Information on the health effects of high-voltage power lines shows conflicting evidence in terms of actual validated effects and whether safety precautions are warranted. The amount of electromagnetic energy produced by power lines can vary depending on how they have been constructed. Determining a safe living distance requires knowing the amount of energy a particular line produces.
The body's cellular processes rely on electrical signals for intracellular communications and the chemical reactions that compose cell metabolism. According to EM Watch, certain levels of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMF) can alter cell activity by producing electrical charges within the body. Exposure level depends on the strength of the fields and the distance between the source and the person. The greater the distance from these fields, the less powerful their effects on body processes. As distance and electromagnetic strength influence overall health risk, few specific regulations exist regarding how far power lines should be placed from residences.
Neighborhood power lines, cell phones, microwaves and computers make up just a few of the devices capable of emitting electromagnetic radiation emissions. The amount of current carried by neighborhood power lines has a bearing on the amount of radiation emitted. Wiring configurations can also affect emission amounts. According to EM Watch, the type of power line suspended between street poles can produce dangerous electromagnetic fields as far out as 30 meters. As power usage amounts can vary during different times of the day, EMF emission distances can also vary according to peak versus average usage levels.
Power Line Testing
Low-frequency EMF meters can be used to determine the amount of electromagnetic radiation coming from nearby power lines. EMF meters can measure emissions at varying distances and at different times of the day. These devices measure radiation in milligaus units, which indicate magnetic field strength. According to EM Watch, a reading of 0.5 milligaus or more falls within dangerous levels of radiation emission. The average neighborhood power line typically generates 0.3 milligaus, which can reach as far as 400 meters away.
According to Harvard Health Publications, 20 years worth of research studies show no actual proof of health risks associated with exposures to power lines. One research study conducted in England examined the effects of EMFs on 83,000 workers within the electricity industry. Results from the study produced no associated health effects from ongoing, everyday exposures. According to the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, another study conducted in England revealed a high incidence of leukemia disorders in children who lived less than 200 meters from power lines. Results from the study were deemed inconclusive as no actual measurements for electromagnetic emissions were taken. In addition, studies like this prove only correlation, not causation; for example, people of lower socioeconomic status tend to suffer from more illness than people of higher socioeconomic status. This could be caused by stress, poor diet, lack of access to quality healthcare, and a number of other factors. If children living near power lines are more poor than children living far from power lines, it could be other factors associated with their socioeconomic status, and not the power lines themselves, that cause the leukemia.
According to Harvard Health Publications, determinations on how far a home should be from high-voltage power lines have proved difficult for researchers to estimate due to all of the possible health outcomes involved and other unknown contributing factors. Possible health outcomes involve testing for all the potential disorders that can result from exposure to EMFs. Also, power line fluctuations throughout the day make it difficult to pinpoint a distance range when determining exposure levels and potential risk.
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