(Please remember Sir Richard Doll's viewpoint
below - And stay tuned for more to follow on similar views
by Doll on other environmental problems.)
Are electromagnetic fields causing women
to miscarry, triggering childhood leukaemias, and even driving
some people to suicide? As new studies emerge, the experts
YOU CAN'T SEE, smell, hear or feel them,
but they surround you at work and at home. And, according
to some scientists, the electromagnetic fields given off by
electrical appliances, house wiring, computers or overhead
power lines are far from innocuous - they constitute an invisible
menace eating away at our health and are responsible for such
diverse ills as childhood leukaemias, brain cancers, miscarriage,
depression and even suicide.
Last year, the National Radiological Protection
Board (NRPB), the government-funded organisation which sets
safety limits on exposure, concluded that high electromagnetic
fields (EMFs) might double the risk of childhood leukaemia,
and was probably responsible for an additional two deaths
from the disease each year. Now a massive report from researchers
in the United States has cast the net of doubt much wider.
The report, conducted by three senior figures at the California
Department of Health Services, concluded that the authors
"are inclined to believe that EMFs can cause some degree
of increased risk of childhood leukaemia, adult brain cancer,
Lou Gehrig's disease (a degenerative neurological condition
similar to motor neurone disease) and miscarriage".
The link to miscarriage was especially
dramatic - as many as one in 20 pregnancies may end prematurely
due to EMF exposure, the report said. Whether by coincidence
or serendipity, the NRPB, which is independent of the power
industry, will shortly issue a discussion document on whether
action is needed.
The miscarriage link is controversial -
both the NRPB and the Electricity Association, which speaks
for power companies, say the studies on this were flawed.
But Denis Henshaw, a professor of physics
at Bristol University, who argues that power lines can make
people sick, says that the new findings on miscarriage turn
this into a major public health issue.
"We're talking about an absolute extra
risk of miscarriage of 5 to 10 per cent, which is considerable,"
Henshaw says. "The power industry has always argued that
even if there was an increased risk of childhood leukaemias,
they are still very rare, and so it wasn't a public health
matter. This is a much bigger can of worms." Henshaw
believes that EMFs are responsible for skin cancers, lung
cancers, depression and around 60 suicides a year.
The authors of the American report, which
took ten years to complete, cost $7 million (£4.4 million)
and runs to 400 pages, couldn't rule out links with suicide
or adult leukaemia. All three scientists were "close
to the dividing line between believing and not believing"
that EMFs put a person at increased risk of these. They did
not believe that EMFs were implicated in birth defects, other
cancers, heart disease, Alzheimer's disease or depression.
The report did not look at the EMFs from mobile phone masts.
Henshaw has hailed the report, the final
draft of which was released on the internet without announcement
last summer, as "groundbreaking". He says: "(The
report) is unprecedented in its depth. The power industry
has tried to ignore it, but it's so substantive that people
can't really complain about it. Importantly, it's also been
independent from industry pressure. It should wake people
Henshaw argues that the NRPB should follow
the examples of Switzerland and Sweden in reducing the maximum
safe exposure levels. The doubling of childhood leukaemias
was seen at levels of 0.4 millionths of a Tesla (0.4 microTesla).
The safe limit is set at 4,000 times that, at 1600 microTesla.
Four years ago, Switzerland dropped the
maximum to just 1 microTesla. To drop the limits any less
dramatically, Henshaw comments, "would be as irrelevant
as reducing the speed limit on the motorway from 1,000mph
to 500mph". He also believes that houses should no longer
be built near power lines or substations, and that cables
should be buried underground.
Dr Michael Clark, scientific spokesman
for the NRPB, says the Californian report "can't be dismissed
but, because it is a review of existing work rather than new
research, it doesn't substantially change anything".
He cautions against being too prescriptive about exposure
levels because the conveniences of modern life might be as
much to blame as pylons and power lines. "Hairdryers
produce large fields, as do car engines, but can we really
tell people not to drive their cars?"
While someone standing directly beneath
a power line might experience a magnetic field of 40 microTesla,
a hairdryer or electric razor can produce 1000 microTesla.
However, Dr John Swanson, scientific adviser on EMFs to the
Electricity Association, says that these high exposures come
in short bursts, and holding a hairdryer even a few inches
away from the head cuts the level to about 100 microTesla.
Clark says that because many factors probably
contribute to miscarriage, it is vital to be sure that the
role played by EMFs is genuine.
The NRPB has appointed Sir Richard Doll,
the epidemiologist who famously spotted the association between
smoking and lung cancer, to review all the evidence, including
that on miscarriage. Under his guidance, the NRPB believes
that there is "(no) substantial evidence of increased
risk of miscarriage attributable to exposure to above-average
magnetic fields" and therefore no regulatory action is
Doll's scepticism is shared by Swanson,
who says: "The miscarriage studies are sufficiently flawed
for me to be wary. For example, the participation rate was
only about 39 per cent of the women approached, and most epidemiologists
would look for a rate of at least 50 per cent. The questions
raised are valid but these studies don't answer them.
"I think the California report is
wrong. Their conclusions are out of line with most other reputable
research groups around the world."
What is really needed to resolve the issue
is harder statistical evidence, or a killer fact - a convincing,
provable scientific theory of how EMFs can physically damage
the body. Such a theory would not only settle the uncertainty,
but would also pave the way for legal action. Lawyers such
as Martyn Day, whose London firm Leigh & Day is in touch
with potential litigants, say that the California report is
an important new weapon in the battle. "It's a significant
new piece of evidence which has pushed me back to the edge,"
"But I could see the courts being
very nervous about this one. There is evidence that EMFs affect
molecules, but not enough to break them apart. And it is always
possible that it is something else, rather than the EMF, that's
causing the damage." And so, in the midst of blurred,
ambiguous statistics, the controversy lingers. People living
in the shadow of power stations continue to pile up anecdotal
evidence of ill-health, miscarriage and suicide. And, in the
absence of hard figures, scientists remain reluctant to believe
that the power lines that lattice the landscape could damage
unborn babies and make people take their own lives.
Informant: Don Maisch
story about transformers and cancers
A few days ago I received a phone call
from Mr. Gerald Higgins from Newfoundland. He told me a disturbing
story about transformers and cancers and when I suggested
that he send his story to some of the EMF newsgroups for circulation
he asked if I would send it on his behalf because he's "new
to email and is a slow typist".
I agreed. What follows is a much-abbreviated
version of Gerald Higgins' saga.
Gerald Higgins bought a small house measuring
12 feet by 26 feet and skidded it to it's new home on a half
acre parcel of land in Norris Arm, NL, Canada. He placed his
home directly beneath a power line, moved into it in October
1980, and Light and Power duly hooked it up for him. The 13.8
kV power line was about 15 feet above his roof. He didn't
know that this was not a good place for a power line and Light
and Power didn't comment about it either.
In the mid to late 1990s the weather began
to change as sleet storms became more common. Gerald Higgins
was concerned that the power line might fall directly on his
house after one of these storms so in 1998 be asked the power
company to move the line, but they refused.
In May 2000, Gerald Higgins' wife, Margaret,
was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 39 years old and
had no history of breast cancer in the family. She had months
of chemotherapy in Grand Falls and radiation therapy in St.
John's during which time Mr. and Mrs. Higgins stayed at Agnes
Cowan Hostel. During the therapy sessions, Gerald Higgins
spoke to well over a 4000 people and found that all but 9
of them lived within 100 feet of a transformer.
He talked to 7 married couples where both
partners had bowel cancer.
He learned about a leukemia patient who
was diagnosed when he was 18 years old and died at the age
of 25. Two transformers were within 50 feet of his house.
His father was later diagnosed with prostate cancer at the
age of 52.
In Cornerbrook, a couple in their early
50s lived within 33 feet of a transformer. The husband had
thyroid cancer and the wife had breast cancer. They were both
Then there are horror stories of transformers
crashing to the ground and dumping their chemical waste. In
one such example in St. Stephens, a transformer fell in the
fall of 1998 and splashed a nearby home and yard with its
chemical waste. The husband was diagnosed with brain tumor
in April 1999 and he died in August of that year. In June
2000, the wife was operated on for colon cancer. The brother-in-law
who lived 50 feet away died of lung cancer two months later
and the nephew who lived across the street and within 50 feet
of a transformer developed stomach cancer and has since died.
Light and Power dumped gravel in the yard and said there was
no danger with the spill.
Gerald Higgins has hundreds of similar
After his wife developed breast cancer,
Gerald Higgins put more pressure on Newfoundland Power and
they moved the line 20 feet away and placed it on higher poles
during the winter of 2002. The magnetic field on the roof
immediately above the bedroom now reads 5.7 mG, so we can
image how high it was when the line was directly overhead.
Gerald. Higgins has become a man with a
mission. He wants the government to fund a properly conducted,
independent survey to assess the link between cancer and proximity
to transformers. If people living near transformers have a
higher risk of developing cancer then he wants the transformers
Support for Gerald Higgins is mounting.
After he appeared on a talk show and was quoted in the local
newspaper, The Herald, mayors and city clerks from around
the island began to write to him with their own mini surveys.
Here are a few of them.
Brent's Cove has a population of 283. Nine
transformers can be found within 100 feet of houses. In one
family, consisting of 15 family members who lived 54 feet
from a transformer, only 4 are living. The rest had died of
cancer within the past 10 years. Another person who lived
105 feet from the same transformer was diagnosed with cancer
and has since died.
In Carmanville, the Justice of the Peace
conducted a survey on October 6, 2002. He found people with
cancer in 19 homes. Sixty percent (60%) of these homes were
within 30 feet of a transformer and the rest were within 100
to 150 feet.
In East Port, of the 51 cancer patients
identified, 49 lived within 100 feet of a transformer and
some lived "very close" to transformers according
to one of the Councilors who conducted the survey.
The Mayor of Fleur de Lys said that during
the past 10 years all cancer cases lived within 100 feet of
a transformer. In five homes across the road from a fish plant
with a large power source, 4 people developed cancer.
In Flowers Cove, of the 25 transformers
near homes, 18 transformers were near homes where people had
In Hermitage, the Town Clerk conducted
an independent survey and found that many of the cancer patients
who died had transformers in their yards.
In Gaskiers and Point La Haye the Town
Manager reported that 21 out of 23 people diagnosed with cancer
lived near transformers on utility poles. So far 14 have died.
In Engelee, the City Clerk reported that
out of 8 or 10 people with cancer most lived within 100 feet
of a transformer. All but 2 have died.
Joe Batt's Arm has 40 transformers within
the community and 33 are in close proximity to homes where
people have died of cancer according to the Mayor.
The Mayor of La Scie reported that of 52
cancer cases 46 lived within 100 feet of a transformer.
There are 12 transformers and a population
of 176 people within the community of Plate Cove. Of the 25
people diagnosed with cancer in this community, most live
"close" to a transformer according the Mayor.
In Pools Cove, the Mayor reported that
transformers were within 50 to 125 feet from homes where people
had been diagnosed with cancer. In this small community during
the past 20 to 25 years, 18 people have been diagnosed with
cancer and 12 of them have died.
In Port Rexton, the Town Manager reported
that within the past 10 years or so, of the 21 cancer-related
deaths, 15 lived within 100 feet of pole-mounted transformers.
Three cancer survivors still live within 100 feet of a transformer.
In Port Saunders, 19 of the 20 people diagnosed
with cancer during the past 10 years lived within 50-100 feet
of a transformer.
In Port Union, the Mayor reported 12 cancer
cases within the past 10 years. All 12 lived within 200 feet
of a transformer and 9 lived within 100 feet. Nine of these
people have since died.
In Seal Cove West, the Mayor drove around
to survey the 28 transformers and cancer cases. A total of
18 people developed cancer of which 11 have died and all lived
within "close proximity" to a transformer.
The Mayor of St. Alban's reported that
of the 38 people with cancer that he phoned 47% lived within
50 feet, 32% within 50-100 feet, 13% within 100-150 feet,
and 8% lived beyond 150 feet of transformers.
In St. Lunaire-Griquet, the Mayor reported
that of the 14 people with cancer, 11 lived within 30 to 50
feet of a transformer.
In St. Mary's, the Mayor was diagnosed
with cancer and died recently. She lived "2 arm lengths"
or about 12 feet from 2 transformers.
In Trespassey, a 33 year old, non-smoking
woman who developed a tumor on her leg had a transformer in
Woodstock has a population of 300 people
and a total of 16 transformers within the community, according
to the Deputy Mayor. Within the past 10 years 8 people have
died of cancer and 11 are living with cancer. All live within
50 to 100 feet of a transformer. There is also a transformer
within 50 feet of the school that has a kindergarten.
In Norris Arms, 300 residents, almost 50%
of the population, signed a petition to ask the Minister of
Health to fund an independent study to determine the relationship
between cancer incidence and transformers. They ask that the
study be coordinated by the Public Health Department and that
it be conducted at arm's length from NFL Power.
This request seems perfectly reasonable
to me considering that scientific studies report a two-fold
increased risk of childhood leukemia for children who live
near power lines and are exposed to magnetic fields above
2 mG. Other research shows that electromagnetic fields may
promote the growth of cancerous cells. These scientific studies
in combination with the informal survey conducted by Gerald
Higgins and the Mayors, Clerks and Councilors across Newfoundland
are trumpeting a loud wake-up call to our public health officials.
I trust they are listening.
Mr. Higgins is determined not to let this
issue die. If you would like to contact Gerald he can be reached
via email at GerryHiggins55@hotmail.com
or by phone at 709 653-2152.
Message from Magda Havas