This section dealt with the impacts of the project on health
The third week of the oral hearing opened with presentations on the impacts on health of the interconnector. The County Monaghan Anti-Pylon Committee told the hearing local residents were terrified about the proposed 400kV line and felt they had been bullied and intimidated by EirGrid.
CMAPC FEARS ABOUT HEALTH ISSUES
Margaret Marron from Corbane, Shantonagh said the fact that the proposed line was going so close to their homes had already had a detrimental impact on their lives. The perceived risk of constant exposure to radiation sent shivers down their spines, she said. They had genuinely held concerns and fears about health issues arising from the planning application.
They knew their property would be devalued; they would not be able to provide (building) sites for their children; it would impact negatively on their work and farming practices; it would produce annoying noise. They were terrified it would affect their own physical health and more especially that of their children. This was the reality of life for people along the proposed route in Co. Monaghan.
They were very angry and felt that they had been bullied, intimidated and treated as second class citizens by EirGrid, she said. Almost 800 submissions to the Planning Board had referenced health as a huge issue. Farming including milking of cows would be totally unsustainable as there was no time frame on the project, no telling what time of year construction would start or finish and a farmer could not do his work without free and unrestricted access to his land.
Margaret Marron said there were a number of families with children with autism living in tranquil rural locations that were in close proximity to the proposed line. The quality of their lives would change irrevocably if the interconnector in its proposed format went ahead, she told the hearing.
Children with autism were highly sensitive to noises such as those emitted from power cables. One parent with a pylon construction site entrance 10 metres from the boundary of her home was absolutely terrified about the possible effect on her child with autism.
EirGrid’s spin doctors and PR consultants had failed miserably over the past eight years to assuage people’s concerns and fears regarding exposure to electromagnetic fields, a feature of the overhead high voltage power lines.
There were many landowners in the Monaghan area who were fitted with implanted medical devices (pacemakers) who worked in the open air and would have to work under and around the power line. This seemed to be potentially a serious health risk and EirGrid had just swept it under the carpet.
She said the committee believed that an EirGrid commitment not to place an overhead line within 40 metres of a dwelling house as a precautionary measure was simply not good enough. She hoped EirGrid would comply with any new pylon policy and siting guidelines that were currently being drawn up by the Department of Environment, which is updating a report published in 2007. The project is due to be completed this year.
The EirGrid CEO Fintan Slye had said he personally “would have no issue living next to a pylon” because he knows “it is technically safe and I have no problem with that” (December 2013). If that was the attitude of the CEO then it was no wonder all health concerns had been totally dismissed by EirGrid, the CMAPC representative said.
She concluded: “He is entitled to his view, the same as anyone else, but I can assure this hearing that it is not the view of CMAPC or of the landowners, residents and communities that we represent”.
Padraig O’Reilly said there had been no stakeholder input on the routing of this major new power line, despite a recommendation in the March 2007 report to the Environment Department by an expert group on health effects of electromagnetic fields. In the contention of the North East Pylon Pressure Campaign the application sought to impose wholly unacceptable and unnecessary risks on local communities in Meath, Cavan, Monaghan, Armagh and Tyrone.
He claimed EirGrid had failed to provide the Planning Board with an objective analysis of the documented risks relating to electromagnetic fields and high voltage power lines. Because EirGrid had failed even to consider mitigation against any of the risk factors, it left no option for the Board but to refuse the application.
MEATH COUPLE OUTLINE HEALTH RISKS
A County Meath couple claimed the cancer they were diagnosed with had been brought on by living “in a toxic environment” beneath a high-power voltage power line for over three decades. Paula and Mike Sheridan used to live at Curraghtown, near Dunshaughlin, in a house that is 35 metres from a 400kv high voltage line from Moneypoint running directly above their back garden towards a sub-station nearby at Woodland. Both of them were diagnosed with different types of cancer in recent years and have now moved to rented accommodation. Mrs Sheridan who is a medical scientist raised her concerns about the impact on health of electromagnetic fields.
She said they believed there was a connection between their ill health and their long-term exposure over thirty years to such high levels of an electromagnetic field. During all their suffering, the response from EirGrid had been appalling, they said. The company’s attitude along with the ESB during this sad and stressful period was to ignore and dismiss their concerns. This was despite a visit to their home by a senior EirGrid representative in August 2013 when the couple raised all their health issues.
EIRGRID REPLIES ON EMF FIELDS
EirGrid said there was an absence of any proven harm from electromagnetic fields. International experts brought in by the power transmission company explained that the scientific consensus was that there was no credible way to explain how electromagnetic fields could cause cancer. The overall results of scientific research on this issue did not confirm this fear, or explain how it could happen, according to EirGrid.
Dr William Bailey, one of two scientific consultants brought in from the United States, is an expert in applying assessment methods to environmental and occupational health issues. He explained how it was useful to understand the role of scientific research about electromagnetic fields and health. He said EMF fields could not reasonably be taken to be a carcinogen. He pointed out there was a difference between health hazards (such as being hit by a car) and health risks and the terms had to be used correctly. Along with Dr Gabor Mezei a senior managing scientist with over 25 years’ experience in health research, they set out to answer some of the points raised by the Sheridans.
EirGrid’s explanation in its supporting documentation is that electric and magnetic fields, or EMFs, are present in both natural and man-made environments. People everywhere are exposed to EMFs wherever they live. EirGrid says it operates the transmission grid to stringent safety standards set by national and European regulators. They set guidelines on the maximum amount of EMFs that the infrastructure can emit, and we work well within these limits.
EirGrid acknowledges that the issue of EMFs is an emotive and contentious one, powered by fears about health that are strongly held by some people. The company says some people fear that EMFs cause cancer. However, the overall results of scientific research on this issue do not confirm this fear, or explain how it could happen, according to the company. The concern that electric power lines may cause childhood cancer arose in 1979. It started with a single epidemiological study. Since then, many large-scale studies have investigated this initial finding. These studies have not convinced health authorities that EMFs are a cause of cancer, EirGrid points out.