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Revolt Newsletter 95

05/08/2001


1. Strong development from California, as forwarded by Denis Henshaw: two reports commissioned by California Dept of Health confirm possible health hazards from powerlines, though recourse to legal pressure was necessary to put the reports in the public domain. Various risks are rated, including (as well as leukaemia) brain cancer, sclerosis and miscarriage with increased risk "more than 50% possible", though the authors also say there is a chance EMFs have no effect. The full message is at Appendix 1 below. See also http://www.dhs.ca.gov/  for more. You can download the full risk assessment report from http://www.dnai.com/~emf/RiskEvaluation/riskeval.html 

2. Environment minister Michael Meacher announced 31 July a new investigation into health effects of powerlines, among other things, under the auspices of COMARE (Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment). When I was asked for a press response, I welcomed the investigation but thought it too limited. It will only investigate internal radiation effects, from breathing in radioactive particles. While this may in some places be part of the Henshaw effect, arising from airborne aerosol particles becoming electrically charged, the effect may involve other contaminants, such as chemical carcinogens. Internal radiation effects might only be enhanced by powerlines where there is a supply of natural radon or industrial radioactive material, whereas chemical pollutants may be involved in other locations. Also the "Henshaw particles" may be deposited on the skin, causing other effects. See Mark Foster's piece in Northern Echo 1.8.01. The government press release is at Appendix 2 below.

3. The Radio 4 Today programme, Tuesday 31.7.01, had an interesting piece on Tektra, the police communication system. Alasdair Philips of Powerwatch was interviewed along with Sir Richard Doll of NRPB. There are questions of safety for officers using the system, and also for towers. Apparently the system uses pulsed microwaves at a pulsing frequency in the region of brain activity, the sort of thing which may trigger epileptic fits. While Philips and Doll agreed about the possibility, Doll said he was less pessimistic. Doll also claimed the pulsing takes place only in the headset and so would only affect officers, not the public near transmitters, but in a very effective 10-second final word Alasdair cited types of transmitter which he said did pulse.

4. Anne McIntosh MP has bombarded the government with Parliamentary Questions on the NGC line and related matters right up to the end of Parliamentary term. My response to a bunch of ministers' answers is at Appendix 3 below. Mostly it's about health. Ever since the UKCCS and Richard Doll's triumphalist AGNIR report in March, the authorities keep playing on this idea that exposure in the UK is rare and can be dismissed. By UKCCS and NRPB's own figures, half a percent of the population is exposed to powerline fields above the levels associated with leukaemia. That's some 300,000 people including 60,000 children at the "high levels" of exposure, of whom about a quarter are exposed through powerlines.

Appendix 1 - EMF reports from California. "Power Lines, Wiring Pose Health Risks"

 

SACRAMENTO, California, July 16, 2001 (ENS) - Added risk of miscarriage, childhood leukemia, brain cancer and greater incidence of suicide are some of the health risks associated with exposure to electric and magnetic fields such as those that radiate from power lines, according to a California health department review.

Released Friday under pressure from a California First Amendment Coalition lawsuit, two reports summarize and analyze a decade of research done at a cost to ratepayers of more than $7 million.

Two reports by researchers from the California Department of Health Services say human population studies suggest there might be a problem from electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) from power lines, wiring in buildings, certain jobs, and appliances.

On behalf of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC), three scientists who work for the California Department of Health Services were asked to review the existing scientific literature about possible health problems from these sources. The PUC request for review did not include radio frequency EMFs from cell phones and radio towers.

Power lines radiate electric and magnetic fields. Three assigned scientists, a physician/epidemiologist, a geneticist/epidemiologist, and a physicist with training in epidemiology assessed the literature with the assistance of 10 other DHS scientists.

It is "more than 50 percent possible" the scientists reported, that EMFs at home or at work could cause a "very small increased lifetime risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's Disease."

"It is more than 50 percent possible that EMFs at home or at work could cause a five to 10 percent added risk of miscarriage."

"It is 10-50 percent possible that residential or occupational EMFs could be responsible for a small increased lifetime risk of male breast cancer, childhood brain cancer, suicide, Alzheimer's disease, or sudden cardiac death," the scientists wrote.

In every instance, they took care to note that "there is a chance that EMFs have no effect at all."

"It is very unlikely - two to 10 percent possible - but not impossible, that residential or occupational EMFs could be responsible for even a small fraction of birth defects, low birth weight, neonatal deaths, or cancer generally," the researchers said.

All of the three reviewers give a degree of confidence of at least 10 to 50 percent possible that residential or occupational EMFs could be responsible for a small 15 increased lifetime risk of adult leukemia or female breast cancer, and one gave a degree of confidence that was higher.

The reviewers compared the size of possible risks from EMFs to the size of possible risks from chemical and physical agents now being regulated.

They agreed that with the exception of miscarriage, the added risk, if any, of even a highly EMF exposed individual getting any of these rare diseases would be such that the vast majority of highly exposed individuals - 95 percent to 99.9 percent - would not get them.

"Calculations suggest that the fraction of all cases of these conditions for which EMF might be responsible would be very low," they said.

Still, these results were not readily released to the public, according to the California First Amendment Coalition (CFAC) which mounted a lawsuit to make them public.

Raymond Neutra is director of the California Department of Health EMF Program. In late June, the lawsuit was filed in Alameda Superior Court by the California First Amendment Coalition and Citizens Concerned about EMFs, two public benefit non-profit organizations. Defendants named in the suit are the California Department of Health Services (DHS), DHS Director Dr. Diana Bonta, the California Electric and Magnetic Fields Program, and EMF Program Director Dr. Raymond Neutra.

The two reports, one a compilation of all available scientific evidence, the other examining public policy implications of the data, were originally ordered by the California Public Utilities Commission in 1993.

"We are delighted that the state decided to abide by the California Public Records Act rather than go through protracted litigation," said CFAC executive director Kent Pollock. "The people of California won an important victory this morning."

The reports were scheduled for release in early May, but at the last minute the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) asked state department of health to delay releasing the reports until CPUC staff could review them.

Several California Public Records Act requests for the reports were denied. The letters of denial said release was inappropriate because any last minute CPUC changes would become detectable if the reports were released before the CPUC had a chance to review or alter them.

"These reports in their uncensored versions are important to the public because they reflect an unbiased risk assessment of the effects that EMF exposure from electric utility facilities has on human health," said Peter Frech, executive director of Citizens Concerned About EMFs.

"If these reports were censored for political reasons or delayed until the state of California had bought the transmission grid from the utilities, then the whole purpose of the California EMF Research Program - to inform the public about such risks - would have been defeated."

The increased risk of miscarriages did not show up in animal studies, the three DHS reviewers said, but "two new epidemiology studies in humans suggest that a substantial proportion of miscarriages might be caused by EMFs," they said.

Miscarriages occur in about 10 to 15 percent of pregnancies in any case, the reviewers point out. "The theoretical added risk for an EMF exposed pregnant woman may be an additional five to 10 percent according to these two studies. If true, this would clearly be of concern to individuals and regulators."

But the type of EMF exposures implicated by these two new epidemiological studies "short, very high exposures probably come from being within a few inches of appliances and indoor wiring, and only rarely from power lines," the reviewers theorize.

"It may not be possible to avoid all such exposures in modern life," they say.

Seventy-five percent of the women in the studies had at least one of these brief high exposures during a day. Even one exposure a day, if typically experienced during pregnancy, seemed to increase the risk of miscarriage. Nonetheless, the majority of pregnant women with such exposures did not miscarry, the reviewers emphasized.

The policy report recognizes four value perspectives. One says, in effect, do not incur costs unless risks are virtually certain.

A second stresses freedom for property rights from governmental interference.

A third proposes regulation in the name of social justice if a small percentage of the population is especially vulnerable.

A fourth, used by economists, attempts to quantify the risk of harm and the cost of avoiding it in order to design a yardstick of reasonable cost-benefit tradeoffs.

In this report, the policy analysts relied mainly on the cost-benefit approach as one that all parties could understand and critique objectively. They concluded, among other things, that:

  • Relatively modest cost measures to add protection against EMFs from transmission lines might cost $136 million to avoid 27 deaths statewide over the projected 35 year life of the lines.

  • The expensive option, undergrounding of the lines, might avoid 495 deaths over the 35 years but might cost $248 billion. To an economist, how much was worth spending would depend on how many lives were seen as otherwise threatened over the 35 years.

  • For distribution lines, those bringing power to homes and workplaces, the modest cost estimates are $234.5 million to save 47 lives over the period, or $5.03 billion to save 1,005 lives over the period.

  • Different grounding procedures within homes might cost $200 per home and save 22 lives over the period.

    "The PUC has administrative procedures for reconciling conflicting interests and perspectives with regard to the power grid. This is particularly important in the face of the need in California for more capacity in generation and transmission of electricity. State and local agencies develop policy for schools. Since electricity is so ubiquitous many agencies have potential interest in this issue," the researchers pointed out.

    "People will often tolerate risks and not be anxious if there is cost to them to remove the exposure or benefit from tolerating it," the researchers concluded. "Therefore it will be important to provide information to the public and to develop stakeholder agreement on how to proceed with regard to EMF exposures."

    The reports are now available on the California Department of Health Services website at: "http://www.dhs.ca.gov

    Public comments are welcome by September 10. They can be submitted through the website or by contacting: Jack Collins, California EMF Program, 1515 Clay Street, Suite 1700, Oakland, California 94612. E- mail: JCollins@dhs.ca.gov

    Appendix 2 Press release on government investigation of internal radiation effects from powerlines and other sources. (31.7.01)

    The health risks from living near nuclear power stations and power lines will be investigated by a group set up by the Government today.

    Environment Minister Michael Meacher announced a working group would examine the effects of internal radiation emitters - radiation particles which are swallowed or breathed in. It will aim to settle the dispute over whether power stations such as Sellafield in Cumbria have directly created clusters of leukaemia or other cancers in people living nearby. It will also examine the controversial debate over what harmful effects living close to power lines have on human health. The group will ''consider the present risk models for radiation and health that apply to exposure from radiation from internal radionuclides in the light of recent studies and any further research that might be needed''. It will sit for six months before holding a discussion seminar.
    Mr Meacher said: ''There are significant differences of view among experts about the precise impacts of the ingestion of radionuclides and these need to be resolved. ''This new working group will reach across all parties in the debate on risks of radiation, to assess the impact and reach a consensus on whether the current risk models continue to be valid.''
    The Government's independent advisory Committee on Medical Aspects of Radiation in the Environment (COMARE) was asked to establish the working group. Professor Bryn Bridges, chairman of COMARE, said: ''The Government has recently given chairmen of scientific advisory committees the responsibility of ensuring that all views are heard and taken into account when committees formulate their advice. ''The risk from internal radioactivity is an area where, despite broad international consensus, there are several dissenting and sometimes mutually opposed viewpoints. ''The working group will provide a real challenge to the holders of all viewpoints to argue their case and try and reach agreement. ''COMARE regards this as an important consultative exercise and will be listening carefully to the proceedings.''

    Appendix 3. Response to Anne McIntosh re PQs for putting back to Ministers

    1. Comments on the Standard Note updated 14.3.01 from Mr D Cope, Director of the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology (POST) on "Overhead Power Lines and Health":

    (a) The paper starts as a helpful summary of points of procedural evolution on consent to powerlines. However, its spin and bias trip over each other on page 3, where the 40 microTesla (uT) fields under powerlines are belittled as 40 times less than the 1600 uT NRPB investigation levels, whereas the next paragraph extolls the opposite emphasis saying that fields of possible risk (actually only 0.4 uT though the figure is omitted in the paragraph) are "high levels ... rarely encountered in the UK". The document strains the meaning of "rarely" in a mistaken way: it is the incidence of leukaemia among such exposures which is rare in the UK, actual exposures at the identified level of possible risk are quite common, including thousands of children, as can be deduced from the NRPB figures on page 4 (the increase of half a case per year relating to some 10,000 exposures to powerlines alone). Page 4 also says that 0.5% of children were highly exposed; that would imply some 60,000 under 16s exposed in the UK to potential risk levels of EMFs from all sources.

    (b) The top of page 4 says the AGNIR study (March 2001) was commissioned by the NRPB to assess the potential risks and to recommend any further steps to protect public health. This contradicts the assertions of Sir Richard Doll (AGNIR Chairman) and the NRPB who say they refrain from giving advice on precautionary policy; the NRPB should face this question and recommend clearly whether precautionary policy, even on a local discretionary basis, should be acceptable. The stance of NRPB is used by industry and government to thwart attempts of local authorities to exercise precaution. This sneaky way of blocking precaution is fundamentally dishonest.

    (c) In the climate of spin and deception, New Scientist concludes erroneously (page 5-6 of the paper) that the UKCCS is the final word on the matter and that the increased risk of cancer in the UK is too tiny to measure. The measurements, drawing also upon robust international research, estimate the increased lifetime risk to an individual exposed child as 1 in 700 against 1 in 1400 unexposed, and the number of extra annual cases as about 2 per annum.

    2. Comment on Ms Cooper's written answer 18.7.01 to PQ ref 86 (3846). The reply says little beyond referring to NRPB's report (vol12, number1, 2001). Following NRPB's spin, the reply dismisses the "prolonged exposure to higher levels of power-frequency magnetic fields" of 0.5% of the population as "seldom encountered by the general public in this country". That is exposure of some 300,000 people in the UK including some 60,000 children under 16. The dismissal is dishonest.

    3. Comment on (just three of) Brian Wilson's replies 20.7.01 to PQs numbers 2001/390, 391, 393, 394, 395 and 398.

    (a) The answer to 390 is factually incorrect. NGC has not been "granted compulsory access". NGC has been granted s37 consent to install and keep installed an electric line, and has also been granted compulsory ("necesary") wayleave powers to the same effect over a precise position identified with the wayleave. Further, neither the s37 consent nor the wayleave confer express powers of access, and any implied powers are subject to the agreement of the landowner as made clear in Nick Raynsford's parliamentary reply of 12.5.99 Hansard col 394. The s37 consent and the wayleave documents are not about access. I do feel a revised reply should be given to this question. The minister's last 14 words are particularly ill-considered and compound his error of fact - in the incident at issue, the landowner behaved impeccably and legally, whereas NGC entered over a locked gate against the landowner's refusal of entry and refused to leave when requested by the professional land agent. This is a serious matter receiving legal attention.

    (b) The answer to 394 repeats the same error. The DTI letter which has been seen by REVOLT is the source of this error, and is not accepted. It is contradicted by the clear reply of Nick Raynsford and is not supported by the legal wording of the wayleaves themselves. It is wrong for the minister to refer to "compulsory wayleaves covering access granted after due consideration". The wayleaves do not cover access. The wayleave hearings did not cover access. They were about position of the line. It appears this DTI response was obtained in consultation with NGC but not with the other parties, and it merely adopts NGC's false and speculative claim and gives it the apparent authority of DTI. This is a careless response which needs to be reviewed, along with the minister's answer. It is disappointing that an interested party like NGC can mislead a DTI official and obtain a favourable response without the other parties being consulted.

    (c) The answer to 398 uses the well worn phrase "there is no evidence" (that ELF EMF are capable of producing cancer). It would be more honest to say "there is a large body of evidence, some of it suggestive, but which on balance is not regarded as convincing". The reply refers to work to start shortly on the possible effects resulting from the dispersal of corona ions. Is this the study to be undertaken by COMARE? If so, why is the study restricted to internal radiation effects? Could the study be made more complete by including the potential effects of other (eg chemical) pollutants carried by charged aerosol particles?

    -- Mike O'Carroll

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