Health researchers in Japan found that children exposed to high levels of electromagnetic radiation from power lines were 11 times more likely to develop brain tumours.
This means, claim campaigners, that the health of hundreds of people will be jeopardised by the proposal to erect a new 400,000 volt electricity transmission line between Beauly, near Inverness, and Denny, near Stirling. The line should be buried underground to make it safe, they say.
The Sunday Herald reported last month that the controversial Beauly Denny line would be given the go-ahead by the Scottish government. Ministers, under fierce pressure from the electricity industry, have promised to make an announcement before the end of the year.
But now the Japanese study has raised new doubts about the safety of living close to pylons. Scientists from the National Research Institute for Child Health and Development in Tokyo and 14 other health bodies found an 11-fold increase in brain tumours amongst children under 15 exposed to more than 0.4 microteslas of electromagnetic radiation.
The association was “statistically significant”, the researchers concluded, and could not be explained away by bias or other confounding factors. But they said it should be interpreted with “caution” because of the small sample size.
The study has been seized on by the Stirling Before Pylons protest group. “I am convinced that the Beauly Denny line would pose a very real threat to the health of hundreds of people in Stirling,” said the group’s Caroline Paterson.
“I find it hard to believe that the Scottish government could impose such a threat by approving the proposal without requiring this populated section to be undergrounded.”
Linda Scott, who lives in the village of Plean near Stirling, worries that the radiation from existing power lines just outside her house in Cardrowan Road has already caused harm. She lists six people who have died of cancer from 18 homes just metres from the pylons.
If the Beauly Denny line is approved, she is expecting another two giant pylons to be erected by her house. “We’re extremely worried for our health,” she told the Sunday Herald.
“It is really very frightening. You wonder whether it safe to bring your grandchildren here. It’s scandalous.”
Kenny Logan, who owns a farm within 100 metres of the proposed Beauly Denny line, has similar worries. “We cannot afford to sacrifice peoples' health,” he said. “With young twins of my own I can only imagine how devastating it would be to have a child develop leukaemia or a brain tumour.”
The residents have been backed by local politicians and experts. Dr Richard Simpson, the Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife described the Japanese study as part of “a significant and growing body of evidence of health hazards from high voltage overhead transmission lines”.
According to Professor Denis Henshaw, who has studied the hazards of electromagnetic radiation at Bristol University, governments were “ill-advised” on the heath issues. “We really are passed the stage when we should be erecting overhead power lines close to houses and centres of population,” he said.
Scottish and Southern Energy, one of the companies promoting the Beauly Denny line, said that it fully complied with government safety limits on exposure to electromagnetic radiation, as advised by the Health Protection Agency. The company's website points out that there will only be three homes within 100 metres of the new line.
A spokesman for the Scottish government said: “The study does not alter the view that there is no established causative link between exposure to power frequency electric and magnetic fields and childhood brain tumours.”
He added: “The public inquiry into the Beauly Denny application considered a range of issues including possible health effects. Energy Minister Jim Mather is considering the inquiry report and will take a decision this year.”