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October 26. 2012 12:17AM

Health effects of burying power lines debated

CONCORD — Burying power lines rather than having them above ground could be a health benefit, particularly to children, an emergency room physician told a legislative study committee Thursday.

Dr. Campbell McLaren said he has been studying health effects of electromagnetic field and has come to believe that burying power lines would be preferable to above-ground lines, particularly in the case of co-locating AC and DC lines.

But Dennis A. Pinski, supervisor of health risk assessment at the Department of Environmental Services, said there is no conclusive proof of serious health impact from EMFs and he is not sure that burying the lines might not be more dangerous.

Campbell and Pinski were invited to address the Commission to Study the Feasibility of Establishing Infrastructure Corridors within existing Transportation Rights of way, the so called “361 Commission.”

Since last summer, it has been exploring the feasibility of developing a publicly owned, underground utility right-of-way in the state as an alternative to high power transmission line development.

Maine has such an underground corridor established along Interstate 95 and has a potential customer, the Northeast Energy Link.

The commission was created in response to assertions from Northern Pass that burying the proposed 180-miles of transmission line through the state would be cost-prohibitive. It would prefer to use the 140 miles of existing right-of-way owned by PSNH and move the existing lines over, or co-locating AC and DC lines through some of the project.

McLaren has been an opponent of the Northern Pass and lives in Easton near the existing line. Currently that line only has one type of current, but co-locating alternating current and direct current lines, as is proposed by Northern Pass, create a hybridized line that is more problematic to health, he said.

Profile School in Bethlehem is too close to the existing line being considered for Northern Pass, he contends.

He said there are other schools and homes of children along the line that should be 500 feet from that line.

While he acknowledged there are no conclusive studies, he pointed to studies that suggest a link, particularly with childhood leukemia.

Earlier, the committee heard from a company that lays cable underground all over the world, ABB. Its agents testified there is no detectable electromagnetic field when the lines are buried 3 feet deep.

But Pinksi said he did think it possible and that a person standing on top of a buried line would be at more of a risk than walking under an 85 foot high line.

He agreed, however, with McLaren, who said “The only way to protect ourselves from EMF is to distance ourselves.”

Pinksi said at DES “we are not experts at it but have tried to keep up with the state of scientific literature,” which he said is not conclusive.

The commission is planning to meet Thursday at 1 p.m. in the State House and may conclude with recommendations for legislation in December.

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Paula Tracy may be reached at ptracy@unionleader.com.


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