Hartford Courant

A Cancer Threat In Our Backyards
April 4, 2004
Rachel W., Humphrey, M.D.
A threat to our health may soon be installed in our backyards and alongside our schools.
There is no arguing that Connecticut, particularly Fairfield County, needs more electricity. To achieve this, local power companies have determined that more generators must be built and more power lines, carrying more voltage than ever before, must be erected between Norwalk and Middletown. The Connecticut Siting Council, armed with the utility-sponsored "Application for a Certificate of Environmental Compatibility and Public Need," which downplays (some might argue misrepresents) the risk of cancer from high-voltage power lines, has been traveling around the state to hear testimony from local residents. The ultimate decision about where to place the high-power lines is to be left solely to the siting council.
Where did United Illuminating and Northeast Utilities/Connecticut Light & Power recommend putting the power lines? Dismissing the evidence of an increased cancer risk to children, they decided that the power lines should be placed aboveground, over residences, schools and parks in towns such as Durham, Cheshire, Hamden, Orange and Woodbridge.
In Fairfield County, however, angry residents successfully sued the utility to have the dangerous and unsightly lines set away from residential areas. There the lines are to be buried in nonresidential areas.
Why should anyone worry? The cancer threat is not just hype, it is real.
I am a cancer researcher and practicing oncologist. I analyze clinical data regarding cancer. Over the past 30 years, a large number of studies have examined the relationship between electromagnetic-field exposures and health effects. One disease has repeatedly shown a clear association with such exposure: acute lymphocytic leukemia in children. The National Institutes of Health, among others, have concluded that the association of electromagnetic-field exposures with childhood leukemia is unlikely to be due to chance. The data show that stronger fields (more than 2 to 4 milligauss) are associated with a doubling of the risk. The power lines planned for Connecticut will have up to 105 milligauss electromagnetic radiation.
At 105 milligauss, the new power lines would generate 25 to 50 times the field strength that has been shown to double the risk of getting leukemia. In Woodbridge, the new power lines are to be placed within 30 feet of classrooms.
Power lines do pose a risk to children and families in Connecticut. The cost of providing more electricity to southern Connecticut should not include risking the health and safety of children in other parts of the state. I'm sure that if our friends in Westport knew they were powering their home computers with an energy source that was endangering the lives of their neighbors to the north, they'd want to consider alternatives.
The solution is simple: Power lines must be buried or diverted to nonresidential areas. It is feasible to do so, and the cost to the individual Connecticut electricity consumer would be small.
Right now, Connecticut legislators are poised to pass a state bill that would forbid the erection of aboveground high-voltage lines in areas where children live, learn or play. The battle to pass this bill has not been an easy one, because the energy lobbyists are a powerful group who routinely dismiss power line health concerns when they meet with our legislators.
We should all be writing or calling our legislators to ensure that this bill is passed with language that protects children and does not leave the power line siting decision in the hands of the siting council.
We have the power to do the right thing. Please help us keep our children safe.
Rachel W. Humphrey, M.D., is a cancer researcher for a pharmaceutical company and an oncologist at St. Raphael's Hospital, New Haven. She is also a member of the grass-roots group Keep the Children Safe, which is petitioning to stop the construction of power lines near schools.