Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Beauly–Denny pylons: writing to the Minister

Following October's story on this, I wrote to the Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism for clarification on the relative risk issue.
In your capacity as Energy Minister I am interested in your views on how a power line can be authorised and not undergrounded in a heavily populated area, even though the relative risk of childhood leukaemia in areas close to high voltage power lines can be up to 4 (compared with relative risks of lung cancer and heart disease resulting from exposure to secondary smoke commonly given as 1.2–1.3, yet is held to be dangerous enough to justify a comprehensive smoking ban).
In the Minister's reply (written by a Government officer) I was told that Ministers don't have the authority to order a power line to be laid underground. Their powers are limited to overhead lines.

Regarding the risks to residents of an overhead pylon, the Government has taken advice from the Health Protection Agency (a UK body), and 'their view accords with that of the World Health Organisation [no less!] – that despite extensive research, there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low level Electro Magnetic Fields (EMF) is harmful to human health'. [emphasis added]

Well, that's very interesting, as the relative risk of childhood leukaemia from exposure to power lines is over three times higher than the risk of lung cancer from secondary smoke. 'Extensive research' in this case shows this to be a risk so unacceptable as to leave everyone terrified of secondary smoke exposure.

The letter didn't comment on secondary smoke exposure or the smoking ban. I've written again tonight:
Thank you for the reply to my email (reference xxxx) from Gemma Gallacher. 
Her final paragraph stated:
'Naturally the health of the Scottish people is of major importance to Scottish Ministers and consent would not have been granted to the application were they not utterly confident that residents along the route of the line will not be threatened.'
She did not contest the basis of my letter, that relative risks of leukaemia in persons exposed to high voltage lines rise up to four times the risk to non-exposed persons, while the risk of lung cancer to persons exposed to secondary smoke run at around 1.2 times the risk to non-exposed persons.
According to Gemma's letter the government is 'utterly' confident' that the risk to persons exposed to leukaemia (generally children) is negligible to non-existent – while the risk to those exposed to secondary smoke, although much smaller, is considered so unacceptable as to merit a smoking ban in adult venues. I've asked the Minister to comment, but it may be a month or so before he does so.

Maybe I should ask the World Health Organisation too. How do they come to the view that a relative risk of 4 is not dangerous, when a lower relative risk is responsible for this carnage?


Unknown said...

A good point well made Belinda and I await an answer that makes sense, but I won't hold my breath.

Keep up the pressure though.

Great post.

Kin_Free said...

"... relative risk of childhood leukaemia from exposure to power lines is over three times higher than the risk of lung cancer from secondary smoke."

Correct me if I'm wrong Belinda, but doesn't a RR 1.3 equate to a 30% increased risk while RR4.0 is a 300% increased risk - That means it is TEN times greater risk. No?

Belinda said...

You are right Kin_Free: glad I didn't put that in the Minister's letter! Thanks.

snore stop said...

Thanks for your valuable contribution!

Anonymous said...

There seems to be evidence that the IAEA has a veto on WHO research and activities regarding cancer and radioactivity (eg here. I am not in to conspiracy theory
but , if true, it does limit the scope for the WHO to find out what is really going on even if it wanted too. And let's not forget that the WHO will not employ smokers as a matter of policy - hardly an objective stance.