Public worried about adverse health impacts
By PATRICK BLAIS
WOBURN – Local officials and citizens alike recently expressed grave concerns about possible adverse health effects from magnetic fields emitted from Eversource’s proposed 345,000 volt transmission line project.
During a recent gathering in City Hall, the City Council caught its first glimpse of the utility company’s likely final route for the high-voltage conduit, which the electricity distributor intends to bury under various local roadways around Horn Pond and by Washington Street and Montvale Avenue in East Woburn.
“I know there’s a lot of questions about what a typical construction project looks like for an underground transmission line. Safety is a top priority,” said Chad Roland, a project manager from Eversource.
Ultimately, with Eversource’s public health and electromagnetic field (EMF) expert absent from the introductory hearing, the City Council continued its deliberations until March 20.
Various citizens attending the public hearing challenged Eversource’s contention the project will pose no risk to citizens through constant exposure to EMF being emitted from the 345KV lines.
One such resident was Brian Carpenter, a Washington Street resident whose home is situated within 300-feet of the proposed line.
According to Carpenter, he had researched EMF exposure at length during proceedings over the past two years before the Mass. Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB), which earlier this week, was expected to finalize a decision that grants state permits approving the project route and exempting the petitioners from having to adhere to some local zoning bylaws within the impacted communities.
As the Washington Street resident explained, EMF levels resulting from the high-voltage line, and especially from the 10 “splicing” vaults spaced across the entire 8.5-mile project route, were a source of contention during the EFSB proceedings.
In particular, community leaders from Stoneham and Winchester urged the state board to mandate the use of a more advanced protective sheath around the lines to create a stronger shield from EMF emissions.
“I’ve been following this project since the beginning. I share the concerns about health issues, and I know there was other technology that was suggested to reduce the EMF. That was rejected by Eversource,” said Carpenter, who was a “limited intervenor” during the EFSB case.
“I think these health concerns are legitimate. I don’t think anyone in this room, including those from Eversource, would want this 30 feet from their house. I have my granddaughter at my house every day,” he added.
The debate over EMF exposure stems from a number of scientific studies which examine a potential link between electromagnetic fields and childhood leukemia clusters. Some research also indicates close proximity and prolonged exposure to elevated EMF can cause health problems that include nausea, inner-ear balance and vertigo issues, vomitting, and poor cognitive performance.
Though in the United States there is no official government guidelines regarding safe EMF levels, the World Health Organization (WHO) has acknowledged the findings of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiatation Protection (ICNIRP), which concludes acute exposure to static EMF above 400 microTesla (mT) can be harmful for humans.
According to Thomas Gerety, an accountant who lives at 43 Washington St., he has unearthed evidence that EMF levels by a proposed vault at Leland Park will exceed WHO standards.
Gerety, referencing a report from Eversource’s EMF consultant, urged the City Council to hit the pause button on the permit request, so city officials can examine the findings for themselves.
“He does admit we’ll exceed the World Health Organization thresholds,” said the East Woburn resident. “The doctor himself along with the World Health Organization agrees this causes childhood leukemia cancer. Does that sound familiar?”
“We’re going to spray Leland Park with higher EMFs. The surrounding communities got together and hired their own EMF experts,” he added. “Everyone should just huddle up and say, ‘[Let’s] stop for a breather’, just so everyone can get a handle on the science.”
This Wednesday, the state’s EFSB was slated to vote on a tentative decision that approves the scope of the work and settles a final route for the high-voltage cable.
In that tentative decision, which is 173-pages long, presiding case officer Robert Shea conceded a growing volume of scientific research on health effects from EMF exposure has contributed to an ongoing debate about the construction of high-voltage power lines.
However, Shea, citing the fact the WHO remains unconvinced about the link between EMF and childhood cancer, explains the EFSB tries to balance public demands for uniform safety standards against mitigation that would create extreme financial hardships for utility companies.
“A number of historical studies appeared to show a statistical association between residential distances from transmission lines and human health effects,” wrote Shea, whose proposed decision was released on Feb. 14. “However, the WHO has stated the evidence for a casual relationship between magnetic field exposure and childhood leukemia is limited.”