Debate Over Power Lines and Health Risks Part One 

Central Maine Power began the Maine Power Reliability Program in 2009 and they expect it to be completed this year. It’s a massive $1.5 billion project that CMP estimates will create 2,100 jobs and inject more $1 billion into the Maine economy.

But some people who live along the route where the project is being done are not happy with how close this power system upgrade is coming to their homes.

They think the project poses a possible risk to the public’s health. A claim the CMP flatly and emphatically denies.

Wanda Curtis of Chelsea has been fighting a battle with CMP since she found out three years ago they were about to begin work on a power line project near her home. Her concerns centered around the reported links between electro-magnetic fields (EMF) coming from high voltage power lines and diseases such as childhood leukemia.

Curtis says just before CMP embarked on a project near her home, a representative from CMP was knocking on doors in her neighborhood handed out booklets. Those booklets called the association between EMF and childhood leukemia “weak.” Curtis wasn’t convinced and set out on a quest for answers. What she found was startling to her.

“I think it’s a public health crisis,” she said.

I spoke with Dr. David Carpenter from the University of Albany, who’s considered an expert in the field and has advised the Maine Legislature on the subject.

“I think the evidence for cancer in children is just overwhelming if they are exposed to magnetic fields from power lines.”

Electro magnetic fields are measured in milligauss. Carpenter says there is strong evidence that high voltage lines close to homes, putting off levels of 4-milligauss or more can cause health issues, but as a public health physician, he’s concerned about anything over 2-milligauss.

Curtis says it took five months for her and other Chelsea residents to get CMP estimates on EMF levels. They were told the approximate levels in Chelsea would be 100-200 milligauss in the corridor and 3.4-to-5 at the homes along the way. Chelsea residents have tried unsuccessfully to get something done to mitigate those levels.

“Especially because the lines go right through the front yards of two home where children live and very close to other homes along the corridor where other children live,” Curtis said.

In Windsor, CMP is putting in a new substation that has some residents there upset.

“Would you like that in your backyard? Of course it’s gonna definitely drop the value of your house big time,” said Windsor resident Barbara Sproul.

But property values are the least of Sproul’s problems. Sproul is a cancer survivor and suffers from Lupus. She was told by her doctor to avoid radiation at all costs.

“When I had cancer, I had to take triple-chemo because I couldn’t have radiation because radiation would kill me,” she said.

The Sprouls live roughly 800 feet from the new substation and says CMP has yet to tell her what the EMF levels will be. Sproul said CMP offered to take readings before construction began and after construction was completed but she thought that was “pointless.”

Gail Rice, a spokesperson for CMP tells us the substation being built near Sproul’s home is across the street from the existing substation, but didn’t know what the EMF levels were at the current substation or what they’d be at the new facility. However, she did give us some insight on why those numbers may not be that important to CMP.

“There has been no scientific evidence that indicates that EMF causes any adverse health effects,” Rice said.

But, when CMP was getting the approval of the Public Utilities Commission for their project, the PUC stipulated that:

“CMP will take all reasonable steps to mitigate EMF consistent with the World Health Organizations recommendations…”

A chart submitted as part of public testimony by CMP shows areas where CMP thought EMF levels were high, greater than 10 milligauss according to their own chart, which also indicated where they’d taken measures to reduce those levels. Why would CMP try to lower EMF levels if they don’t see them as a threat?

“If a mitigation can be done in a cost effective manner, then it could be worth doing,” Rice said.

CMP has also spent more than $1 million to lower EMF levels coming from power lines in yarmouth and berwick…this has residents in chelsea and windsor shaking their heads…

“If they are spending money to mitigate in those areas and bring the levels down below 3-4 milligauss, why would they leave levels of 100-200 in milligauss in the Chelsea corridor and levels of 200-300 milligauss in Windsor?”

Part two of this series will be posted soon.