17. "High Voltage: Hazards Over Our Heads"

Several scientific studies have shown that the electromagnetic fields that surround high voltage (HV) power lines have adverse effects on humans, plants, and animals. HV lines are those whose voltages are 500kV-765kV and higher; normal power lines carry 138kV-230kV. The effects linked with these fields include: increased irritability, fatigue and headaches; higher cholesterol levels; hypertension; tremors of extremities; hyperhidrosis (extreme sweating); ulcers; possibly reduced sperm counts in humans and reproductive problems in farm animals; malfunctioning pacemakers; abnormal growth patterns in crops; and changes in reaction times. Substantial electrical shocks from large metal objects near the lines, such as tractors or school buses, is another potential problem.

Studies of people working in such electric fields in the Soviet Union led the Soviet government to set standards strictly limiting the exposure of workers to the fields. In the United States, power companies say that HV lines are safe and encourage people to use the surrounding right-of-ways for farming and recreation. In the USSR the HV right-of-ways are off limits. Some of the research indicates that the fields around HV lines can affect people a mile away.

The dangers of HV lines is far from being an isolated problem affecting a few people scattered here and there. There are already 1400 miles of HV lines in operation in the Mid-Western U.S., 2500 miles operating in Quebec, a HV direct current line (the rest are alternating current) between Oregon and Los Angeles, and more being planned.

The media's failure to publicize this hazard to a large number of Americans as well as the government's inadequate standards qualifies this story for nomination as a "best censored" story of 1978.

SOURCES:

Environment, May, 1978, p. 16, "Danger: High Voltage," by Louise B. Young.

Environment, November, 1978, p. 6, "High Voltage Lines: Danger at a Distance," by Andrew Marino and Robert 0. Becker.

Sierra Club Bulletin, July/August, 1978, p. 23, "Health and High Voltage," by Kelly Davis.

Santa Rosa News Herald, February 7, 1979, p. 23, "Watts it to You?," by Steve Hellman.