In 2007, a Report commissioned by the Department of the Marine, Communications and Natural Resources, entitled “Health Effects of Electromagnetic Fields”, recommended that although the risk was not severe enough to move existing (110 and 220 kV) lines away from populated areas, any new lines should be sited away from populated areas as there was an increased risk of childhood leukaemia. This research considered the standard lines (110 and 220kV), and not the more powerful 400kV lines that EirGrid now wishes to erect to allow wind farms to connect to the national grid.
In late July 2010 a Report was issued by the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser (the CSA): ‘A Review of Recent Investigations into the Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) from Power Lines’, prepared by Professor Denis O’Sullivan, Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.
On page 3 of the 2010 Report appeared the following paragraph:
“(b) Biophysical Mechanisms
A wide range of biophysical mechanisms have been put forward as possible explanations for alleged health effects of power lines and very low frequency EMFs. Lack of biophysical mechanisms operating at such low levels argues against causality. Recent investigations of the problem found ‘that some of the mechanisms are impossible and others require specific conditions for which there is limited or no evidence as to their existence in a way that would make them relevant to human exposure.’ The authors concluded that effects below 5 microT are implausible and ‘that health effects of environmental electric and magnetic fields are impossible at this level of exposure.”
The emboldened words, and more specifically the quoted portion at the end, is a quote taken by the 2010 Chief Scientific Adviser’s Report from a journal article entitled ‘Biophysical mechanisms: a component in the weight of evidence for health effects of power-frequency electric and magnetic fields’, written by Swanson, J and Kheifets, L; and which appeared in the journal entitled Radiation Research 2006 Apr;165(4):470-8). What the authors of the quoted article actually said was:
“We conclude that effects below 5 microT are implausible. At about 50 microT, no specific mechanism has been identified, but the basic problem of implausibility is removed. Above about 500 microT, there are established or likely effects from accepted mechanisms. The absence of a plausible biophysical mechanism at lower fields cannot be taken as proof that health effects of environmental electric and magnetic fields are impossible. Nevertheless, it is a relevant consideration in assessing the overall evidence on these fields.”
In other words, the conclusion reached in the 2010 Report, namely that harmful effects at levels lower than 5 micro T ‘are impossible’, is the result of a misquotation from a journal article where the authors reached a very different conclusion – namely that it was not correct to claim impossibility purely on the grounds that the causative link could not be definitively established, and elsewhere in the article the overwhelming evidence of the increased incidence of childhood leukaemia and other illnesses in areas that are close to power-lines is documented.
This misquote was the most startling of the mistakes in the 2010 Report that turned out to be littered with inaccuracies (see my blog “EirGrid’s ‘Expert Panel’ Review is now in tatters”).
In response to a query as to whether the 2010 Report was an official government Report like the 2007 Report, Justin Moran (who is a Senior Lead Communications Specialist at EirGrid, replied as follows on 18 June 2014. The bold portions are my doing:
“ … it is important to be clear that the document in question is neither an EirGrid report, nor was it commissioned by EirGrid. It is a 2010 publication from the Government’s Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser, which was hosted on our website along with other research and documents as part of our commitment to provide information on electric and magnetic fields to the public.
An error in the report was brought to our attention in 2011, which we raised with the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser. They amended the report and we subsequently amended the version on our website.
Recently a number of other criticisms have been brought to our attention regarding the report. We are writing to the Office of the Chief Scientific Adviser to raise this issue with them and while awaiting clarification of the report, we will be taking it down from our website.”
That the 2010 Report was not an official government Report was confirmed by Mr Emmet Fahy of the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government on 8 May 2014. Again, the bold is mine:
“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, the Department has not undertaken its own research on the effects of EMF and has not engaged scientific expertise to carry out such research. Bearing this in mind the Department is not in a position to express a view on the comparative safety of underground or overhead transmission.”
And then, on 21 May 2014, Eddie Kiernan, Private Secretary to the then Minister Hogan responded to the same query as follows. Again, the bold is mine:
“Requests for more information on the authors of the ‘Review of Recent Investigations into the Possible Health Effects of Exposure to Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) from Power Lines’, should be directed to Eirgrid, who commissioned the study. However, the conclusions of the report were consistent with the worldwide scientific consensus on the health risks associated with EMF.”
You will remember that, in his communication previously quoted, Mr Moran admitted that EirGrid were made aware in 2011 of a serious error in the 2010 Report and they felt it necessary to retract that version of the document in 2011. One must assume that the serious error to which Mr Moran refers is the misquote and the conclusion based on that misquote (unless there was an even more serious error than that – which is a scary thought). However, the original faulty version of the document remained in circulation on the EirGrid website up to and possibly beyond May 2014.
Not only that, but after 2011 EirGrid officials continued to appear on national TV, radio and newspapers where they continued to make the claim that electric lines were ‘completely safe’.
For example, Mr Fintan Slye, the CEO of EirGrid, appeared on the TV programme “Prime Time” on 29 November 2013, and after assuring the audience (and viewers) that transmission lines were completely safe, he said:
“as recently as 2010, the Office of the Chief Scientist stated that it is simply not possible that at these power levels for transmission lines to cause cancer”.
In summary, and based on the representations of EirGrid and governmental officials, the following can be stated:
• The last Government Report on the dangers of EMF and childhood leukaemia was released in 2007 which confirmed that there was a danger and that new lines should be kept away from populated areas.
• EirGrid commissioned a Report in 2010 from the Chief Scientific Adviser.
• This was not an official Government Report (i.e. it was not released by a governmental department with the consent of the Minister of that department).
• The 2010 Report was discovered to be fundamentally flawed and methodologically unsound, in particular it contained a quotation that reversed the conclusion of its source document.
• This was brought to the attention of EirGrid in 2011 who undertook to contact the CSA and remove the faulty document from their website.
• The removal of the faulty 2010 Report from the EirGrid website only took place half way through this year.
• At the end of last year the CEO of EirGrid appeared on national television and after reassuring the public as to the absolute safety of the power lines, referred to the 2010 Report and repeated the faulty conclusion in that Report.
The very first entry in the Engineers Ireland Code of Ethics is as follows:
“1.1 Members shall behave with integrity and objectivity in their relationships with colleagues, clients, employers, employees and with society in general.”
Mr Slye is a member of Engineers Ireland. On 7 June 2014 a complaint was made by a member of the community group Carigeen Against Pylons to the Ethics & Disciplinary Board of Engineers Ireland against him and others for making the above statement and similar statements on national TV, radio and newspapers, namely that the 400kV lines were completely safe and posed no health risk whatsoever.
Mr John Power, the Secretary of the Ethics & Disciplinary Board of Engineers Ireland responded to the complaint on 1 July 2014. My bold:
“On the basis of what has been submitted, the Ethics & Disciplinary Board feel that Mr. John Lowry, Mr. Brendan Murray and Mr. Fintan Slye have no case to answer.”