Columbia University professor echoes residents' fears
CAKES continues to cite health concerns over plan
An expert on electromagnetic fields recently added some weight to a local group's objections that a proposed multi-state power line might cause health problems to people living near it.
This is perhaps the most controversial of Citizens Against the Kemptown Electric Substation (CAKES) members' objections to the substation; the belief that exposure to the electromagnetic field, or EMF, produced by the substation and the power lines might contribute to health problems like depression, Alzheimer's disease, or in more extreme cases, childhood leukemia and other forms of cancer.
The Potomac Appalachian Transmission Highline (PATH) would be a 275-mile-long power line extending from a power station in southwestern West Virginia, through Virginia and ending at a proposed substation in southern Frederick County.
PATH is a joint venture of Allegheny Energy and American Electric Power, and both companies maintain that the multi-state power line is necessary to maintain reliable electric service in the region. PATH will serve PJM Interconnection, a regional organization that coordinates power transmission in 13 states, including those through which it passes, and Washington, D.C.
CAKES organized when residents near the site of the proposed substation learned of the project. Because they live in Mount Airy, they did not expect a "Kemptown Substation" to be built near their homes.
The group has been holding regular meetings, and its membership is growing.
When asked at their meeting on March 4 if they would accept a station smaller than the 42-acre one the companies proposed, members shouted "no!"
Their objections range from environmental concerns to the lowering of property values associated with power line towers and a large-scale substation near their homes.
Some members of the scientific community support the belief that there is a link between EMF radiation and health risk. Other researchers say that there is no evidence shown in 20 years of study that there is a relationship between EMF and cancer or other health problems.
Mary Jo Rucker of Mount Airy, a CAKES member who has been working as a nurse for more than 20 years in the radiology department of Suburban Hospital in Bethesda, is convinced there is a link between EMF and various cancers.
Rucker said the patient population for cancer is changing, and younger patients are developing cancer.
She said no one knows why the rate of cancer is going up, or why it is affecting younger people, but if EMF presents a risk, she would rather not have a source of the radiation in her neighborhood.
"I don't want this risk in our development," she said.
Rucker cited the research of Martin Blank, a professor of physiology and cellular biology at Columbia University in New York, N.Y.
Blank, who recently returned from Maine where he was advocating that a warning label be placed on cellular phones to warn children and teens about the risk of brain cancer he believes might accompany cell phone usage, has studied the affects of EMF on living cells for about 40 years.
He said Monday that most health guidelines related to EMF are not strict enough.
For example, New York caps permitted EMF emissions at 800 "milligauss," a unit of measurement that gauges the intensity of electromagnetic fields, or the level necessary to induce electrical current in human nerves. The California EMF Program, which researches whether exposure to magnetic fields is dangerous to humans, estimates that a household hair dryer can emit 70 milligauss and microwaves 50 milligauss at a distance of one foot.
PATH is estimated to emit a maximum of 156 milligauss at a 100-foot distance, according to the Web site, www.pathtransmission.com.
Blank said EMF can generate "stress reactions" in human cells at much lower levels, say 3-4 miligauss. "The body is being affected long before you reach the level that is considered safe," he said.
Stress reactions were first discovered in cells as a reaction to extreme heat they are still identified as "heat shock proteins" but they also occur when cells are exposed to EMF, Blank said.
These reactions are like the body dialing 911; they are the body's way of responding to an emergency and overcoming damage, Blank said.
And while stress proteins are not indicative of cancer, which occurs after a long period of the body's DNA being damaged, prolonged exposure to EMF might be linked to cancer, he said. "One should strive for as low a level [of EMF exposure] as one can achieve," he said. However, there are scientist and medical doctors who are unconvinced of a link between EMF and health risks.
Dr. Mark Israel, the director of the Norris Cotton Cancer Center at Dartmouth Medical School, was asked to give testimony supporting the builders' of PATH's assertions that it would not cause a health risk.
Israel, who has reviewed the research into EMF's effects on living cells, said that there was no evidence of a link between the radiation and DNA damage that would lead to cancer. "As a group, the DNA and chromosome studies over the past 20 years do not show that EMF exposures cause any permanent damage to DNA or chromosomes," Israel said in his testimony.