Northern Pass Electromagnetic Field Hotspots Outlined

by Michael Cousineau, Union Leader

CONCORD — A proposed section of Northern Pass stretching from Pembroke to Deerfield is predicted to produce the highest levels of electromagnetic fields around power lines, a Northern Pass spokesman said Tuesday.

A Northern Pass witness testified before a state committee considering the proposed hydroelectric transmission project that the highest levels would remain below “existing standards.”

Some studies have suggested higher rates of childhood leukemia have been measured in some places with elevated electromagnetic field (EMF) readings, pointed out counsel for the public, Peter Roth, who also is a senior assistant attorney general.

The state Site Evaluation Committee will be holding hearings on the Northern Pass proposal into July, and is expected to rule on a certificate for the project by late summer. 

Northern Pass witness William Bailey, the principal scientist at the Center for Occupational and Environmental Health Risk Assessment at Exponent, an engineering consulting firm, said there isn’t a proven link between higher cancer rates and higher exposures to electromagnetic fields. 

During a break in the hearing, Northern Pass spokesman Martin Murray said the highest forecasted EMF level to be found at the edge of the project’s rights-of-way is for a 1,000-foot stretch in Pembroke, near the Concord line, near a commercial-industrial area.

Murray said the levels are predicted to be highest in the Pembroke-to-Deerfield section because of a narrow utility right-of-way as well as the configuration of the proposed structures carrying the power lines.

Northern Pass witness Gary Johnson, a senior managing scientist in Exponent’s electrical engineering and computer science practice, said “these (EMF) levels are still well below the existing standards.”

Roth said some EMF readings will increase two to five times their current levels.

Later, attorney Danielle Pacik, representing the city of Concord, focused on people using properties in Concord in the right-of-way to be used for Northern Pass.

She cited several locations — including a playground for Alton Woods apartments and a parking lot for McKenna’s Purchase condominiums — that are in the right-of-way.

“This is the playground under the transmission lines,” Pacik said, projecting a photo on television screens. “Do you see kids playing on the playground?”

She said EMF readings within the right-of-way exceed standards of the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection, an independent group that provides scientific advice and guidance on health effects.

Murray later said that the commission’s standard is “not a health limit.”