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Substations don’t belong near homes

Marilee Swirczek

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

– Edmund Burke

Sierra Pacific is at it again.

Despite objections from Carson City residents, Sierra Pacific officials continue their plans to build a substation in a residential neighborhood.

They have “capitulated” on a couple of points: Instead of pushing six transmission lines through the neighborhood and near a school and businesses, they will bury the first three lines. They will sink the substation a few feet into the ground, move it 45 feet away from fence lines instead of 30 feet, and they will build a 12-foot wall around it, instead of an 8-foot wall.

Better, but not good enough.

For starters, why did they wait so long to “capitulate?” The substation and transmission lines have been in the planning stages for years. Sierra Pacific knew neighborhood residents would object, so why didn’t they engineer these “changes” into the plan to begin with? Could these “capitulations” simply be tasty treats thrown to residents to get them off Sierra Pacific’s corporate back?

The substation is the real issue here; it should not be built anywhere near residences, schools or businesses. Period.

Why am I so suspicious of Sierra Pacific’s corporate strategies? As it did in 1987, Sierra Pacific once again assures us that there is “no correlation” between serious illnesses and electromagnetic fields (EMFs), and that research linking cancers and immune-related diseases to EMFs is “inconclusive.”

But time has not stood still since 1987: Government research – state and federal, as well as abroad, including Japan, the UK, Canada, Australia, the Netherlands, Brussels, Switzerland and Spain – has continued. Independent, university-based research has continued.

You do not have to be a scientist to locate and read the studies. Here’s a sample, and there are many more:

– “Epidemiological associations between electric or magnetic fields and childhood leukemia have made power frequency fields a suspected risk factor” (Brain et al, 2003).

– A childhood study reported an increase in leukemia incidence for residences within 100 meters of high-voltage transmission lines (Feychting and Ahlbom: “Magnetic Fields and Cancer in Children Residing near Swedish High-Voltage Transmission Lines,” 1993).

– Exposure to EMF fields might make other carcinogens more effective in causing cancer, particularly breast and skin cancer (Foster et al, 1997).

– A Taiwan study shows an association between adult cancer and residence near transmission lines (Li et al, 1997).

– An international panel of 30 scientists, using International Agency for Research on Cancer criteria, concluded that exposure to electromagnetic fields is a “possible” human carcinogen: “The associations reported for childhood leukemia and adult chronic lymphocytic leukemia cannot be dismissed easily as random or negative findings” (1998).

– “The possibility remains that prolonged exposures to magnetic fields can increase the risk of leukemia in children” (UK National Radiation Protection Board).

– EMFs can cause some degree of increased risk of childhood leukemia, adult brain cancer, Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS) and miscarriage (California Department of Health Services, 2002).

Muddying the scientific waters, of course, are the differences in reporting due to different methods of exposure assessment. Thus Sierra Pacific can always produce (and pay for) studies to refute the idea of association/causative links between EMFs and life-threatening diseases; others can come up with studies to support association/causative links.

And that is precisely the point.

As long as Sierra Pacific throws a few bones to residents and keeps the Board of Supervisors distracted with discussions about aesthetics and conflicting scientific data, the board cannot address the real issue – the substation. Our supervisors do not have to sit as a scientific body evaluating the validity of hundreds of studies. They do not have to roll over and play dead. But they do have the responsibility to protect our health, safety and welfare.

How can they allow Sierra Pacific, an obviously biased entity, to decide what is safe or not safe?

It is in Sierra Pacific’s interest to downplay the health issues. It’s expensive to bury, or better yet, to move a substation. Research is ongoing that eventually will either prove or disprove a causative link between electromagnetic fields and diseases that kill people. Until then, I am not willing to offer up my children or my neighbor’s children as guinea pigs.

Other governments have set precedence in this area: In 1996, for example, the Swedish government decided “Where new electrical installations and buildings are concerned, efforts should be made at the planning stage to design and position them in such a way that exposure is limited.”

At the very least, we expect our supervisors to use common sense. Remember those above-ground nuclear tests in the ’50s? Remember how people sat on their front porches to watch the explosions? Remember the soldiers who stood in trenches, thinking they were safe, while they witnessed the detonations first-hand?

We don’t do that anymore, do we?

We don’t use lead-based paint, and we don’t insulate with asbestos anymore, either. We know better now.

I applaud Supervisor Pete Livermore’s efforts on behalf of his constituents, but I urge the entire Board of Supervisors to insist that leaving the substation near a residential neighborhood is not acceptable. We simply do not know enough yet to take a chance with people’s health.

Sierra Pacific says it is not cost effective to move or bury the substation. I submit that it is not cost effective, nor is it decent or moral, to bury people instead.

Marilee Swirczek has lived in Carson City since 1977. She was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1986.