Friday, February 13, 2004

Power lines safe for residents

By Tom Wies

An article by the Associated Press (Free Press, Jan. 28) about the Vermont Electric Power Corp.'s proposal to upgrade portions of the state's transmission system -- known as the Northwest Reliability Project, or NRP -- conveyed some very misleading impressions regarding transmission lines and risks to human health. I believe it is critical that the record be set straight.
The beginning of the article was devoted to remarks by an individual who stated that three of her friends and neighbors were unable to attend a recent public hearing, one, who had died from bladder cancer, and two others, who were too debilitated or consumed by their treatments for cancer (one for breast cancer, the other for lymphoma).
The obvious implication was that, if the NRP goes forward, other Vermonters are going to pay the same price as these cancer victims. It may have been good theater, but the fact is that there is virtually no evidence whatsoever linking power line EMF to any of these diseases.
Numerous state, federal and foreign research and public health agencies, both public and private, including the Minnesota Department of Health, the National Academy of Sciences, the American Cancer Society, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Department of Energy, and the United Kingdom Childhood Cancer Study Investigators, have all expressed the view that there is little or no persuasive evidence that EMF is a serious health risk at the levels that would be experienced by property owners along the rights-of-way used by the NRP.
While there is some evidence linking EMF to particular health risks, including certain other cancers, that evidence is weak, inconsistent, and is convincing to few serious researchers.
Vermont's own Department of Health has stated in sworn testimony that, based on the research amassed to date, the NRP "does not appear to be a public health hazard," and "there are no compelling health concerns or reasons requiring modification to the NRP."
It is not just the weakness of the evidence that should allay public fears about the NRP, though; it is the fact that construction of the NRP will result in an actual net reduction of EMF. This is primarily the result of the fact that the NRP will use higher voltage lines than are now in place. Higher voltage means lower current relative to load, and lower current means lower EMF. It's a basic law of physics.
When thinking about transmission system impacts on human health, it is important to consider all sides of the equation, including the consequences for emergency responders, hospitals, life-support equipment and other health-related infrastructure of system failures that may result from doing nothing. We have proposed the NRP because we believe it is essential to assure the reliability of the transmission system.
Much of the existing system is 30 years old or older, and it has been identified as the second most vulnerable in New England by the independent manager of the regional transmission grid.
We do not advance the NRP upgrades in disregard of the well-being of others. It is our friends, family, neighbors and fellow citizens who will bear the consequences of what we do or fail to do. While no major undertaking is completely without risk, we would not propose the NRP, or any other program, unless we were convinced that its implementation poses no substantial danger to anyone.
Tom Wies is vice president of VELCO, the Vermont Electric Power Corp.