Reilly letter raises health fears over pylons

As opposition to Eirgrid’s pylon project grows it has emerged the Minister for Health sent a letter to two ministers expressing concern about health risks posed by electromagnetic fields.

At the time, the east-west interconnector was being built through James Reilly’s Rush-based constituency in North County Dublin and was fiercely opposed by Rush Community Council who raised concerns about an association between electromagnetic fields generated by high-voltage power cables and childhood leukaemia.

Similar concerns are being voiced by communities from Cork to Wexford and Kildare as a public consultation process continues into Eirgrid’s planned €500m corridor of pylons, Gridlink. Locals want the 400kV powerlines put underground but Eirgrid say it would add €2bn to the cost.

Dr James Reilly said that “as a doctor and Minister for Health” he was worried about the health risks from such magnetic fields. He cited DCU-based public health expert, Professor Anthony Staines who had said “it is well established that the low frequency magnetic fields increase the risk of acute lymphoblastic leukaemia”.

In the letter to Environment Minister Phil Hogan and Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte he said: “I recognise that this national infrastructure project is important but I can’t ignore the health concerns.”

Anti-pylon groups have accused Minister Rabbitte of disregarding the Dr Reilly’s concerns and also of misleading the Dáil when he stated earlier this month there was no conclusive evidence that “exposure to EMF from power lines or other electrical source is a cause of any long-term adverse effects on human, plant or animal health”.

They pointed to the European Commission’s Scientific Committee which states that “ELF magnetic fields are a possible carcinogen, chiefly based on childhood leukaemia results”. A recent British Journal of Cancer study on childhood leukaemia close to high-voltage powerlines concludes that this study “supports the previous international findings of an increase in Childhood Acute Leukaemia incidence close to VHV-HVOL”.

They says a 2007 Department of Communications report on the effects of electromagnetic fields stated that: “as a precautionary measure future power lines and power installations should be sited away from heavily populated areas to keep exposures to people low. The evidence for 50Hz magnetic fields causing childhood leukaemia is too weak to require re-routing of existing lines, and so these measures should only apply to new lines”.

A Department of Health spokeswoman said: “The letter requests of the ministers how these concerns can be addressed. We are now pursuing any response received from either minister”.


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