Medical Experts Slam EirGrid

Clearly fed-up with the plethora of statements to the public by EirGrid officials that pylons and the electric lines they carry are safe, a group of eminent physicians has written a letter to the Irish Medical Times, pointing out that there is credible research to the contrary.

In March 2007, the Government, through the Department of Communications, Marine and Natural Resources, published the Report of the Expert Group established to examine the Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields. Later that year, Government policy for the health effects of non-ionising radiation and electromagnetic fields became the responsibility of the Minister for the Environment, Community and Local Government. To date however, this Department has not undertaken its own research on the effects of EMF and has not engaged scientific expertise to carry out such research.

It can be argued that this inactivity might mean one of two things, neither of them good for EirGrid. It might mean that Minister Rabbitte and his Department accept the findings of that Report, which concluded as far back as 2007 that with regard to Extremely Low Frequency fields of non-ionising radiation emitted by electricity power lines, there was limited scientific evidence of adverse health effects. Or it means that the Report was dropped into a dusty drawer somewhere, in the hope that it was never discovered.

This very strong list of medical experts is concerned that the current government document stating that there is a risk of childhood leukaemia near to high voltage power lines is being ignored or politically buried.

The Report also states that the risk of childhood leukaemia from the lines is strong enough to recommend that no new high voltage overhead power lines should be erected in areas of high population density. This recommendation has been ignored by EirGrid, and the new line routes stated as feasible route corridors in the controversial GridLink pylon plan appear to pass through areas of high population density, the village of Carrigeen in Kilkenny being an obvious example.

One of the experts speaking out is one of the authors of the 2007 Report which, as it has not been replaced by a subsequent report, remains ‘the government report’. The others include a former Assessor for the Committee for Safety of Medicines, an Irish Professor who researches in the applicable field, an English professor regarded by many of his peers as the world authority on the subject of EMR and childhood leukaemia, and two highly experienced Irish general practitioners.

And who do EirGrid have to counter this formidable force? Nobody.

EirGrid have stated a number of times, particularly when GridLink was in its planning stages, that they have no current or previous medical expert advice on the subject. They would appear to have no competence to contradict such expert advice and yet they are prepared to make public statements on national television and daily newspapers that their overhead lines are ‘completely safe’.

Even Minister Rabbitte himself, despite having no medical qualifications, has not hesitated in voicing an opinion. For example, on Today FM ” The Last Word with Matt Cooper” on 11th November 2013, the Minister said about health concerns over overhead lines:
“It is a shocking thing to say that they are associated with leukaemia clusters”.

Whilst many people in the various community groups talk of EirGrid as ‘liars’, one needs to be very careful when using such language. If an EirGrid spokesperson knew that what he/she was saying was false when they said it, that is a lie. However, if that spokesperson genuinely believed that there was no threat when they made their public utterances, they are not liars, just mistaken. However, the law will not take pity on them despite their honest opinion if it can be shown that they should have taken it upon themselves to be better informed before making those public statements. This failure to properly inform oneself before making representations to the public could be regarded as an act of negligence, perhaps recklessness. In addition, things can get really messy legally where a spokesperson made out to the public that they were in some way qualified to voice an opinion on matters medical. In those circumstances that spokesperson’s utterings might be assessed as if they really were medically qualified. In other words the law says: “If you want to make out that you know what you are talking about, we will judge your performance by comparing you to people who actually do know what they are talking about”.

For that reason, this letter to the Irish Medical Times might be scaring the living daylights out of certain persons who have made these public utterances in the past. (See my earlier blog: “The Ethics of Objectivity”).

Over 35000 submissions were made to EirGrid concerning the GridLink Project. And one of the dominant themes in those submissions, in fact the most dominant theme, concerned peoples’ fears about their health and that of their children.

EirGrid know that people are literally worried sick about the health effects of the overhead lines. It knows about the 2007 Report. It knows that further and better research has been conducted since that 2007 Report which now confirms a robust risk of childhood leukaemia caused by high voltage overhead lines.

And still it seeks to continue the madness that is GridLink. It is no wonder that the experts who are signatories to this letter have deemed it necessary to publish an open letter in an esteemed medical publication. It might be enough to get this Government (i.e.Minister Rabbitte), to finally take notice of the people they pretend to represent. At the very least it should be enough to cause the Minister to issue an instruction to the EirGrid hierarchy that they are to discontinue misleading the public.
This is the letter:

Dear Editor,

Your columnist Dr Ruairi Hanley (IMT, May 16, 2014) referred to articles linking childhood leukaemia to electric pylons as “pretty much baseless”.  He provided no evidence for his personal opinions, which are contradicted by the existing scientific evidence.

There is extensive epidemiological evidence for the increased occurrence of childhood leukaemia near to high-voltage overhead lines (1,2).  The recent preliminary opinion from SCENIHR, an EU expert committee, states that a meta-analysis of studies published between 2000 and 2009 “confirms the robustness of an approximately two-fold increased risk of childhood leukaemia at magnetic field levels above 0.3/0.4 µT” (3).

The 2007 Irish Government report concluded that the evidence for a linkage between childhood leukaemia and EMF “should not be discounted” and recommended that “as a precautionary measure future power lines and power installations should be sited away from heavily populated areas…”(4).

Epidemiology is the tool scientists and doctors use to identify and confirm the risks to populations from novel environmental exposures. These risks are seldom evident even to an experienced GP like Dr Hanley treating individual patients. The risk has been established by some 20 or more studies carried out since 1979, including the recent GEOCAP study, a nationwide study of 2,779 cases of childhood acute leukaemia diagnosed in France from 2002–2007 and 30,000 contemporaneous population controls, which showed an increase in childhood acute leukaemia in patients living within 50 metres of high-voltage overhead power lines (5).

The possible mechanisms behind the observed risk are beginning to be explored. Magnetic fields at levels similar to those associated with living close to power lines show behaviour in cell lines similar to that of known carcinogens (6). Also, corona ions emitted from power lines may lead to increased pulmonary exposure to airborne charged particles, possibly associated with risk of childhood leukaemia (7,8).

In the current public debate on the proposed new EirGrid network of pylons carrying 400 kV power lines, the Government needs to make its decisions based on the available facts and not on opinions, even those of Dr Hanley. The available facts start with the Government’s own 2007 report suggesting that new lines should avoid areas of high population density due to a risk of childhood leukaemia.

That document has been confirmed as the current advice of the appropriate government department (the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government). This is consistent with the draft European expert committee document, which describes robust evidence for an increased risk of childhood leukaemia at high-power frequency magnetic field exposure levels (3).

Dr Graham Roberts, Consultant Endocrinologist, Waterford, Clinical Senior Lecturer, UCC,
Prof Denis Henshaw, Emeritus Professor of Human Radiation Effects, University of Bristol, and Scientific Director of the charity Children with Cancer UK,
Prof Anthony Staines, Member of the Irish Government Expert Group for current report (2007), and Professor of Health Systems, DCU,
Prof Ivan J Perry, Professor of Public Health, UCC,
Dr Alan B Wilson, retired, Waterford, previously Senior Lecturer in Pharmacology, King’s College, University of London,
Dr D J Connolly, Senior Lecturer, Royal Veterinary College, University of London,
Dr Tadhg O’Carroll, GP, Waterford,
Dr Helen Connolly, Carrigeen, County Kilkenny.

References:
1. Ahlbom IC, Cardis E, Green A, Linet M, Savitz D, Swerdlow A, et al. Review of the epidemiologic literature on EMF and Health. Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Dec;109 Suppl 6:911–33.
2. Kheifets L, Ahlbom A, Crespi CM, Draper G, Hagihara J, Lowenthal RM, et al. Pooled analysis of recent studies on magnetic fields and childhood leukaemia. Br J Cancer. 2010 Sep 28;103(7):1128–35.
3. Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). Preliminary opinion on potential health effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields. [Internet]. Brussels, Belgium: European Commission; 2013 Nov. Available from: http://ec.europa.eu/health/scientific_committees/emerging/docs/scenihr_o_041.pdf.
4. Repacholi M, van Rongen E, Staines A, McManus T. Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields [Internet]. Dublin, Ireland: Department of the Marine, Communications and Natural Resources; p. 60. Available from: http://www.dcenr.gov.ie/Press+Releases/2007/Government+Publishes+Report+of+the+Expert+Group+on+Health+Effects+of+Electromagnetic+Fields.htm.
5. Childhood leukaemia close to high-voltage power lines — the Geocap study, 2002-2007. British Journal of Cancer (2013).
6. Luukkonen J, Liimatainen A, Juutilainen A, Naarala J. 2014. Induction of genomic instability, oxidative processes, and mitochondrial activity by 50 Hz magnetic fields in human SH-SY5Y neuroblastoma cells. Mutation Research 760 (2014) 33– 41.
7. Fews AP, Wilding RJ, Keitch PA, Holden NK, Henshaw DL. 2002. Modification of atmospheric DC fields by space charge from high voltage power lines.  Atmospheric Research, 63:271-289.
8. Matthews JC, Ward JP, Keitch PA, Henshaw DL. Corona ion induced atmospheric potential gradient perturbations near high voltage power lines. Atmospheric Environment [Internet]. 2010;44(39):5093–100. Available from: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1352231010007612

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About Neil van Dokkum

Neil van Dokkum (B. SocSc; LLB; LLM; PGC Con.Lit) Neil is a law lecturer and has been so since arriving in Ireland from South Africa in 2002. Prior to that Neil worked in a leading firm of solicitors from 1987-1992, before being admitted as an Advocate of the Supreme Court of South Africa (a barrister) in 1992. He published three books in South Africa on employment law and unfair dismissal, as well as being published in numerous national and international peer-reviewed journals. Neil currently specialises in employment law, medical negligence law, family law and child protection law. He dabbles in EU law (procurement and energy). Neil retired from practice in 2002 to take up a full-time lecturing post. He has published three books since then, “Nursing Law for Irish Students (2005); “Evidence” (2007); and “Nursing Law for Students in Ireland” (2011). He is an accredited and practising mediator and is busy writing a book, with Dr Sinead Conneely, on Mediation in Ireland. His current interest is Ireland’s energy policy and its impact on the people and the environment. He is also researching the area of disability as a politico-economic construct. Neil is very happily married to Fiona, and they have two sons, Rory and Ian.
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