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One longstanding complaint about high-voltage electric transmission lines is the fear that such lines generate an electromagnetic force which adversely affects people or the environment.  Opponents of such lines typically argue that they have not been proved to be safe and therefore, under the precautionary principle, should not be approved.

I have had cases where malfunctioning distribution lines next to homes have, indeed, caused excess levels of EMF. But high voltage lines, used for long-distance transmission, are built with significant buffer distances. This issue  was most recently addressed in the decision of the Niagara Escarpment Hearing Office on the twinning of the Bruce to Milton transmission line, Barlow v. NEC, who decided there was no ground for concern:

“Ms. Thompson submits that nothing she has heard in this Hearing has convinced her that electric or magnetic force (“EMF”) effects of the twinned line will not have an adverse effect on wildlife and people in the vicinity of the corridor.  She maintains that insufficient studies have been done in this country to confirm one way or the other the lasting effects of EMF on wildlife and human populations.  She asserts that there have been conflicting reports over the years as to the effects of EMF, some indicating that EMF can cause illness in people living in close proximity to transmission lines, others taking the opposite view.  She states that, as a non-expert, concerned citizen, she does not want to see wildlife in the Escarpment put at risk if there is another option.  She argues for a cautious approach to be taken.

Although Mr. Crouse and Mr. Barlow do not address this issue in their written submissions, their position during the Hearing is reflected by Ms. Thompson’s submissions.

The NEC made the following submissions with which HONI concurs.   The NEC notes that it is Ms. Grbinicek’s opinion that HONI undertook an appropriate literature review respecting this issue, although she also notes that this is not an issue that the NEC is in a position to independently verify. She notes that the NEC relies on outside agencies for comments regarding issues such as EMF, and no specific concerns were expressed by them. Based on her review of the EA Report (Appendix O: Electric and Magnetic Field (EMF) Modelling Report), Ms. Grbinicek had no specific concerns regarding potential impacts on wildlife habitat. The NEC also notes that Dr. Fitchko’s opinion was that EMF will not have a significant impact on humans or wildlife. In addition to the EA Report, he relied on a brochure from Health Canada. Furthermore, the NEC observes that it is Mr. Johnston’s evidence that he is satisfied that the EMF assessment, done as part of the Environmental Assessment process, indicated that no significant impact was expected on wildlife or humans although, in his opinion, the NEP does not require the NEC to consider impacts on humans.

Findings on Issue #10:

The brochure referenced in the NEC’s submission is published by Health Canada, dated January 2010, and is entitled “Electric and Magnetic Fields at Extremely Low Frequencies”.  This brochure confirms that Health Canada “does not consider guidelines for the Canadian public necessary because the scientific evidence is not strong enough to conclude that exposures cause health problems for the public.”

The Hearing Officer does not need to address the issue of whether the NEP requires the consideration of the impact on human health.  While the Hearing Officer accepts that a cautious approach should be taken respecting the concerns raised by Ms. Thompson, none of the Appellants adduced any evidence to establish any basis for these concerns.  The evidence adduced by HONI clearly indicates that there is no significant impact of EMF on wildlife or humans….”


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