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Author Topic: Living under power lines gives you cancer
Clarity
Toys to the World


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Okay, this is the first time I've started a topic, (so don't kill me if it's already been discussed before) but I just realized that something I believed is probably an urban legend.
When I was getting a Christmas tree this year, I noticed that the farm we always go to is right under some very high-current power lines, the kind that have like four parallel lines and are really tall. Not the kind that people's home current comes off, more like for connecting power plants. I could hear the buzz and crackle from the electricity. The farmer lives right under these lines, and there are other houses around too.
I remember being told (by my dad, who works for the health department) that "scientists won't live under high-current lines" because somehow the "radiation" from the power lines gives you cancer. How this works, and why it wouldn't be more well known if "scientists" know it, I don't know. But being able to hear the electricity is a little unsettling, so I could see why someone would believe this. Hell, I did.
Anyone know any better? Studies, stats, articles, anything? I want to know if one of my "dad-isms' is false. (It won't be the first one, though.)

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Kevin: Pink Bunkadoo?
Randall: Yeah. Beautiful tree that was. Og designed it. 600 feet high, bright red, and smelled terrible.

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Silas Sparkhammer
I Saw V-Chips Come Sailing In


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There was actually a lawsuit over this, here in San Diego, some years ago. The preponderance of the scientific testimony was that this is "not proven." No mechanism has been proposed by which cancer would be caused by electric fields. In addition, there are so many other things in the average household that can cause cancer. So, the jury found that the electric lines weren't proven to cause the cancer.

The problem is that one expert will contradict another expert. Even the statistics are debated: is there a correlation between people living near power lines and incidences of cancer? One group of statisticians says yes, and another says no.

The issue is (pun intended) up in the air, but, to date, no one has met the burden of proof of any of the claims that these lines cause disease.

Silas

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Nonny Mouse, on Santa's laptop
Once in Royal Circuit City


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Here is a site with lots of information.

Boiled down to its simplest essence, more studies show no correlation than show one, and where a correlation is shown, exposure is at very high levels.

Nonny

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When there isn't anything else worth analyzing, we examine our collective navel. I found thirty-six cents in change in mine the other day. Let no one say that there is no profit in philosophy. -- Silas Sparkhammer

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Bubby
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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Read the book Voodoo Science...

it contains ahuge debunking of this...

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trollface
The Bills of St. Mary's


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The one I've always heard, though, is that the magnetism surrounding them interferes with the brain. I've heard two variations of this. The first is actually with powerlines of the type described in the OP - several people I've known who have camped under them at Glastonbury have said that they were unable to relax properly and shut their minds off, yet when they moved their tent they could.

The second is from a guy I used to know who had a couple of huge speakers by his bed. Again, he reported not being able to switch his mind off and relax in bed because of "all these mad thoughts" which kept assailing him. He moved the speakers to the other end of his bed so that he was no longer in between them, and reported all his problems as being gone.

Is it possible for magnetic fields to have an effect on the working of the brain in such a fashion?

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seriously , everyone on here , just trys to give someone crap about something they do !! , its shitting me to tears.

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Finite Fourier Alchemy
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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quote:
Originally posted by trollface:
Is it possible for magnetic fields to have an effect on the working of the brain in such a fashion?

I'm not going to try to pass myself as having any better than passing knowledge of the biological effect of very low-frequency fields, but it's been my suspicion that a lot of these stories of being bothered by moderately high EMF are in fact a physiological response to the sort of odd acoustics these devices produce. Something that buzzes just past the edge of human audibility is sometimes going to be very uncomfortable.

Likewise, I would wonder if cancer associated with high voltage equipment (if any) is really due to the sort of carcinogenic chemicals sometimes used around such structures.

But my EMF expertise really doesn't go much lower than infrared, so I really have no informed opinion on the subject.

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Thinking about New England / missing old Japan

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Hero_Mike
Happy Holly Days


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Power lines carry electricty at 50Hz or 60Hz, which creates a magnetic field which falls off at the square of the distance from the lines. Furthermore, power lines are done in 3-phase systems where you have 3 lines, each one 120 degrees out of phase with the other. If you superimposed all 3 together, you get zero. For a sufficient distance from the lines, the magnetic field is diminished by the square of the distance, and the sum of the fields from all 3 lines is zero, because the distance to each line is almost equal.

Which is still not as important as the frequency. These frequencies are nowhere near as harmful to the human body than high-frequency electro-magnetic radiation, such as, say, x-rays, or microwaves.

Speakers have magnets in them. If the signal to the speakers (the stereo output is off), then their magnetic field is constant and does not change (except as affected by temperature or some other ferrous substance being placed within their flux lines). It is the changing magnetic field caused by AC power lines that is cited as being the harmful. A speaker turned off has no changing field, and is a completely different situation.

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"The fate of *billions* depends on you! Hahahahaha....sorry." Lord Raiden - Mortal Kombat

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Clarity
Toys to the World


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Thank you very much for all the great info! So my dear old dad wasn't making it up- the concern is really out there, but there's no conclusive evidence. Or a lot of evidence that shows there's no connection. Even better.
I doubt that relaying this to him will make any difference, though... At least I can stop worrying about my Christmas tree farmer.

--------------------
Kevin: Pink Bunkadoo?
Randall: Yeah. Beautiful tree that was. Og designed it. 600 feet high, bright red, and smelled terrible.

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EmeraldCityAlchemist
I'm Dreaming of a White Sale


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Actually, what there is is a lot of conjecture, fear words (such as "radiation" which will scare everyone who does not understand it) and a lot of anecdotal evidence. The fact is, your exposure to low frequency radiation from the electrical lines inside your own house and from the screen on your computer are a lot more intense than the low frequency radiation from the lines.

The key thing about radiation is its frequency, followed by intensity. Low frequency radiation can affect electrons in metals, but does not affect molecular substance such as proteins or water, or the stuff you are made of. If it is high enough intensity, it can cause ionization, but the power lines are far below that level.

The brain can be affected by magnetic fields, but only if they are sufficiently high intensity. You'd almost have to be touching the power lines to get that intense a field.

Lastly, the WORST evidence you can present is anecdotal evidence. Anecdotal evidence cannot establish cause and effect relationships, because such relationships are often established by the observers bias unless they are observed in controlled experiments. In other words, unless you've isolated your variables, what you THINK is the cause is not necessarily true.

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I wish I knew what the hell I was doing.

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Troberg
Angels Wii Have Heard on High


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Hero Mike sums it up neatly.

There is nothing to worry about, until the lines blow down on your house and starts a fire.

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/Troberg

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Special Tinsel
I'll Be Home for After Christmas Sales


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When I was a teenager my family lived across the street from a power substation for a few years. During that time, my mother and every pet in our house developed some kind of cancer. Since the plural of "anecdote" is "data", that should be all anyone needs. [Razz]

Seriously, though, my mother was convinced that living across from the substation had turned us all into radioactive mutants. An interesting coincidence, anyway.

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Hero_Mike
Happy Holly Days


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Thank, you EmeraldCityAlchemist, for your comments. There is much conjecture on this subject, and while there is much concern, there is, admittedly, little substance.

Further to what FFA, said, Special Tinsel, power substations operating when you were a teenager often had transformers filled with PCB oils. (The oils were used specifically for transformer cooling because they resist electrical breakdown, and low flammability compared to mineral-based insulating oils. They could therefore be used on indoor transformers without being kept in a protective vault.) PCBs are known carcinogens. No special precautions were taken in the handling of these substances during most of the 70's and 80's. People were routinely exposed to these oils, including power system technicians being, literally, up to their shoulders, in these oils. More than power line radiation, this could explain the effects of living near a substation.

FFA, the frequency of power generation is 50Hz or 60Hz, depending on where you live. This is well within human hearing. Transformers "hum" at 100Hz or 120Hz because they are constructed of laminations, which vibrate due to the changing magnetic field. I assume that this is what you mean by "Something that buzzes just past the edge of human audibility is sometimes going to be very uncomfortable", rather than something with a high frequency. While some components in a power system (for example, rectifiers) can introduce higher order harmonics, they rarely introduce a harmonic of anything more than negligible power content above the 13th (which would be 13x60 or 7800Hz, well within human hearing), and all three-phase power systems have the inherent quality of suppressing all 3rd order harmonics. Power systems destabilize in the presence of higher-order harmonics, transformers and power lines heat up by transmitting "non-useful" high frequency power, and much is done to suppress and/or eliminate harmonics.

The long and short of it is that power frequencies are too low to cause the kind of harm that is suspected in these situations. (I also vaguely remember reading one study about how power line "right of ways" may have been built with contaminated soil.) I'd be more concerned about buying a house near a high-power radio antenna (50,000 watts in the MHz range), or a cell phone tower, though the "anecdotal" cases are enough to scare people sufficiently that I'd be wary about buying a house near power lines simply because I'm concerned about how this would affect resale value, and not any long-term health effects from the power system alone.

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"The fate of *billions* depends on you! Hahahahaha....sorry." Lord Raiden - Mortal Kombat

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Finite Fourier Alchemy
Markdown, the Herald Angels Sing


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quote:
Originally posted by Hero_Mike:
While some components in a power system (for example, rectifiers) can introduce higher order harmonics, they rarely introduce a harmonic of anything more than negligible power content above the 13th (which would be 13x60 or 7800Hz, well within human hearing), and all three-phase power systems have the inherent quality of suppressing all 3rd order harmonics.

Consider me corrected then. [Smile]

quote:
(I also vaguely remember reading one study about how power line "right of ways" may have been built with contaminated soil.)
Besides the PCBs in transformer elements I would expect the land near transmission lines to possibly have contamination from insulating elements, herbicides, etc. The sort of low-level ground contamination you'd expect to find in a pre-EPA industrial area. Which isn't to say any randomly-selected housing lot is certain to be free of such things.

Where did this contaminated soil come from?

quote:
I'd be wary about buying a house near power lines simply because I'm concerned about how this would affect resale value, and not any long-term health effects from the power system alone.
Same here.

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Thinking about New England / missing old Japan

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Hero_Mike
Happy Holly Days


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FFA - some of the fill for power-line right-of-ways was not "clean". It was often from "rehabilitated" industrial sites. Which is to say that it was itself contaminated. If it was built at a time that the power utility had a large transformer yard or motor repair facility, where the soil was dripping PCB oil, a right-of-way was the perfect place to get rid of it. After all, the utility owned the land as well.

For some reason, I remember reading about a high content of PCBs in these right-of-way areas. The above explanation is plausible, though all seem equally unlikely.

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"The fate of *billions* depends on you! Hahahahaha....sorry." Lord Raiden - Mortal Kombat

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