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    #563: Sage comments on the Gosford Hospital substation

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    #563: Sage comments on the Gosford Hospital substation

    From Cindy Sage:

    October 4, 2006

    Dear Don,

    The Gosford Hospital should not be placing occupied hospital space
    over an active substation. ELF-EMF levels are most likely to be very high, and it is not feasible to shield them (for example, with µ metal) down to sufficiently low levels on the order of 1 or 2 mG. Further, electromagnetic interference (EMI) may cause operational problems in the hospital above (with telemetry, ventilators, pain-med equipment, etc). It has been an expensive mistake for other hospitals and high-rise offices in similar cases.

    There is evidence of increased rates of cancers in buildings ”“ for the first floor occupants anyway – where you have a switchgear room in the basement, feeding power to the building above. Its the people on the first floor who are subjected to excessive EMF exposures from this juxtaposition of switchgear and people.

    We saw an excess of cancer in the Koll Center (Orange County, CA)
    where the firm of Grubb and Ellis had offices on the first floor over the switchgear. It produced ELF in excess of 80 mG where people sat at their desks on the first floor. Sam Milham has a paper on this (Milham S Jr. a. Am J Ind Med. 1996 Dec;30(6):702-4. Links
    Increased incidence of cancer in a cohort of office workers exposed to strong magnetic fields).

    We have had experience with several buildings that are constructed over underground electric vaults housing switchgear (such as banks or large high-rise buildings where the building space is located immediately over switchgear or large transformers that step down power within a building; you have the potential for very high EMF levels in adjacent occupied space.

    For example, this happened in the City/County building in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the basement of this high-rise building houses a switchgear room. There were multiple cancers, including three cases of male breast cancer. Sam Milham calculated that the odds of having three male breast cancers in this population should occur once in 4000 years.

    Milham S. A cluster of male breast cancer in office workers.
    PMID: 8914716 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]1: Am J Ind Med. 2004 Jul;46(1):86-7. Links

    In addition, people who worked in this basement area called the common wall between the basement offices and the switchgear room the “cancer wall” – the wall that separated switchgear room from the next offices. Several people that worked in these adjacent offices had brain and other cancers. We did not get a full talley of cancers from the basement. There may have been more.

    Another problem may be that so much electricity (the load) is going in/out of a substation that even if the loads are balanced (no net current); the loads themselves can create very high ELF-EMF exposures. If this substation is still active, and serves the community around it, then there will undoubtedly be some very high fields at the edges of the substation. The question then is – where are the high fields – in relation to the occupied space?
    Any power line going in/out of the substation will produce some high fields. As well as any transformer… or switchgear. If there IS any net current on the main electrical feeds serving the hospital, that could significantly increase ELF-EMF exposures inside the hospital.

    A few years ago, we helped to redesign a school that was to have
    its offices constructed over the electric room that housed the main electrical panels, which created several hundred milligauss in the occupied space directly above that electric room (above the main electric panels). In the end, no shielding was sufficient and plans had to change.

    At a California hospital, we were called in to evaluate why
    there imaging equipment in the cath lab (heart catheterization) kept failing. It turned out to be excessively high EMF from tetrotanks that charge the imaging equipment. This design flaw in the cath lab was identified, and the new cath lab (at that time under construction) was checked over by our group to make sure the condition was not repeated).

    In the state of Washington a new hospital wing was constructed
    so that the nursing center had all this telemetry on patients; they could get patient data transmitted to them at some central area. Trouble was, the center was too near the electric gear; and it had so much interference it failed. A US company was called in to trouble-shoot and to install shielding.

    I don’t know whether it was successful. But, here is an example where a multi-million dollar medical facility was basically inoperative… for neglecting the EMF component in design and location of things inside.
    Could be…. this Gosford Hospital will have similar problems if the substation is still operative.

    Even shielding with µ metal would have been insufficient to achieve a 1 or 2 mG level in any of these situations – which I believe is mandatory for occupied space, ICNIRP standards notwithstanding (you have seen my letter to the ICNIRP on this subject). ICNIRP standards for both ELF and RF are out of date, out of step with the evolving science, and run counter to good public health policy. Even with the many national and international health agency reviews of the carcinogenicity of ELF, resulting in ELF as classifiable as an IARC Group 2B carcinogen (Possible Carcinogen), ICNIRP is failing to take steps to update its limits for public exposure. This situation, as you rightly point out, is in opposition to other world health agency opinion, and runs directly counter to the precautionary principle. Certainly, the world now has sufficient evidence on the possible carcinogenicity of ELF-EMF to err on the side of caution, and NOT build on top of substations (assuming the substation is still operative). If it is, there is no excuse today for placing health facilities on top; certainly subjecting some of its occupants to excessively high ELF-EMF. All new and rebuilt buildings should be observing a 1 mG planning target.

    Best,
    Cindy

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