to stir controversy -
The Environmental Magazine, April, 1994 by Jim Motavalli
In the rustic New England shoreline village of Guilford, Connecticut, homes go
for 250,000 and up. But if you want a bargain, visit Meadow Street, where any
one of nine solid homes, some abandoned by their owners, are going begging,
despite price tags of less than $100,000. The reason? The houses have an
unwanted neighbor: a Connecticut Light & Power Company (CL&P) substation.
Some Interesting Cell Phone Facts
What can I use to
protect myself from cell phone cancer and EMF radiation
Power line and substations like
the one in Guilford are surrounded by potent electromagnetic fields (EMFs) that
have been solidly, if not conclusively, linked to brain cancer, childhood
leukemia, birth defects and other afflictions. These EMFS are also emitted by
common electric appliances like microwave ovens, refrigerators and computers,
creating new demands on manufacturers to better shield their products.
EMFs are everywhere. Green Alternatives magazine sent its staff into their local
community with a gaussmeter, a device designed to measure the strength of
electromagnetic fields, and found potentially dangerous levels in some unlikely
places - a staffer's dishwasher, and a local lunch hangout which may have had
faulty wiring. But the highest readings were underneath telephone pole-type
power lines. Obviously these permanently-"on" EMF sources represent far more
risk than our appliances, which emit very local fields Only when in use.
EMFs are created by the movement of electrical current through power lines.
They're nothing new, but studies on their effects are. Several recent ones, and
a 1990 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) draft report, point to increased
cancer risks for People with long-term exposure higher than two milligauss (mG).
For perspective, the back of a desk lamp can emit 50 mG, though the field drops
to 1.5 mG two feet away. Faced with the enormous potential cost of relocating or
burying millions of miles of high-voltage wires, utilities are waging a
not-too-subtle campaign to convince consumers that their humming power lines and
largescale transformers are safe - even near schools and housing projects.
One such campaign is carried on by Central Maine Power, which publishes two
ostensibly neutral newsletters called EMF: Between the Lines and EMF Keeptrack -
though the newsletters are merely identified as products of The Center for
Energy Information (CEI). Judy Franke, assistant director of CEI, denies that
the newsletters are inherently biased. We think that people can draw their own
conclusions," she says.
Utilities also hire their own scientists. Paul Brodeur, a writer for The New
Yorker magazine and author of The Great Power Line Coverup, charges that two
Yale University-affiliated epidemiologists who gave testimony and prepared an
industry-favorable EMF report for the Connecticut state legislature were paid
utility consultants. "In 35 years as a journalist, I've never seen such a
blatant conflict of interest," says Brodeur. "And the state legislature never
did a thing about it."
Connecticut's fight against EMFs is grassroots-based. Guilford's Robert Hemstock,
whose son lived on Meadow Street, has been involved in the fight for three
years. There have been a dozen serious illnesses among residents, including at
least five brain cancers.
"I've looked at over 90,000 cancer death certificates [through the Connecticut
Tumor Registry], and over 55 percent are within 100 feet of the power company's
distribution lines," Hemstock says. "There's no question that EMFs are the
source of these cancers." Hemstock's admittedly unscientific study of cancer
cases in Guilford found 58 percent along the distribution lines, in only 11
percent of the town's homes.
Further down the shoreline, Karen Adams is a co-founder of Fairfield's Alliance
to Limit Electromagnetic Radiation Today (ALERT), formed in 1991 after CL&P
quietly won approval for a 115,000-volt power line along the commuter rail line
from Bridgeport to Norwalk.
ALERT's prospects for success, however, were hampered by its late entry into the
process. Few local residents read the tiny legal notice about CL&P's plans in
the town paper, and fewer still showed up at the required public hearing. By the
time Adams and her activist friends were alerted, the utility had a construction
permit from the Connecticut Siting Council. "They notify us when they're going
to repave the road," Adams says. "Why couldn't we be given prior notification
about something as important as this?" They couldn't have picked a worse place,
she contends - the power line goes right past a boys' club and a middle school.
Concerned about both health risks and property values, Adams' group immediately
began a petition drive and signed on three pro bono attorneys. They called for
an immediate injunction to stop the still-uncompleted line, which would sell
excess power to Long Island. The Siting Council returned to Fairfield for an
unusual second hearing but, last July, again approved the line in a 5-2 vote.
ALERT took them to court, but their case was dismissed for lack of grounds.
Adams vows to fight on. "There's litigation and legislation, and we are pursuing
both avenues," she says.
Adams believes that the utilities could greatly reduce EMFs by putting their
electrical cables eight feet underground instead of on overhead poles. This
technique, says Adams, has been well-known for many years. "How do you think
they do it in New York? The utilities are opposed because it costs twice as
much, but it's actually cheaper in the long run." She says that buried cable,
according to the utilities' own studies, emits as little as one mG of EMF
directly above the line.
CEI's Franke notes that several states are funding EMF research; she says "the
science just isn't there yet" to make definitive statements about the dangers of
EMFs. And she's none too sanguine about buried cable either, noting that once
it's underground, developers may still build right next to it.
Paul Brodeur says that Connecticut stands out because of its grassroots
activism, but that the problem is now becoming widely known. "There's a
tremendous brain cancer cluster [in Guilford]," says Brodeur, "and it can't just
be explained away or studied to death. We now have 60 major studies saying EMFs
are dangerous." The Swedish government flatly declared EMFs a hazard and has
begun to mandate buried cable and siting requirements. So far, the U.S.
government has shown no such inclination.