A leading Irish expert on human disease has said there is “reasonable evidence” that high-voltage overhead powerlines increase cancer risk in children — but also warned that car accidents pose a far greater risk.
Exposure to high voltage magnetic fields generated by pylons could lead to an increase of 1% in child deaths from acute lymphoblastic leukaemia, according to Dr Anthony Staines, an epidemiologist and chairman of health systems at Dublin City University.
Each year, some 50 to 60 children die from this type of cancer.
“This would be equal to about one death every 20 or 30 years… and it’s not known what proportion of these deaths would be due to exposure [specifically] from pylons,” Dr Staines said.
“In contrast there are up to 10-20 deaths of children aged one to four each year in road traffic accidents.”
Dr Staines was speaking at a seminar on the EirGrid pylon project organised by MEP Phil Prendergast, whose constituency is in the heart of the planned €400m pylon corridor from Cork to Wexford.
“The costs and benefits of proposed actions need to be weighed together and that is something for people other than me to do. That would be a political decision. I can just present the evidence to date. The intervention does need to be proportionate” he said.
Dr Staines said international academic research had consistently found an increased risk of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia in children exposed to high-voltage electromagnetic fields as created by electrical powerlines.
However, he said there is still not a biological explanation as to what causes this risk to multiply by 1.3-1.4 times and that this gap meant scientists are unable to definitively say one caused the other.
The International Agency for Cancer Research has categorised high-voltage magnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic to humans”. This ranking was “very considered” and “not to be dismissed”, Dr Staines said, as it was a conservative body.
Dr Staines is the medical doctor and academic cited by Health Minister James Reilly when, as reported in the Irish Examiner, he sent a letter to Environment Minister Phil Hogan that cited health concerns around the East-West interconnector.
Meanwhile, Ms Prendergast and Dáil deputy Ann Phelan appeared to distance themselves from Labour Party colleague Pat Rabbitte’s handling of the EirGrid debacle.
The pair came under fire from some of the people attending the Friday night seminar for being part of a Government that is pushing the €400m Gridlink pylon project.
Ms Prendergast called on her constituents “to move beyond personality”.
“This forum here tonight and my work on this is genuine,” she said, adding that she will ask Mr Rabbitte to ensure representatives of the anti-pylon lobby are given the opportunity to meet with the McGuinness Commission when it begins its deliberations on whether an undergrounding of the project is feasible.
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