I get asked all the time if living next to, or near, a power line is dangerous. This is totally understandable for a few reasons. First, a large portion of the population lives relatively close to power lines. Second, 5G is rolling out in major cities and powerline poles are a common location to put 5g small cell sites.
So, even though I’ve talked about it before, I wanted to answer this question more thoroughly. We’ll talk about whether living near a power line is dangerous, how far away from a powerline is safe, and how you can find out for yourself if you’re in any danger.
First, let’s just briefly answer the question.
Is it dangerous to live near a power line? Yes, it is potentially dangerous to live near a powerline. How dangerous depends largely on the type of powerline structure and how close you live. For example, one study showed that if you live within 50 meters of a 765-kilovolt line that it could increase occurrences of certain cancers. This radiation danger falls off quickly with distance, however, as we’ll talk about below.
Now that you have the basic answer, let’s get a little more in-depth about why it’s dangerous, how we know it may be dangerous, and how you can protect yourself.
Potential Dangers of Living Near Power Lines
Here at EMF Academy, we talk often about the dangers of EMF radiation from things like cell-phones, cell towers, WiFi, etc.
So, I’m not going to waste any time trying to convince you that EMF radiation does have potential biological harm, instead, I want to focus on actual studies specifically talking about why living near power lines can be dangerous.
So, let’s talk about a few studies, don’t worry, I’ll try to summarize them in a way that won’t bore you.
Wertheimer and Leeper Study
Most studies of electrical power lines that have been conducted in recent years, were inspired by this study. Published in the Americal Journal of Epidemiology in 1979, their study titled “Electrical Wiring Configurations and Childhood Cancer” examined the potential harm of both electrical wiring in the home and how close the children lived to high voltage power lines.
The researchers examined rates of childhood cancer in Colorado homes in 1976 and 1977. They compared homes with high-current electrical flow to control homes. They ultimately found a correlation between increased risk of childhood leukemia and proximity to high-voltage power lines.
2005 BMJ Study on Cancer Risks in relation to High Voltage power lines
A study was published in 2005 in the BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal) titled “Childhood cancer in relation to distance from high voltage power lines in England and Wales: a case-control study.”
The goal of the study was to determine if there was indeed any association between the distance of your home address from high voltage power lines, and any increased risk of cancers and Leukemia, as previous studies had suggested.
What they did, was examine the records of 29,081 children in England and Wales who had been diagnosed with cancer, including leukemia. Having matched for things like sex, date of birth, etc. they primarily looked at the “Distance from home address at birth to the nearest high voltage overhead power line in existence at the time.”
The results of the study were:
Compared with those who lived > 600 m from a line at birth, children who lived within 200 m had a relative risk of leukemia of 1.69 (95% confidence interval 1.13 to 2.53); those born between 200 and 600 m had a relative risk of 1.23 (1.02 to 1.49). There was a significant (P < 0.01) trend in risk in relation to the reciprocal of distance from the line
Essentially they are saying that the closer a child lived to a high voltage power line, the relatively higher their risk of leukemia was.
The study concluded:
There is an association between childhood leukemia and proximity of home address at birth to high voltage power lines, and the apparent risk extends to a greater distance than would have been expected from previous studies. About 4% of children in England and Wales live within 600 m of high voltage lines at birth. If the association is causal, about 1% of childhood leukemia in England and Wales would be attributable to these lines, though this estimate has considerable statistical uncertainty. There is no accepted biological mechanism to explain the epidemiological results; indeed, the relation may be due to chance or confounding.
Now, be sure that you read the last sentence of that conclusion, that stated there is no accepted biological mechanism to explain the results. Meaning that although it appeared to the researchers to be a relationship, they cannot explain how it would be possible, and did say it is possible the risk was due to chance.
I think it’s important to point things like that out whenever possible because there certainly are many scientists and researchers that do not believe this is a danger, partly because they cannot explain the science behind it.
Review of the Evidence that Powerlines are Dangerous
If you read through much of the literature and research surrounding this topic, you’ll realize something. I’ll let M Feychting and A Ahilbom, who published a review, tell it their way:
There is no known mechanism by which magnetic fields of the type generated by high voltage power lines can play a role in cancer development. Nevertheless, epidemiologic research has rather consistently found associations between residential magnetic field exposure and cancer. This is most evident for leukemia in children.
So, although scientists don’t yet understand it, the research does seem to suggest that living near high voltage powerlines is indeed dangerous.
Now, as you probably gathered from reading this, how dangerous living near a power line depends entirely on the distance between you and the power line.
So, let’s talk about that for a minute.
What Is A Safe Distance From A High Voltage Powerline?
The answer to this is tough because there have been no official guidelines distributed by governmental agencies as there have been for cellphone radiation limits. Some guidelines have been given by groups like OSHA for minimum distances to stay away from powerlines, however, my interpretation of these is more to mitigate electrocution risk then magnetic radiation exposure.
Those minimum distances are outlined below.
|FPL Power Line Voltages||OSHA Minimum Approach Distance* (OSHA 1926.1408 Table A)|
|0 to 50kV||10 feet|
|Over 50kV to 200kV||15 feet|
|Over 200kV to 350kV||20 feet|
|Over 350kV to 500kV||25 feet|
|Over 500kV to 750kV||35 feet|
However, you can see that these distances are not at all substantial, and certainly, do not reflect distances from a powerline that people should live.
So, let’s look at one other diagram that is widely referenced. It shows potential health effects from living near a high voltage power line. It outlines specific potential issues associated with various distances, take a look:
Now, these are certainly not guaranteed outcomes but are issues that have been associated.
Based on this chart, and based on a high voltage powerline structure rated at 765 kilovolts (kV), you should be at least 250 meters away. However, remember when it comes to any type of EMF radiation, including magnetic radiation from a powerline, the more distance, the safer.
In fact, the level of protection that distance gives you is exponential due to the inverse square law of physics. This law essentially states that as you double your distance from a source of radiation, you quarter your exposure to it.
Another factor you need to consider is the “step down” power distribution that occurs in electrical grids. Meaning that the magnetic field radiation emitted from the lines will be greatest near the generating station and its substations, and lower at the end, which would be the powerlines near your home.
So, if you happen to live near a power generating station, your exposure would likely be much greater then living near a simple power line.
Alright, now that we understand why living near to, or next to, a power line can be dangerous and have talked about what a safe distance is, let’s talk about how we can protect ourselves.
How To Measure EMF From Power Lines
To do this, you’re going to need an EMF meter. EMF, or electromagnetic field, actually covers three separate types of radiation: magnetic field, electric field, and radiofrequency. All three types can have potential dangers, but when it comes to powerlines, what we’re measuring is magnetic fields, which are usually measured in milliGauss (mG), and we’ll need a gauss meter to measure them.
There are lots of good EMF meters on the market, and I have a whole article talking about them, but I usually recommend the Trifield TF2. In the case of measuring magnetic fields from power lines, the TF2 will work great for our purposes. Obviously, there are nicer and more expensive gauss meters on the market, but this one is great for general use.
Now, what we want to measure is the magnetic radiation coming from a powerline in relation to where we live and spend the most time. If you don’t live at all close to a powerline, then you likely won’t get any reading at all, and that is a good thing.
However, if you do live near a powerline, here is how you should measure the magnetic radiation:
- First, I would suggest turning off the primary electrical breaker to your house. This will disable the electronics that would put off their own magnetic field like your refrigerator, dryer, TV, etc. (Be sure to check to make sure that disabling power to any of these things won’t cause damage or harm. Check with anyone in the home before doing so, and if needed, consult an electrician)
- Next, turn your Trifield TF2, or another meter, to the “Standard Mag” setting.
- Then, walk around your home and make note of the different readings. It’s important to measure in different areas, and at different times of the day, since the electrical load in the lines will vary depending on usage.
Now that you’ve taken some measurements, let’s talk about what dangerous levels are.
The Bioinitiative report, which is a well-respected review of hundreds of reports on the dangers of EMF radiation, suggests that you should have readings of no more than 5-1 milliGauss (mG) anywhere that you live or spend considerable time.
This is for the general population. Obviously, if you are more highly sensitive to EMF radiation, then your safe limit could be much lower.
So, let’s summarize all of this:
You should try to live at least 250 meters from the nearest powerline if possible, however, the further away you live the safer you will be. If you do live near a powerline, use an EMF meter to get a reading, and see if that ambient magnetic level is below 1 mG. If it is, you are likely in a safe location, if it is not, you could consider taking protective steps.
Protecting Yourself From High Voltage Powerline Radiation
As I’ve talked about in other articles on EMF Academy, there are some solutions that exist to reduce your exposure to EMF radiation, including the magnetic radiation from powerlines. In fact, I’ve dedicated whole articles just to some of the products that exist.
However, when it comes to radiation from nearby powerlines, you really only have two options:
- Block the radiation from entering your home
- Move somewhere else.
I know, neither of these sound that great, but that is just the reality of it. It is certainly not likely that you’ll be able to have the powerlines or poles moved.
So, talking about the first option, there are some products that you could use to block the radiation. However, since this is an ambient source, and will be entering almost an entire side of your house, it won’t be easy to do. I would suggest that you consider hiring an expert like a Building Biologist that is educated in EMFs to help you come up with a plan.
If that isn’t a realistic option, I would at least suggest you look into getting an EMF blocking bed canopy. These are essentially faraday cage canopies for your bed. So, although these won’t protect you from radiation while in the other parts of your home, they will protect you while you sleep.
Also, they won’t just protect you from the magnetic radiation from powerlines, but also from any other ambient EMFs from WiFi, smart meters, dirty electricity, or anything else. Just be sure you don’t bring any electronics inside the canopy with you.
There are other EMF blocking things out there that could help, like EMF paint or anti-radiation curtains, however, I’m not sure how helpful these will be if you have a powerline very close to your home.
If you have a powerline near your home and have questions about what to do, please don’t hesitate to reach out.
Now, let’s quickly tackle some frequently asked questions on this topic.
Do Powerlines Give Off Radiation?
Yes, powerlines give off a type of electromagnetic field radiation called magnetic field radiation. This is typically a low-to mid-frequency magnetic field. This type of radiation is non-ionizing, which means it does not heat tissue. However, just because it is non-ionizing does not mean it can’t cause potential harm.
The amount of radiation given off by powerlines depends greatly on the voltage running through the lines. The amount of radiation you’ll be exposed to from powerlines depends on the distance from the powerline that you live.
Can You Get Cancer From Living Near Power Lines?
EMF radiation in general and magnetic field radiation from power lines specifically have been linked to potential increases in cancer, including leukemia. If you read through some of the research that I talk about above you’ll see that some research suggests that the closer you live to high-voltage power lines, especially children, the higher your chance is of developing certain cancers.
Now, the research is not yet completely definitive, and scientists are still confounded about the biological mechanism that would allow magnetic field radiation to cause cancer.
How Far Should A House Be From High Voltage Lines?
This depends largely on the voltage that is running through those lines. However, from my own research and anecdotal evidence, I would suggest that a house be at least 250 meters from overhead power lines when possible. It’s important to remember that distance allows for exponentially less exposure to magnetic fields from power lines, so the farther your home is from power lines the safer you’ll be.
This rule is the same for cell-towers, including 5G small cells, and any other sources of EMF radiation.