Living Near Power Lines: What Are The Health Impacts?

by | May 6, 2019

I’m sure you’ll agree, the area we live in has an undeniable effect on our health and wellbeing. Many of us recognise that living near to nature has a positive impact on our mental health, among other benefits. Whilst setting up home in the midst of a smog-filled city centre is likely to impact us negatively. Unfortunately, some of the biggest health risks near our homes are not so obvious, such as the risks of living near power lines.

There are numerous studies that link living close to power lines with terrible health conditions and diseases. Sadly cancer is one of them, including childhood leukaemia.

In this blog, I’ll give you all the information you need to understand your risk when living near power lines and steps you can take to reduce this risk.

We’ll cover:

  • What are power lines and why do they exist
  • Why and how do power lines affect our health
  • Living near power lines – how close is too close
  • What you can do to protect yourself and your family

Any questions or concerns at the end, feel free to get in touch for one of my free 20-minute consults and we can talk it through.

What are power lines and why do they exist?

Power lines are simply overhead or underground lines that carry electricity to our homes and businesses. They are sometimes referred to as transmission lines or distribution/street lines depending on their voltage.

The larger higher voltage power lines often span huge steel pylons commonly called “walkers”  whereas the smaller distribution lines usually run between wooden poles, like below:

wooden power lines

In Australia, there are at least 49,000kms of power lines. The high voltage power lines that transmit electricity long distances range anywhere from 33kV to 500kV. Whereas those that distribute electricity around smaller areas usually have lower voltages.

Electric current is sent through the power grid via these high-voltage transmission lines to a substation in your area. At substations, the voltage is reduced and distribution lines carry the electricity to your home.

Within communities, the voltage is decreased further using step-down transformers located on the top of poles or inside metal boxes for safe home use at 230V.

Needless to say, where there is electrical power, you will have power lines.

Why and how do power lines affect our health?

Given that power lines carry electricity and, hence, current, they understandably generate electric and magnetic fields known as low-frequency electromagnetic fields (EMF).

Whilst relatively high AC electric fields from power lines and home electrical wiring can certainly have an adverse effect on the body, it is AC magnetic fields that have been studied the most for their impacts on health.

The first real evidence of biological effects from low-frequency EMF came about in 1979 when Wertheimer & Leeper found that children who lived in homes close to high voltage transmission lines (and home wiring), where the electromagnetic fields were stronger (greater than 3mG) were twice as likely to develop childhood leukaemia. The correlation was also much stronger for children who had lived their whole lives in the same home. Note: magnetic fields are measured in milliGauss (mG) or microtesla.

Over the thirty years that have followed many more studies have come to similar conclusions, some of which I summarise below and reference at the end of this blog.

In 1993, Feychting and Ahlbom reported a higher relative risk of 2.7 times for childhood leukaemia and 1.7 times for leukaemia in adults (acute myeloid and chronic myeloid leukaemia) in those exposed to higher electromagnetic field levels (2mG or more), compared with the control group in their study. 

They found the cancer risk grew in proportion to the strength of the electromagnetic field. It was reported that children with constant exposure to the weakest fields (less than 1 mG) had the lowest incidence of cancer. Those exposed to 2 mG had a threefold increase in risk and those exposed to 3 mG had a fourfold increase in the risk of leukaemia.

More recently, in 2000, Ahlbom and Greenland supported these findings, reporting that at 3mG or higher there was double the incidence of childhood leukaemia.

A 2005 study in the British Medical Journal estimated that 1% of childhood leukaemia in the UK is caused by high power transmission lines. 

The same study found there is an association between childhood leukaemia and proximity of home address at birth to high voltage power lines. The study looked at those living within 200m and 200m-600m of a high voltage power line and in both cases, the risk increased.

In 2014 a meta-analysis by Zhao et al., (looking at 11,699 cases and 13,194 controls) also found an increased risk of leukaemia in children exposed to fields of 2mG or higher.

In 2002, as a result of some of these earlier studies, the International Association for Research on Cancer (IARC) and the World Health Organisation (WHO) categorised very low-frequency AC electromagnetic fields as a ‘possible’ Group 2B carcinogen; a cancer-causing substance.

Since the evaluation of IARC, several other epidemiological studies have been published that corroborate the earlier studies and increase the evidence of an association. These were documented in the Bio-Initiative Report 2012.

RELATED: Why Every Home Needs An EMF Meter (& Which One to Buy!)

Now, it has to be said that you can do your own research and you will find many articles and studies that will also conclude there is no link between high AC magnetic fields and illness. When examining these studies I’d ask you to be very mindful of who actually funded these studies. Was it industry or was it independently funded? Furthermore, no number of studies showing there is no effect on human health can negate the fact that there are numerous studies showing there is an effect.

In fact, go to the ARPANSA website – the Australian Government’s regulating authority on radiation protection whose role it is to protect the Australian people and the environment from the harmful effects of radiation –  and you will find the following: There is no established evidence that the exposure to magnetic fields from powerlines, substations, transformers or other electrical sources, regardless of the proximity, causes any health effects. In view of the epidemiological studies, however, the possibility remains that prolonged exposure to higher than typical magnetic fields may increase the risk of leukaemia in children.

How do you know you are being exposed to a higher than the typical field? You won’t unless you measure using a Gauss Meter.

What is a typical level in the home?

From my experience and that of other EMF professionals, it ranges from about 0.5mG to 1mG. Anything above this and you need to be investigating your options to reduce your exposure and in some cases that may even mean moving home.

To reduce your exposure to AC magnetic fields you need to move away from the source.

No paints, no fabric, no crystals or harmonisers will do anything to protect you from power lines or other sources of high AC magnetic fields such as meter boxes or solar inverters.

Many home appliances can also emit high magnetic fields including ovens, fridges, electric sewing machines, light fixtures and lamps. Electrical wiring problems (surprisingly quite common) and stray electrical current on metal pipes can also create high levels.

A problem arises when you are chronically exposed to high levels which may be the case if you sleep on the other side of a meter box or where a power line runs close to your home.

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In light of all the studies that actually show harm to human health from high AC magnetic fields, I think you would be very wise to take the precautionary approach and ensure neither you nor your family lives or works in a high EMF environment.

Based on the research referenced above it is safest to sleep in a bedroom with levels less than 1mG. The levels ARPANSA deems safe? 2000mG.

Whilst much of the focus of research has been on childhood leukaemia many other illnesses and conditions as detailed here are linked to the effects of low-frequency EMF including:

  • Glioma and other brain cancers
  • Male and female infertility
  • Lymphoma Nervous system tumours
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Heart problems

Think you could be living near power lines – how close is too close?

There are guidelines based on scientific research as to how far you should live from powerlines to ensure you are safe.

It’s generally advised, for example, that you should live 600 metres from high-voltage transmission lines. But in some cases, this distance may be much shorter.

For the smaller distribution power lines that run close to your home, a safe distance could be 3 metres or 60 metres. Really, it’s impossible to tell unless you measure.

You might also ask: are underground powerlines safer than overhead? Well, again it depends.

If you live on the ground floor then underground power lines are likely to be closer to you and hence potentially more harmful.

If you live in a two-storey or high rise building overhead power lines may be more harmful.

Apart from being visually a lot more pleasing, underground power lines do have one advantage in that the electric field they emit is usually less than that for an overhead power line as it’s reduced by the surrounding earth. But alas, this does nothing to reduce the AC magnetic field.

There is also research showing that the electric fields from high voltage power lines change the air quality around them creating a magnet for air pollutants. The issue is confounded of course where power lines run along busy roads where air pollution is clearly an issue. The result is an increased risk in asthma and other lung conditions when you live close to these power lines.

I will conclude by saying the more I assess homes the more I find it impossible to generalise. You simply need to measure using your own EMF meter or hire a professional scientist such as myself to do so.

What you can do to protect yourself and your family

As the electricity demand in the neighbourhood fluctuates during the day and night, the levels will vary. For example, at dinner time levels are usually at their worst, as families come home from work or school, and appliances and air conditioning units are switched on. At night time levels may drop off as the neighbourhood comes to a standstill. The latter is critical to your well being.

Most of us spend 7 to 8 hours sleeping in the same spot all night. It’s a critical time to repair and recover and in a high EMF bedroom, this is impossible. EMF disrupts melatonin; the greatest anti-cancer agent we’ve got. Make sure it’s working for you.

The first step you need to take in tackling EMF from power lines and other sources of AC magnetic fields is to actually measure the levels in your home. 

By doing so, you can work out which rooms and times of day need your attention the most when it comes to reducing your exposure.

You can start measuring yourself by purchasing an EMF meter, or you can arrange for an expert in EMF to visit your home and do this for you.

Naturally, with the second option, you’ll receive much more than simple measurements and you’ll certainly relieve yourself of the hassle of figuring out what the readings actually mean!

During the EMF Assessments that I provide, for example, you can expect to receive:

  • An in-person discussion about any potential EMF sensitivities or symptoms
  • Details of the sources of EMF in your home – in non-technical terms!
  • How your recorded levels of EMF compare to the recommended ‘safe’ levels
  • A customised plan and recommendations based on your unique situation
  • A follow-up Troubleshooting EMF report with practical action steps
  • A personalised video that you can share with other family members

If you have concerns about living near power lines please do get in touch for a chat. I can offer you an EMF Assessment whether you live in Perth or not – you can see the different options available here.

Hi, I’m Una. Eco-Lifestyle Coach & Scientist

Una Phelan environmental scientist and eco-lifestyle coach

I create healthy homes and lifestyles that change lives for the better.

When you need straightforward, simple information, I will give it to you. I can cut through the science to give you practical tips for taking charge of your health, your home and workplace.

This means it’s easier for you to get on the right track to an econscious lifestyle.

Whether it’s online or in person, I’ll guide you every step of the way.

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