Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Health agency links leukemia, power lines / A power- line precedent? / FDA scientists plea for agency reform.

In case you haven't seen these...


Sun Health Issues Reporter pfayerman@ vancouversun. com

Health agency links leukemia, power lines

Government denies its offer to buy homes near high- voltage wires in Tsawwassen was influenced by article pointing to cancer risk

Living close to high-voltage power lines may produce one additional case of leukemia every two years in B. C., according to " ballpark assumptions" by B. C. Centre for Disease Control environmental health experts.

The additional risk was termed " modest" and " relatively small," but part of a pattern that has been built up over a number of studies.

In 2005, the most recent year for which there is comprehensive B. C. Cancer Agency data, 38 children in B. C. were diagnosed with leukemia. About 520 B. C. adults a year are diagnosed with leukemia.

The projection of one extra case every two years by Dr. Ray Copes, director of the environmental health services division and Prabjit Barn, an environmental health scientist, is in an article headlined " Is living near power lines bad for our health?" in the November issue of the B. C. Medical Journal ( BCMJ).

Government spokesman Jake Jacobs said the government was not influenced by the article when it decided to offer to buy homes along a controversial, upgraded BC Hydro right of way in Tsawwassen. " The government had already made that decision several months ago," Jacobs said in an interview. " The homeowners were offered this olive branch because of the high anxiety and because it was deemed as the reasonable thing to do."

Cecil Dunn, spokesman for the property owners who spent nearly five years fighting the power-line upgrade, which was completed last year, said there are only a few days left for the owners to decide if they want to take part in the Home Purchase Offer Program.

It was expected that most owners of the 138 properties under the power line will seek appraisals, the first step in the process towards government purchase of the properties.

Dunn said he was not surprised the decision to buy the homes was made independent of the latest medical research.

" The government has always been aware of the liability but wouldn't admit it. Now they are trying to quiet us down before the next provincial election."

In the BCMJ article, Copes and Barn say that the International Agency for Research on Cancer regards as " sufficiently well established" the evidence that electromagnetic fields ( EMF) are " associated" with childhood leukemia. Association does not show proof of cause but it is commonly a level of evidence found in epidemiological studies, such as those done decades ago which showed an association between smoking and lung cancer.

The B. C. authors focus on a 2005 British study which found that there is an increased risk of 69 per cent for leukemia in children living within 200 metres of power lines. The increase in risk falls to 23 per cent if children live 200 to 600 metres from the lines. In Tsawwassen, the power lines literally run right over more than 100 homes.

Copes said there have been so many studies that have found an association between power lines and childhood leukemia that " while one cannot presume EMF causes cancer, one also cannot ignore the pattern that has emerged over several studies." " The relative risk is modest but it is not zero," said Copes, adding that the British study was used to come up with the B. C. figure of one extra case every two years.

" Using current B. C. leukemia rates and assuming similar proportions of the population live near high voltage lines, on a statistical basis, there may be one additional leukemia in B. C. every two years. To eliminate this risk, one would need to achieve a separation distance of 600 metres between every high voltage power line and the nearest residence," he said.

Barbara Kaminsky, chief executive officer of the Canadian Cancer Society's B. C. and Yukon division, said she had not read the article, but while one additional case every two years may not seem like a significantly increased risk, " if it is your son or daughter, then it is a big deal."

Kaminsky said her organization has not changed its position from 2006 when it submitted a brief to the Environmental Assessment Office and the B. C. Utilities Commission that while there is insufficient evidence to either rule out or confirm a definitive link between exposure to EMF and leukemia, the potential carcinogenic effect does engender public concern, and so when practical to do so, power lines close to homes and schools should be avoided.


pmcmartin@ vancouversun. com, 604- 605- 2905 twitter. com/ petemcmartin

A power- line precedent? Been there, done that

Tell me if you've heard this one before: According to a spokesman for the Ministry of Energy, Mines and Petroleum Resources, which is the government body offering the proposed buyout of 138 homes along the power transmission right-of-way that runs through Tsawwassen, the proposal " is a one-time, voluntary offer with specific parameters showing it only applies to those homes directly on the Tsawwassen portion of the rightofway."

In other words, a one-time deal. No precedent. Um, maybe not. There is a precedent, and it happened right here 20 years ago.

After I wrote a column last week on the generosity of the offer — very likely more than $ 70 million, if all the homeowners accept it — I got an e-mail from Alex Beleski, of Surrey. Beleski, formerly with BC Hydro's property division and now retired, wrote to take exception with the government's insistence that the Tsawwassen offer could not be seen as a precedent.

He took exception with it, he wrote, because the precedent had been set long ago.

The precedent, he wrote, was set in 1989 on Vancouver Island.

" You may be interested in learning," Beleski wrote, " that BC Hydro set a precedent in 1989 for buying properties along the edge of a right-of-way in Courtenay. I am a retired Hydro real estate appraiser who was responsible in disposing the 58 properties purchased. Briefly, the circumstances were that Hydro was adding a second high-voltage line next to an existing one within a 600-foot right-of-way which paralleled these residential properties. Problem was that the full right-of-way was only cleared halfway so that the residents u s e d t h e u n c l e a re d p a r t a s though it was an extension of their properties."

It was the first time a public utility anywhere in North America had offered a buyout over electromagnetic field concerns.

The similarities to the Tsawwassen experience were striking: aggrieved homeowners taking a proprietary interest in the right-of-way; the proposed increase of a modest transmission line to almost double the capacity; sudden complaints from previously silent homeowners of headaches and concerns of increased cancer risk. As the Tsawwwassenites had, the neighbourhood committee in Courtenay produced a report by a New York researcher who suggested there was a possible link between EMFs and childhood cancers. As in the Tsawwassen case, government authorities produced reports and testimony contradicting that claim, and stating there was no empirical evidence linking EMFs to cancers or sicknesses of any kind.

A spokesman at BC Hydro confirmed Beleski's story, though he had got the number of homes acquired slightly wrong. In total, 59 homes were acquired at full market value, with BC Hydro paying all legal and moving costs.

BC Hydro also resold every single one of them, with a total aggregate loss of $ 1.1 million.

Hydro had bought the homes, Beleski wrote, to " appease" the concerns of the homeowners, although, as he wrote in his email, of the 58 people who took Hydro's offer, it was his recollection that " only 2/ 3 actually believed there was a danger." When resold, the properties were " listed on the open market with full disclosure of facts known at the time."

And since then? As far as he knew, Beleski wrote, there had been no complaints.

( I asked the BC Hydro spokesman if the utility had recorded any complaints from the new homeowners near the Courtenay lines since they had bought there, and he said that as far as he could determine, there had been none.)

Why does any of this matter? Well, despite the government's protestations, there is an almost identical precedent to Tsawwassen, and it was set by a Crown corporation. And: In 20 years, nothing has changed. The motivations of both sides in the issue seem equally suspect. The science backing up each side's claims is as inconclusive as ever. The only thing we can be sure of is it's going to cost taxpayers money.

And this: As I wrote in my previous column, government buyouts like this — made as gestures of goodwill or to " appease" those affected — make the case for government compensation to businesses and homeowners affected by the building of the Canada Line all that much stronger — if not legally, then ethically. How can you drop $ 70 million or more on homeowners in an affluent suburb over something that may or may not be dangerous to their health, but not compensate people who have seen their businesses destroyed and the value of their homes plummet?

Finally, there's this: In that first column on the transmission lines, I interviewed Duncan Holmes, one of the Tsawwassen homeowners being offered a buyout. After the column ran, he sent me this e-mail: " Pete, I meant to tell you that right after the column came out, I had a call from a guy in Okanagan Falls wanting details of the offer. They have a similar problem up there and were looking for equal opportunity. I'm sure more will come out of the woodwork."


"There is an atmosphere at FDA in which the honest employee fears the dishonest employee"

see also in wall street journal

FiercePharma. 9 January 2009.
FDA scientists plea for agency reform.

FDA scientists have lobbed a bombshell into the debate overnew leadership and reform at the agency after President-electObama takes office. According to a letter nine of them wroteto Obama's transition team, sweeping changes are necessary atthe agency to banish a corrupt, anti-scientific culture.

The scientists say managers have demanded andintimidated FDA scientists to manipulate data, the Wall StreetJournal reports, and honest employees can't act with integritywithout fear of reprisal. "There is an atmosphere at the FDAin which the honest employee fears the dishonest employee,"the letter states. The scientists say they've taken theirconcerns to Commissioner Andrew von Eschenbach and others, butno action was taken.

This plea to Obama's team comes after at least one similarmissive from Congress: Rep. Bart Stupak wrote Obama requestingthat he appoint an outsider to head up the FDA because, hesaid, the current management is too close to the industriesthey are charged with regulating. And the letter hits the newsat a time when lawmakers are considering Tom Daschle'sappointment as incoming chief of Health and Human Services,which oversees the FDA. During a hearing yesterday, Daschlesaid the agency has lost the confidence of the American peopleand of Congress. "This is unacceptable," he said.