Ask the Eco Geek: Does living near power lines cause health problems?

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We have very large electrical line (ones that are supported by towers) about 200 feet up the hill from us. Are we at risk? Should we seriously consider moving? We have a 4 year old and an 18 month old. Thanks so much!!

Dear Amy,
Electric Magnetic Fields (EMFs) has been in the news a lot lately because of growing concerns around children and cell phone exposure. Most scientists, researchers and doctors are in agreement that quickest way to reduce the risk of EMFs is to get your children off the cell phone and get the adults to start using a headset.

There's been an ongoing debate around a possible connection between EMFs exposure and childhood cancers, (in particular leukemia). Concerns were first raised in late 70s when it was found that children living close to large electrical towers had a higher rate of leukemia. There is certainly some kind of connection -- it's just that no one is clear what it is.

This has lead to a lot of misinformation on both side of the fence. Naysayers who claim that non-ionizing radiation -- the kind of waves given off by cell phones, microwaves and electricity in general -- are not harmful, often point to a number of studies done in 1999. However, these studies are now suspect because they were funded by the microwave and cell phone industry or by the U.S. Air Force. When compared to more neutral studies, their results are often different and conflicting.

Many respected scientists are calling for more research because of the carcinogenicity of EMFs is unresolved. The World Health Organization (WHO) has been looking at the problem since 1986 with no clear decisions being made. In 2004, its branch of the International Agency for Research on Cancer began co-ordinating The Interphone study, also known as the IARC study.

Despite being finished in 2006, the report has remained unpublished for reasons unknown. As a result each country has leaked their research, which does show there is a connection being seen between prolonged cell phone use and certain cancers.

On the Larry King Show, July 29, 2008 show, several onocologists did say that while a connection has been noted, the mechanism has not yet been reported. In other words, scientists are beginning to suspect that exposure to RF and EMF may bring about changes in the DNA resulting in cancer they're just not sure how it happens.

Experts do tend to agree that 500 metres (0.31 miles) is probably too close to live beside any hydro or cell tower. Since you do live close by to one, you may want to start off by measuring how much EMF is in your home Be sure to check inside your home as well since faulty wiring can be a source as well. A high level is anything between is 50- 60Hz.

The reasonably priced STETZERiZER Microsurge Meters measures the level of harmful electromagnetic energy and can tell you if your house is hot or not. The company also sells filters for EMFs. The company, Less EMF sells a meter than can be switch to an EMF filter and also sells an interesting range of EMF blocking textiles and products for body and home.

You can also read more about reducing EMFs in your home at The Canadian Initiative To Stop Wireless, Electric And Electromagnetic Pollution (WEEP). It discusses the whole issues of electrohypersensitivity and some of the associated health problems. Again, the whole existence of whether there is such a disease is being debated.

The National Cancer Institute gives are very balanced explanation of the risks involved while Microwave News discusses all the issues and gives the latest news on EMFs and associated research.

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