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Answers differ on transformers and health concerns

By KJ Mullins     Apr 19, 2011 in Environment
Could two transformers in Ontario be the root of health concerns? That's the question posed by a family during a recent article. How likely is it that those concerns can be linked to TransAlta's substation near Orangeville?
The answers are confusing. Some experts believe that health concerns are an issue while others sway the other way.
In July 2010 NHMRC released their public statement on this issue. They cited that there is no published scientific evidence to support adverse effects of wind turbines on health. During the study of three United Kingdom wind farms that health concerns such as annoyance, anxiety, hearing loss, and interference with sleep, speech and learning were not caused by the turbines. However it was noted that "if people are worried about their health they may become anxious, causing stress related illnesses which are genuine health effects arising from their worry."
There was also the question of health impacts of wind turbines focus on infrasound, electromagnetic radiation, shadow flicker and blade glint raised. Currently the evidence is not there to link these issues with adverse health effects but it is to be noted that evidence at the current time is limited.
Tests conducted during 2004 at the Windrush Energy installation in Toronto found that the magnetic fields produced by the generation and export of electricity from the Windrush wind turbine does not pose a threat to public health.
Minnesota Department of Health, Environmental Health Division prepared: Public Health Impacts
of Wind Turbines
in May 2009. The report noted that the noise produced by wind turbines is not a major concern beyond a half mile. The NRC also notes that effects of low frequency (infrasound) vibration (less than 20 Hz) on humans are not well understood, but have been asserted to disturb some people.
"While vestibular system activation is not directly felt, activation may give rise to a variety of sensations: vertigo, as the eye muscles make compensatory adjustments to rapid angular motion, and a variety of unpleasant sensations related to internal organs. In fact, the vestibular system interacts extensively with the “autonomic” nervous system, which regulates internal body organs (Balaban and Yates, 2004). Sensations and effects correlated with intense vestibular activation include nausea and vomiting and cardiac arrhythmia, blood pressure changes and breathing changes."
WHO has stated that "there is little confirmed experimental evidence that ELF magnetic fields can affect human physiology and behaviour at field strengths found in the home or environment. Exposure of volunteers for several hours to ELF fields up to 5 mT had little effect on a number of clinical and physiological tests, including blood changes, ECG, heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature. "
quotes two experts about electromagnetic fields:
Dr. David Carpenter, Dean at the School of Public Health, State University of New York believes it is likely that up to 30% of all childhood cancers come from exposure to EMFs. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) warns "There is reason for concern" and advises prudent avoidance".
Martin Halper, the EPA's Director of Analysis and Support says "I have never seen a set of epidemiological studies that remotely approached the weight of evidence that we're seeing with EMFs. Clearly there is something here."
Health Canada states that The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has evaluated the scientific data and has classified ELF magnetic fields as being "possibly carcinogenic" to humans. IARC based this classification on the following:
* human health population studies showing weak evidence of an association with childhood leukemia; and
* a large database of laboratory study results showing inadequate evidence of an association with cancer in animals.
They also note that research has shown that EMFs from electrical devices and power lines can cause weak electric currents to flow through the human body. However, these currents are much smaller than those produced naturally by your brain, nerves and heart, and are not associated with any known health risks.
Magda Havas, PhD, a researcher in the department of environmental and resource studies at Trent University in Ontario has published several studies on the subject. One study found that when schools installed filters to clean up transients, two-thirds of teachers reported improvement in symptoms that had been plaguing them, including headache, dry eye, facial flushing, asthma, skin irritation, and depression.
As to whether or not science has proven that there are health risks debate goes on as witnessed in the comments at concerning the Orangeville family. Both sides of the issue hold firm to their stand. The answers may seem for some clear cut but the final answers will only come in time when time and research catch up to each other.
More about Transformers, Public health, EMFs, Health risks