Sunday 21 October 2007

New energy plan fuels cancer fears

Fears are growing in the north Leinster area that State plans for more power lines to supply the spiralling population could put thousands of people at risk from cancer.

The overhead power lines will traverse thousands of homes, schools and businesses in the densely populated area.

Protest groups are being formed as a growing body of residents fear the power lines will run too close to homes and schools, endangering health by exposing them to electro-magnetic radiation.

The use of underground cables, which would eliminate this risk, is believed to have been ruled out as too expensive.

Eirgrid plans to site the cables between 25 and 50 metres from homes and schools in Meath, Cavan and Monaghan, despite studies in Britain having warned that even at 600 metres, there is still a high risk of serious illness for residents.

Eirgrid, which manages the national electricity grid, now faces huge resistance to plans to run 45 kilometres of high voltage inter-connector to link Ireland's electricity to the North and a 58 kilometre power line across Meath.

Some international studies have shown that living beside power lines increases the risk of cancers, miscarriages and childhood leukaemia. Eirgrid says there is no conclusive evidence of health risks.

Gary Carville, a Fine Gael councillor in Monaghan, said there has been an appalling lack of information about the project.

"It raises serious environmental and health issues for the people in all areas through which the scheme is envisaged," he said.

Eirgrid told one public meeting in Cavan that the power lines will be built to within 25 metres, according to one concerned local resident.

In a statement to the Sunday Independent the company said the "design aim" was not to go closer than 50 metres to existing structures.

However, a British government advisory group said in April that the best option for reducing childhood leukaemia deaths was to ban the building of new homes and schools within 60 metres of power lines.

It also warned that houses should not be built under electricity pylons because the risks of cancer, brain tumours, miscarriages and motor neurone disease "cannot be ruled out".

Another British study, the Draper Report of 2004, found that children living within 200 metres of a power line were 69 per cent more likely to develop leukaemia and those living between 200 and 600 metres away had a 23 per cent increased risk.

The protest is likely to echo deeply divisive rows between the ESB with rural land-owners over attempts to force pylons on their land. It falls into the lap of Eamon Ryan, the Green Party's energy minister, and John Gormley, the environment minister.

A spokesperson for Eamon Ryan said yesterday: "All local concerns will be dealt with as part of the process." No comment was available from Mr Gormley.

The new high-voltage inter-connecter requires 80km of new power line running from Tyrone, through Monaghan to Kingscourt in Cavan, where a substation will also be built.

The Meath power line, which will boost supply to the north east, will run from Woodland, near Dunboyne, outside Dublin, to Kingscourt, Cavan -- a further 58km.

The €300m energy project is enormously important to ensuring Ireland's future electricity supplies, and promises to cut electricity prices by boosting competition and guaranteeing security of supply.

Maeve Sheehan
Irish Independent

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