Do Powerlines Near Homes and Schools Pose a Risk?

The precautionary principle be damned: kids can play all they want under power lines, according to some medical doctors in positions of power.

“It is Health Canada’s position there is no compelling scientific evidence that Electromagnetic Fields (EMF) in living and school environments, regardless of locations from power transmission lines, cause ill health such as cancer,” says a report submitted by Health Canada to the Environmental Assessment Office in British Columbia that is reviewing a proposal to upgrade power lines near Vancouver that pass over 147 residences, schools and parks.

Despite this report, even Health Canada has suggested the precautionary principle should be used in this instance and wherever possible.

But the chief medical officer for Vancouver thinks the precautionary principle should be abandoned and, basically, people just need to relax.

“I’ve been following this thing for my 35 years in public health and there is no real danger,” said Dr. John Blatherwick. “Everybody says, ‘Let’s use the precautionary principle,’ but after all these studies, nobody’s been able to find anything. You get tired of people telling you to use the precautionary principle.”

But even the mainstream-medicine focused Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) believes the precautionary principle should be applied in this situation.

“Basically our position is, even though there isn’t a huge basis of evidence, there’s enough to be concerned,” said Barbara Kaminsky, a CCS executive. “Obviously when it comes to children and cancer, this strikes a very emotional chord in the community.”

Power lines across Canada come near to homes, businesses and school yards, and there has been debate for decades as to the health effects of EMFs in these situations. The CCS itself does not purport a link between EMFs and adult or other types of cancers, but it maintains there may be a link between EMFs and childhood leukemia. Studies have, in fact, suggested a link between childhood leukemia and high levels of EMFs, according to one group in Tsawwassen, B.C., opposed to the power line upgrades.

The CCS has advised parents to not let their children play under power lines, and generally people should keep their distance. At the very least, the time children are allowed to play under or near power lines should be limited.

So the question remains: why are power lines allowed to be strung near or above school yards when so much uncertainty over the safety lingers?


Remember when global warming – more accurately known as climate change – was the subject of major debate?

The issue has almost reached a level of acceptance along the lines of tobacco smoke being bad for people. Indeed, those deniers that exist today are starting to look like the tobacco industry executives (and tobacco industry-funded “experts”) that denied tobacco was harmful for decades since the 1950s.

As eminent British journalist George Monbiot puts it regarding climate change deniers: “You must ignore an entire canon of science, the statements of the world’s most eminent scientific institutions, and thousands of papers published in the foremost scientific journals.”

In fact, in an article in September in The Guardian, Monbiot suggests a direct link between the global warming deniers and tobacco-is-bad-for-you deniers. Philip Morris Tobacco, a company that spent suitcases of cash to fund a campaign of disinformation about the ill effect of tobacco, is also apparently helping to fund climate change deniers as well.

“It’s a weird and profoundly disturbing story,” Monbiot writes. “The firm attempted to distract attention from its funding of a campaign to deny the effects of tobacco by funding people to deny climate change as well.”

The strange only gets stranger. What is somewhat uncertain is whether or not much can be done about climate change at this late date. This is the new debate, but few deny the fact that man-made greenhouse gas emissions since the Industrial Revolution are changing our planet.

More and worse natural disasters have been occurring worldwide as a result of carbon dioxide increases of 30 per cent, methane increases of 145 per cent and nitrous oxide increases of 15 per cent since the Industrial Revolution.

Now a move by one of the world’s richest men to fight global warming is hard to find fault with, even amongst the most cynical of environmentalists. Richard Branson, the billionaire behind the Virgin Group, is putting his money down in the hopes that something can indeed be done to fight climate change.

Branson has pledged $3 billion over 10 years coming from the profits from all of Virgin’s transportation companies, which include five airline and train companies. An apt decision given the direct link between the emissions from those airplanes and trains and the climate change he hopes to fight. Branson’s donation as part of former President Bill Clinton’s “Clinton Global Initiative” amounts to the biggest donation ever to the cause, and ties for seventh place for the all time largest donations to any cause.

While the cynical among enviros may decry this move as some sort of publicity stunt, frankly, it’s hard to say anything bad about Branson’s commitment to the planet’s health.


Global climate change is leading to melting of glaciers including the polar ice caps, but at the same time fresh water levels across Canada are in decline. The Fraser River in B.C. has for the last few weeks broken records daily for low water levels, as well as high water temperatures. This situation endangers greatly the world famous salmon runs struggling to survive the warm water and low levels.

And the Great Lakes water levels are just acting weird. Canada and the U.S. have launched a $17.5 million study to figure out why water levels in the upper lakes have reached near-record lows. What’s strange is that usually the levels in all five lakes are correlated, but Lake Ontario and Lake Erie are slightly above normal levels. And Lakes Huron and Michigan are at their lowest levels since the 1960s and Lake Superior is at its lowest since 1926.

Computer models simulating climate change predict the water levels across the lakes should be similar, but there is no explanation for the differing levels.

One possible explanation is that climate change has changed rainfall patterns such that they are lower in the north, greater in the south, according to Ralph Moulton at the Canadian Hydrology Service.

Regardless of why, climate change seems to be the culprit so whatever the Americans are doing, enviros are keen to ensure that Ontario’s coal-fired plants are shut down, energy efficiency measures are heightened and public awareness is kept on red alert.

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