GEOG 469
Energy Industry Applications of GIS

Public Health Concerns - EMF


According to the USEPA, many people are concerned about potential adverse health effects of electric and magnetic electromagnetic fields (EMF). Much of the research done on electric transmission lines and potential health effects of EMF is inconclusive. Despite more than two decades of research to determine whether elevated EMF exposure, principally to magnetic fields, is related to an increased risk of childhood leukemia, there is still no definitive answer. The general scientific consensus is that, thus far, the evidence available is weak and is not sufficient to establish a definitive cause-effect relationship.

Watch the following 6 minute video about the PSE&G Susquehanna Roseland Power Lines Controversy.

Click for a transcript of My Nine News PSE&G Susquehanna-Roseland Power Line video.

REPORTER: It's picture postcard pretty in the Western part of New Jersey. Peaceful lakes, perfect homes, and beautiful views, yet this paradise is troubled.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: I'm very worried about the health of my children.

REPORTER: From the Delaware water gap to Roseland at the tip of Essex County, we heard the same thing.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: I'm worried about the children getting ill.

REPORTER: Entire communities are worrying about PSE&Gs Susquehanna Roseland project. It will dramatically increase the amount of electricity surging through power lines. Now at community meetings, people are angry.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: Their kids ain't out there playing underneath this goddamn thing as you hear it go [HUMMING NOISE].

REPORTER: Existing lines have carried electricity bound for Essex and Bergen counties through these communities since 1927. People haven't objected until now.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: We just moved here. We just bought the house a year ago and I just never imagined that this type of change could happen.

REPORTER: Change will more than double the size of the transmission towers and there will be nearly three times the amount of electricity. It will jump from 230,000 volts to 730,000 volts.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: It'll be 193 feet high. It'll bring the power lines up but it will also increase the capacity almost threefold.

REPORTER: Byram City Councilman, Scott Olson, walked the lines with us in Sussex County.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: It's very close to these homes. You've got people who are living 75, 80 feet away. They've got children, they've got a playground, it's a definite health concern for me.

REPORTER: The health concern is whether an increase in the electromagnetic field, or EMF, poses a danger.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: What is the minimum that's allowed?

REPORTER: Scott Clinger and his wife have two children. They built their house in Fredon nine years ago.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: We're all afraid. We're very afraid of how this whole thing shakes out.

REPORTER: And you're afraid because of the value of your house.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: Sure the value of my house.

REPORTER: But for families, there's a bigger issue.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: I'm more concerned with the safety of my children and the children of the county.

REPORTER: Because?

COMMUNITY MEMBER: Because of the EMFs and the unknowns.

REPORTER: Unknowns include possible cancer risk. In Morris County, Ethel Pearson, broken foot and all, has been going door to door to alert her neighbors in East Hanover.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: I didn't realize myself how serious it was.

REPORTER: She lives behind the current towers and she thinks that EMFs may have caused her two grown daughters to develop cancer.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: When you go door to door you realize how many cases of cancer there really is.

REPORTER: On one block here in East Hanover, out of seven homes, cancer struck six families. There have been brain tumors in three families. Richard Lowing had a brain tumor and cancer.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: Nobody told me it was dangerous.

REPORTER: When you moved in?

COMMUNITY MEMBER: When I moved in. They said it was perfectly safe.

REPORTER: And now that they're going to double the size?

COMMUNITY MEMBER: Well I'm really concerned about that.

REPORTER: Studies have found that childhood leukemia is linked to exposure to electromagnetic fields. But scientists say there's no scientific evidence that EMFs and power lines cause cancer. In a report, The National Institutes of Health say they haven't been able to conclusively prove a connection.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: We're still missing some scientific evidence to be conclusive to say, absolutely, this is what causes these cases of disease.

REPORTER: Doctor Dan Wartenberg at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey worked on the national report. But he remains concerned.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: I think there's more evidence suggesting it does cause cancer than not, so I worry. And say, that the degree that one could reduce exposure or not be there is better.

REPORTER: You can't put us in harm's way. East Hanover MAYOR JOSEPH PANULLO speaks for many.

MAYOR JOSEPH PANULLO: If there's one one hundreth of a chance that this can cancer or can cause an illness to some of our residents, it has to be stopped.

REPORTER: But stopping it may be difficult because it's tied into a regional power grid issue.

MAYOR JOSEPH PANULLO: Give the people here a guarantee that it's not going to have an ill effect on their health. That's their main concern here. It's just too close, too dangerous.

REPORTER: A company called PJM Interconnection determined the need. PJM provides wholesale electricity for 13 states, including New Jersey, and it asked PSE&G to expand power capability to ensure that there is enough power for northern New Jersey.

CHRIS HANEMANN, PSE&G's lead engineer: We see circuits being overloaded as early as 2013, which can result in brownouts or blackouts.

REPORTER: CHRIS HANEMANN is PSE&G's lead engineer on the project.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: It's one thing is people don't like this project, we recognize that. But we also have to balance that with the need to ensure that we have a safe reliable electric power system.

REPORTER: That's why PSE&G has been going from town to town trying to convince the skeptics.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: We benefit from being part of a 13 state grid.

REPORTER: But communities remain opposed.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: You guys better pick another route, or you're going to have a big problem.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: You can't do anything you want. How about the health issues.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: God's watching. Look at that child and tell me there are no health issues.

REPORTER: PSE&G says new towers will cut the level of the electromagnetic field. Yet residents wonder why the lines can't be run underground.

CHRIS HANEMANN: It's not a proven technology. We have existing underground lines in northern New Jersey at lower voltages. It isn't really an option for 500 line.

REPORTER: Or along I80. Why not go along the highway.

CHRIS HANEMANN: Actually the DOT requirements do not allow for parallel of transmission lines along the right of way.

REPORTER: They also question whether more power is needed.

COMMUNITY MEMBER: There's no proof that they need to add to these wires so why put people at risk?

REPORTER: Even if communities continue to fight, because this involves interstate electricity, the federal energy regulatory commission can override all objections. So opponents of the plan think in order to change it or stop it they will have to take their battle to court. And we'll be following the story. In East Hanover, Barbara Nevins Taylor, Unit nine.

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