Power Hungry, Power Mad
by Howard Fienberg
After last summer's energy crisis in
Thirteen years ago, Paul Brodeur, writing in the New Yorker, called these EMFs "the most pervasive - and covered up - public health hazard Americans face." Now, a leaked final report from the California Department of Health Services claims that these EMFs are associated with increased risks of everything from childhood leukemia to suicide.
Louis Slesin, the editor of Microwave News (which obtained
the leaked copy), thinks the report will "open a Pandora's box for the
electric utility industry." His prediction is more than an
understatement. Given how hard it has been for the media and advocacy groups
to let this issue fade away,
Begun eight years ago, and based on primarily old or
discredited studies, the
But don't we already know enough? Public health professor
Simon Chapman (British Medical Journal, Mar. 17) has compared advocates of
the EMF-cancer link to "the plucky, armless black knight in Monty
Python's Quest for the Holy Grail: they just won't give up." A major
study from the National Academy of Sciences in 1996 found "no conclusive
or consistent evidence" that EMFs "produce cancer, adverse
neuro-behavioral effects, or reproductive and developmental effects."
Another study a year later from the National Cancer Institute also uncovered
"no evidence" of increased health risk from EMF exposure. Similar
large-scale studies in
No reasonable biophysical link has ever been found between EMFs and cancer, only weak epidemiological associations. An exasperated American Physical Society has said that no "biophysical mechanisms" can explain how power lines could possibly cause or influence cancer. In addition, if power lines were causing childhood leukemia, rates of the disease should have risen in this generation along with the prevalence of power lines. In reality, rates have remained relatively constant over time.
So why does research turn up any association at all? Because researchers have had to rely on proxy measurements when investigating people's exposure to EMFs. Rather than measuring regular EMF exposure directly, researchers have measured the strength of power lines near residences, using "wire codes." These wire codes were expected to correlate well with EMF measurements. Unfortunately, wire codes only account for about 18 percent of the variance in residential background field and residential permanent exposure. So while differences in wire codes seems to correlate with increased risk for leukemia, scientists don't believe that EMF exposure explains that risk. Some researchers think the wire codes actually serve as a proxy for poverty. Poor people face a higher cancer risk than the rest of the population and are more likely to live near high-voltage power lines, in high traffic areas, areas with a lot of air pollution and in older, poorly constructed homes.
Paul Brodeur seemed to have made a nice living off his horror stories and books on the unsubstantiated dangers of EMFs. However, physicist Robert Park noted last year that Brodeur had fallen on hard times. Having long since been fired by the New Yorker, Brodeur told Forbes magazine that "he's turned to writing fiction." "Nonsense," Park exclaimed, Brodeur has "always written fiction."
Unfortunately, while Stephen King thrillers are purchased by choice, we soon may have no say in the matter of Brodeur's EMF fictions.
See the original: http://www.tcsdaily.com/article.aspx?id=082002F
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