Azara Blog: "Experts" cannot agree about the safety, or not, of powerlines

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Date published: 2007/04/28

The BBC says:

Experts have clashed over whether or not it is safe to build houses and schools near powerlines.

The government had asked them to look at cutting exposure to emissions from the lines - but they could not agree if there should be a ban on new builds.

The panel of 40 included scientists, representatives from the electricity industry and health campaigners.

Opinion is divided over whether electromagnetic fields from powerlines pose a health risk.

Around 1% of homes in the UK are estimated to be within 200m of high voltage National Grid power lines. Around 25,000 are within 60m.

In 2005, the Department of Health funded Draper Report found that children who lived within 200 metres of high voltage lines had a 70% higher risk of developing leukaemia than those who lived more than 600 metres away.

Experts claim this could account for five extra cases, or 1% of the 400 cases of childhood leukaemia that occur in a year.

Some scientists have suggested that other illnesses, including brain tumours and motor neurone disease could also be linked to EMF exposure.

But others say powerlines pose no health threat.

The panel's report discusses a number of options the government might consider to reduce public exposure to electromagnetic fields.

It says a 60-metre "avoidance corridor" around powerlines, within which new buildings should not be erected, would have the most dramatic effect.

Other options include burying powerlines underground, but there were concerns about how feasible this would be.

The Department of Health has found a correlation between closeness to high voltage lines and leukaemia. But of course correlation is not the same thing as causation. In particular, there could be plenty of other causes.

For example, in north Cambridge the one powerline is not far from the (extremely busy) A14 and right next to the (busy but not as busy) King's Hedges Road. You would have thought that the roads had much more of an impact on health (leukaemia or otherwise) than the powerline. The powerline crosses the site of the new Arbury Park development, and the developer decided to pay for the powerline to be buried. Presumably this was mainly because powerlines are an eyesore but partly because the developer knew full well that there is now public hysteria about powerlines. But can anyone prove that powerlines are safer buried than not buried?

And needless to say, poor people in general live closer to powerlines than rich people. And rich people are healthier than poor people. What is cause and what is effect?

(And how "expert" were some of the people on the panel? The BBC angle implies that those for and against powerlines were equally expert. Were they? And which of the panel members were unbiased?)

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