September 13, 2009

As Fredon fights utility, Montville pays close attention

Sussex County town threatens to close schools over EMFs


People in Montville are feeling the shockwaves after officials in one Sussex County town have threatened to close their only school over fears of adverse health effects caused by electromagnetic radiation emitted by nearby power lines.

School administrators in Fredon say EMF readings taken on the playground of the K-6 elementary school exceed safe levels, attributed to the 230-kilovolt power lines that stand 75 feet away. The school, which serves 343 students, could close Oct. 1.

The Fredon school board will meet Monday and vote on a tentative agreement reached between the district and PSE&G Thursday, officials said. If the agreement is approved, the school could remain open.

The same power lines, owned by Public Service Electric and Gas Co., run adjacent to the Robert R. Lazar Middle School in Montville. The nearest wall of the school is about 450 feet from the edge of the power lines, and a ball field behind the school is about 200 feet away.

"We have not had any conversations yet about moving students out of the Lazar School," said Jon Alin, Montville's school board president. "But we are very concerned about EMF levels and the health of our students and staff."

Both districts — along with seven Morris County municipalities and several citizen and environmental groups — are embroiled in a legal fight against PSE&G's planned upgrades to the Susquehanna-Roseland transmission line. Line towers would double in height to 190 feet and lines would be upgraded to hold 500,000 kilovolts.

Those involved in the litigation say they are alarmed by research that suggests a link between elevated EMF exposure and diseases such as cancer and leukemia in children.

The magnetic field from the existing power line at the Montville ball field 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.

That was news to Alin, who said school officials were not present when PSE&G took the reading in August and have not been notified of the result.

"That number is unsubstantiated," Alin said Friday. The school board has discussed conducting its own tests.

"What concerns us is the unknown," Alin said. "They (PSE&G) want to double the height and power that is close to a school and, if we ever decide to build onto the back of Lazar, that would put classroom space that much closer to the wires.

"We wouldn't want that."

Fredon school officials learned this summer that the EMF levels near a playground were 19 mG -- six times higher than safe levels. The school board voted unanimously last week to close the school, after PSE&G reversed an agreement to move the existing lines farther from the school and to swap the playground and a parking lot to minimize EMF exposure.

Montville resident Allyson Fusella, a mother of three, praised Fredon's decision to "choose the safety of their children" over PSE&G's interests.

"I don't know what kind of health impact the lines will have, but why do the children have to be the guinea pigs?" Fussella said. "We should err on the side of caution, especially when it can't be proven that the radiation doesn't cause cancer."

Montville Mayor Deborah Neilson said the township also has requested EMF readings at various locations along the 7-mile corridor where the power lines intersect Montville — through residential neighborhoods and a 315-unit condominium complex — but has not yet received that information.

"We're not only concerned about the effects of EMF on children, but on everyone," Neilson said. "Homes are right up against the power line right-of-way. If we were assured that there was virtually no EMF exposure or danger, that would go a long way to putting citizens at ease."

The Montville school board will discuss PSE&G's planned power line project and EMF levels at its 8 p.m. meeting Tuesday at the municipal building.

The deadline for public comment on PSE&G's project is Tuesday. Hearings will be held before the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities beginning in November, and a the regulatory agency is expected to rule on the transmission line upgrades in early 2010.

Anyone wishing to send comment to the BPU about the proposed PSE&G plan must do so by Tuesday. Letters can be mailed to: Secretary Izzo, NJ BPU, 2 Gateway Center, Newark, NJ 07012. E-mail comments to chris.ross@highlands.state.nj.us.