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A call for independent testing on electro-magnetic fields Board of Education
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Last updated: Tuesday September 29, 2009, 2:28 PM
Neighbor News (Montville Edition)

By Cindy Forrest


Distrust in the results of tests performed by Public Service Electric and Gas Company, added to fear of the unknown and concerns about future expansion, led the Montville Board of Education (BOE) to approve the hiring of a consultant who will conduct independent tests on electro-magnetic fields (EMF) in and around Robert R. Lazar Middle School. The unanimous vote for a consultant contract, worth up to $5,000, reflects Board member’s doubts about the data coming in from the utility company.

"The existing lines belong to PSE&G and while we’re aggressively negotiating with them in regard to the proposed lines, we still need to get our own data," said Board President Jon Alin after the meeting.

An EMF can be described as the region in which electromagnetic radiation from a source exerts an influence on another object with or without there being contact between them. All electrical equipment, including radios, vacuum cleaners, cell phones and home alliances such as televisions and microwave ovens, emit electromagnetic fields.

It has been generally accepted that low-dose exposure to EMFs produces no harmful effects on health. However, a 2008 International Agency for Research on Cancer report stated that, "extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields generated by electrical power transmission lines have been associated with an increased risk of childhood leukemia, but the findings are not conclusive."

Even before that report, in June 2004 the Connecticut Legislature prohibited overhead electric transmission lines from being located within a specified buffer zone near residential areas, schools, day-care facilities, youth camps or playgrounds. The law says a buffer zone must be at least as big as the existing right-of-way and requires that each proposed transmission line be assessed for the impact of electric and magnetic fields.

EMF levels at Lazar, according to PSE&G tests, show that currently exposure is at 3.2 milligaus, which is slightly above the 3 milligaus maximum recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO). When those tests were performed at Lazar, no school officials or Board members were present.

PSE&G spokesperson Karen Johnson explained that the tests along the right of way are being performed in conjunction with the state utility board hearings in October. She also noted that the 3 milligaus threshold set by WHO is a "statistical association" not a simple threshold for safety.

Still, Alin calls the current EMF numbers submitted by PSE&G "unsubstantiated" and he maintains concerns about how even more powerful lines perched on towers that will be doubled in height will impact future EMF levels and impact the health of students and staff.

"All nine of us [on the Board] are very concerned," said Alin.

Although every public school child in Montville will at one point attend Lazar, the district’s only middle school, most parents have not been vocal about their concerns but have instead put their trust in the BOE, which has taken a very proactive role in the proceedings.

The Montville BOE is one of a number of designated "interveners" in the legal approval process under which PSE&G submitted an application to the New Jersey Board of Public Utilities to add a 500 kilovolt line to the 230-kilovolt line that has been in place since the 1920s. The $750 million Susquehanna-Roseland line would begin in Pennsylvania and continue along an existing 46-mile right-of-way in New Jersey from Warren County to Essex County. The current line sits 80-90 feet above the ground.

Under the PSE&G plan, the additional coal power would course through the lines set atop either monopoles or lattice towers almost 200 feet in the air.


Mixing ABC’s and EMF’s


At least three schools along the path have raised concerns about the proximity of the lines and the EMF’s admitted by them.

In Sussex County, the Fredon elementary school and a township ball field sit less than 75 feet away from the power lines. When negotiations with PSE&G broke down last month the Fredon Board of Education voted to close the building on Oct. 1 and send the 343 displaced K-6 students to alternative schools around the county. PSE&G quickly came back to the table and agreed to pay $950,000 to relocate the ball field to the front of the building – farther away from the lines.

However, the agreement, between Fredon and PSE&G centers on curtailing imposition rather than health. In a press release the company stated it would, "take steps to minimize the construction impact of the new power line on the Fredon Township Elementary School. Among others the actions to be taken include locating the new transmission line right of way further away from the school property, which will eliminate the need for one tower, enable PSE&G to avoid a wetland area and preserve the former Kamp house."

EMF readings at the Fredon school, according to PSE&G documents, put median readings at the elementary school at 19.34 milligaus, more than six times the recommended exposure. At the playground where the lines are directly overhead, the median levels are more than 15 times greater than the WHO recommendation.

It states on the Fredon Township school district Web site that, "A child exposed to high voltage power lines stands, on average, an almost 70 percent greater chance of being diagnosed with leukemia."

Still the company maintains that the EMF’s do not pose a health threat.

"Despite decades of research on EMF, the scientific organizations and health agencies that have reviewed it have not concluded that EMFs cause cancer or any other disease," said Johnson.

Traveling east the Susquehanna-Roseland Line comes within 1,500 feet of the Katherine D. Malone (KDM) Elementary School in Rockaway Township before continuing on to within 200 feet of the ball field and 450 feet of a wall at the middle school in Montville.

According to Alin, studies have already shown that if enrollment levels are maintained, Lazar will require more classrooms and a larger gymnasium and cafeteria.

"If you look at the school from the road, you see that the only way to expand is back, which would put the building even closer to the transmission lines," he said.

Alin added that future building plans aren’t set in stone but the Board is concerned about limiting options.

According to Johnson, the Fredon and Montville schools are the only two that the company is conversing with at the moment.

Still, some KDM parents have raised concerns about the proximity of the lines to that school. No action has been taken to date and a call to the president of the Board of Education went unanswered.

In accordance with state statute, the Board of Public Utilities will hold public hearings on the proposed Susquehanna-Roseland line in October to determine whether the "&hellipproposed installation of the development in question is reasonably necessary for the service, convenience or welfare of the public." A determination is expected by the end of the year.


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