The internet is great. It facilitates access to essentially all of the accumulated knowledge on Earth. The open source architecture of the internet allows anyone to create content, which for the most part is in the public interest. However, as most people are aware, there is content on the web which is created either for malicious intent (ie. to sell you something), or simply out of plain old ignorance. This brief blog aims at dispelling a certain myth perpetuated by both of those latter circumstances.
That myth is: Transmission lines cause, among other ailments, cancer and neurological disorders.
Transmission lines are so commonplace that most people are simply immune to their presence within their field of vision. However, when you are purchasing a house, they stick out like a sore thumb. Other than the obvious aesthetic drawbacks to a large transmission line neighboring your backyard, there is a worry about the negative health effects which accompany them.
The debate around the harmfulness of transmission lines is fueled directly from a fundamental misunderstanding of what “radiation” is. There are two types of radiation, non-ionizing and ionizing. Non-ionizing radiation does not possess the energy required to strip electrons (or ionize) from atoms. Ionizing radiation carries enough energy to knock electrons from their orbit, thus being able to change molecular compositions, which in turn may alter cellular DNA.
Transmission lines, microwave ovens, cellular telephones, FM and AM radio, and all household electrical appliances emit non-ionizing radiation.
Ionizing radiation can come from many sources, which may include cosmic radiation, medical imaging, industrial sterilization, and smoke detectors.
At this point, the debate should be over. Transmission lines do NOT emit the type of radiation necessary to impact humans in any negative way.
However, as this common misconception is still alive and well, below is further discussion on the subject.
Here are some excerpts from sources asserting that electromagnetic fields (EMF) from transmission lines are a direct cause of health ailments in humans.
From safespace (www.safespaceprotection.com):
“Strong, artificial EMFs that radiate from power lines can scramble and interfere with your body’s natural EMF, affecting everything from your sleep cycles and stress levels to your immune response and DNA!”
There is no evidence to suggest that the EMF propagated from transmission lines have any causal relationship with anything stated above. A 2002 study commissioned by the WHO (World Health Organization) titled “IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans” says the following:
“There is little experimental or theoretical evidence that mutations could be directly caused by ELF [extremely low frequency] magnetic fields… There is little evidence that ELF electric or magnetic fields can cause malignant transformation of cells in culture.”
A convenient graphic is also shown, which based on your proximity to the transmission line, puts you at risk of many illnesses and disorders.
This graphic, while hilariously incorrect, does raise an important question: what exactly is the field strength based on the proximity to transmission lines?
Well, this is easily determined with a high amount of accuracy, and is shown by the below graphic.
A typical 240kV transmission line right-of-way is about 60m in width. This means that if you are standing directly adjacent to the right of way, the highest magnetic field you would be exposed to is about 8 milligauss. For reference, standing a foot away from your electric stove or a fluorescent desk lamp would expose you to over three times that amount.
From Life Energy Designs (www.lifeenergysolutions.com):
“Another, well researched, way in which EMF interacts with our bodies is through the pineal gland and melatonin reduction… Cancer and other serious conditions are possible results of interrupting this bodily repair cycle.”
Again, this statement is easily refutable. A study produced in 2013 by Elliott et al (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23337237), came up with the following conclusion:
“Our results do not support an epidemiologic association of adult cancers with residential magnetic fields in proximity to high-voltage overhead power lines.”
Of course, as per the scientific method, it is impossible to prove that there is anything on the planet which is correlated with no known health risks. Research can only tell us that no observable correlation to negative health effects exists in any one study. After that, it all comes down to a simple risk/reward approach.
Transmission lines do not cause cancer or any other illness as some may suggest.
They may however, block a tad bit of your view.
Daniel Lang, P.Eng.
Connect with Daniel here!