Prevarication Becomes Electric

New Awareness of EMF Health Risks Fuels Opposition to Chelsea Substation

And two new reports released last year have important implications for women: A Japanese study confirmed earlier findings that a 12-mG, 60-hertz field can completely inhibit the ability of melatonin to block MCF-7 breast cancer cells; and a study team at Kaiser Permanente's research division in California found that brief exposure to a 16-mG field can lead to a sixfold increase in the rate of spontaneous abortion.

But according to Slesin, "the health science regarding EMFs is in its infancy. Perhaps when you're dealing with fields of [high] magnitude, the effects are not simply dose-related. . . . And after all, power is 'dirty,' polluted with other frequencies we're not even measuring. There are short-lived, high-field pulses . . . 'transients' or 'sparks' that contain more energy. . . . But clearly, there's enough data to take EMFs seriously."

Enough, you'd think, that Con Ed might at least want to mark the locations of some of its transformers so vendors could avoid them. On a Saturday in January at the Farmer's Market north of Union Square, the EMF level between a fruit stand and a booth featuring eucalyptus wreaths was 66 mG—the same as the incredibly strong field found across the street. Such high readings are common throughout the borough, as anyone with a triaxial gaussmeter will discover. They can easily go as high as 85 mG.

The Con Ed substation at 40th Street and First Avenue
photo: Pak Fung Wong
The Con Ed substation at 40th Street and First Avenue

All over Manhattan, guards and doormen working in entrances to buildings haven't an inkling they're in high magnetic fields (about 15 mG five feet inside the entrance to B&N, according to one late-morning weekday reading—though only 1 mG farther inside). Nor do other outdoor workers, or homeless people and individuals who spend a lot of time on the sidewalks. Slesin suggests that approximately 1 million Americans have an average level of over 10 mG a day, adding, "Perhaps the average office worker in Manhattan gets more EMF exposure than an electrician."

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