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Living Near Power Lines: Is it Dangerous to Your Health?

Published 8/29/09 (Modified 6/17/11)
By MoneyBlueBook

The Internet is quite a mixed bag of information - a wild, wild west cornucopia of unfiltered and unadulterated questions and answers. Among the nuggets of knowledge, there's an endless supply of trashy material and unsubstantiated half truths. For every debatable issue imaginable, there are legions of supporters and oppositions on both sides of the divide. Search engines like Google and Bing do nothing to segregate the legitimate articles from the biased quackery and it's often up to the readers themselves to differentiate fact from fiction. Such is the case with a very contentious and controversial issue of mine that's literally hitting close to home - the issue of living next to power lines and whether they have any negative impact on one's health.

From the various articles available online, you'll frequently read comments and posts from individuals claiming that their personal cancers and miscarriages were the direct results of living too close to nearby power lines. Though when subjected to scientific scrutiny, this does not necessarily indicate a definitive connection between the two, it's easy to see how the passionate and emotional voices could come to such conclusions. In my case, both of my parents are survivors of lymphoma cancer. Both of them successfully completed their chemotherapy treatments and both were able to cure themselves of the cancers that plagued their bodies for months. However, as far as I know - they and I have never lived in close proximity to power lines of any sort. However, if we hypothetically had, I'm sure I would have immediately jumped to such emotional conclusions as well and pointed to power lines as the leading cause of the cancers. As I examine this controversial issue, it's important to bear in mind that when it comes to such ubiquitous and misunderstood issues as the effects of electromagnetic fields from power lines, people's reactions may frequently be driven more by emotion and passion than by reason and true evidence.

I'm Buying A Dream House: But It's Located Near Electrical Power Lines

After years of renting, I'm finally in the process of buying my first home. At the conclusion of months of tireless searching and countless weekdays and weekends of visiting open houses and housing prospects, I've finally found the perfect starter home in the perfect location. It's a beautiful single family house -���� a brand spanking new construction home in a very desirable location near major transportation routes with excellent accessibility to stores and close proximity to places I need to be on a regular basis. But there's a problem, and a big problem at that depending on how you look at it. The prospective new construction lot I'm looking at is located somewhat near a string of power lines and within viewing proximity of several gigantic power line towers. To be precise, the constructed home would be located approximately 350 yards (1050 feet or 320 meters) from the nearest high voltage powerline.

The first time I drove through the newly minted housing development - I instantly fell in love. But after I saw the looming power lines in the distance, I began to have second doubts. Aside from the unsightly nature of the looming eye sores, I had mild qualms about the safety and health hazards of living in such relative close proximity to the gargantuan steel structures and high tension wires. After all, I was brought up by my parents and shaped by the mainstream media and social norms to naturally believe in certain things - such assorted health based beliefs like - microwave ovens emanate hazardous radiation waves, smoking causes cancer, Tylenol damages your liver, immunizing your child may lead to him or her developing autism, diet coke causes cancer, red meat is unhealthy, eating too much fish can lead to mercury poisoning, too much egg yolk will kill you, and finally - prolonged exposure to high tension powerlines can cause leukemia in children and lead to other cancers and Alzheimer type afflictions in adults.

But instead of taking such beliefs at face value this time around, and probably because the home and the neighborhood otherwise satisfied almost every other factor on my check list, I decided to investigate the power line health issue in greater depth. What I discovered was rather troubling - but not for the reasons you might think. After hours and days of research and pouring over numerous governmental issued reports on powerlines and research articles on the alleged connection between power line generated radiation and cancer in humans, I've come to the overwhelming conclusion that there is simply insufficient evidence at this time to establish a causal link between the two. Despite my own hard conclusions based on existing data, concrete facts, and actual measurements conducted by invited powerline company personnel of the suspected area, I don't think a consensus on this controversial issue will ever fully be reached by all people. It seems that for every scientific study which appears to conclusively link power lines to various health issues, there's another prominent health study which conclusively refutes it. Despite the fact that the "scientific research reports" that allege a real causal link between power line electro-magnetic field radiation and cancer afflictions only comprise about 10-20% of the total research, and a dominant 80% or so (based on my very rough fuzzy math estimates) refute a definitive link between the two, the "yes it causes cancer" crowd seems to win out in most debates, drowning out the rest - presumably through their ability to sway opinions through the use of emotional rhetoric and scare tactics.

Is It Safe To Live Near Power Lines? Does EMF Radiation From PowerLines Cause Cancer?

Power lines frequently generate intense opposition and heated protest - from homeowners to environmentalists - from power company authorities to even bloggers like yours truly. The responses are frequently conflicting and emotionally heated. The debate stems from the powerful but invisible electro-magnetic fields (EMF) generated by power lines as electricity is transmitted through them. Some say the magnetic waves corrupt DNA structures and contribute to the development of various cancers. Although these electrical magnetic fields are also generated by common house hold appliances such as TV's, alarm clocks, cell phones, hair blow dryers, computers, can openers, and electric blankets, much of this debate tends to focus exclusively on high tension power lines and the gigantic pylon towers that support them in certain neighborhoods.

While it's nearly impossible for me to discuss the entire scientific bases for the various conclusions out there, suffice it is to say - once you are able to discard the hype and hysteria, the general consensus by the most reputable sources do strongly suggest that currently, there is insufficient evidence to make the quantum leap that magnetic fields from power lines have the capacity to cause childhood leukemia, childhood brain tumors, or other cancers in children - and that presently, there is totally inadequate and inconsistent evidence to establish a relationship between power line fields and breast cancer or other forms of brain tumors in adults. This is not to suggest there is absolutely no possibility of a casual link between the two, but that the realm of verifiable data and research can not yet scientifically link the two as cause and effect.

Extensive research has been performed on the issue and major health organizations such as the National Cancer Institute, the National Research Council, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) -���� have all performed studies and looked at the available research - and opined that there is not conclusive evidence that EMF exposure poses a cancerous risk or that���� residence near high voltage lines increases health risks. Authorities such as the NIH have noted that the available research, despite all of the inflammatory passions involved, fail to demonstrate that the levels of risk represent a real increase in cancer occurrences. Furthermore, such public health authorities have criticized the inflammatory research out there that report a causation link between powerline exposure and cancer, citing possible pervasive study biases stemming from the faulty selection of study subjects and failures to take into consideration other contributing factors such as poverty, nutrition, obesity, pure chance, and sample sizes based on volunteered opinions alone. Despite these authoritative findings, public hysteria will likely always remain - it's just the infallibility of human nature.

New conflicting reports and absolutely contradicting updates by the media and various vested interests on both sides of the divide are constantly being disseminated every year on the supposed dangers of power lines, perpetually shaping the public's emotional perception of the issue. However, if you really want to listen to the most authoritative voices on cancer research regarding EMF radiation fields, powerlines, and their effects on human children and adults, try reading the following online articles. Please let me know if there are any more authoritative sources on the matter:

  1. Electric and Magnetic Fields: National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences
  2. Health Risks Associated With Living Near High Voltage Power Lines: Health Physics Society (July 2008)
  3. Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF): Health Concerns: Connecticut Department of Public Health (April 2008)
  4. Electric and Magnetic Fields (EMF) Radiation From Power Lines: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (May 2006)
  5. Electromagnetic Fields and Public Health: World Health Organization (May 2006)
  6. Magnetic Fields Exposure and Cancer: Questions and Answers: National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) (April 2005)
  7. Electromagnetic Fields Explained: Arizona Association of Realtors (2003)
  8. Power Line Fields and Public Health: American Physical Society (1995)

Effect Of Home's Proximity To Power Lines On Future Resale Value

Admittedly, regardless of the scientific research, people will always be scared of power lines. No matter what the government or health authorities tell the masses, and no matter what little concrete correlation there is with power lines and EMF induced cancers, it's a virtual given that a vocal segment of the population will never be swayed and will forever regard power lines as instant cancer-causing implementations of electrical doom (laced with extra helpings of government cover ups). For property owners and real estate agents, this is what we call an unfortunate, but irremediable defect - something objectionable about a property that cannot be readily changed. Similar unchangeable defects would be living near railroad tracks, living near an expressway, or living within smelling distance of a waste treatment plant.

While it's true that location in somewhat close proximity to power lines will diminish the overall buyer pool of individuals who would consider your home as a viable purchase (possibly turning off families with very small children perhaps), its desirably is also greatly influenced by other location factors as well. While there may not be a significant drop in property value in certain otherwise very desirable neighborhoods, there may be fewer buyers who will be willing to buy the house when you decide to resell it. Some may be paranoid of the potential health hazards, while others simply won't be able to live with the prospect of having ugly power line towers as permanent ornaments of their neighborhood landscape. While obviously there will always remain an active market for these types of homes, some have suggested that the houses and condos located in close proximity to power lines and power line towers should expect a 1-2% price hit, while others have suggested higher discounts up to 5% or more. However, in my personal research of price comparables in various housing neighborhoods located near powerlines that I've sought out, I haven't found that to be the case.

Remember, everyone has a price. While off the cusp, I'm sure everyone will say that they would never purchase a home near a power line - if they were offered the opportunity to purchase a sprawling mansion for half the price of other comparable homes in the area, I'm sure they would feel differently. The fact that there are homes located near graveyards, cemeteries, nuclear power plants, prisons, and heavily trafficked highways show that everyone has a price. It just depends on how accurately a property's price reflects all of the variables.

Would I Personally Buy A House Located Near Power Lines?

Yes, I would - assuming the home was properly priced, not located directly underneath the power lines, was not directly within view from the front or back of the home, and was sufficiently far enough to satisfy my own whims of prudent avoidance. In fact, I am currently faced with that decision right now, and I believe the answer is a resounding - yes. In the spirit of prudent avoidance, it also depends on how far the home is in relation to the nearest powerline pylon tower and proximately to the powerlines themselves. If my property or backyard directly touched the power line towers or if they ominously loomed over my property like hulking giants, that in of itself would probably be a deal killer for me.

While I personally believe the EMF health dangers of powerlines to be overblown and vastly exaggerated, I think it's still wise to exercise a reasonable dose of paranoid caution. While I believe the direct connection between powerline EMF waves are extremely tenuous and not proven by available science, I still think it's best to limit the distance between powerlines and one's home - just in case. Once again, this is simply prudent avoidance - as the possible dangers, no matter how miniscule or conceivably great, are so potentially devastating if ever found to be true. Besides, from a purely aesthetic point of view, who wants to stare at one of those ugly power line towers from either the front or back yard anyway? I think if the lines are only mere steps from you home or literally sitting in your backyard, this may be a concern. But if they are sufficiently far away in the distance, I think any potential health concerns would be greatly diminished.

So how close is it too close to be living near high tension power lines? Many power line researchers have pointed out that there is generally no serious cause for concern for homes located at least 300 feet away (roughly the length of a football field) from the nearest power line as EMF levels decrease rapidly and exponentially with distance from the lines. At this distance, the EMF levels from the lines are no different from the typical background levels found in most homes. If you are not certain about the EMF levels in or around your home, it's best to contact your local power company and request an EMF reading. Many power companies will perform an EMF measurement for free, particularly if you are a prospective home buyer interested in a new housing development.

Just to get the opinion of readers, what do you think of the photographer's proximity to the nearest power lines based on the photograph provided directly above? This is the approximate location of the housing lot I am currently considering as a prospective home buyer. The nearest power lines are about 350 yards away (more than 3 football lengths). In the photo provided, they perhaps appear larger than they ought to primarily because they are located on the top of a hill on a higher elevation, and there are no trees yet planted to obscure them as is usually the case in established old communities with power lines. Far enough to be objectively safe or still close enough to cause fear? What do you think?

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81 Responses to “Living Near Power Lines | EMF Radiation | Money Blue Book” 

  1. Richard says:

    Raymond, have you consider why many young kids have cancer, ever 3 years old girl has tumor cancer cause by electrical toys?

  2. Jennifer G. says:

    Patty - If you see this please email me at jgonzalez818@sbcglobal.net My friend passed of a brain tumor after living in an apt. directly under the lines. I'd love for anyone out there to help me with this, his wife and two little girls would appreciate your insight into this subject.

  3. Calebmei says:

    Hope this helps.

    A 2005 study in UK, with 39K children in the control group, shows 2-fold of increase risk of leukemia and brain tumor for children who is born within 200m of power lines.

    EMFs exposure of 0.2 muT is the recommended by public safety, while >0.4 muT increase the risk at 100%. More interestingly, the statistics show that between 100m and 200m, the relative risk index is the highest, even higher than the children who is born within 50m of power lines. The study is funded by power companies and not fund by anti-power companies sponsor, with proper statistics technique and methods.

  4. Manali says:

    Hi guys,

    this article and the blog is very interesting. I've been looking for houses on the lower end of the price tag, the last 2 houses i've seen were great deals - both of them next to power lines. In the first house, I did not even notice them! but indeed after a friend's inspection there they were about 20m at the back of the house, and finally explained why a house with a large section was selling for a low price and still had been on the market for 5 months. Mind I say real estate agents do not point these out!

    The second house was PERFECT, except for the power lines - x4 high voltage lines 110,000v, the closer 2 within 20 m of the house. The house was perfect though, large rooms, large section, solid construction, beautiful neighbourhood with a harbour and sailing club close by.... so even though i shrugged away from the first house, when you see something you really like - it makes you research further, man I wanted that house.

    After reading this article and comments it has made me realise two things -
    1) I am mostly convinced that there is no conclusive evidence that there are health effects, although the studies did not study effects on more soft symptoms fatigue? headaches? And was distance from the lines a variable in these studies? Clearly living 20m away, and 200m away would make a difference.
    2) The resale of the house is clearly affected if so many people give so much thought on this subject.

    And finally, there's a lot of talk about other sources of EMG waves - but the difference is the amount of time exposed - we use cellphones for ?few hours/day, same with the tv, with power lines the exposure is 24hours a day?

    I have decided that although it's likely 98% of time your safe, there'll be an element in my mind that's not fully comfortable, and 20metres is pushing it, I would reconsider if it was 200m away and probably get a meter reading done. So I guess the answer is I would not love it, time to move on...

    Raymond if my dream house was 300m away, I would go for it - as long as you get a good price..

  5. Martin says:

    This may seem like a silly question, but what is the difference between the huge metal structures that are shown in the picture and the wood poles with wires that seem to be in many older residential areas?

    I too have found a great home at a great price, but there are these wood poles with wires throughout the neighborhood. I didn't even think about it as I walked through this amazing house with other amazing house surrounding it.

    Can someone help me out with this? Is this the same thing as the metal poles, just smaller and will these decrease property value over time as well?

  6. Champ says:

    This debate has been going on for possibly more than 4 decades and after $100's million research worldwide can we have some proof.

    After a couple of weeks due diligence, a few years ago we bought a house approx 50m from high voltage powerlines. The EMF readings were well within safety margins both from power company and national standards. EMF's were also conducted from various household appliances. Highest reading was from electric clock radio that was less than half a metre from my head 8 hours a night.

    I asked a question of a very educated person "If I spent most days out in the yard and I got cancer, would it be from the powerlines or the sun". Skin cancer from the sun was the answer.

    In regard to the question of property values, then this is where perception plays a big part. You will lose many buyers. Don't know the percentage but my guess would be 50%+. From what I have seen, if you are near powerlines say up to 100m and can view of these lines, then expect a 10% - 15% reduction on your property value compared to a similar property in another area. Good real estate agents will have taken this into account when pricing the property.

    In response to CalgaryNancy's comments: Many years ago I suffered from chronic fatigue and depression and that's when I lived in a nice quiet area, nearby forest, no powerlines, no freeways, no heavy industry and away from the city's pollution.

    If people are worried about living near powerlines and they smoke or drink alcohol, I suggest they give up these as the cancer risk is much greater or in the case if smoking, proven.

  7. Laureen says:

    I, too, am looking at two houses that I like alot...both near power lines, but, allegedly, sufficiently far enough away. I have looked at so many houses and I am tired...but not too tired to know that a house can always be replaced...a life cannot. Where there is controversy there can be a lot of information yet unknown...I will leave my gambling for a casino not for a child's life or my own.

  8. doods says:

    the rearside of my house was actually 3 meters underneath a local power line after reading some of your article i am worried of my family. can you give me some good advices regarding this matter.

    Thank you very much.

  9. Mayhem says:

    Hi Guys,

    Glad that I have found this post. Well, I have just purchased a house, which is about 400 meters away from the power lines. After reading this blog I am worried that it was a big mistake.

    Rather than ignoring this myth and searching for more evident, does anyone here know if there is a way or even device to block the EMF? After all prevention is better than cure.

  10. CalgaryNancy says:

    When the high voltage power lines were 30 meters from our backyard in Calgary, the levels dropped very quickly even as you moved to the front of the house. In the driveway out front (power lines were behind the back yard) the EMF levels were already close to normal (2) where in the back yard they were as high as 45. I am sure that living 400 meters away from the power lines you would be getting more EMF exposure from your wiring and electronics in your home than from the power lines. If it concerns you, have your local electricity company come measure the EMF levels. They did it here for free. There are EMF blocking products but you have to research them carefully to make sure they actually do something.

    As an addition to my previous post, since moving away from the strong magnetic field we lived in for 4 years, my family is doing much better in the past 6 months. Sleeping much better, short term memory coming back, digestive problems completely gone, headaches gone and my son is rapidly catching up in terms of speech and his other developmental delays. Like I said before, I don't need research to tell me there are negative effects from living so close to the lines - my family's declining health was proof enough.

  11. sawe6 says:

    I have the opportunity to build my dream house on the property adjacent to my parents'. However, the 10 acre parcel has high tension power lines splitting the property in half on a diagonal. The electrical substation is also nearby. I have been researching for some time, and cannot come up with enough information to sway me one way or the other. Nothing is conclusive enough for me to walk away, yet a cautious paranoia still exists. The setting of the house will actually be ABOVE the power lines, as the house wil be built at the top of a hill with a higher elevation than the lines themselves.
    While I would never build BELOW the lines, does anyone know of info which discusses the safety of living near power lines, but at a higher elevation?

  12. CalgaryNancy says:

    You should get the EMF level checked in the location where you want to build, and they will likely be non-existant if it is a few hundres meters from the power lines. The EMF level depends on how much power the lines are carrying now, at peak times, and how much they may carry in the future. We were told the EMF levels in our house in Calgary would only get higher as the city continues to grow and demand more electricity from the lines we were living next to. As for being above the lines, the magnetic field goes out from them in all directions, so distance is the most important factor. I say get your peace of mind from an expert first, then build your dream home. Good luck!

  13. KelliM says:

    Thank you for this discussions. I just noticed today there are power lines a bit less than a football field length away from my son's preschool and about a football field and a half away from my daughter's grade school -- she's there 6 hours a day. My son is at preschool 3 days a week in the mornings for about 3.5 hours each day.

    I'm sort of freaking out about this, but perhaps I'm overreacting...The kids are not there all day and night... and I would expect electricity use would be lower during the day as many folks aren't home.

    I'm calling the electric company tomorrow about having the levels checked. I'm uneasy about being near them at all, but can't find any research about timelength of exposure -- just about distance away while "living" near them.

    Thank you again for sharing your experiences.

  14. Roberta-Realtor says:

    I am glad that I have come across this information. I currently have two high end houses for sale near power lines. And both my sellers have taken into consideration the power lines when we came up with a price. When they purchased the homes they never were concerned of the power lines nor have they had any heath issues. As a matter of fact there are doctors that live on both sides of them. One family that has lived there over 20 years with four bright children who have excelled in school. The doctor with family recently moved to the neighborhood with children as well. To me this is comforting. I agree with the comments of the cell phone, microwave, and other devices that we use on a daily bases have just as much health risks. But we continue to use them and provide them to our children. We do not seem to concerned about them. Maybe it is because they are small and millions of people use them. I believe the power lines are more of an eye sore than the concerns of illnesses. I will pass this information on to my potential buyers . I will attach this information to my flyers.

    Thank you.

  15. Scott says:

    We have lived next door (50feet)to high voltage transmission lines for over 22 years. The lines run alongside our property, not behind it. There is a tower about 50 feet off the front corner of my house, however it is on our neighbor's property. My wife and I raised two healthy children in this house who are now grown young men. We have never had any of the problems mentioned by Patty in her post. We also sleep well every night. We did our research and believe that there is no link between the lines and health problems. The fear mongers will always want to have their way, but they are just spreading needless panic. The time will come one day when we will put our house up for sale and hopefully, all this bunk about health problems will not affect our sale. I do agree that they are unsightly, however there is enough growth around the tower to satisfactorily obscure it from view.

  16. Alex says:

    Just face it, all you gripers are worried about resale values or are just ignorant of the facts and should go back to living in the dark ages - Literally.
    Science tells us that there is no evidence that EMF (at 50-60 Hz ) cause cancer, are linked to cancer or any other illness (not that cancer should be taken lightly - hence the prudent avoidance clause). If you live or lived next to power lines and became or developed an illness I would be testing the soil on which my house was sitting on first. From experience - If you test a transmission (high voltage) power line for mG readings (milliGause is what EMF is measured in, and World Health Org recommend no more than 1000 mG for continuous 24 hour exposure), and I have, you would be lucky to get 200 mG directly under neath a 330kV transmission line. Typically, you get 10 - 200mG variance depending on how much juice is running through the line. You can get a reading of 175 mG just from your refrigeration motor, 10-70mG from your hair dryer, 10-30mG from your bedside clock radio - yes the one you sleep next to every night. The real problem with this issue is the fear mongering. The whole debate gets hijacked by research into cell phone frequency EMF (Typically ultra high compared to power line frequencies 850 plus MHz) which has been known to affect biological tissue at high levels - Chalk & Cheese folks. This just leaves property values - Buy cheap sell cheap and remember there is always a buyer for everything. You just have to find them. Plant some trees for screening and enjoy your new house.

  17. Alex says:

    Sorry guys - Forgot to mention that power lines operate at 50-60 Hz.

  18. Alex says:

    Just an add on - The EMF readings in mG underneath the transmission lines decrease as you move away to residual readings. About 30-60m from the centre of the lines as ther are usually 3 phases. so unless you are living, working, playing underneath the line as it is done in some countries, then any readings you get after 30-60m are likely to be from something else. This information is available from WHO - www.who.int , and most other national energy & health organisations depending on which country you live in. So don't panic, do your research and become informed folks, preferably from independant organisations.

  19. mom of 3 says:

    Wondering if anyone has done a study comparing the health of folks, Amish for instance, who do not use electricity vs. those of us who do.

  20. Jason says:

    I have noticed that there are lots of old houses which have powerline very close to the house. Check out houses in long island, New York. It seems that people there feel comfortable with their houses.

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