Powerlines out my window?
August 31, 2005 7:28 AM   Subscribe

Powerlines outside my window: health risk?

I just moved into a new apartment, and it's great--except for the fact that right outside my bedroom window, near where my bed is, is the top of a telephone pole running powerlines. Is there any empirical evidence to suggest that this will have adverse health effects (IE, something cancerous)?
posted by JMB1138 to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If I'm not mistaken, I think that those expressing concern about power lines and cancer were talking about the high-voltage transmission lines -- the great big metal towers -- not local power lines on a utility pole.
posted by mcwetboy at 7:33 AM on August 31, 2005

You should definitely refrain from touching the wires. The birds can do it because they're not grounded.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:34 AM on August 31, 2005

I just moved somewhere with powerlines too, and checked this out. Apparently no connection has ever been proved.
posted by Cuke at 7:37 AM on August 31, 2005

Mcwetboy is right, AFAIK, most people worried about these things are worried about high-tension transmission lines.
posted by delmoi at 7:37 AM on August 31, 2005

The brief answer is no.

Several years ago, there was an alarmist article in The New Yorker, by a "scientist" who is well known for jumping to unwarranted conclusions. It was picked up by The Readers Digest and caused a lot of panic.

It turns out that the claims were completely explained by random variation. It's as if the writer had shot 100 arrows into the side of a barn and drawn targets around the ones that happened to be close together. Scientifically, it's nonsense.

Since then, people have gotten excited about all sorts of low level radiation -- transformers, power lines, cell phones, etc. None of it makes even the slightest medical difference. People who claim it does don't know the first thing about science or statistics.

This answer will undoubtedly get flamed by the true believers. Garbage in, garbage out.
posted by KRS at 12:47 PM on August 31, 2005

I have heard it suggested that electric blankets are a problem. Because the field intensity falls off by the square of the distance the fields produced from an electric blanket, medium voltage power lines outside your window, and high voltage transmission lines one or two lots over are potentially quite comparable. In fact the electric blanket might be the worst...
posted by Chuckles at 1:00 PM on August 31, 2005

Err, I didn't mean to imply that any of it causes a health effect. I wouldn't know, but it certainly seems like such fields do not.
posted by Chuckles at 1:01 PM on August 31, 2005

The powerlines outside your window sound like they carry power not too dissimilar from the wires in your walls that run the stove, power outlets, etc etc. In other words, if the lines by the window could be considered a problem, you have much bigger things to worry about - the very walls of your home are webbed with wiring. If you're not concerned about living in a home with electricity, then low voltage lines by your window are nothing that you're not already at peace with.

However: Do you know they're power lines, and not telephone lines, or cable? They could be worth even less worry than your home... and you could potentially lean out the window and steal cable without ever leaving your house... :-)

(Or get electrocuted after misjudging the purpose of the wires... One or the other)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:52 PM on August 31, 2005

You are exagerrating a little. For example, here is a study that respectably found a correlation between cellphones and ear tumours. Whether that correlation has anything to do with microwave transmissions, or is due to constantly jamming a hot object into your ear for 10 years (or for some other reason) is another matter :-) Whether it turns out to be an anomoly is another matter. But not all science that finds potentially interesting little peculiarities like this is to be dismissed as nonsense.

I don't disagree that there is barely the slightest evidence to suggest there is even remotely cause for changing one's behaviour (let alone cause for alarm), but it's unkind and innacurate to suggest that any and all evidence suggestive of possible causal correlation, is merely charletons and fools. It's the process of science, and full understanding will be nuanced, and take time.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:21 PM on August 31, 2005

Hmm, that last paragraph was a mess. Rephrase: I agree with your conclusion, but have reservations with (my interpretation of) your method of reaching it. :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 7:24 PM on August 31, 2005

There is a really good government website, National Institute of Environmental Health, that has investigated both electric and magnetic field health effects. I think the overall concensus is that there is no proven health risk.

posted by fishieman at 1:39 PM on October 25, 2005

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