12 May 2000

HIGH-VOLTAGE

HEALTH-RISK?

Campaigners opposed to

plans for a new 400,000V

power line through the Vale

of York say their fears about

the health risks associated

with high voltage lines

have been vindicated by the

latest research from the

University of Bristol.

Robin Cradock reports

NORTHALLERTON NFU branch secretary Peter Edmonds is alarmed at the high incidence of fatal cancers he has uncovered in a small part of his North Yorkshire branch area His territory covers a five mile radius around the town, but in one part of that area he has identified nine cases of soft-tissue cancer in farmers and their families who have lived or worked close to high voltage lines.

The line in his patch is close to fewer than 20 houses, making the incidence of cancer particularly striking.

Now his concerns have been supported at the other end of the country by two pieces of research from the University of Bristol showing that people living near or working close to power lines may face an increased risk of disease. The results may explain the known association between living near power lines and an increased risk of leukaemia.

The Bristol team carried out 2000 experimental observations in a number of sites in open fields near Bristol. Power line cables collect dirt, which cases them to emit corona ions. These corona ions can cause harmful airborne pollutant particles to become charged with electricity. Measurements show they can then be carried by the wind for distances up to 500m.

The electrical charge carried by the particles increases the way in which they are retained internally by the body when inhaled. Since the particles carry cancer-causing and disease-causing agents, the risk of disease is increased, the Bristol researchers concluded.

Original fears

Mr Edmonds original fears were brought into sharp relief by plans by National Grid to build a new high-voltage line from Teesside to the outskirts of York. Some Northallerton branch members are now so concerned about this scheme that they plan to sell up and move to safer locations.

Mr Edmonds has written to the Department of Health and the North Yorkshire Area Health Authority calling for a study into the issue, as well as making representations to the NFU regionally and nationally in the hope that the network of NFU group secretaries can be used to draw up information.

Mr Edmonds first raised his concerns about health issues a decade ago when the plans for the new line were first put forward. But, he says, at that time no-one would take any notice, or even listen.

The NFU did oppose the plan for the new 400kV line at a public inquiry in 1991, but mainly on agronomic issues, in particular the difficulties posed to spreading of slurry and irrigation.

At that enquiry evidence of possible dangers to public health were presented from work done in both America and Sweden. It was as a consequence of this that Mr Edmonds started to ask questions of relatives recently bereaved.

Lynn Almond is a widow who today runs the egg farm she used to occupy with her husband Harry up to his death on July 21, 1994. He and his brother Alan both died of rare brain tumours, Harry at 47 and Alan at 49.

As boys they planted and picked potatoes in the square forming the base of pylons for a high voltage line which ran across their fathers farm. As Mrs Almond explains, "Harrys dad didnt want to waste land so he cultivated the fields and then planted potatoes in the bases. While the boys picked them they would play around putting forks in the ground and watch them quivering in the force field.

A long time

"Harry didnt talk about it much. But, although it took a long time to find out what was wrong with him, when he was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 45, the specialist said it had been developing for more than 15 years."

In another case the wife of a local pig fattener told Mr Edmonds how her brother had died at the age of 23 from Hodgkinsons disease. "A quick inspection of the farm showed no signs of any power lines, but then she told me they had moved to the farm from Yarm, a few miles to the north. There, the same power line we have here crossed the end of their garden and her brother would regularly play underneath it."

Another local farmer who has a power line on his land lost his son at the age of 21. "When I asked about it he thought that because the boy had been at boarding school he would not be affected. But he then recalled that before school-age and in the holidays he would play on the farm around the power line."

National Grid disputes the need for further research into this particular issue, saying the United Kingdom Childhood Cancer Study showed there was no risk of leukaemia in children resulting from powerlines.

Whilst accepting that the Bristol team had identified that the weight of particles in the air was affected by the existence of power lines, there was no "convincing" evidence of a risk to health. The company has already contributed £4m towards the independent survey which had a total budget of £11m.

Peter Edmonds (second from left) with local farmers close to where the proposed new 400,000V Teesside-to-York power line will run.

The pub at Jeator Houses is just a few feet from the existing 120ft line. The adjoining bungalow has suffered two deaths and the father is currently dying of cancer.