I have never had a guest on my blog before but I was so impressed with this e-mail from Sean Murphy of New Ross that I have decided to reproduce it in its entirety as it covers areas which, although important, I would not pretend to have sufficient expertise to allow me to write about them. Judging from what I understand of his letter, Sean (he is a scientist, not an ‘arty’ type like me) clearly does understand the technical issues.
* * *
However, as Sean is a guest blogger, I must insert and proclaim the usual disclaimer: Comments or opinions expressed in this guest blog are those of the author only. The views expressed in this guest blog do not necessarily represent the views of ‘The Law is my Oyster’ or me, and I am not responsible for, and disclaim any and all liability for the content of this guest blog, which is published in the pursuit of truth for the public benefit.
* * *
Here is Sean’s letter:
I have to admit to being highly sceptical when I read the arguments about adverse health effects of power lines. My reasons for scepticism were twofold: Firstly, I am a scientist by trade and ply my trade in a research laboratory of a well-known pharmaceutical company. Secondly, I could not believe that any government, even the Irish government, would allow something to go ahead which would harm so many people for generations to come.
So I read the 2007 Government Report. Thereafter I checked out the EirGrid website and I looked at the Denis O’Sullivan review. I was almost convinced that these things were safe, and then I read your blog “Quotations and References”, and thereafter “Medical Experts Slam EirGrid” and I began to wonder how much of what I had taken for granted as truth was not what it seemed.
I like many others had already downloaded a copy of the unaltered review from the EirGrid website. In fact I have a copy of their “EMF & YOU”, which actually recommends Prof. O’Sullivan’s Review as somewhere we can find more information on the topic. So after reading the blog, I decided to check out the Review in more detail.
I am no longer sceptical. There is a clear danger to peoples’ health from overhead lines.
Allow me to explain how my ‘conversion’ came about.
‘A Review of Recent Investigations into the Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) from Power Lines’ was (according to the last page) prepared by Professor Denis O’Sullivan, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, a member of the Panel of Experts. According to the Department of the Environment, it was commissioned by EirGrid in 2010. EMF & YOU says it was completed in July of that year.
Is the date significant? You tell me. According to comments about the North South Interconnector on the Sinn Fein website “Eirgrid withdrew a planning application for this project in the middle of an oral hearing in June 2010, because of a lack of thoroughness in its submission.” http://www.sinnfein.ie/contents/29049
I have made enquiries and nobody else I have spoken to has any idea who else was on the panel of experts, or if indeed there actually was one. Apparently EirGrid were contacted over 6 months ago and asked just those questions. But they have yet to answer. You would presume that this information is something that they should know, after all it is one of their documents, despite them saying it was the Chief Scientific Advisers Office, it was apparently commissioned by them and it is listed on their web site under EirGrid Projects.
Denis O’Sullivan is an Astrophysicist, his work has spanned many years and he is linked to NASA and the European Space Agency. Nowhere have I found any reference to his work on EMFs in relation to power lines, apart from this 2010 document. He was also apparently contacted 6 months ago in relation to this, but he hasn’t replied either.
Some may say I have a pedantic mind, but after reading your blog about the edited Swanson & Kheifets quote, which is actually a misquote, I decided to go back to the beginning. I have managed to get hold of most of the 15 documents that Denis O’Sullivan referenced. In the large part, these are available to download from the internet. Four years after publication, some of the links provided in the Review no longer work, so I searched under the names of the documents until I found the correct ones. Next I settled down with my copy of ‘A Review of Recent Investigations into the Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) from Power Lines’ which I printed off the EirGrid website many months ago. To make sure that what I was looking had not also been changed, I compared it to the altered version and took screen shots of the relevant sections. Do feel free to try this at home.
These are my findings after critically reviewing Prof. O’Sullivan’s work:
1. At the bottom of page 1 on the right hand column he is discussing Magnetic Field Strength, he says. “For example, for 400 kV (the highest voltage used in Ireland) it can be seen that the maximum magnetic field strength (~11.2 µT) falls to less than ten per cent of its maximum value (~1 µT) at a distance of 40 meters from the centre line.” If we turn to page 2 we see a graph which says “Figure 1 Magnetic field strength as a function of distance from centre line (Based on Figure 4 in reference 3)”
2. Now reference 3 happens to be a document called Electricity Supply Board EMF Document: “Electric and Magnetic Fields in the Environment” (June 1999).
Page 6 shows the graph and it says “These ‘profiles’ show the magnetic field near the ground for some typical overhead lines” The graph above says “Typical Electric Field Strength and Magnetic Flux Density at 30 meters from ESB Overhead Lines.” It shows a 400 kV line at 1.81 µT which roughly matches what is shown in the O’Sullivan graph. Except he says it’s Maximum and ESB say Typical. So I decided to look elsewhere. What I found was a document called Electric and Magnetic Fields – The Facts, by the Energy Networks Association. This on page 6 has a table which shows “Typical Ground-level UK Field Levels from Overhead Power Lines” They say that the Maximum field under the line is 100 µT and at 25 m from the line the Typical values are 1-2 µT. So it appears that, despite the differences between the lines and the loads needed on them for the two countries, the ‘Typical’ field strength in both the UK and Ireland matches, and is between 1-2 µT at 25-30 meters. Which would imply, that the Maximum field strength in Ireland, under a 400 kV line is also going to be similar to the UK, at 100 µT. Certainly, you would expect the two figures to be at least in the same ballpark!
Perhaps Prof. O’Sullivan misread the graph on the ESB document?
EirGrid have duplicated this error as according to EirGrid’s EIS regarding the North – South Interconnector the maximum field strength under a 400kV line would be 45.9 micro tesla at full load and 13.3 micro tesla at 33% load, which is less than half what was found in the UK. Why this huge discrepancy, given the similar conditions and identical technology?
3. Page 2, section 4b he says “Nevertheless, the UK Advisory Group on Non Ionising Radiation (AGNIR) stated that “the possibility remains that high and prolonged time-weighted average exposure to power frequency magnetic fields can increase the risk of leukaemia in children” ”
Now he gives the number 8 for this document in the references, so turn to that and we have 8. AGNIR.
“ELF electromagnetic fields and the risk of cancer. Report of the Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation” Doc. NRPB (12) 2,1-86, (2001)
Now I have a copy of the ELF electromagnetic fields and the risk of cancer report, which according to the beginning is NRPB Volume 12, No 1 2001. I have searched this document and nowhere can I find the words he attributes to it.
However, he also references 2 more reports from the NRPB (National Radiological Protection Board) written 3 years later. One is reference 4. “Review of the scientific evidence for limiting exposure to electromagnetic fields” (0-300 Ghz). Documents of the NRPB, Vol 15, no. 3, (2004), and low and behold the quote comes from this. They are referring to the earlier document, but the quote is NOT from it as far as I can see. And when you look at the reference list at the end you see that actually Document NRPB (12) 2,1-86, (2001) is really a report called ‘Possible health effects from terestrial trunked radio TETRA – report of an advisory group on non ionising radiation.’ The report he mentions (but doesn’t quote) is actually NRPB Volume 12, (1) 1-179.
4. Still on page 2, section 4d He refers to The Californian Department of Health and their 2002 report “An evaluation of the possible risks from electric and magnetic fields (EMFs) from power lines, internal wiring, electrical occupation and appliances”. Final report, California EMF Program, Oakland, USA. (June 2002) by Neutra RR, Del Pizzo V and Lee GM, which is reference 10. He says that they “concluded that EMFs were responsible for an increase in childhood leukaemia, adult brain cancer, and miscarriage.”
To start with, if you look at the report, on page 28 there is a table VI ‘A comparison of DHS Reviewers Degree of Certainty with that of other agencies’ The other agencies were the NIEHS, IARC and NRPB. The table shows that the Californian panel thought EMFs were also responsible for adult leukaemia and ALS (Motor Neurone Disease). They say “It should be noted that all of the review panels thought that the childhood leukaemia epidemiology warranted the classification of EMF as ‘possible’ carcinogen and thus did not agree with the biophysical arguments that EMF physiological effects (and therefore pathological effects) were impossible.”
Which is strange, considering Denis O’Sullivan’s own statement on page 4 section 7, that ‘It is simply not possible for the levels of energies associated with power lines to cause cancer.”
In relation to the link between EMF and childhood and adult leukaemia the Californian panel point out that: “Although the majority of scientists assembled to prepare the NIEHS Working Group Report voted for a possible 2B classification for these cancers, the lay persons summary submitted by the Director of NIEHS to Congress stated ‘ELF-EMF exposure cannot be recognised as entirely safe because of weak scientific evidence that exposure may pose a leukaemia hazard’”.
Section 4a refers to the NIEHS report (or to be precise it refers to the Executive Summary), see reference 6. There is no evidence from this piece that Prof. O’Sullivan actually read the Report. He even uses the same lay persons quote from the Executive Summary. The actual report is called “Assessment of Health Effects from Exposure to Power-line Frequency Electric and Magnetic Fields. Working Group Report. NIH Publication No. 98-3981”. It is 523 pages long, clearly a long read, and too long for many, that is clear.
5. Turning to page 3, section 4e of his Review, Prof. O’Sullivan refers to a World Health Organisation (WHO) investigation, reference 11 “Electromagnetic fields and public health” Fact sheet No. 322, World Health Organisation, (June 2007). He says that they “found that there is no substantive health issues related to magnetic fields at levels encountered by the general public” . However, when one looks at the fact sheet from whence this quote supposedly emanated it actually says, “the Task group concluded that there are no substantive health issues related to ELF electric fields at levels generally encountered by members of the public.”
So he appears to have accidentally mixed up his Magnetic and Electric fields. This is such a basic and fundamental error that I re-read this passage many times as I could not believe what I was reading. He also seems to have failed to notice that on page 2 of this very same fact sheet they say “If the association between magnetic fields and childhood leukaemia is causal, the number of cases worldwide that might be attributable to magnetic field exposure is estimated to range from 100 to 2400 cases per year, based on values for the year 2000, representing 0.2 to 4.95% of the total incidence for that year.”
2400 children possibly getting childhood leukaemia because of magnetic fields, every year! I don’t see that statistic appearing in the EirGrid literature, do you? According to figures available on the Irish National Cancer Registry website http://www.ncri.ie/ there were about 479 cases of Leukaemia in children under the age of 15, registered between 1994 and 2011 (although 2011’s figures were not complete) 4.95% of that would mean that about 23 children may have got this disease because of magnetic fields in Ireland between those years (i.e. 23 cases in 17 years). A slightly higher figure than Denis O’Sullivan estimates in his conclusions on page 4, where he says that, “If the risk were real, it would correspond to an increase of about 1 case of childhood leukaemia in Ireland every four years.”
6. Also on page 3, we have section 5, Search for Explanation for Alleged Effects. He says “However, a very comprehensive report by AGNIR and its Ad Hoc Group on Corona Ions concluded that ‘The extent to which corona ions increase the dose of pollutants to target tissues in the body cannot be estimated precisely’ and that ‘some increases observed have been attributed to the design of the experiments’.” This is Reference 13 “Particle Deposition in the Vicinity of Power Lines and Possible Effects on Health”: Report of an Independent Advisory Group on Non-ionising Radiation and its Ad Hoc Group on Corona Ions, Documents of the NRPB: Volume 15, No 1, 2004.
Looking at the first part in quotation marks and italics, I am unable to find these words in the NRPB document. What I have found is:
“The potential impact of corona ions on health will depend on the extent to which they increase the dose of relevant pollutants to target tissues in the body. It is not possible to estimate the impact precisely.”
Now, in my opinion, the way he has worded it would appear to be a lot more restrictive than the actual words. As for the second ‘quote’ in italics, I can’t find this either. The nearest I can find are 3 paragraphs which are commenting on Swanson & Jeffers attributing the increased deposition to the design of Fews et al.’s experiments.
I assume that the Ad Hoc group is the one that he is referring to on page 1 when he says that “A detailed study of the proposed mechanism has been carried out and the suggestion has been rejected (see section 5)” Actually in the Overall Summary and Conclusions on page 51 they say “The information reviewed suggests that some increase in lung deposition of pollutant particles seems likely as a result of charging by corona ions.” This doesn’t sound like a rejection to me.
7. And of course, Section 5b is the Swanson & Kheifets paper, where the beginning of the actual sentence was omitted so that the quote appeared to suggest the authors thought that effects from EMF were impossible, as was pointed out in your blog referred to earlier.
8. Strangely he refers to Ahlbom et al section 4b as finding a “consistent tendency towards a very small increased risk for childhood leukaemia in areas close to power lines for time-weighted average exposures of more than 0.4 µT.” reference 7 Ahlbom A, Cardis E, Green A, Linet M, Savitz D and Swrdlow A. “Review of the epidemiologic literature on EMF and health. Environ Health Perspect”. 109 (suppl 6) 911-33, (2001)
But if you read even just the abstract of the Ahlbom paper you see that instead of finding a ‘very small increased risk’ they actually found a Doubling of risk under these conditions.
9. There are also some veiled references to other un-named studies which dispute the evidence. For instance on page 1 while appearing to dismiss claims of other illnesses, he says “However, more recent and more thorough investigations have failed to confirm these results” and yet he doesn’t mention any. On page 2 he does something similar, saying “However, studies in North America, the UK, Germany, New Zealand, and Scandinavia failed to confirm these findings.” He does it again further down when he says “This differed significantly from the conclusions of most other international authorities”. Why doesn’t he name these studies, investigations and authorities? How is the reader to know what he is writing about? Surely he should have said, or are we just supposed to take his word for it that anybody even tried to confirm results? You would expect a paper written by a distinguished scientist like Denis O’Sullivan to reference everything, otherwise how can he possibly stand over all the claims he is making?
One mistake might be understandable, although you would think that between EirGrid, Denis O’Sullivan, the Chief Scientific Officers’ Office and the panel of experts, they could have found someone to double check their work, or even send it out for an objective peer review as any half-decent journal would do? But when you realise that it is not just one error but many errors, in a four-and-a-half page review, the credibility and real purpose of the entire document becomes suspect, particularly as it was commissioned by EirGrid.
Now that they have been caught out, perhaps EirGrid can and will change it, but then you ask yourself how many alterations can you do to a paper almost 4 years after it was first published before it becomes a complete joke?
In my view it is time for this document to be relegated to the dustbin, unless of course it is to be used as a lesson for junior cert level students on how NOT to write a report. Not only has it shown how spectacularly the peer review process can go wrong (if that is what we can call it) but it has sadly cast a great deal of doubt, in my mind at least, on the integrity and scientific understanding of a supposed ‘expert panel’, particularly as we are awaiting the review of another expert panel.
This exercise in poor writing and shoddy research has converted me from sceptic to a fully fledged believer of the many adverse health effects from power lines.
In Forty Years of Space 1972-2012 http://www.dias.ie/images/stories/astro/annual-reports/dias-expo-2013-fin.pdf Denis O’Sullivan says “Cosmic radiation is considered to be the main health hazard for human exploration and colonisation of the solar system.”. It seems extraordinary that the learned professor did not reach a similar conclusion about us poor souls stuck on earth.
New Ross, Wexford.”
Thank you very much Sean. I did not understand everything that you wrote, but even to a non-scientist like me, it seems apparent that the objectives and methodology of the 2010 Review commissioned by Eirgrid are so flawed as to make that document entirely worthless. The fact that this same document is continously relied on by EirGrid to support their public statements that overhead lines are safe, compounds the evil. This fact needs to be admitted by EirGrid immediately and often so as to repair any public misconception that it has created.