Health Hazards of Living Near Power Lines

Updated April 17, 2017

Does the proximity of your home to power lines present a risk to your health and susceptibility to illnesses? Do you believe that there are health dangers and illnesses as a result of living near power lines? Studies have shown that power lines may be a potential danger to a person's health and wellness. Some of the studies, partly financed by the power line industry, are aggressively conducted to find out the ill effects of electricity.

About Power Lines

A power line, also called electric power transmission or high-voltage electric transmission, is the mass transfer of electrical energy, from generating power plants to substations located near population centres. A power line is the passage way of electricity from its matrix to the consumers. Interconnected transmission lines can turn into high-voltage transmission networks to provide energy to a huge metropolis.

As energy is likely to be lost in long-distance transmission, high voltages at 110 kV or above are used. Cities with highly developed systems have used underground power transmission in their urban centres and danger zones, but this process is significantly higher in cost and its operation is limited.

Health Risk for People living Near Power Lines

Power lines and their corresponding towers transmit electricity over great distances, so there is fear that their electromagnetic properties and the magnets used in their conduction may be the source of health problems. High-voltage power lines emit electromagnetic fields exposing anything nearby to their electromagnetic radiation. Normally, power line voltage can be anywhere from 35 to 65 kV (kilovolts).

For years, people believed that living near high-voltage power lines was harmful to their health. The November 1989 report of the United States Department of Energy stated that there are certain biological effects due to the exposure. Studies in epidemiology reveal that exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs) causes many physical illnesses like leukaemia in children, some types of cancer, abnormal heart rhythms, miscarriages, low birth weight, birth defects and other conditions that lead to early death. It was even suggested that low frequency EMF might accelerate tumour growth and obstruct cell-to-cell communication.

The ill effects of radiation depend upon the amount of exposure. Radiation varies depending upon its volts and the distance to its source. The nearer the object is to the source of radiation, the greater the amount of exposure. Although there is no explicit answer to questions about the harmful effects, some experts agree that a distance of 500 meters (0.31 miles) from a radiation source is probably too close. If you live near one, you might start measuring the distance and checking for faulty wiring inside your home. A high level of emf is between 50 to 60Hz.

Studies on the Effects of Power Lines on People's Health

In a 2005 study, the UK Department of Health-funded "Draper Report" revealed that children who lived within 200 meters of high-voltage lines had a 70 per cent higher chance of developing leukaemia than those who lived more than 600 meters away. Experts say that this accounts for five additional cases, or 1 per cent of the 400 cases of leukaemia that happen in children in a year.

Colorado State University was commissioned by the National Institute of Environmental Health to study the effects of long-term exposure to radiation on hundreds of residents of Lookout Mountain. This study was a follow-up to a previous research study by the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment on July 2004. The result showed that the incidences of brain tumours among the residents near the broadcast antennae atop Lookout Mountain had significantly increased.

Incidences of childhood leukaemia can be used as a proof that radiation exposure is the source of this illness. In 1979, two researchers, Nancy Wertheimer and Ed Leeper, published the results of their own epidemiological study, which reported that there were a higher number of children with leukaemia in the Denver neighbourhood next to an electric plant.

Studies in Sweden (1992) and Mexico (1993) discovered that more cases of leukaemia among children occur when they live near transmission lines. A 1993 Danish study reported a close association between the presence of EMF and cancer in children. A Finnish study revealed that EMF caused nervous system tumours in boys. There have been eight studies on the risk of cancer for adults living near power lines.

Despite the studies on the effects of power lines on health, no definite conclusion has advanced the notion that EMF is either harmless or harmful to people. Even the World Health Organization asserts that more studies must be made for more valid conclusions.

Avoiding the Harmful Effects of Power Lines.

Measure the distance of your home, workplace and school from power lines or transmission. The safest distance is more than 600 meters away.

Keep children away from power lines, radar domes, transformers and other objects that emit EMF.

If you are buying a new home, select a site that is located far from high-power lines or cell sites. Cell sites are usually towers used by telecommunications companies to transmit signals.

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About the Author

Emmanuel Espejo started writing professionally in 2008. He has written English subtitles for the Filipino television show, "Kahit Isang Saglit," and has also written for "Docusiyensya," a science digest for students. Espejo is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of the Philippines.