REVOLT opposing unnecessary, excessive and intrusive powerline development

opposing unnecessary, excessive
and intrusive powerline development

REVOLT Newsletter 259

Revolt news 10/07/2008 Print (pdf) Version

1. Research suggests a new potential hazard from magnetic fields. De-Kun Li has found that men who were exposed to over 1.6mG (0.16 microtesla) for over six hours a day were four times more likely to have substandard sperm. This is a low exposure level which might be common for residents within 100 metres of high voltage powerlines. Results were presented 25 June to the annual meeting of the Society for Epidemiologic Research in Chicago and have been submitted for publication. See 

2. Further to news258.2, Hardell et al (The Open Environmental Journal, 2008, 2, 54-61) find methodological shortcomings in the Interphone studies under the auspice of IARC when compared with his own studies. These are set out in his Table 1. Table 2 shows the high response rates in the Hardell studies in contrast with low rates in the Interphone studies likely to obscure or diminish their results.

3. In the light of item 2 above and news282.6, an updated note on probity (version7) will be posted on the revolt site. There are further probity concerns about industry influence in WHO and IARC, prominent in the peer-reviewed literature, notably on chemicals in the environment and the workplace, together with more general concerns about industrial and political influence in science and public health.

4. The striking association found in a California school between cancer and “dirty power” or high-frequency transients (news257.7) is not entirely new. Maisch et al 2006, mentioned in my note on probity, discuss positive results (10-fold risk of lung cancer) in Canadian studies by Armstrong et al, 1994, and their apparent suppression by industry in liaison with WHO. While isolated studies do not warrant jumping to conclusions, this does look like a field which deserves more research. Is it being suppressed? The latest WHO review of the ELF science (EHC238 of 2007) does discuss transients (at some length but dismissively) but doesn’t mention Armstrong et al 1994 nor their findings.

5. The Irish government study on undergrounding was published 9 July 2008. No great surprises, but the “key findings” on health concerns in the government press release are likely to be seen as quite disgraceful spin: half-truths to give a misleading impression. Perhaps that is a signal to government policy intentions. See APPENDIX A and 

6. The UK Department of Health has issued a notice suggesting reconvening SAGE, with a Main Group meeting on 14 October. It s not yet known whether or how well this will be supported after the hiatus of more than a year. The government’s response to SAGE’s First Interim Assessment of April 2007 is still awaited. Some participants expressed concern that the HPA was in effect a one-sided monopoly over-riding SAGE by virtue of government referring the FIA to the HPA.

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APPENDIX A Irish government underground study

From the government press release of 9 July 2008:

The key findings of the study are as follows: - Increasing pressure internationally has become an important driver for underground cables as an alternative. The technology for underground cables at high voltages is continuing to develop. - International experience of laying such cables over long distances is limited and the majority of existing projects do not represent transmission connections in conventional networks such as we have in Ireland - Underground cables can be expected to have forced outage rates which are at least 10 times greater than that of overhead lines. - Underground cables are therefore severely limited in terms of transmission adequacy and are not equivalent to overhead lines in terms of security of electricity supply - Work undertaken on the two case studies suggest that the capital cost of constructing underground cables would be approximately 5 times greater than the cost of overhead lines and 3 times the lifecycle costs - Exposure to magnetic fields may be higher directly above an underground cable than under overhead lines. Additional measures can reduce the magnetic field for both options. - Ireland designs and operates transmission assets in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines. In Ireland magnetic field exposure directly under a transmission line is generally 80-90% lower than the maximum levels recommended in the WHO guidelines. - Both overhead and underground options have environmental impacts

The full report can be downloaded from the government web site: 

My comment on key findings as presented in the press release:

Exposures to magnetic fields from underground or overhead lines are not comparable. In effect, exposures from buried cables are far less and can be practically eliminated. This is acknowledged in the report’s conclusions but the government press release is selective to deceive.

Fields directly above buried cables would only be higher for shallow trenched cables while deep trenching would practically eliminate them. Even for shallow trenches, the fields rapidly diminish to the side of the trench. Fields from overhead lines extend substantially for hundreds of metres and can be at levels of scientific concern for more than 100 metres. There is no practical way of substantially reducing fields from overhead lines, except for partial reduction by phase transposing for double-circuit lines. But Ireland’s proposed lines are single-circuit so even this partial reduction would not be available.

WHO recognises both the ICNIRP guidance levels (e.g. 100 microtesla) for exposure restriction and the possible carcinogen at much lower levels (e.g. 0.4 microtesla) when WHO says precaution is warranted. Ireland seems to recognise and operate in accordance with the former but not the latter, so the above claim is misleading.

No doubt I will have more to say when I have had time to study the report. At first sight, the argument rests heavily on “transmission system adequacy” as the prime requirement. The problem is, buried cables are judged negatively by past experience with shallow trenches where breakages occur due to other works, typically in cities. This would be an unfair comparison for the Irish countryside. In any case the problem should be solved (at some extra cost) by deep burial in tunnels (at least in higher-risk areas), which appears not to be properly assessed for transmission system adequacy, though it is briefly alluded to in the Executive Summary.

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