"When a child could get cancer, you take action." -- Alpine resident Bree Rowand (photo, left), mother of Kylie Rowand, toddler who died of neuroblastoma.
"We're here because we'd really like to ease your minds...There is no conclusive evidence that EMFs cause health risks....You have EMFs probably everywhere you go. They are coming out of your cell phone." -- Don Parent, SDG&E, which offered to conduct free measurements for any concerned property owners.
"I'm very concerned for the health of my students and health of my staff...but right now we have having safe levels [in classrooms.]" -- Bruce Cochrane, Superintendent, Alpine Union School District, adding that campus-wide results of an independent expert will be posted Friday.
"This is a failure in our system. Regulatory agencies should be the ones monitoring...If every one of you would e-mail the president of the California Public Utilities Commission as I have and ask as I have for someone to come down here and meet with the community, maybe we will get results."
By Miriam Raftery
February 25, 2016 (Alpine) – Over 230 people came to a community meeting at Alpine Elementary School Tuesday evening to learn more about electromagnetic field measurements in Alpine, ask questions of local officials and SDG&E, voice concerns and at times, shout out frustrations. (View video highlights from 10 News.)
“I’m very concerned for the health of my students and health of my staff,” Bruce Cochrane, Alpine Union School District Superintendent, told the audience. He revealed that results of a new study by an expert mirrored results of readings taken last week by the County Office of Education. He sought to assure parents that overall the levels appear safe at least in classrooms, but added, “We do have plans we can put in place if this is deemed an unsafe environment.” Cochrane said results of a third party assessor’s findings will be on the district’s website Friday.
The concerns arose after an earlier study conducted by engineer Robie Faulkner and contractor Michael Milligan found high EMF levels on Alpine Boulevard directly atop or very near the buried Sunrise Powerlink. Those study authors had recommended testing local children for leukemia. But later measurements taken farther away from the Powerlink in subsequent studies provided lower levels within what is generally considered safe by European standards (the U.S. has no standard for long-term EMF exposure) inside classrooms. However spikes in a few other areas on campus and elsewhere in measurements by others are still being investigated to determine if they are caused by the Powerlink and/or interference with other EMF sources.
Dr. Wilma Wooten (photo, right), the County’s public health officer, acknowledged that some “there are links to leukemia and brain cancer” from EMFs, but a cause and effect is not certain, she added. “When we don’t have the information, we must err on the side of caution,” she told the crowd, drawing applause.
Supervisor Dianne Jacob said the California Public Utilities “never should have allowed this to be built” particularly through downtown Alpine. “This transmission line was dumped on the community without consent,” added Jacob, who attracted 800 people opposed to Powerlink at a meeting she convened in Alpine prior to its approval. But she added, “Now the CPUC needs to take responsibility.” She has written the CPUC to urge that it conduct its own measurements in Alpine and suggests residents do the same. Their email addresses are: Consumer Affairs Branch: firstname.lastname@example.org and CPUC President Michael J. Picker: MP6@cpuc.ca.gov
Jacob (photo, left, with SDG&E representative Don Parent) explained that California has EMF criteria requiring all new schools to be built at least 37.5 feet from power lines (in Europe the standard is several times farther) but there is “no criteria for schools already built” nor are there any federal limits on EMF levels that power lines can emit. Three states have set their own limits, but not California, she added. Moreover, the CPUC only requires utilities to provide no-cost or low-cost mitigation. “I call that irresponsible,” Jacob said.
SDG&E has offered to conduct measurements for any property owner who requests them, using a Gauss meter. But when Jacob asked the audience what it thinks of SDG&E doing measurements, the audience laughed.
Don Parent represented SDG&E at the meeting. “We take this very seriously,” he pledged, adding that the utility has opened an EMF office and is taking measurements at homes with results that are “very informative” including indoor and outdoor readings. Those readings show not only overall levels, but can also help homeowners learn if items inside their homes such as microwave ovens may be emitting high EMF levels.
Parent acknowledged, “The jury’s out” on possible health impacts. “Studies, thousands of them, produced no conclusive evidence that EMFs cause health risks, but some were not conclusive…” He noted that SDG&E initially wanted to build Sunrise Powerlink through the desert but environmental objections led to a route change through more populated areas such as Alpine.
He said SDG&E did use “engineering techniques” and moved Powerlink to the opposite side of the street in front of the school, though it was not obligated to do so. “We’ve been doing this for 130 years. We don’t take this lightly,” he said, adding, “We’re here because we’d really like to ease your minds.”
He noted that people are exposed to EMFs “everywhere you go; they are coming out of your phone. He suggested that measurements taken from a truck could have picked up electronics in the truck itself. But he added, “If I had kids here or was just hanging around, I would want to know this stuff.” He said SDG&E has 28 EMF reading appointments set up in the next few days.
Several audience members interrupted Parent, one shouting, “Does SDG&E have a plan?”
Travis Lyon, chair of the Alpine Community Planning Group, voiced concerns over schools, restaurants and other businesses along Alpine Blvd “because a lot of this is unknown.” He said as chair, he has met with the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and Alpine Education Foundation about conducting independent studies.
The public also spoke out.
Ray Lutz, founder of the watchdog group Citizens Oversight, said he is an engineer who has worked on powerline issues in schools. “I’m really disappointed that SDG&E hasn’t provided real facts,” he said, citing questions such as depth of the line and what shielding was used. “We fought hard to stop this line,” he said, then asked to see diagrams and questioned why SDG&E had not sent an engineer to answer questions. “Get busy, SDG&E,” we want the facts,” he urged.
Lutz also asked Jacob to have the County become an intervener party with the CPUC. Jacob later indicated she does not have two other supporting votes among her fellow Supervisors.
Wendy Padilla, a great-grandmother in Peutz Valley, asked “Why in the hell is this going down Alpine Boulevard?” She voiced concerns for children in her family who wait at a bus stop near where high levels were measured.
Milligan (photo, left), who took the initial measurements, then dropped a bombshell. “What has not been brought forth is that SDG&E is getting ready to increase power by 20 percent through that line. What do you think this is going to do? Do not allow them to go forward….The Powerlink people are not good people for Alpine.”
SDGE’s Don Parent later indicated he thought the line was near capacity and did not confirm whether the voltage may be increased or not.
Carolyn Connelly with Team Parker for Life spoke next, asking in a trembling voice, “How many more kids do we have to lose?” adding, “We have parents in here who have lost children to cancer…we don’t want to lose any more kids.” Later she told ECM she is aware of at least four children diagnosed with neuroblastoma in East County in the last three years, since the Powerlink was built. (Note: neuroblastoma accounts for 6% of childhood cancers, with about 700 cases diagnosed nationwide each year, according to Cancer.net’s page on neuroblastoma. The five-year survival rate ranges from 40% to 95% depending on the type.)
The most moving testimony came from Bree Rowand (photo, right), who spoke while holding her newborn baby. She is the mother of Kylie Rowand, who died of neuroblastoma at 18 months of age. The town of Alpine had rallied behind the Rowand family with pink ribbons displayed throughout the rural community, holding fundraisers to help pay medical bills, and holding prayer vigils.
“A year ago, I lost my child,” she said tearfully. “When I was pregnant, I worked on Alpine Boulevard .” She also lives near the line.” She asked how officials could sleep when they are aware of the potential risk, then urged SDG&E and elected officials to “take action. Show us that you care…Next year we could lose another child and another.”
Wooten, the county’s top health official, said her office will be collecting data through a state cancer registry and hospitals to determine if there is an increase in cancer cases in the area.
Audience members asked about other schools along Alpine Blvd., including a charter school, a preschool and a proposed Alpine High School site. (The latter is owned by the Grossmont Union High School District, and Cochrane told ECM that he has alerted the GUHSD, but does not have access to that property to have measurements taken.)
A mother voiced concerns over kids walking to the new library from the elementary school along Alpine Boulevard. Superintendent Cochrane (photo,left) suggested a new route through the school grounds could be developed instead.
“We go grocery shopping at Albertsons. My kids walk up and down the Boulevard. Schools are supposed to be safe…I have a choice,” one mother said of other EMF sources. “My children don’t have cell phones. But I don’t have a choice not to send my child to school.”
The father of an autistic child asked about impacts of EMFs on special needs children. Wooten assured that there is no link known between EMFs and autism.”
Another parent stated that a British medical journal found a five-fold increase in risk of dying from cancer among children living within 350 feet from power lines “and you have 35 feet?”
The superintendent reiterated that there is no state or federal standard for existing schools regarding distance from power lines.
An audience member shouted toward the SDG&E representative, “So if a school is existing, you can do whatever the hell you want to do?”
Lyons (photo, right) said he has been studying European standards (ie 2.5 mG for [prolonged exposure) and also says they are looking at guidelines for brief exposure levels there. The one school tested so far is within those limits, but he added “For prolonged levels…if there’s a problem, we’ll be back and saying rip that line out…”
He recommended that people take SDG&E up on their offer to measure EMFs at residents’ homes, adding, “My kids are going here, too.” He asked Parent if it’s true that SDG&E plans to raise the power through the line by 20%.
Parent said at different times of day, the amount of power flowing through the line varies. ECM asked Parent to provide more information on what times of day have the highest levels, ie, during the school day or at other times. He indicated he would get those answers. He added, “Sunrise Powerlink was built for 1,000 megawatts and its at capacity as far as I know.”
Jacob cited a “failure in the system” by regulatory agencies, which she believes should be monitoring lines. She called for the CPUC to come to Alpine and meet with the community, then asked, “What would happen if SDG&E just shut off power on that line while we get answers? “ Jacob has advocated for more solar energy produced locally to negate the need for remote power transmission lines.
She also called for another community meeting “because we’re not getting answers” and urged SDG&E to bring an engineer to a future meeting.
Milligan indicated he has contacted Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, but has not received a response.
The Superintendent affirmed that thus far levels are not high enough to exceed the 2.5 mG level overall, but said he that changes it would be possible to move students to other campuses.
Donna Tisdale, an activists who has fought against Powerlink and other big energy projects producing EMFs, observed, “The CPUC’s ex-president is under a criminal investigation…the CPUC is dominated by utilities.” She added, “Even research is being suppressed because they don’t want this information out there.” She urged people to read the BioInitiative Report. She said she has a sensitivity to EMFs and is concerned about exposures particularly in schools.
Lou Russo said when he served on the Rural Fire District board, he dealt with a law firm that specializes in dealings with the CPUC and has sued them. “I don’t think out of the goodness of their heart they will do something,” he said of the regulatory agency. He wants to see the County do studies, citing skepticism of studies funded by “those in town who have taken money from SDG&E. I think we should hire someone from out of state.”
Nina Gould (photo, left), helding up a book on EMF issues, Living Safely with Electromagnetic Radiation by Jim Waugh, and urged everyone to read it. She stated, “Lack of any information from any government agency in the U.S. creates fear….” She said she has measured levels of 10 mG up to 200 feet away from Sunrise Powerlink on both sides along the line in Alpine, using her own Gauss meter. She said levels of 14 mG have been measured on Alpine Blvd. itself.
Gould has a son with EMF sensitivity, she added.
“What is safe?” she asked, citing the death of toddler Kylie Rowand (photo, right) from neuroblastoma 18 months after Powerlink was built. She disputes levels put forth by some experts, stating, “over 2 mG affects cells.” She said her research indicates prolonged exposure should be defined as anything over 30 minutes.
She also noted that electricity flows along waterways and suggested EMF levels could be exacerbated when water flows through Alpine Creek parallel to the boulevard. “In the Netherlands, they put plastic pipes wherever water is flowing into homes,” she said. She also urged Wooten to establish a health record and residents to visit their doctors to establish their health now and before the power line was built.
A man indicated that at least one of two daycare centers on the street is having its own independent readings done.
Milligan, who also serves on the ACPG, wants to see an ad-hoc committee formed to look at health concerns and also wants to be sure SDG&E cannot increase the amount of power going through the line until the concerns are addressed.
For some, measurements of EMFs at their homes have brought relief. But for others, the readings raise new concerns beyond the Sunrise Powerlink.
A woman in the audience said she had SDG&E come take measurements at her home, with nothing running except the TV. Most of the levels found were low, but there was one alarming level: “20 milligauss in my daughter’s bedroom. I won’t sleep well.” 4 mG was from a digital clock near her daughter’s bed, but most of the high EMF was from electrical lines running through the house itself. The SDG&E representative “suggested moving furniture around in the bedroom” but the mother objected to that and wants a better solution. She plans to have SDG&E out again in the summer when “everything is running” to see how much higher the levels may be then.
The situation raises several important unanswered questions including:
- What are the EMF levels at sites not yet measured along the underground Powerlink route in Alpine?
- What are the levels along other portions of the Sunrise Powerlink across East County?
- Why haven’t California legislators or officials and the U.S. government established standards and mandates for safe levels of exposure –short-term or long-term?
- What recourse if any does the public have if EMF levels found in local populated areas near Sunrise Powerlink are determined to be higher than levels generally considered safe, according to guidelines set in other jurisdictions that have established standards?