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Study: Power Lines Probably Risky

Al Musella's Comments: (This is his personal views and are not necessarily the views of the Musella Foundation!)


Posted on: 08/25/2002

Study: Power Lines Probably Risky

By Paul Boutin
3:10 p.m. Aug. 19, 2002 PDT

The final report of a contested eight-year, $7 million study soon to be released by the California Department of Health Services may be the most credible statement yet on the connection between electric power lines and a variety of health problems.

"To one degree or another, all three of the DHS scientists are inclined to believe that EMFs (electric and magnetic fields) can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease and miscarriage," states a leaked copy of the final report from the California EMF Program, a study begun in 1993 on behalf of the California Public Utilities Commission (PUC).

"The DHS scientists are more inclined to believe that EMF exposure increased the risk of the above health problems than the majority of the members of scientific committees convened to evaluate the scientific literature" by several national and international organizations, the report adds.

But the authors, a trio of professional epidemiologists with backgrounds in physics, medicine and genetics, also wrote that they were not convinced of a connection between EMFs and many other health problems, ranging from cancer to suicide.

The report has been a bone of contention for years. A lawsuit last year charged the department with suppressing the report. The DHS subsequently published a draft version on its website containing much of the data presented in the final report.

The final version contains not only the more strongly worded executive summary, but a chart of the authors' personal degrees of certainty on each issue, removing the guesswork of who thinks what.

While acknowledging the possibility there may be no connection between EMFs and any of the various illnesses, all three estimated the probability of a cause-and-effect relationship at above 50 percent for the four medical problems listed above.

None of the authors could be reached for comment (two have since left the program), but Department of Health spokesman Ken August said the report was "going through the normal review process" and would be publicly released in coming months.

Louis Slesin, editor of the Microwave News newsletter on radiation effects, said the report's conclusions will carry more weight than previous claims about EMF effects.

"This is a health department," Slesin said. "Most of the other people working in this area are more tied into the electric utility industry. When the health people get involved, their objectives are health, not to worry about economic impact.

"No one can say this thing is settled. But what they're saying is that after all this time, they think there's something there."

The 500-plus page report sticks to epidemiology and makes no recommendations for reducing the health risks from power lines. But another recent report for the PUC detailed the high costs of potential fixes, estimating that a $5 billion investment to reduce EMFs from distribution lines running to homes and businesses would save a thousand lives over the 35-year lifetime of the equipment.

And while most sources said it was important to put the information in front of the public to allow informed decision-making, all agreed that probable ranges of certainty could be a tough message to convey to an audience that wants yes or no answers.

"People would prefer to see (whether you are) convinced or not," August said. "We're still trying to convince people that eating fruits and vegetables is good for you."

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