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November 24, 2009

Experts debate power line safety

BY COLLEEN O'DEA
STAFF WRITER

NEWARK — Experts disagreed whether electromagnetic fields from power lines cause cancer or other health problems, as they testified Monday at the final state Board of Public Utilities hearing on Public Service Electric and Gas Company's proposed line upgrade.

Shortly after the discussion of EMFs, the utility and opponents of the $750 million,
47-mile Susquehanna-Roseland project wrapped up five days of testimony in front of BPU Commissioner Joseph Fioraliso. The entire board is expected to decide Jan. 15 whether PSE&G should be allowed to add 500 kilovolt lines to the corridor, which passes through Morris County.

No studies have proven that EMFs from power lines cause leukemia or other health issues, testified PSE&G's expert William H. Bailey, a scientist, although he did say some studies have found an association between the fields and childhood leukemia.

Martin Blank, an expert for eight municipalities, two school districts, environmentalists and a citizens group opposing the project, said there is much evidence that fields at lower levels than those expected on the new line could lead to leukemia, breast cancer and Alzheimer's disease.

"Because of the wide range of biological systems affected, the low response thresholds, the possibility of cumulative effects by repetitive stimulation and the inadequacy of exposure standards, it is urgent that the proposed power line be moved to a distance where the anticipated magnetic fields will not pose a hazard to the community,'' Blank, a professor at Columbia University, said in his written testimony.

In response to a lawyer's question, Blank said there has not been enough research to determine what a safe distance from EMFs is.

"All I know is, the farther away you can get, the better off you are,'' he said. Blank
cited studies that found correlations between cell phone use and head cancers and an electrified railroad and Alzheimer's disease.

PSE&G's lawyer, David Richter, asked Blank about the criticisms several international groups have made against a report Blank referred to in recommending safe exposure levels of no more than 4 milligauss. That's less than one tenth the maximum of 48.6 milligauss expected at the edge of the line's right of way when using monopole structures, which PSE&G plans to install exclusively on the eastern portion of the line.

Kyle G. King, the utility's EMF expert, testified that the median field measurement is expected to be 19.3 milligauss, but it would be as high as 120 milligauss directly beneath the 500 kilovolt lines.

Bailey said even that maximum level would be below the limits recommended by two international bodies. Based on numerous studies that looked for a link between EMF exposure and cancer, Bailey said, "the evidence does not support a cause and effect.'' He said, though, that there is a "statistical association'' between long-term exposure and childhood leukemia.

Saying he has not seen any proof that power lines are responsible for any cancer clusters, Bailey also discounted the suggestion by the lawyer representing the eight municipalities that the current line is to blame for the cancers that have struck every family living on one street along the line in East Hanover, saying, "Based on the weight of the scientific evidence, I do not see a basis for that allegation.''

"It's not a coincidence,'' countered East Hanover Mayor Joseph Pannullo, who attended the morning session. "Why not err on the side of caution? We've given them an alternate route, out of Troy Meadows and away from the homes. They're more worried about a delay.''

PSE&G recently offered to abandon plans for a new switching station in East Hanover, but still support their chosen route along the current 230-kilovolt lines, from Pennsylvania to Roseland. as minimizing environmental impacts.

More than half the line, on towers as tall as 195 feet, would traverse Morris County, through Jefferson, Rockaway Township, Kinnelon, Boonton Township, Montville, Parsippany and East Hanover.