* Power stands charged- Disturbing story about transformers and cancers (12/03/03)
Power stands charged

(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 are divided

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 up."

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 called for.

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," he says.

"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

Disturbing 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 blind.

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 stories.

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 moved.

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 developed cancer.

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 her yard.

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

Citizens' Initiative Omega

If you want our (normally daily) Newsletter in German, sometimes partially in English, please go to


Note: Citizens' Initiative Omega works on non-profit base. Our messages are the result of many hours of daily research, roundup and editing. If you would like to support our activity for people around the world with a donation or an aid fund unique or on regular base, you can do it here https://www.paypal.com/xclick/business=Star.Mail%40t-

If you have informations which you would like to share with your friends and colleges around the world and which are from common interest, please send us this informations, we will send them out. Thank you.

Disclaimer:  The informations contained in our EMF-Omega-News are derived from sources, which we believe to be accurate but is not guaranteed.

Citizens' Initiative Omega is not responsible for any errors or omissions and disclaims any liability incurred as a consequence of any of the contents of this resources.