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Living Close to Power Lines

Power Lines Health Risks

There has been controversy over power line radiation and its effect on human health for at least 40 years. This is not because evidence is lacking.

Living by power lines has been known to increase the risk of leukemia and other cancers since 1979, when convincing evidence was first published by Werthimer and Leeper .

Since then, dozens of published papers have found links between living near power line electromagnetic radiation and a range of health woes including  brain cancer and leukemia (especially affecting children), breast cancer, birth defects and reproductive problems, decreased libido, fatigue, depression, blood diseases, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, sleeping disorders and many others.

See our articles page for several interesting studies concerning the health effects of living near power lines.

Back in the 1970's most scientists believed that low frequency electromagnetic radiation could not possibly have any bioliogical effects, damaging or otherwise, because it was thought that the long wavelength would prevent its interaction with a relatively small body such as a human being.

But as the economist Keynes said "When the facts change, I change my mind". Well the facts have changed. The evidence against power line radiation is overwhelming. So whose mind isn't changing?

"Power Line EMF is safe" - Says who?

Keeping the controversy alive are, on the one hand, bureaucrats and regulators, who do not want to admit that they have failed to protect the public (for at least three decades) - and on the other hand power company executives who will do anything to avoid admitting to the damage already done to the nation's health (and consequent liability for it).

In support of their arguments, they look for ways in which to criticise the many studies which have reported unfavorable health effects (they can always find something) - and for inconsistencies between study results (not all studies were able to confirm health effects reported in other studies).

But they persist in ignoring the growing weight of evidence that strong low-frequency electromagnetic fields, including power line radiation, are harmful to your health.

(See our many articles about power line radiation here).

Do we need more proof of Power line Dangers?

Their refrain that "More data is needed before a conclusion can be drawn" - first offered in the early 1980's and still given today - is growing ever harder to accept.

If we wait for irrefutable proof (could it ever be supplied), what damage will have been done and how many people will lose loved ones?

Fortunately, awareness is increasing. There is a now a growing swell of opinion (scientific, medical and public) that living close to power line radiation is dangerous to your health. This opinion is backed by sound argument and solid data.

The leading proponents of this view are competent professionals of undoubted integrity.

Living By Power Lines

Both high-voltage transmission lines and also neighbourhood power lines constitute a radiation hazard. The size of the power line is not the issue. The strength of the electromagnetic field (especially the magnetic component) where you live is what is important.

The configuration of power transmission lines greatly affects the EMF. As with house wiring, how it's done makes all the difference.

It is common for high-voltage, high-current-carrying power transmission lines to generate a magnetic field whose strength is well above normal household ambient levels, at distances up to 400 metres.

But it is also common for a neighbourhood power line (suspended on street poles) to create a similar EMF at a distance of 30 metres, and for the wiring inside the walls of your house to create a dangerous emf at 1.0 metres.

In each case, much depends on the configuration of the wires and the amount of current they carry.

Living next to Power Lines

Even if you can see no power lines in your area, there may be underground cables much closer than you imagine.

Normally underground cables produce little EMF, not because they are buried (the magnetic energy penetrates the soil) but because the electromagnetic forces are opposed by current flowing in the opposite direction in adjacent wires.

But that is not necessarily so in every case.

In fact, the only way to know for certain what EMF strength applies at a particular location is to measure it with  a suitable gauss meter.

Your power company may be willing to do this for you, if you have grounds for concern. But demand measurements, not reassurances.

Power line safety can be tested

If you live near power lines, you may want to measure the EMF at a time when current flow is highest (during the day in industrial and commercial areas and during the early evening for residential areas), as well as at other times.

For an indication of power line EMF strength and distance, see our EMF Table, but be aware that individual power lines may vary widely. (Better use a meter).

How close is too close? - wherever your meter reads more than 0,5 mG from power line radiation alone is a cause for concern.

I would prefer less than 0,3 mG. Remember, this will probably be a fairly constant background EMF, to which you must add whatever EMF's are produced inside you house or workplace, from wiring, appliances, computer equipment etc.

If you have no way of measuring the power line radiation, all but the strongest high voltage transmission lines produce less than 0.3 mG EMF at 400 metres.

How long does it take for power line EMF to cause cancer?

Most studies show that the association between health effects, such as cancer, and high EMF occurs over several years. But you would not want to be too relaxed about this.

Leukemia, cancer and heart disease are not conditions which suddenly arise without cause. There is a long process of gradually deteriorating conditions within the body, which finally culminates in a disease state.

Electromagnetic radiation starts doing damage soon after a person first becomes exposed. Then for a long while there may be no noticeable symptoms, but that does not mean that nothing is happening. The damage is accumulating.

Power Lines Health Damage takes years

If the exposure is stopped early enough, the body can recover completely and repair, or adapt to, the damage that has occurred.

No one can tell exactly how long it will take for power line radiation to cause a serious disease in any individual. For most people it may take decades and for others it will not occur in a lifetime.

But a small percentage of people who live close to power lines will become sick within 3 to 5 years. Children are most vulnerable, particularly to leukemia. See our page Who is at risk? for more information on this.

If you think you are living too close to power lines.

Not all power lines are equal, so obtain an A/C gaussmeter suitable for power line radiation detection.

Measure the strength of the electromagnetic field in the areas where your family spend most of their time, especially bedrooms, kitchens, living areas.

Do this with your power switched off at the mains, then again with it turned on. That way you can determine how much of the EMF is coming from power line radiation and how much from your own house wiring and appliances.

Measure the field strength outdoors, where you sit, and where children play.

Take measurements at various times of the day.

If your EMF values (from power line radiation alone) are above 0.5 mG you may want to consider moving.

If you own your house, this may be an opportunity to sell it.

If the power lines are very close you may have to sell for less than you expect, as more people are becoming aware of power line dangers.

But if you leave it till later, you may have to take a bigger knock, because awareness of the problem is growing. And all the while you stay in the house you may be affecting your health.

If you are renting, then your decision should be a little less complicated.

Power Line EMF may NOT be your greatest danger

While you still remain in your house, try to minimise your electromagnetic exposure from all other sources.

Suppose that you are being exposed to a 1.0 mG EMF from living next to a power transmission line and that there is nothing you can do about it for the time being.

Its also possible that your exposure from the computer monitor you are now using could be 2.5 mG, and from your TV perhaps another 2.0 mG, and from your bedside clock-radio, another 1.0 mG

If you can't do anything about the power line EMF, you most certainly can reduce your exposure from most other EMF sources, which may be far more significant than the power line radiation.

Also you can help your body to repair the damage caused by living near power lines by improving your diet and lifestyle. (Start by eating less of processed foods, including sugar, and more fresh fruit and vegetables. But I had better not get started on this, or you'll be here all day!)

For information about how to assess your overall exposure from various EMF sources, go to our home page Electromagnetic Radiation and Health.

Power line EMF - What could authorities do?

If we make it clear to our local, regional and national authorities that we expect them to take action - and if our voice is loud enough - then they will be forced to ACT.

For example, power companies could be penalized for polluting the environment. It could work this way:

    After a period of grace, power transmission companies should be fined for allowing EM radiation above a certain level to spill over into public areas. This is not an impossible task for them; their engineers already know how to minimise EM radiation.

    The fine must be sufficient to motivate them to achieve the level required.

Ideally that level should be set really low, say 0,1 mG to minimise all powerline health effects. But this might need to be done in stages, with gradually increasing financial penalties for failure.

The Cost of Power line Safety

Yes, there will be a cost. One way or another the cost of power must be higher if we demand lower EMFs, so there will be economic consequences.

That's a major part of the reason why this hasn't happened already. But the nation's health would improve substantially, so lower healthcare costs could offset the increase in power costs.

We need to quantify these costs so that we can make wise decisions. But better health for millions of people is worth pursuing, and not just for its economic benefits.




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 Copyright 2008-2012                Last updated: July-2012

Living near Power Lines