Its tests show power lines no threat to Hammond students, BG&E says

October 21, 1994|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,Sun Staff Writer Sun staff writer Howard Libit contributed to this article.

Tests at Hammond Elementary and Hammond Middle schools have found that the magnetic fields from nearby power lines pose little threat to students' health, according to Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., which conducted the tests.

The tests found that magnetic field readings near the schools registered less than 0.5 milligauss, far less than those in the average house, according to BG&E.

The lines are owned by Potomac Electric Power Co., but BG&E uses them to supply power to the schools and most of the homes in the area.

Because of electrical appliances, homes typically register readings of as much as 5 milligauss, said Bonnie L. Johansen, BG&E's manager for electric and magnetic field issues, who conducted the tests.

The parents became concerned a year ago, when Pepco erected the power lines about 250 yards from the Hammond Elementary and Hammond Middle school complex in the Laurel area.

Residents also are angry because the power lines pass within several hundred feet of their homes.

"I'm very relieved the school is safe," said Susan Karlheim, safety coordinator for Hammond Elementary School's Parent-Teacher Association. The issue of the power lines has "been hot," she said, "hotter than you can imagine."

"You buy a house . . . and then they put in a power line. This shouldn't happen."

The lines, which are used to transmit electrical power from one facility to another, were put into partial use in May and began carrying a greater load of electricity last month, Ms. Johansen said.

Parents feared that exposure to the magnetic fields might endanger their children while at school complex.

But the readings just a few feet away from the school building registered zero on the Gauss meter, which is used to measure magnetic field emissions. At about 1,600 feet -- at the school complex property line -- the reading was 0.2 milligauss.

Inside the school building, the reading was higher, about 1 milligauss. Ms. Johansen said that was the result of the electricity being used in the complex.

"Nobody knows what's safe," Ms. Johansen said. "But the readings around the school are less than what most people have in their own home.

"But taking the readings is reassuring to the parents."

Ms. Johansen said the readings could increase when high volumes of electricity are being used, such as during extreme cold spells.

Yesterday was a normal day in terms of power use, she said.

Some researchers have linked electromagnetic fields to childhood leukemia, Alzheimer's disease, brain tumors, miscarriages and breast cancer.

Last year, a study in Sweden found an increase in leukemia problems in residences near power lines. But the research on the effects of power lines has been inconclusive.

"There has been some slight linkage, but even the research that indicates there is a linkage has been somewhat reluctant to say it is a cause," said Sandra Shaw Patty, manager of the transmission program of the Power Plant Research Program, a part of the state's Department of Natural Resources.

Ms. Patty, who just completed a report summarizing the available scientific studies for the Public Service Commission, said the research has not established a safe level for electrical and magnetic fields.

Area residents seeking free magnetic field tests at their homes can call the BG&E customer relations office at (410) 685-0123.

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