Power lines, possible health risk spur Fredon school closing
By SETH AUGENSTEIN

saugenstein@njherald.com

FREDON — The local elementary school will close Oct. 1 because the school board believes recent readings from existing power lines over the property are a potential health risk.

The board voted unanimously to close the school and move the 343 kids and 70 staff to an as-yet undetermined location for the rest of the school year. Also, the school has suspended outside recess until the move.

“I am not putting my children or any other children back in that school until the power lines are moved,” said Courtney Wisinski, the board’s vice president. “We have to err on the side of caution.”

Yet, the reason for the abrupt moving plans has been there for almost 80 years. The 80-foot power towers and sloping lines that soar over the school property, including a baseball field and play area, are now being identified with potential health risks like childhood leukemia. School officials said the electromagnetic field readings are at least six times the recommended safe levels set by the World Health Organization.

PSE&G maintains there is no danger in the building, and the levels are at “background level” normally found around electronics.

“We believe that neither the existing line nor the proposed line present health or safety concerns to the school children or residents of Fredon,” said Karen Johnson, a PSE&G spokeswoman.

School officials said the impending closing is anything but arbitrary. For decades, the parents and staff never considered that the 230-kilovolt power lines, built in 1931, were a danger. Since the 500-kilovolt Susquehanna-Roseland project was proposed last year — drawing concerns about higher, wider lines and increased electromagnetic field possibilities — readings were taken for the existing lines for the first time. What they showed shocked the Fredon Township School officials. The levels averaged 19.34 milligauss, or mG; 3 mG is the health organization’s recommended threshold.

“We can’t unlearn what we now know,” said Superintendent Sal Constantino.

“(It would be) like putting paste back in the tube,” said John Flora, the school board president.

The school officials also said they originally voted in July to move classes outside the school for the beginning of classes last week. They and PSE&G negotiated a settlement through most of August that would have changed the configuration of the school, switching the placement of the play area and parking lot so the lot would be directly underneath the lines. Another part of the settlement stipulated the new power lines — at double the height and triple the power — would avoid the school completely.

School officials said the negotiations broke down the day before school opened. An amendment to the deal would make all the safety guards, including the $950,000 transfer of the playground and parking lot, contingent upon the approval of the new line, which could come as early as December. Until then, Constantino said the school is working with the county Board of Education to find a replacement site for the students.

The issue has been ongoing in Fredon since the project was proposed. An organization called Fredon PALS — Parents Against the Lines — had been vociferously arguing against the proposed Susquehanna-Roseland line, which will travel from Essex County west into Pennsylvania and which officials said is need to satisfy an ever-growing power demand in the region.

Parents, both PALS members and others, seem to be on board with the closing.
“I will be willing . . . to not send them to school to tell them we’re serious,” said Michelle Mangino, mother of two students. “They just think we’re citizens of a small town and they can push us around. They can’t bully us around — without a fight.”

Tadd Wisinski, the father of two kids at the school and two younger ones who helped found PALS, concedes there are differing scientific viewpoints on the potential effects of power lines, but it’s not a chance worth taking.

“It’s not definitive but why in the world would you take the risk?” he said.

The contingency plan for Wisinski’s family would be to shelter them from the lines, at all costs — even through private schooling, home schooling, or “if we can’t get it resolved, we’ll probably move away,” he said.