Welcome to the latest installment in our Healthy Home series, where I explore how where we live can impact our emotional, mental, and physical health. I’ve covered a wide variety of topics in the past for this series, including the impact of light pollution, the dangers of buried oil tanks, preparing your home for emergencies, dealing with asbestos or radon in your home, the detrimental implications of commuting and more!
In this edition, I’m going to look at a topic that is a little controversial, and therefore not widely publicized: the possible negative health effects of living near hydro power lines. For years, this topic has sparked controversy between groups that believe the presence of power lines (and the energy fields that they emit) can contribute to poor health, and those that feel that being proximity of power lines doesn't impact humans in any way. Although there has been a great deal of research done over the past three decades, the results, for the most part, don’t conclusively prove any direct correlations... but don't disprove those proposed correlations either.
Power lines - we need their presence in order to be able to enjoy most modern conveniences, but is living in proximity to them hazardous to our health? The answer to this question isn’t clear cut (as there are many conflicting theories), but here is my take, based on my own reading and research.
What Is The Concern With Power Lines?
We encounter radiation from many different sources - and at many different levels - in our daily lives. Higher levels of radiation are easier to measure and quantify, like those emitted by X-Ray machines; we are aware of the hazards of exposure to this type and level of electronic and magnetic radiation, so we only risk it when necessary, and with precautions in place to protect ourselves. But when electronic and magnetic fields produce radiation in lower levels, arguments surrounding the hazards get somewhat murkier.
Power lines are one of the most common (and one of the biggest) producers of these lower level electric magnetic fields (EMF) that are at the centre of the health debate.
However, first, it’s worth pointing out that, every time that you use an appliance or electronic item in your home, you are exposing yourself to EMF radiation. The level of EMF radiation inside your home is typically very low - frequency below 300 hertz - and is usually labeled extremely low frequency (ELF) radiation.
EMF is created when an appliance or electronic item is plugged in. Yes, that's right - even if it isn’t turned on! Electrons are pushed through electrical wires - similar to how water gets pushed through a pipe - creating voltage; the greater the voltage, the higher the electrical field. As the current moving through the wires increases, magnetic fields are created as well. Unlike with electrical fields which are created simply when an appliances is plugged in, magnetic fields need the item to be 'on' or to be active in order to be created.
This article has a lot of good information on how and where EMF are created, as well as an easy-to-digest chart about the electromagnetic spectrum, classifying various items that produce electromagnetic radiation. Key points to take home include the fact that, the closer you are to the source (i.e. the power lines), the higher the exposure, and that metal and other materials can block the transmission of EMF (i.e. buildings, trees, etc.).
According to Health Canada, there is no conclusive evidence that ELF radiation causes health problems; however there are studies that suggest that the presence of ELF radiation is a carcinogen, which we will explore further in the next section.
*Figure originally produced from studies by the World Health Organization
It’s been difficult to determine conclusively the impact of ELF radiation on humans, because there are so many variables present. We are all exposed to varying degrees of ELF radiation at different times and for different durations.
In 2002, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), which is part of the World Health Organization, did research on the influence of ELF magnetic and electric fields separately. They found what they termed as “limited evidence” that ELF magnetic fields create a higher incidence in childhood leukemia, but “inadequate evidence” that they have any effect on the incidence of other kinds of cancer.
Although the research isn’t conclusive, there are a number of scientists and scholarly bodies that vehemently believe that exposure to EMF radiation contributes to several kinds of cancer, reproductive problems, and cardiovascular disease.
Arguably, the only research that has drawn a connection between ELF radiation from magnetic fields and cancer has been for childhood leukemia.
The first study that found that ELF radiation creates higher incidence of childhood leukemia was done in 1979, though there have been a number of studies done afterwards that support this hypothesis. What the studies found was that being within 60m increased the risk factor, which, when speaking of power lines, is almost in your backyard. However, a 2005 UK study showed that living in a home as far away as 600 metres from power lines increased the risk factor substantially - by 69%! The reason the still term it "limited evidence", as the study’s authors point out, is that they can’t determine exactly how the presence of ELF radiation actually creates cancerous cells.
Click here to read “Child Leukemia Again Linked to Power Lines” and decide for yourself!
If exposure where you live is of concern to you, there are things that you can do to mitigate risk. Keep your distance from ELF emitting objects, even within your own home; even an small amount of additional space between you and EMF radiating objects can minimize exposure. If you're interested in measuring the specific fields present in your home, you can use a device called a gauss meter.
In this one minute video, the director of a documentary called 'Power Lines' uses a gauss meter to measure the EMF in a park, where people are playing and working out directly under large hydro lines. The verdict? Not good!
For further tips on avoidance and protection, here are a number of articles that discuss living near power lines and potential health risks. “Is Living Near Power Lines Bad For Our Health?”, “Can Living Near Power Lines Cause Cancer?” “Power Lines, Electrical Devices And Extremely Low Frequency Radiation” and “Do High Voltage Power Lines Cause Cancer?”
The Fear Factor
There are a few things to consider if you are thinking about buying a property located near power lines. You may very well be comfortable with the research and feel that the health risks living near power lines are negligible. However, it's important to remember that some segments of the population perceive that proximity as a health risk, which could seriously affect resale value (or at the very least the ability to obtain top dollar).
This underscores a few important points in regards to real estate.
- weigh all pros and cons prudently and patiently when purchasing a home, including how the home may be perceived by others (resale value)
- enlist the help of an experienced realtor when selling your home (as they can help you position your property well, and target the right buyers)
Having the best homeownership experience means buying a home that will promote your health and happiness for the entire time that you own your home. What does that mean for you? We’re here to help you find a home that accomplishes that goal.
May we be of assistance to you, or someone you love?
Thanks for reading!
If you enjoyed this Urbaneer post, these may also appeal to you:
-The Urbaneer Team
Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage - (416) 322-8000
- we're here to earn your trust, then your business -
*Did you know we were recently listed as one of The Top 25 Toronto Real Estate Agents To Follow On Twitter! - The Top 50 Blogs On Toronto - and The Top 100 Real Estate Blogs In Canada? Consider signing up in the box below to receive our FREE monthly e-newsletter on housing, culture and design including our love for unique urban homes and other Toronto real estate!
*Love Canadian Housing? Check out Steve's University Student Mentorship site called Houseporn.ca which focuses on architecture, landscape, design, products and real estate in Canada.