September 16, 2009

Consultant to test power line electromagnetic fields at Montville middle school

School board seeking measurement independent of PSE&G

MONTVILLE -- With little fanfare, the school board voted Tuesday to hire a consultant to test the level of the electromagnetic fields emanating from power lines near Robert R. Lazar Middle School that some feel pose a health hazard to children and staff.

Board President Jon Alin said the board has no trust in the reading taken in August by Public Service Electric & Gas Co., who is seeking approval from the state Board of Public Utilities to build a 500-kilovolt line from Susquehanna, Pa., to Roseland.

“Trusting PSE&G doesn’t seem like a good idea to all of us because they are their wires,” Alin said. “We want to have the levels tested independently as soon as possible.”

The EMF reading of the existing 230-kilovolt power line at school’s playing field, located about 200 feet away, is 3.2 milligaus, according to Karen Johnson, a PSE&G spokeswoman. That is just slightly higher than the 3 mG maximum exposure recommended by the World Health Organization -- putting school property at the threshold for safety even before the line doubles in height and voltage.

At the edge of the nearest school wall, about 450 feet from the lines, the EMF reading is 0.2 mG, Johnson said.

Alin said school officials were not present when PSE&G took their readings and were never notified of the results. The contract for its independent consultant is not to exceed $5,000.

The school board, Alin said, continues to be concerned about research which suggests a link between elevated EMF exposure and diseases such as childhood leukemia.

The move comes after school officials in Fredon reversed its decision to close its K-6 school and approved a settlement with PSE&G. Under that agreement approved Monday by the board of education, PSE&G will pay $950,000 to relocate playing fields beneath its lines. An EMF reading of 19 mG was taken at the playground.

“It was a very difficult and challenging situation that the board of education has had to deal with and the people of Fredon have had to cope with, but we were able to come up with a good result,” Fredon School Superintendent Sal Costantino said. “No decisions were based on anything but concern for the children’s health and safety.”

The settlement, Costantino said, ends the district’s inclusion in ongoing litigation against PSE&G’s planned power line proposal. Seven Morris County municipalities, several citizen groups, environmental groups and the Montville school district still remain in the legal fight.

Stephen Edelstein, Montville school board’s attorney, said the district continues to oppose the lines. It is specifically concerned about the impact on the future prospect of expanding the middle school.

“There is a formal process going on literally everyday to try and resolve the larger question of where and how the high-tension wires be placed,” Edelstein said.

PSE&G has said the power lines pose no threat because no study has proven there is a causal link between EMFs and cancer.

Jennifer Kayne, a mother of two, said she still worries that if a link is discovered later, it will be too late.

“If my kids develop cancer, I will never forgive myself,” Kayne said.