• 12 AUG 08
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    #927: Another building cancer cluster controversy in Australia

    The following ABC news article is about a local school for which I have been advising concerned staff for about 2 years. It became a media story after a former staff member contacted the ABC after his concerns were dismissed as having no basis. The school is located close to transmission lines supplying power to a zinc smelter, it has an electrical substation in the basement, there was excessive corrosion in the water pipes, suggesting electrical ground currents on the water system, and most significantly the swimming pool had to be closed and drained because people were getting electrical shocks when entering the water. I advised the school to have measurements taken to see if the EMF levels were excessive (the Ed Dept. refused my offer to take measurements without charge). Approximately 18 months later the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) surveyed the school and found the magnetic fields very low and gave it a ‘clean bill of health’. HOWEVER, according to a staff member about two weeks prior to this survey the Dept. of Education had extensive electrical work carried out at the school, including replacement of circuit boards, etc. Thus, the DHHS survey was only relevant to the time since the electrical work was carried out in 2008, not before and irrelevant to the cancer issue at the school. Interesting that the mitigation work was carried out just at the time the department was concerned that a former staff member was considering taking legal action.

    A staff member compilation of the cancer cases at Hazelwood since 1984. differs significantly from DHHS claims of only three cases. For example, out of a staff of approximately 15 staff since 1992, there have been eight breast cancer cases, three Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, (diagnosed in 2003-2440) as well as a number of other cancers as well. Only a proper research effort can determine if this is a cancer cluster but an epidemiologist that I sent the data too said it looks like “it is off the scale” for a cluster, considering the staff number and time frame.


    The ABC

    Posted Mon Aug 11, 2008 8:00am AEST
    Updated Mon Aug 11, 2008 11:08am AEST
    Hazelwood School in Moonah

    Experts were recently asked to investigate the school. (ABC News: David Hudspeth)

    Questions have been raised about the Tasmanian Education Department’s response to a potential cancer cluster at a Hobart school for children with special needs.

    It’s understood the Hazelwood school building was re-wired just weeks before radiation testing was carried out.

    The school is next to a high voltage transmission tower and has an electricty sub station on campus.

    Staff at Hazelwood schools senior campus have had health problems for decades. Four months ago a parliamentary committee heard three staff members had contracted cancer in the past two years.

    However, a list compiled by staff paints a different picture. It claims at least 17 staff and some students have contracted cancer and other illnesses in the last two decades.

    In the past two years, four women including the principal have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

    The Education Department is now taking a closer look at the school’s health records.

    “The Education Department rightly when this was first raised and has been raised over a number of years referred those claims to those who undertook an extensive investigation,” the Premier, David Bartlett says.

    “We looked at the potential hazards within the school and we were unable to identify anything of any moment really,” the director of Public Health, Roscoe Taylor said on Sunday.

    But according to a former staff member who didn’t want to be identified, the school was largely re-wired just weeks before the radiation testing was done early this year.

    Independent EMR Consultant, Don Maisch, said the public health report was relevant to the current fairly low radiation fields, but was not relevant to the time before the electrical problem.

    Mr Maisch was contacted two years ago by staff members who were concerned their cancers may be linked to radiation from an electricity sub-station in the school basement or a nearby transmission tower.

    He became concerned when told the school’s hydro-therapy pool was closed after people received electric shocks.

    “That indicates a fairly large [presence of] something called ground currents. Which means the building has an unbalanced electrical load which can generate quite significant magnetic fields,” Mr Maisch says.

    He prepared a report for the government but says it’s been largely ignored.

    He says despite the radiation readings by the health department being under the accepted standard, it’s clear long term exposure has risks.

    “It’s a bit like having a standard for asbestos exposure which says as long as the limit is under this, you won’t immediately die from lung disease – it doesn’t address the long term prolonged effects over many years,” Mr Maisch says.

    The school is being re-located next year to Hobart’s eastern shore.

    The Education Department asked the Director of Public Health to investigate the site after health concerns were raised by a former staff member last year.

    Roscoe Taylor says health physic scientists evaluated the electro magnetic radiation field strengths across the school premises.

    He says the levels of radiation were well below the accepted level.

    “I can’t see that there’s been any threat to health from the power sub station at all,” Dr Taylor said.

    Dr Taylor says while the community is more aware of cancer, clusters at a workplace are rare.

    “If there’s a true cancer cluster usually there will be a particular type of illness that’s at issue but when you have a whole spread of things theres very few environmental agents that actually cause a range of health conditions.”

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